Kenneth Griffith

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Interview Date(s): 
23 Apr 1990
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This interview covers the period 1921 to 1989: childhood and education in Wales - work as an actor in theatre, film and television from the 1930s, plus his career as a writer and presenter of TV historical documentaries from the late 1960s for the BBC and ITV.


Kenneth Griffith Side 1

Colin Moffat  0:00  

The copyright of this recording is vested in the ACTT History Project. Kenneth Griffith, actor in feature films, producer and performer in television documentary programmes.  Interviewer Colin Moffat 23rd of April 1990.

Colin Moffat  0:22  

Kenneth, you were born in 1921 in Tenby on the South West coast of Wales. Can you start by saying a bit about that place and about the family?

Kenneth Griffith  0:34  

Yes, I was born in Tenby. And I was brought up by my paternal grandparents. My grandfather was a stonemason and a very fine stonemason. He was also a very fine man. And though I sometimes puzzled it, I'm sure that he was nothing less than a fine man. And a fine stonemason. He began to build a house at a time as a master builder. And very fine houses they were.  Each time I go back to Tenby, which is very rarely because, of course, they both died during the course of the War, so I have no family there, I go and have a look at perhaps a wall that he was responsible for, sometimes a house.  And I think it's fair to say that any strivings I have, strivings for perfection, are connected with his time building of houses. The Depression came, and it broke him.  And then we retreated to the country, the three of us to a rather isolated house on the high piece of land called The Ridgeway.  The only lights that we could see at night, say from my bedroom window, were the lighthouses of Lundy Island, and Caldey Island.  It was an exposed place.  And I helped fetch water from the village well, from the pump.  And our illumination for most of the time there was oil lamps and candles.  So I had a very simple childhood, but very unusual.  And I think it's had something to do with the peculiar man that I am today. It was just me, and the old people.

Colin Moffat  2:52  

What had happened to your parents?

Kenneth Griffith  2:54  

 My mother and father went their separate ways when I was six months old.  And I was left with, fortunately, because if one dares speak the truth about anything in 1990, which is getting increasingly difficult, I mean people skirt around the truth about many issues.  I try very hard to tell the truth as I see it, which, as you know, gets me into all sorts of trouble because the truth in 1990 is largely inadmissible. I would say that, what I'm driving at is that it was fortunate for me because my grandmother and grandfather were, from an ethical moral point of view, better people than my mother and father. However, it is odd for a young boy to be brought up in such isolation with two elderly people.

Colin Moffat  3:57  

What is the disadvantage do you think?  If there is one.

Kenneth Griffith  4:00  

The disadvantage of being brought up by ...  Well, it's made me a bit of a loner.  As I was telling you earlier before we started this recording, I really don't know what is going on in my own business, television and film.  I keep myself to myself to my disadvantage, and it isn't a virtue. It's a  state of mind, which I will never escape from entirely. But, there are advantages. It has made me introspective. I think about everything. I'm an abnormally serious person. And as I was telling you, again before we started this recording, my eldest son, David, called me a dinosaur at the end of last week?  Well, from a contemporary point of view, I mean, the skirting, the failure to tell the truth about mixing cultures because it might prove offensive to someone who was coloured. We can't tell the truth about it, except Mr. Tebbit does, I think, and Mr. Enoch Powell has. The reality, the truth, I ponder these things. And I think that that isolation as a child still compels me to try and tell the truth, even if you get hit for it.  The alternative seems to me so shameful.  I have a preoccupation, almost an obsession, that I will have a minimum of regrets. on my deathbed.  I really don't want to know that I've got a few days left and I say to myself, "Why the hell didn't you say it Griffith?" Or "Why didn't you do it?"

Colin Moffat  6:17  

The seriousness you mentioned just now, did that in any way come from some kind of religious or political tradition in the grandparents' lives?

Kenneth Griffith  6:30  

I think religious, yes. They were Methodists. Though, when my grandfather who became a Freemason and was a pillar of the Methodist Church, I think that out of that middle class that we were rising into, respectability, there was very little loyalty, or sensitive feeling from either the Freemasons or the Methodists for him, and that hurt him and disillusioned him.  But they lived by very firm ethical and moral standards.  And though I was a pioneer of the permissive society, I have three divorces behind me. You know, I came up here to London when I was fifteen and a half to be an actor, no money knowing no one, and those very firm disciplines were expendable.

Colin Moffat  7:45  

Were you obliged to go to church and that sort of thing?

Kenneth Griffith  7:47  

Oh, yes. We went three times every Sunday:  morning service, I went to Sunday School in the afternoon, and we went in the evening. 

Colin Moffat  8:10  

 And did you like it? yourself? 

Kenneth Griffith  8:14  

No, I didn't. I didn't.  I suffered from extreme claustrophobia wedged between my grandmother and grandfather.  Of course, in those days young people didn't complain.  I think this is the generation and time of complaint.  Everyone is complaining, the more people grab, and the less they wish to give for what they've grabbed, the more they complain.  Material things certainly cannot be equated with happiness.  It's the terrible sickness of our time I think, as Britain degenerates in spite of the efforts of Mrs. Thatcher to bring us back to reality.

Colin Moffat  9:02  

The reason I asked about the church, I wondered whether you picked up any of your vocal talent from preachers, because there is something about the way you declaim that might suggest that sort of nonconformance Welsh, church background?

Kenneth Griffith  9:27  

Yes, I think that that's very true.  Each Sunday, we would hear, as far as I recall every Sunday, a sermon which was enunciated in a highly dramatic and clear manner. It was quite extraordinary too, because sometimes a great and famous preacher from ... We don't speak Welsh in Tenby for historical reasons. It's known as Little England beyond Wales, and we don't speak Welsh there.  In the north of the county for historical reasons, the county being Pembrokeshire, Welsh is spoken.  There are historical reasons for it. But we would actually have one of the famous Welsh preachers come and preach to us in a language which we didn't understand. But so magnificent were they that they did the most outrageous things in the vocal range that they used to hold our attention, and their sermons would reach a crescendo of emotion. And then there would be a silence, and they were quite capable and did often turn their backs on us. And no one really dared breathe. And then they'd swing around on us again, it was a great theatrical display. And of course, to any thinking person, it's quite clear that my job now since I've ceased to be an actor, is to preach sermons, to millions of people. That's that's what I do. I am even an international preacher of sermons. Radical sermons. redressing balances, trying desperately to persuade people to think other than the boring, lying, hypocritical consensus that is spread through the Press, and to some extent through television. Yes, equally.

Colin Moffat  11:57  

Were you at all an opinionated little boy?  I mean, did it start at that time? Or in any?

Kenneth Griffith  12:05  

No, I don't think it did.  At least, I had my opinions, which I can now see were unusual, but I didn't articulate them.  In fact, you know, as a child, I think it applies to most children, that their fate in life fluctuates according to the balance of power amongst their peers. I suppose I was regarded as odd and a loner. But I did have a circle of friends. And how positive one was about what one felt depended upon one's position in that group. And if someone was a top athlete, he had more influence and was listened to more. I suppose I kept my thoughts to myself a great deal. But I do recall that at the age of eight, I first began to think about what we were doing, we British were doing in Ireland, and beginning to object to it. At eight in a dark kitchen in a in a house in Pembrokeshire. 

