Kenneth Griffith

Family name: 
Work area/craft/role: 
Interview Number: 
Interview Date(s): 
23 Apr 1990
Production Media: 
Duration (mins): 

Horizontal tabs

Interview notes

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 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.