Cymdeithas Hanes Resolfen History Society

A web log for the Resolven History Society which publishes articles and stories related to Resolven and the immediate surroundings.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Entertainers of Neath Port Talbot

March has thus far been another busy month for the Society. On the 5th, the annual St David’s Day Dinner was held at the Whittington in Tonna. This was followed on the 8th by our monthly meeting. The speaker, Mr Ian Parsons of Neath was new to the History Society.

The gutted Gwyn Hall, 2007.

Mr Parsons, who has been researching the history of the Grand Theatre in Swansea for the last four years, took “The Entertainers of Neath Port Talbot”, as his subject. There followed an eclectic mix of old, new, familiar and forgotten “stars” of the area. The talk was also interspersed with archive footage of the entertainers and the many venues where they had performed.
Adelina Patti

The talk began by showing the Gwyn Hall in Neath, which opened in 1887. Adelina Patti, who had also opened the Grand Theatre in 1897, had appeared there when she was a world super star. Sadly, the Gwyn Hall was gutted by a fire in 2007 prior to re-opening following a multi-million refurbishment. Hopefully, the work to reopen the hall will be completed soon.

From a historical perspective, the early days of the entertainment story proved most interesting. “Buffalo Bill” Cody had appeared in Neath in 1903 and William Haggan had filmed some of his early films near Resolfen. Ray Milland had been born in Dalton Rd. Neath in 1906. The tragic story of Peg Entwistle proved that celebrity culture is nothing new. She was born in Baglan in 1908, had achieved success in LA, but had committed suicide by jumping from the “H” of the Hollywood sign in 1932 following a poor review of her latest film.

A cartoon of Peg Entwistle

Henry Parr Davies (1914-1955) of Briton Ferry and Arthur Street in Neath is also a local luminary whose achievements are largely forgotten. He wrote the song “Wish me luck as you wave me goodbye”, made famous by Gracie Fields.
The first scene from Coronation Street featuring Maudie Edwards

The advent of the small screen in everyone’s homes gave rise to another tranche of stars. William Squire (1917- 1989) was a familiar face in the spy series “Callan” and he had been born in the same Neath Street as the celebrated actress Maudie Edwards ( 1906-91) who spoke the first lines on “Coronation Street”. Bernard Fox of Port Talbot is the only surviving member of the cast of the 1960s comedy, “Bewitched”. Dai Francis of Glynneath was also a permanent feature of Saturday night entertainment in the highly popular, “Black and White Minstrel Show”. The story of Ivor Emanuel and Richard Burton of Ponthrhydyfen hardly needs repeating.

The list of stars still working in the entertainment industry with local links was truly impressive. Ranging from the established galaxy of Ruth Madoc, Sian Phillips, Max Boyce, Anthony Hopkins, Bonny Tyler and Rebecca Evans to the present rising stars of Katherine Jenkins, Eve Myles, Siwan Morris, Rob Brydon and Anthony Sheen shows that the conveyor belt of talent shows no sign of slowing.

Mr Gwyn Thomas thanked Mr Parsons for a very “entertaining” evening.