Colin Moffat  13:47  

How would you know about those sorts of things?

Kenneth Griffith  13:50  

Well, because my grandfather was talking in this darkened kitchen. I was in a big          armchair. He was talking to two men.  Who the men were I don't recall. And he spoke about a neighbour named Flynn.  And Mr. Flynn was a sort of class above us, you know, it was, the structure of Britain at that time was demarked by varying classes. And I suppose Mr. Flynn was posher and his family. It's a curious thing. His wife seemed to be a ridiculous snob. And his two daughters were unbelievable snobs, pathetically. But Mr. Flynn was rather a nice man. I mean, I know that he was a nice man because he used to talk to me occasionally. And there was nothing in it for him to talk to a boy of seven and a half or eight.  He was a redheaded man.  And I then heard my grandfather say, you know, and lowering his voice in a conspiratorial manner, he said, you know that Flynn had to leave Ireland because he had the roof of his house burnt over his head. And I sat in this chair and pondered this very deeply, and I wanted to know why. Well, now I know a little more about it.  Mr. Flinn was an officer of the Royal Irish Constabulary. And I've also deduced, but never proved it, that a very dear friend of mine, a great Irish Republican leader of the Irish Republican Army, Commander [?] General Thomas Barry, almost certainly gave the orders for Flynn's house to be burnt down. So these are one of the interesting circles of life that my curiosity at the age of 78 not older.

Colin Moffat  16:24  

Did you start getting interested in these English people who you passed and meet many of there? Is that correct? 

Kenneth Griffith  16:33  

Well, I did meet a lot of them because the only thing that Tenby has is its tourist business. And in those days the only people who could afford to have a holiday were the English.  So for about three and a half months each year these very strange Martian like people, the English, would come to Tenby and stay there.  That's how Tenby derives its income. And they were very strange, they were very entertaining, they were very privileged, and I quite liked them. They were a very entity [?] that came with the summer, came with the late spring like the flowers and went away when the weather got cold. 

Colin Moffat  17:24  

Is that why it was called New England? 

Kenneth Griffith  17:26  

No, Little England beyond ...  Well, there are other reasons too. I mean, Flemish, what was it, I don't know, Flemish settlers were sent there. And then, of course, it was a famous watering place from early Victorian times.

Colin Moffat  17:49  

But were there not even earlier historical connections, Pembroke with the Royal Monarchy and so on Pembroke castles.

Kenneth Griffith  17:56  

Yes, the Normans, the Cromwellians, privileged English because of the beauty of the place.  And the Flemish settlers, they introduced weaving into the area. I can still remember a little building called the Flemish Weaver's House. It's gone now, for some foul petrol station. And there are one or two old Flemish houses still in Tenby. But I had nothing against the English because they were very entertaining. They were very different. And though I've lived amongst them here in London - I'm now 68, I came here when I was fifteen and a half - I was out for most of the War of course, I've been very happy, and one could even say privileged to live amongst the Cockneys.  But they're very different to me. I mean, the English are astoundingly different to us Celts.  Well after all, I mean you're Saxons, you're Angles and Saxons, you're Germans, aren't you really.  I can see Hitler's sick idea that he should be friendly with the English. But I think he might have tried to eliminate us Celts.

Colin Moffat  19:25  

What stage did you get on to the idea of being a boy actor and so on? Was that when you were seven or eight or a bit later?

Kenneth Griffith  19:36  

No, it was later. I was an academic disaster. I couldn't pass examinations. I mean, I was very good at one or two things that I liked and that interested me. But I couldn't accept that two and three made five. I still have a little difficulty in being sure that two and three make five. I couldn't accept it, so that made it impossible for me to pass examinations. But through, as my class master, a strange man named Densil Morgan, said when the examination results were published to get into the local grammar school and I was going to get in, he said, it's a clerical error. And anyway, I did get in, but they quickly found out that I couldn't pass examinations. And so my days there were numbered, and also we were extremely poor. So it was difficult for my grandparents to keep me there or to look after me, I had to get a job. And this was a nightmare, because what could I do? I had an aunt who died young. And I think she was the best of us.  She's an argument for the best die young. She had taken a degree at the University of Wales; she was the best educated of us. She was my father's sister, one of my father's sisters. And she took, to say an interest, she was worried about me. So at about the age of 14 she asked me, what would I like to do, had I thought, and I mumbled that I didn't know what to do. And she asked me if I would like to work in Boots the Chemist, which terrified me, I mean, the thought of working in Boots the Chemist when I was 14. She then asked me something even more ridiculous. She asked me if I would like to work in the bank. And since I really do have problems in adding three and two, this was utterly ridiculous, but I didn't wish to be impolite. But I think I'd probably mumbled that I wouldn't want to do either of those jobs. Of course, I had an idea. It was the days of the British Empire and I'd read about District Commissioners, and I knew about the North West Frontier, so I rather fancied myself or I would like to be a District Commissioner in Africa, or I would liked to have been an officer on the North West Frontier. I think I knew about tea planters; they had a great ...

Colin Moffat  20:16  

Where did this come from, Kipling?

Kenneth Griffith  22:57  

Oh, no, I think from boy's magazines. But I knew that these were outside my grasp for educational and class reasons. And so I did think, well I could volunteer to be a private in the British Army. And that this might take me to the North West Frontier, and they'd give me a uniform, they'd give me clothes, they'd feed me and I'd see. Of course, the extraordinary fact is that the ...  I've recently spent two years in India, and I was there at the personal invitation of the last two Prime Ministers of India. So life is very strange. Mrs Indira Gandhi became a keen follower, not of me as an actor. In fact, I suspect she didn't even know that I was an actor, though she was a shrewd woman, she'd probably inquired, but she did follow every film that I was responsible for. I first learned about that when she came over to see Edward Heath. And she asked me to have a meal with her.

Colin Moffat  24:15  

We shall come to this later.

Kenneth Griffith  24:18  

Yes.  And then she finally asked me.  She had everything sent to her in the diplomatic bag, so I was told after that.  And so from hoping to get there as a private soldier in the British Army, I did get there at the last two Prime Minister's invitations.

Colin Moffat  24:48  

This was just sheer romanticism, was it?

Kenneth Griffith  24:50  

On my part? Yes, of course it was, and the then reality of the British Empire.  However, at this grammar school we had an English, English literature mistress. Still a friend of mine, I'm glad to say, Evelyn Ward, a remarkable woman and a very fine teacher. And when we studied Shakespeare in the school, she gave us the parts to read. And it was quite clear ... I did do one thing at school better than anyone else and that was drawing. I could draw better than anyone else. But when she gave us these parts to read, it became quite clear that this was something else that I could do better than anyone else in the school. So when I was leaving at the age of fifteen and a half, she took over a derelict cinema, she wasn't going to put on a play in the school hall that was normally done, and she sort of knocked it into shape. And she put on a play about Richard the    Second. Not Shakespeare's Richard the Second, but written by a Scottish schoolmistress, who pleased to call herself Gordon Daviot. A play about Richard the Second, which she titled 'Richard of Bordeaux' so that I could play Richard and I did it. I knew I was very good.

