Obituary:Rachel Thomas

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The Independent Online
Rachel Thomas, actress: born Alltwen, Wales 10 February 1905; OBE 1968; married (one daughter); died Cardiff 8 February 1995.

The actress Rachel Thomas preferred to work in her native Wales, despite the fact that her talents well fitted her for a career on the West End stage or in Hollywood.

She is best remembered for her splendid portrayal of a miner's wife in Proud Valley (1940), a film set in a fictional pit village. It also starred Edward Chapman as her husband and Paul Robeson as a seaman who lodges with the couple; in a memorable passage that underscores the radicalism of such communities Chapman rounds on a bigot: "Damn and blast it, man, aren't we all black down that pit?"

Fame did not lure Rachel Thomas from Wales. But over the years she travelled frequently to London to take part in radio and television plays. In 1953 she starred in Valley of Song, a hilarious film in which she played an affronted singer ousted from the local choir. The development of radio and television in Wales - particularly Welsh-language productions - brought her bilingual talents to an ever-widening audience.

In 1968 she was triumphant in the BBC TV version of How Green Was My Valley. Many in Wales simply refused to believe that she had not appeared in the 1941 Hollywood version. In 1971 she appeared in the film version of Under Milk Wood, with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. She was a mainstay of Pobl y Cwm ("People of the Valley"), the hugely successful BBC Wales television soap which now reaches many more homes via subtitling in English.

Her ability to handle the lengthy takes which sustain a plot's momentum remained unimpaired to the end of her career. Only last month she turned in a bravura performance as an old woman farmer in Whistling By - a television play that deserves a wider audience.

She was born at Alltwen, a Swansea valley village where her father, a miner, was blacklisted by mine-owners because of his union activities.

Rachel Thomas was immensely proud of being Welsh and gave unswerving attention to her motto: "Nid da lla gellir gwell" ("Not good when you can do better").

Tony Heath

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