Burton feud keeps the valleys fuming

MORE than a mountain separates Neath from Port Talbot. Inhabitants of the two Welsh towns say they follow different cultures, different ways of life, different rugby teams. Now they are divided over the actor Richard Burton, writes Michael Prestage.

Port Talbot has always claimed Burton as one of its own. His name is used to mark the annual 10km run and the poetry competition. But now Neath is making its own claim to Burton. A hall of fame, planned for the town's great and good, will include him, and if pounds 140,000 can be raised, an exhibition on the actor, who died in 1984 aged 58, may open next year, when Neath hosts the National Eisteddfod.

Port Talbot's condemnation has been swift. 'They have Ray Milland, but Richard Burton is ours,' said Steve Jones, the local council's public relations officer.

There is no disputing where the actor was born (real name Richard Jenkins) in 1925. But the village of Pontrhydyfen lies on the border of the two boroughs - and the small terrace house where he lived is on the Neath side of the River Afan. Robert Rees, the town's director of leisure, said: 'Richard Burton is one of a number of famous artists who have emanated from the borough.'

Burton spent most of his early life in Port Talbot, however. He went to school there and worked at the local Co-op. And by that great gauge of Welsh community spirit, rugby, Port Talbot wins: Burton watched and played for the local team, Aberavon, rather than Neath.

'Incidentally, we beat Neath in the Boxing Day fixture for the first time for years,' Mr Jones said. 'It's about the only time the two communities meet.' Next month Port Talbot will stage a one-man play about the star. 'I don't think there is any doubt he is Port Talbot, other than in the eyes of Neath,' Mr Jones added.

Burton's sister Hilda Owen, who still lives in Pontrhydyfen, agrees. 'He was born on the Neath side of the river, but was brought up in Port Talbot and considered it his home town.'

At the house itself, Steve Kennerley, whose parents bought it 22 years ago, produced a framed copy of the actor's birth certificate, clearly showing that it is in Neath. 'But everybody in the village considers him Port Talbot.'

Steve's girlfriend, Rhian Jenkins, had no doubt. 'There will always be a fight between the two towns, but he was a Neath boy.' She comes from Neath.

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