Colin Moffat  26:25  

Was this literally the first time you tried out your acting ability?

Kenneth Griffith  26:29  

Yes, up until then I was the one person in both the junior school and the senior school who refused to participate in any school stage activities. It was so frightening and awful. But I did this. And the local critic was a very sophisticated man - because his dead now - named Frederick Coles. And he was Lord Merthyr's secretary. He was very familiar with the London theatre. And he wrote a review, which included the statement that if this boy chooses to make the stage a career, and something about whether he achieved success or not, he will deserve to succeed. And this put the idea into my head that I could earn my living as an actor. And that was the little, little, little, little gateway of escape into the creative world. I hadn't seen a live actor in my life, I'd never seen a stage play. But I was allowed to go to the cinema. I got to the cinema. 

Colin Moffat  27:50  

How good were you, do you think? 

Kenneth Griffith  27:51  

I was almost as good as I am today. And I do consider myself to be ... though I don't do it anymore ... certainly one of the few top actors in this country.

Colin Moffat  28:12  

 Where did you get this talent? 

Kenneth Griffith  28:14  

Well, I think it's a sense of, you know, people talk about timing, actors' timing. Timing is truth. It's as simple as that. I mean I, unlike most actors, become different people. And therefore, it is the truth for different people. It is whatever state of mind, I mean, for the personality actors, which is about 95% of actors, then it is their truth. Their own personal truth, it is their timing. It really depends on the brain, the specific brain. And if you become different people, therefore the state of the brain is different. Not only the brain, but whatever other clinical realities there are. So I always had ...  I'm not saying that I haven't told lies, though I stopped telling, or have tried so hard to stop telling, any lies in the latter part of the war. There were certain reasons for that. And therefore I do tell the truth, as I feel it and see it. So I certainly wasn't going to tell lies on the stage.

Colin Moffat  29:49  

Were you ... Do you think you were a born actor? 

Kenneth Griffith  29:52  

Yes, yes. 

Colin Moffat  29:53  

Because this ... if you hadn't watched professional actors, and you'd have no training, it must have been inside you. 

Kenneth Griffith  30:01  

Yes, of course. 

Colin Moffat  30:03  

Perhaps you were an imaginative boy.

Kenneth Griffith  30:06  

 Oh, yes. 

Colin Moffat  30:06  

And liked taking on the mantle of other people and that kind of thing. 

Kenneth Griffith  30:10  

Yes, oh well, of course many actors and actresses will tell you, the honest ones, that they turned to acting to escape from themselves, because that's a very ... and I think that that is very true.

Colin Moffat  30:27  

Rather surprising that you had such a good voice though, wasn't it?

Kenneth Griffith  30:31  

Well, this is a little bit of a mystery because my grandfather spoke quite like I did. So did my grandmother, they had almost no accent whatsoever. And the first time I became aware of that ...  I was conscious of it because I suppose sometimes, occasionally, but very rarely, some other child would taunt me for being posh, but very, very rarely. Very rarely.

Colin Moffat  31:01  

It is interesting this because I've noticed this amongst a number of Welsh people, it seems to be a characteristic. I mean, Dylan Thomas had it, didn't he?  He had what we call standard English. Better than ... not BBC Standard English, something much bigger than that. But as you say, no accent.

Kenneth Griffith  31:19  

Yes, Dylan Thomas is interesting. Yes, there ... I suppose it would be a Celtic wish or a Welsh Celtic wish to speak well, if you have something to communicate. I mean, one of the shocking things about television today is that they are allowing illiterates to hold regular positions on television. Not only do they speak ungrammatical English, but they speak it appallingly. Putting aside, someone like that, Mr. Whale, who is so cruel, and vulgar, allowed week after week on television, I think probably a sort of common wish, that if you have something to communicate, make sure that they can hear you and that it is as attractively communicated as possible. I mean, music is not something to be ashamed of.

Colin Moffat  32:26  

Of course, it was necessary in that era, wasn't it, to speak in that way in the theatre anyway?  You would have to come around to it anyway, wouldn't you? 

Kenneth Griffith  32:36  

Yes, I would have. 

Colin Moffat  32:37  

It came to you obviously very naturally. 

Kenneth Griffith  32:38  

Yes, because I spoke it when I was a child. The first time I became worldly conscious of it was again when I was quite a young boy.   A lot seemed to happen to me when I was about eight or nine. But I asked a man in the street, please, could he tell me the time? What time it was? And he told me the time and I said, "Thank you sir". And I turned to go and he said "Son come here". He said, "Who taught you to speak like that?" Now I can remember vividly the sort of how disconcerted and probably embarrassed I was by this question.  But I don't know what answer I gave.  I certainly didn't say well, my grandfather talks like this.  Where it came from or why.  There is a bit of a mystery in my background, you see his father, my great grandfather ... and there is a photograph upstairs of me sitting on my great grandfather's lap and behind us are my father and my grandfather.  Now that man on whose lap I was sitting received a small income all his life because he was, as it was first said to me, the illegitimate son of a lord. Now one of my three wives, Doria, has investigated in the old days at Somerset House. And she has some rather startling revelations to make if she chooses to. She didn't ... her investigations were not conclusive, so there is an ambiguity about me that ....

Colin Moffat  34:34  

Of course, you didn't know this when you were a teenager, did you?

Kenneth Griffith  34:36  

When I was a teenager I did, but at that time I didn't.  So to put it very boldly, I am of high aristocratic background and the kitchen.  And I was brought up as it were in the kitchen. Whether that has anything to do with it, I really don't know,

Colin Moffat  35:10  

it might have a lot to do with a lot of things, not only your voice.

Kenneth Griffith  35:14  

Yes, it might have a lot to do with many things, true. In fact, you know, though I've got fed up with this autobiography I've largely written, I have thought about asking Doria perhaps ... but I'm not deeply curious ... to write a piece about her findings. I don't want to write about it myself.

Colin Moffat  35:47  

So you had this success in Richard of Bordeaux, and perhaps other plays before you left school.

Kenneth Griffith  35:54  

No, just that one, because it was on the eve of my leaving. 

Colin Moffat  35:59  

And it got well reviewed, did it?

Kenneth Griffith  36:01  

Yes, extraordinarily well reviewed, largely by this Mr. Coles. And it was he who said "If this boy chooses to make the stage a career ..."  Well, of course I'd been to the cinema, I admired Gary Cooper as a young man, Jimmy Cagney. And, of course, before that Douglas Fairbanks Senior, Tom Mix.

Colin Moffat  36:25  

Any British actors?

Kenneth Griffith  36:28  

Ronald Coleman, I rather liked. And of course, Oh, yes, wait a minute. I mean, people I later acted with, Gordon Harker. I've acted with Gordon Harker. Oh, yes, I began ... because I drifted into the film business while still in my teens and I found myself acting with people I'd seen on the screen in Tenby. This was a very remarkable experience for me. What happened was, my mother intervened in my life. And she got me a job in an ironmonger's shop in Cambridge, counting bloody nails and things like that. 

