Obituary: Geraint Dyfnallt Owen
Monday 22 February 1993
WELSH historical and literary studies have often been indebted to learned amateurs. Geraint Dyfnallt Owen was an outstanding case in point. An active BBC man for most of his adult life, he still managed to produce an astonishing amount of valuable historical material, an achievement recognised in 1981 when the University of Wales gave him an honorary D Litt.
His main interest was Elizabethan and Jacobean history. Associated for 28 years with the Historical Manuscripts Commission, he was responsible for 10 weighty volumes in its 'Reports and Calendars' series. On a more popular level he wrote Elizabethan Wales: the social scene (1962) and a Jacobean sequel. Both books were notable for an easy style, dry humour and a wealth of illustrative material based on original research. But he was always adventurous. Writing in Welsh he tackled other periods and other forms, including autobiography and even fiction.
Owen was born in Carmarthen. His father, a minister, romantic poet, editor, patriotic Welshman and prodigious worker, undoubtedly inspired him. From the local grammar school he went to University College of Wales, Aberystwyth, where in spite of playing a lot of rugby he got firsts in history and Welsh. Awarded a Meyricke scholarship, he moved to Jesus College, Oxford, where his tutor was Sir Goronwy Edwards.
Back in Aberystwyth he gained a Ph D and proceeded to look around for a university lectureship. But in the mid-Thirties lectureships were hard to find. However the BBC had just established a Welsh region and required a talks producer. Owen was appointed. It is possible, though it hardly seems likely, that he might now have become a broadcaster pure and simple, but the regional controller, Hopkin Morris, advised him strongly not to let that happen. Without neglecting the work he was paid to do, Morris said, he should for the sake of Wales put his main effort into writing.
During the war Owen joined the Intelligence Corps, eventually finding himself in Romania. There he fell deeply in love with a well-connected girl from Bukovina. They wished to marry but army regulations made it difficult. Getting Herta out of Romania seemed more difficult still, especially when he was transferred to Italy. At one stage he was all set to go absent without leave in order to save her from the advancing Russians. But that step proved unnecessary, and they were married in Bari by an army padre. It was a most happy union.
Returning to Britain, he joined the BBC's External Services at Bush House, in central London, where he took charge of broadcasting in Romanian and then in Serbo-Croat. The tensions of Yugoslavia were faithfully reflected among his talented group of expatriates, but his impartiality won through, while his friendliness, linguistic ability and knowledge of Eastern Europe gained him first respect, and then great affection.
History of course was not forgotten. The Public Record Office and the Historical Manuscripts Commission were just up the road, and his BBC Sections did not open until late in the morning. Owen's daily practice, maintained until retirement, was to arrive at the PRO or the HMC as the doors opened and labour there until it was time to go to Bush House, which in turn he did not leave until the end of the evening transmission. His weekends were divided between more writing, vigorous country pursuits, and his four children, whom he adored.
This disciplined and productive regime was possible only because he had a robust constitution and a wife who showed him complete sympathy and understanding. In retirement he worked resolutely on almost to the end.
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