Colin Moffat  37:17  

Why Cambridge? 

Kenneth Griffith  37:18  

Because she had a man friend who ran that shop. And that was a terrible nightmare. But I was in a city where there was a theatre, the old famous Festival Theatre. And I, for the first time, went to see a play. I went to see this distinguished company doing "The Merchant of Venice". And I was tremendously impressed whatever I paid, fourpence to sit in the gallery. And so the next day I left the nails. I was then about sixteen and a half or so. And I left the nails. And I went to the stage door and a man said "What do you want?" And I said, "Please, can I see the producer?" So bless him, he went, and even more blesses, the producer arrived, a man named Peter Hoare [?], at the stage door and he said, "What do you want?"  I was a spotty faced Welsh boy and I said "I want to be an actor" and I fished out my notices from the school play, which were extravagant. I mean, he implied that I was a genius, Mr. Coles. And the producer said " Well, can you do something for me?" And I said "Yes, sir". So he said "Come down". So I stood on this stage and I did a bit of Richard of Bordeaux and I did a bit of Henry the 5th. And he said, "Can you come back at the same time tomorrow ...", (which was about three o'clock in the afternoon) "... and do it again?"  What he didn't tell me was that he'd asked the entire company to be in the gallery to watch this boy carrying on.  Very quietly, I didn't know they were there, but I learned later. And when it was over, he offered me a job as an actor. And he paid me three pounds a week to be an actor in the company. I was 16. Of course, you could have full board for thirty shillings a week in those days. You could have full board for twenty-five shillings a week. So I was amply provided for.

Colin Moffat  39:34  

What sort of status did this have?

Kenneth Griffith  39:38  

Oh, Tyrone Guthrie had directed there, Flora Robson. She wasn't there when I was there. But it was a very high ... It was one of the smaller provincial theatres but adhered to top class plays and top class productions. So that the first production I was in was a modern dressed version of Julius Caesar, which was about Fascists.  We were on the eve of the war approaching, Hitler was already raving and ranting. And so it was very advanced. And I played Cinna, the poet, which is an important role, as every role I suppose that Shakespeare ever created is important.

Colin Moffat  40:26  

Was it a theatre which tended to put on the classics?

Kenneth Griffith  40:30  

Yes, tended the very best they could possibly do. It was Cambridge after all. And that was an interesting experience, because I'd never made myself up. I knew nothing about the professional theatre. I remember the other actors rallying round some distinguished actors and helping me with my makeup. 

Colin Moffat  40:55  

And what were you like physically as an actor? When you started doing that sort of work?

Kenneth Griffith  41:01  

Well, I was a very, very thin sixteen-year-old.

Colin Moffat  41:10  

I mean your performance physically. I mean, what was it? 

Kenneth Griffith  41:14  

Well, it was bloody good, it's embarrassing for me to reiterate. I was absolutely top class.

Colin Moffat  41:25  

But how?  You hadn't gone to a drama school.  You'd done one play at a school in Wales.

Kenneth Griffith  41:33  

Yes.  But instinct of how to communicate, instinct about ... Yes, it wasn't only that truth that I was speaking about. The clarity with which I spoke, the imagination which, undoubtedly, I have, that I could always very easily emphasize with other people, with Mr. Flynn. I mean, if I think of someone's suffering, even someone I haven't known, my toes will curl with the pain of it.  Always was so.  Then I had a sense of what would be an effective way of telling it.

Colin Moffat  42:33  

But what about movement and things like that, which you can't possibly have known a great deal about?  I mean, playing to the audience and the procedures.

Colin Moffat  42:40  

Well, they were out there. I was going to tell a grand story and be a king. What is ... Yes, it was there. I can give you an instance, which I think I've written about in my autobiography because I've written a little bit about this. And Richard had a friend, de Vere, historical figures. Robert, I think, de Vere. And Robert de Vere says to the young king "Don't you trust me, Richard?" and I had to reply "My dear Richard. The only persons I trust are twenty thousand archers paid regularly every Friday morning." Well, I remember quite distinctly when I was asked that question. We are both downstage and he says "Richard, don't you trust me?" And I look at it, do I trust. I mean, what do you do if you tell the truth? This is a startling question if you'd asked it of me, my dear Colin.  I said "My dear Robert, the only persons I trust are twenty thousand archers."  I still have to get from downstage to the exit upstage. So I made that statement "My dear Robert, the only persons I trust are twenty thousand archers", finished, walked up, got to the door, stopped, turned and said, "paid regularly every Friday morning".

End of Side 1

Side 2

Colin Moffat  0:01  

Kenneth Griffith Side 2

Kenneth Griffith  0:03  

I don't think that Evelyn Ward told me to hold that last statement about paid regularly every Friday morning. I don't think she told me until I made my exit. It carried and, of course, it's effective. But common sense and a sense of drama, which indeed, of course, I could have picked up from the local preachers, they were masters of timing. I mean, to actually make a towering statement and then turn your back on your audience and hold it there for 30 seconds till they swung round and hit you again with the fear of God. You know, of course, yes I learnt it, yes but I didn't realise I was learning it. But that seemed to be the way if you're going to ... and they were damn right ... If you were going to try and hold people's attention, you had to hold people's attention. And, of course, it made great sense. I mean to say, the only persons I trust are twenty thousand archers, that's fine. But that isn't all. The reason you can trust them is that they're paid every Friday morning. So those sorts of things came natural to me. And I think it is, it would be true to say that I gained a good deal unconsciously from the great preachers.

Colin Moffat  1:31  

How unusual was it for a young man not to go to a drama school, but just go straight into a theatre and get on with it like this.

Kenneth Griffith  1:40  

Pretty unusual at that time. Of course, before Edmund Kean, for which we are all very grateful, didn't go to a drama school. Probably the greatest actor we've ever had. But it's become fashionable now. And it's degenerated this sort of attitude, where the actor has got into whatever's going on at the National Theatre and the other institutional theatres.

Colin Moffat  2:12  

Strange that the standard of their speaking should now be lower, though most people go to drama school. 

Kenneth Griffith  2:18  

Yeah, but it isn't strange, really. I mean, the hopes of a thespian have been pretty well destroyed by the Peter Halls of this world. The, in some cases, failed actors from Oxford and Cambridge, who coincided with large subsidies, which enable them to grow pretty rich and pretty famous at the expense of the people who count, the players, I mean, the players and the writers, the players and the writers. The most that a director should be, is how to present what the player interprets from the script, most effectively. The greatest theatre of my time, with all due respect to Laurence Olivier and the others, was Tyrone Guthrie, who was really a towering genius.

Colin Moffat  3:28  

We can say more about him when we reach after the War, I think.

Kenneth Griffith  3:34  

Yes, but what was once ... I would like to say this because it's relevant to what's going on today in the degeneration of the potential of actors and actresses ... Was that I once actually asked Tyrone Guthrie before we started rehearsals, we were doing a Marlowe play, Christopher Marlowe play, "Tamburlaine", and I didn't know what to do with the part.  It was perhaps the first time I didn't know what to do with a part. And I thought it might be because I spent the preceding four years just in the film industry, earning a living. And I asked him, the director, I said, I don't know, "Can you help me?" To which he replied, being the towering man he was, "Much rather leave it to your donation Kenneth." The thought that he should in any way interrupt another artist. Talent was out of the question. He gave me a reply which perhaps I'll tell you later if you want to know but he didn't tell me. He only told me how he prepared that we hadn't started the rehearsals, the rehearse we hadn't. He told me how he prepared my entrance, and all was clear. Now, what have we got today? You can, I can I'm told, say that King Lear is on at The National. I can easily find out who directed it. But who is playing King Lear? which is all important, because we know about William Shakespeare. It would be quite difficult unless you phoned up. First of all, it was the alphabetical listing, Edmund Kean took his place amongst the Ks, shit! I mean; you know, I am angry against Peter Hall and company because they've destroyed a part of my life, my potential. And of course, those who followed, who get on. Oh, well, anyway.

Colin Moffat  5:49  

Well, we might return to that.  I mean, you're talking about the directors theatre, aren't you?  The actors or the authors theatre. 

Kenneth Griffith  5:57  

Yeah, that's one of them. And you know, it all depends finally on the person stuck there out there on the stage. But that person, that person can't go. I mean, yes, great actors have taken poor plays up into the heavens, say, Irving, and the Bells.  They can achieve things in spite of the failure of the director or the failure of the writer or the relative failure.  But of course, they need a fine text.  And they need a man like Tyrone Guthrie, who can present that text and those performances with maximum effect.

Colin Moffat  6:51  

Are you saying that this rather unpleasant phenomenon was not so evident in the mid- 1930s?  I mean, we're now at about 1937, the Cambridge theatre, Festival Theatre, what did you think of the directing going on there? I mean, or were you too young to? Or do it with hindsight? I mean, do you think? 

Kenneth Griffith  7:16  

Well, I think that every director of consequence, both film, television and theatre, that I have ever met, they say very little to the players. Because they have assumed that having cast an actor or an actress, that what that actor or actress can best do, what they can do with a part they know more about than anyone else. Yes, very. In the film industry I've barely met a director who has ever told me what to do. And if they have, I'm usually in serious trouble because they told me to do something, which is not wise usually, usually.  Usually, they will have thought how you enter, and how you're being photographed, from what angle, what movements?  

Colin Moffat  8:31  


Kenneth Griffith  8:32  

Yes.  Sure where they would like you too.  Can you, you know, the best of them ask you if you can manage that. Is that possible?  Because of course, also players are on a razor's edge of confidence.   You know.   I'm tempted to tell you a couple of instances, or one of the two instances that are in my mind about how Roy Boulting who I had the good fortune to work for handled an actor's confidence.  He was a stickler for looking after his actors.  I know it's out of context, but I think once he was doing, making a film, and Peter Cushing, who had been our leading horror film actor, and suddenly Mr Cushing was in a sort of serious drama, which he was very anxious to be in, and Roy was anxious that he did have an opportunity to break away.  But his first morning was with me, and we were two scientists I think, and we had to come through some swing doors, walk down a corridor, turn a corner, and talking and come to a stop and finish the scene.  I was on the left and Mr Cushing was on the right, that's actors left and right. And he was in, he's a highly sensitive man and he knew I mean, if he'd been in his usual setting of the sort of films that he did, I'm sure he would have had no problems at all but somehow this was a dramatic morning for him.  And we walked down you know, it's a little unfair I suppose that I should recite this, but I have the greatest sympathy for the critical nerves that he suffered from.  And we did it, we came and we went to take sixteen. And I had it right each time, I've had my problems but not on this occasion. Mr Cushing was in grave trouble and on take sixteen instead .... so distressful, was the situation that Mr Cushing always turned to the right and walked away. and I walked to the left, in actual fact he turns to the left and walks straight into me. I mean, it was chaos.  And Roy bolting behind the camera said "Kenneth, for God's sake old chap do be careful it's a frightfully difficult scene for Peter." And I had a moment of outrage.  But I had quick sense to recover and okay, I had a fair idea what was going on and take seventeen Mr Cushing got it absolutely perfect.  Print.  It was the end of the day for me, so I went to my dressing room and I hurried away back into London, we were at Shepperton, I think it was Shepperton, and as I got home the phone was ringing.  It was Roy, he said "My dear chap he dashed to your dressing room but they said you'd gone.  I do apologize.  I felt that your shoulders were broad enough old chap".

Kenneth Griffith  12:20  

The psychology how critical you know of an actor. And that that I had made a mistake, or it was proclaimed publicly to be my mistake, just gave it and I don't think Mr. Cushing had another hesitation throughout the making of the film. They've been other cases where Roy has done that sort of thing, felt that since we were such close friends, and we knew each other, that I could suffer a bit to help a colleague. And that, of course, is a very sensitive director. And if anyone moves in an actor's eyeline and Roy is ...  they're ordered off the floor immediately, because people rarely understand how terribly difficult acting can be.

Colin Moffat  13:13  

Since we're talking about screen acting now, what, in fact, did you ... you started to do some non-theatre work fairly early on didn't you, before The War, possibly in broadcasting and filmmaking?

Kenneth Griffith  13:27  

Yes, in. I was film acting before the war, and I actually televised before The War at Alexandra Palace.  Isn't it? Alexandra Palace?  I did a play for a great actress who is unknown, Nancy Price, who ran what she pleased to call the National Theatre, which was infinitely superior in spirit than our grand concrete mausoleum. 

Colin Moffat  14:05  

Where was it?

Kenneth Griffith  14:06  

On the South Bank.  She used the Playhouse.

Colin Moffat  14:09  

Northumberland Avenue?

Kenneth Griffith  14:10  

Yes, correct. And we did The Shoemaker's Holiday by Dekker. And it was televised. So we all trooped up to Alexandra Palace. And there was a chap I think who ran British television, because we were the first in the world weren't we.  How this country has declined, and there is no mystery about it whatsoever. And good luck to Mrs. Thatcher, but I don't think she can pull the British people back on their feet. I think we're a lost. It's ... However, anyway, Nancy Banks [Laughter] Nancy Price! ... 

Colin Moffat  14:51  


Kenneth Griffith  14:51  

I presume she was, but it never entered my head at the time. And the man who ran British television was a chap named Cox, as far as I remember. 

Colin Moffat  15:02  

Gerald Cock.

Kenneth Griffith  15:03  

Cock was it, really? It wasn't C O  X ?

Colin Moffat  15:08  

I don't think so.

Kenneth Griffith  15:09  

Oh, well, you could be right because he was just a name to me and a voice, a disembodied voice. I remember making some remark critical of what was going on on the floor, at the age of 17/18 . And a voice came down. "I know what I'm doing Mr. Griffith but thank you very much."  I hadn't calculated that I could be overheard.  He then went to America, didn't he? when The War came, because he knew more about television than anybody else, putting aside Mr. Baird, and those clever people. But he knew and so he was shipped to America.

Colin Moffat  15:48  

Did you also do television from a theatre, because they used to do quite a lot of outside broadcasts? 

Kenneth Griffith  15:57  


Colin Moffat  15:58  

You always went to the studio. 

Kenneth Griffith  16:00  


Colin Moffat  16:01  

You can't remember any producers you worked for, can you? 

Kenneth Griffith  16:04  


Colin Moffat  16:05  

I know. It's a hell of a long time ago.

Kenneth Griffith  16:07  

Oh, well I didn't do much, you see.  You can say I did The Shoemaker's Holiday. I mean, very few people ... This was before ... I mean, only a handful of people ever saw these. It was the very early days of ... 1938, was it?

Colin Moffat  16:23  

37, 38 and then it closed down, didn't it?

Kenneth Griffith  16:27  

That's right. So I was in there. And there can't be many of us left. I remember the funny cameras and the thick makeup.

Colin Moffat  16:36  

Grey makeup.

Kenneth Griffith  16:37  

It could be very thick. And the feeling that very few people were watching, so you didn't suffer the appalling nerves that one suffered after he war with live television plays. That was horrific. Filming, I think that the first filming I did was the very first films that Rank made. He was he was the Miller, but we gathered he was a Methodist. He was a Christian. And he wanted to make films with a Christian message. And indeed, it was a sort of very makeshift ... Was that at Alexandra Palace? I don't think so. But it seemed to me like a big tin shed, an enormous tin shed. And a man we knew as Captain Norman Walker directed them. 

Colin Moffat  17:44  

These were, in fact, religious films?

Kenneth Griffith  17:46  

Yes, they were.  I was a little Arab boy, a little Palestinian boy or little ... you know, I remember that. And he was a very nice man ... I never met Rank; he didn't seem to appear ... but Captain Norman Walker. And the other day, just a few weeks ago, I noticed in the TV Times or the Radio Times that there was a film called Hard Steel on and I knew I was in it. I had no idea what I did in it. But I knew I was in it, and I knew, I felt that it was then Norman Walker, or Rank, wanted to go into the cinema, go into it bigger, to communicate the message with not biblical subjects, but nevertheless, ethical moral arguments, Christian arguments, and one of the first he made was called, Hard Steel. So I sat here and switched it on. And I was very impressed by the quality of that film. By Captain Norman Walker's director, I would, I couldn't have told you, I thought it was excellent. And the performances, Wilfred Lawson in the leading male role. The photography was fine, the sound was fine. It was a very fine film. And then I appeared and I played a scene in which I thought, you know you do wonder under those circumstances, a film crew, what you do, you know, what did you do? I can only think of one film where I made a mess of it. But I saw this scene and I was very good. And I sat here and somehow, I mean, there's one on tomorrow so the man who telephoned me told me, The Prisoner, Bridget Boland's The Prisoner.  I'm in that and I've never felt looking at them. I thought well done, Griffith. Good, very good, you know, and in that very early one, I thought I was excellent.

Colin Moffat  20:05  

These were pretty small parts I believe.

Kenneth Griffith  20:08  

I had a whole scene in which I was playing a worker in a factory, who'd heard a message of what is right and what is wrong and had taken action and was accused by the manager and sacked. And I answered and argued. No, it was, I mean it was a very important scene.

Colin Moffat  20:39  

Did you have an agent by now?

Kenneth Griffith  20:41  

I think I did. Yes, I did.

Colin Moffat  20:43  

And, of course, you were an Equity member?  For some time? 

Kenneth Griffith  20:46  


Colin Moffat  20:50  

Just before the War, were you doing more film work than theatre work? Or was it all pure chance what you were doing really?

Kenneth Griffith  21:00  

Yes, pure chance. Making, trying to survive. The agent bit is very interesting. Names will ... but Emlyn Williams intervened a little bit on my behalf. Though, he felt that I had let him down. I always felt it was unjust. But he withdrew his support for me after the first time he helped me. I mean, helped me by getting me a job. But he did. I understudied a little bit in The Corn Is Green, his play. And he wouldn't speak to me. He was a strange man. He just walked past me.

Colin Moffat  22:02  

A little envy, perhaps. 

Kenneth Griffith  22:02  

No, he had no reason. 

Colin Moffat  22:07  

He was considerably older than you, I think.

Kenneth Griffith  22:08  

Yes. considerably older. No, no, no, no. But I think he had sympathy initially for a Welsh boy in London, as he had been no doubt, well, he went to Oxford didn't he. And in The Corn Is Green, I used to stand in the wings every night to watch it, when he'd stand by me, the side of me, and wouldn't acknowledge when I'd say good evening if I passed him. And then one evening standing there waiting to go on as Morgan Evans. He said "Do you know who Norman Marshall is?"  I wasn't sure, but I said "Yes, sir" He said "I spoke to Norman Marshall about you today and he'd like to see you tomorrow morning at 11 o'clock.  He's putting on a play called Enfant Terrible" I think it was.  Cocteau, was it? I think so anyway, at the theatre in Villiers Street, I forget that. And he said anyway. So I went along and I saw Norman Marshall. And Norman Marshall was a very neurotic man. Terrible tension, terrible tension. And he was ... he said "Emlyn Williams speaks very highly of you." He said, now he said "I'm putting on this play, Enfant Terrible." I think it was Cocteau, and he said "The young man in the leading role has been offered to someone else, but he may not be able to do it. And if he doesn't, then I'm sure because Mr. Williams thinks so highly of you, do you want it?" Well, the young man did play it, so I didn't.  Norman Marshall then said "Oh well, I'm putting on a play afterwards." He said "All the best parts have gone, but there is a part that you can have if you want it."  And so I left The Corn Is Green and did this part as a play about Borstal with a lot of young men. It was called Boys In Brown, and a lot of young men. And I had this relatively small part, but I could see that it was ... it had distinct possibilities. And ...

Colin Moffat  24:44  

Boys In Brown, pre-War.  Just before The War?

Kenneth Griffith  24:48  

Yes, or just at the outbreak of War, just before The War, just on the eve of War. And on the Sunday, of course, then we had different critics. Critics, Brown on The Observer, wasn't it, and Agate on The Times or vice versa, I don't know. But these were the towering, you know, these were ... this is the voice of judgement. It's a bit of a mishmash now, isn't it? Anyway, these were giants. I mean, they would both give me wonderful reviews. No one had bargained for it. And into my dressing room came one night where there were several other actors at The Gate Theatre, The Gate it was called.

Colin Moffat  25:39  

Notting Hill? 

Kenneth Griffith  25:39  

No, no, no, in Villiers Street, Charing Cross.  And that's what I think. I've got a preface to my autobiography that I guarantee no dates or anything else. And I ask the reader to bear in mind that, isn't this interesting that this is what he thinks happened. Anyway, so that gets me off that hook. And into my dressing room came an American, Al Parker, the director of The Black Pirate ... wasn't it Douglas Fairbanks, Senior, my hero? ... he directed it. Wonderful film. And Al Parker was a tough American. And he said [adopts American accent] "Mr. Griffith", he said, "I'm going to set up as an agent here and I'm only going to have a few clients, twenty." He said, "I sure want you to be one of them." And at the same time, a more respectable agent, with established oak panelled offices. And I told Mr. Parker that I thought perhaps I should go to this established British ... which I think was at that time, a big mistake on my part. I remember just after that, which I've also written about, you know, Maggie Parker had taken over her husband's job and it's still being run.  Indeed, my daughter Eva is a client of Maggie Parker. And I was sent to the old ABC Studios at Welwyn Garden City for a part in a West of England comedy called A Farmer's Wife. Here's a bit of film history for you now. And it was a very makeshift sort of tin roof waiting room with wooden benches, rather dark. And Mr. Ingles, who was a sort of an Assistant.  And Mr. Ingles was inhibited by what we used to say had no roof to it, because he couldn't speak very well. But he came out and checked that I was there. And also in the gloom was Al Parker with a rather sulky young man. And he came up and talked to me and said, "How's it going, son?", said Al Parker to me.  The sulky young man was James Mason, whom he'd also ... and it was Al Parker, who absolutely ... sometimes it was said that he would strike a producer who did not readily accept James Mason. He was a tough guy. And I believe he did once at Denham hit a producer for having said, made some aspersion against this sulky young man, James Mason. But he was very sympathetic towards me, and I got precedence over them with the Head of the Studio, Walter Mycroft. Now, here was the Assistant who was inhibited very seriously in the way he could speak. And Walter Mycroft was virtually a dwarf. Did you know that? I mean, when he was standing up, he was a powerful but a very nice man, a writer. He was Head of the Studio. And he started to talk to me when there was a knock on the door. And Mr. Mycroft said, "Come in." and in came Al Parker, and he said  "Mr. Mycroft, this young man has nothing to do with me, but I've seen him act. He's a great actor." And I was given the job. And of course, I've never forgotten that. But I went with this more respectable agent, and nobody knew what to do with me really, because I would play different roles. And you know, that is the most difficult thing to survive in the film industry, to play different characters and to survive. America ... who is that great actor? Paul Mooney. Now Paul Mooney survived in America by becoming different people, for Warner Brothers, wasn't it? I mean, it's almost impossible. Almost impossible. And in Britain, of course, Alec Guinness has, and Peter Sellars has.

Colin Moffat  30:37  

Were you getting Welsh parts? Because post War you tended to do more of those?

Kenneth Griffith  30:44  

Well, I always oppose them. I did very, very few. I turned a number of jobs down because they were Welsh. And even Roy Boulting and John would try and to persuade me to do them Welsh and succeeded once or twice. But of course, that was very limiting. And so I, I mean, for, say, the 90 roles out of ... say I acted in a hundred films, ninety of them would not have been Welsh.

Colin Moffat  31:16  

You've got quite a range of accents, haven't you? I mean, local, you can do most of the country.

Kenneth Griffith  31:20  

Yes. I, yes.

Colin Moffat  31:22  

Was that developed by pre-War time by sort of late 30's. Was that ...

Kenneth Griffith  31:27  

I could have, yes. In The Farmer's Wife I played a West of England chap. I must say that probably I would dread seeing that film today because I don't think ... I don't know what I did with it but I've got worries about it. I haven't seen it since, and I don't want to. It might even crop up. But I remember that there were two young lovers in it. I was one of them. The other one was Michael Wilding, and the two girls were Patricia Roc and Kid Berg, the boxer's wife, who was one of Mr. Cochran's Young Ladies, named Bunty Payne. Bunty disappeared. She married, I'm told, a millionaire and lives in the West Indies to this day, so I'm told. Kid Berg confirmed that to me some years ago - great boxer. And I remember going to see my first rushes. And this story was at one time very funny indeed. But funny stories are funny during one period and not so funny during another. Because, you know, when I told this story first perhaps, then Michael Wilding was a great star and was just moving from Herbert Wilcox, and Anna Neagle's leading man to Hollywood. Patricia Roc was one of our leading young ladies, but coming out of rushes, I remember saying to myself, I don't know if I'm any good, but what I do, I'm a bloody sight better than that lot. Well, at one time, people would fall about with laughter. It's not so funny today for various reasons. [Laughter] But life is ...

Colin Moffat  33:27  

You were still not really particularly choosy about what you played, were you?  I mean, you weren't going for one kind of play, film or ... You really were a jobbing actor.

Kenneth Griffith  33:40  

No. I was in no position whatsoever. It was first of all survival. And then I began to get married. And then I had to, really you know, that life was difficult. No, I was never in that position, until recent years when I, to some extent, choose what film I am going to make.

Colin Moffat  34:05  

Of course, the question of money does come into it, doesn't it? Presumably, even in those days, the pay for movie work was infinitely better than theatre. Is that right?

Kenneth Griffith  34:15  

Yes, and I would submit that there are very few exceptions to this rule. For all of their love of the theatre, which, of course, since the institutional theatres have arrived that love has gone, largely, so that every player, he may express ??? [unclear] but they don't do it anymore, very much. The theatre is everything to me. I do think that the moment they had a chance to go into television they went and the moment they had a chance to leave television to go into film, they did. I'm speaking of some years ago now. No I think, you know, the player is generally relatively disillusioned with the theatre. And there's no mystery about that.

Colin Moffat  35:11  

The pay until quite recently for actors was appalling. It must have been extremely bad in the 30's. Was it? theatre work?

Kenneth Griffith  35:22  

Well, that very first job I had, as I was saying, I got three pounds a week, but my full board, that meant bed, breakfast, lunch, supper, cost me thirty shillings. So that wasn't so bad. 

Kenneth Griffith  35:39  

Wasn't the minimum rate extremely low? 

Kenneth Griffith  35:41  

Oh, well, unions didn't come into it much then. Another, another reason for the decline?

Colin Moffat  35:49  

You mean, you could make friendly arrangements? Negotiate a rate from your producer, or ...? 

Kenneth Griffith  35:54  

Yes, I don't think the Equity really intervened about these things, not to my knowledge. No, no, no.

Colin Moffat  36:02  

You weren't particularly conscious of being underpaid in those days.?

Kenneth Griffith  36:04  

 No. What I was conscious of was of the tremendous competition. And the fact that I've never been a sort of good social hustler to find out what's going on, or to ingratiate myself. I've never and therefore, this is a very, very important part and one is foolish if one doesn't do it. I've always hoped that I could survive without it. And, indeed, I did by the skin of my teeth. So that yes, it was a desperate time to get work. And there were periods before The War when I lived at Myatt's Park. I was given shelter by a lady dresser. You know, who dresses actresses, and she befriended me in a company where I was understudying and she half kept me and fed me, Katie Pilkington, long dead. But Katie really does live in my heart. And I would walk from Camberwell Green to the West End five or six days a week to go round the agents and get thrown out of the agents. Because there were lots of agents then. It was a different structure. Who wanted a spotty face Welsh boy. And then I would walk back. I would walk about nine to ten miles a day, because I walked round the West End, because I had no bus fare. I had no tuppence for the telephone. So I walked. And when I was exhausted, I would sit in St. James' Park, or the National Gallery if it was wet. And I tell you, it's only very recently that I could bring myself, force myself into St. James' Park, so horrific were those memories. And the National Gallery I have a great reluctance in going into in spite of the beauty of the park, and the great paintings inside.

Colin Moffat  38:32  

Frustration you're talking about?

Kenneth Griffith  38:35  

I'm talking about daily being wounded by rejection. And how would I get tuppence? How would I get a shilling? And sometimes I was hungry, but my main memory is having wet feet because there were holes in my shoes. And I had no money to have them repaired, leave alone buy a new pair. And so of the many instances, somehow it's focused on one and that is in the Charing Cross Road. And if anyone could have observed me from a distance, they would have thought that I'd gone mad because I would think I'll buy some toothpaste and a bun. Right up the road. No, toothpaste or a bun. Bun up the Charing Cross Road stop. No toothpaste down, stop, oh I'm hungry. Up, down.  You know, people today, how we have declined as a people. I mean, I heard a schoolteacher on television a couple of weeks ago, and when I remember the standards of Evelyn Ward, Wilfred Harris, my history master, and others, the school teacher on television over these unofficial strikes was saying "I'm leaving this business. I am not going to work for £17,000 a year". [Shouts angrily] Shit. The end of Britain damn them. The greed. And the unions have a lot to answer. If ACTT has anything to do with this, the unions have a lot to answer for. When I started, you know, things were, I mean, sometimes the film would go through the night, because someone had got the money, they had to make the film. And people were glad to do it. I still feel to this day, that to be able to work on a film, of course, my present role, perhaps trying to communicate important, worthwhile points of view is a tremendous privilege. But I do think to have a job in the sound department, the camera department, the editing department, the actors, the producers, the directors, tremendous privilege. And if we once begin to rely on anything except our enthusiasm, and that we can make a living out, it's the end. It's the end.

Colin Moffat  41:33  

But I mean, is there any virtue in this terrible suffering, which you were putting up with, almost penniless, and only  a bun to eat?

Kenneth Griffith  41:43  

Well, the alternative is the end of Edmund Kean, and the end of Tyrone Guthrie. That's what the alternative is, the State. I remember once saying to Tyrone Guthrie about, I wanted a State Theatre and I wanted Tyrone Guthrie to run it,  but he didn't have to put up with a board of governors who'd insist upon things and he would immediately walk out, he'd resign and leave me stranded with his inferiors at the Old Vic [Phew!] and urging me to stay on and stick to my guns which he shouldn't have done. I should have walked out with him because the humiliation that I came ... but that's another matter. Anyway ...

Colin Moffat  42:31  

Was it, you're implying ?

Kenneth Griffith  42:33  

[? Unclear]. He said "Kenneth you know that I've just directed at the Swedish State Theatre" or something he said to me, and I said "Yes". He said "You wouldn't like you wouldn't like it at all." Because what he actually said was something that doesn't happen in ours, because there's far less emphasis put on the importance of the actor in our so-called National Theatre or The Royal Shakespeare. He said "You know, the actor who's playing Hamlet is 50 years old, and he's been playing it for 23 years. And you wouldn't like it, Kenneth." But there are other things. No, no, I'm afraid the artist, you know, unless the artist can say, unless Michael Angelo can say to the Pope, "Go and stuff it. Don't you dare speak to me about what I should or should not do." Or the actor or the director can afford to resign? Or take the chance of resigning? You know, then the spirit has gone? 

Colin Moffat  42:33  

Well, you're talking about the terrible drawbacks of State theatre and subsidising? That's what you are talking about.

Kenneth Griffith  43:38  

Yeah. And then, of course, also, the misuse of even capital. I mean, I've come across that again, and again, the tyranny of the union's which will destroy, can destroy the industry, and has destroyed the industry. We've got to be if we're artists, the problem is, some technicians will say we're not artists. Well, that's a shame. Because the art of sound as Humphrey Jennings knew, and the art of photography, and the art of directing. We are not artistes, you know, we're artists, and we're all artists. I am very careful, never to say "One of my films", I may say, "A film that I am responsible for", but nobody ever made film money there, you know, so that the demands are so excessive, like that bloody schoolmaster. You know, that's why although Mrs. Thatcher doesn't like me, personally, and Neil Kinnock does like me personally, the fact is, that there is a tremendous attempt now to pull Britain back from the edge of destruction, the greed, the laziness, the avariciousness. I mean, you know, I'm reading about the 18th century expedition to China by Britain, the McCartney expedition. And when you read about that, these people, what we once were nothing could stop us. Nothing could stop us. That's how we acquired between a quarter and a third of the Earth's surface. We can't even hold Birmingham today.

End of Side 2


Kenneth Griffith was a popular character actor and  writer, historian and documentary film-maker.

Born in Tenby in Wales in October 1921, he was educated locally and had a flair for the English language that led to him becoming an actor at the Festival Theatre in Cambridge in 1937.

Griffith served with the RAF during World War Two and afterwards joined the Old Vic. His first major film role came in 1946 with The Shop At Sly Corner, which he quickly followed up with Forbidden (1948), south Wales mining drama Blue Scar (1949) and Waterfront (1950) alongside a young Richard Burton.

He appeared in the 1956 adaptation of George Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, comedy Lucky Jim in 1957 and a year later in the notable role of wireless operator John 'Jack' Phillips in A Night To Remember (1958), a film on the sinking of the Titanic adapted from the novel by Walter Lord. Griffith also starred as Adolf Hitler in The Two-Headed Spy (1958) and in the horror film Circus Of Horrors (1960).

Towards the late 1960s Griffith began to combine his acting work with his interest in history - particularly the Boer War - and started to make often controversial historical film documentaries. His first, Soldiers Of The Widow, was broadcast by the BBC in 1967 and was followed five years later by the four-part Sons Of The Blood: The Great Boer War, 1899-1902.

Further work that gained Griffith both acclaim and notoriety include A Touch Of Churchill, A Touch Of Hitler (1971) on Cecil Rhodes; Black As Hell And Thick As Grass (1979) on the 1879 British-Zulu War; Zola Budd: The Girl Who Didn't Run (1989) and, to mark the anniversary of the conflict, in 1999 he produced a two-part documentary for the BBC, The Boer War.

According to the BFI’s Screenonline website, "perhaps his most famous, and contentious, work" was Hang Out Your Brightest Colours: The Life And Death Of Michael Collins (1972). This documentary, about the Irish soldier and IRA leader who was assassinated in 1922, was banned due to the then-ongoing trouble in Northern Ireland, and eventually broadcast over 20 years later in 1993 by BBC Wales.

Griffith's film work had tailed off in the 1960s as he took on more television roles and concentrated on documentary-making, though later films of note include The Wild Geese (1978) and The Sea Wolves (1980). He had a cameo in hit British film Four Weddings And A Funeral (1994) and also starred in The Englishman Who Went Up A Hill But Came Down A Mountain (1995) and Very Annie Mary (2001).

His prolific television career included appearances with Patrick McGoohan in Danger Man (1966 and 1967) and The Prisoner (1968), which was set in the picturesque Welsh village of Portmeirion. 

Other noteworthy screen appearances include Fabian Of The Yard (1955); Martin Kane, Private Investigator (1957); Paris 1900 (1964); Clochemerle (1972) and The Perils Of Pendragon (1974). He also made brief appearances in Colditz, Minder, Lovejoy and, towards the end of his career, Holby City.