Kenneth Griffith

Kenneth Griffith (born Kenneth Reginald Griffiths, 12 October 1921 – 25 June 2006) was a Welsh actor and documentary filmmaker.

Kenneth Griffith
Griffith in the 1976 BBC production Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death
Kenneth Reginald Griffiths

(1921-10-12)12 October 1921
Died25 June 2006(2006-06-25) (aged 84)
London, England
OccupationActor, television producer, television presenter
Years active1937–2003
Spouse(s)Joan Stock (divorced)
Doria Noar(divorced)
Carol Hagar (divorced)

Early life

He was born Kenneth Griffiths in Tenby, Pembrokeshire, Wales. His parents separated and left Tenby six months after his birth, leaving him with his paternal grandparents, Emily and Ernest, who adopted him. His grandparents were staunch Wesleyan Methodists who taught him to question everything;[1] he attended the local Wesleyan Methodist chapel three times every Sunday, and became a lively rugby union scrum-half.[2]

He passed the 11-plus and attended Greenhill Grammar School in Tenby, where he met English literature teacher Evelyn Ward, who recognised his writing and acting talent. Before Kenneth left school, his headmaster J.T. Griffith suggested that he drop the "s" from his surname so it would sound less English.[3]


Griffith left school and moved to Cambridge in 1937, taking a job at an ironmonger's weighing nails. This lasted only a day, and proved to be the only job he ever had outside the acting world. He approached the Cambridge Festival Theatre for work, and at the age of 16 was cast by Peter Hoare as Cinna the Poet in a modern-dress version of Julius Caesar.[3]

He became a regular jobbing repertory actor, making his West End theatre debut in 1938 with a small part in Thomas Dekker's The Shoemaker's Holiday.[1]

Griffith volunteered for service with the Royal Air Force in 1939 before the outbreak of the Second World War. Before training in Canada, he returned to see his grandparents in Tenby, who, at his request, gave him a leather-bound copy of Hitler's book, Mein Kampf; he later explained in an interview that he wanted to understand what he was fighting against.[3]

Whilst training in Canada, he caught scarlet fever and was invalided out of the service in 1942, which resulted in his taking up stamp collecting. The first stamp he collected was the Siege of Ladysmith, South Africa.[1][3]

In 1941, he made his debut in the first of more than 100 films in which he principally played character roles. Released from the air arm of the Royal Air Force, Griffith returned to London, from where he was invalided out of the RAF in 1942.[3] He joined the Liverpool, Lancashire-relocated Old Vic,[1] and in repertory.[4]

He appeared in many British films between the 1940s and 1980s, notably as Archie Fellows in The Shop at Sly Corner, Jenkins in Only Two Can Play (1962), the wireless operator Jack Phillips on board the Titanic in A Night to Remember (1958), in the crime caper Track the Man Down (1955) and especially in the comedies of the Boulting brothers, including Private's Progress (1956) and I'm All Right Jack (1959).[5] He portrayed the gay medic Witty in The Wild Geese (1978) and a whimsical mechanic in The Sea Wolves (1980).[6][4]

He appeared in the episodes "The Girl Who Was Death" and "Fall Out" of the 1967–68 TV series The Prisoner.[5] Subsequent TV appearances included episodes of Minder and Lovejoy, and critically acclaimed performances in War and Peace (1963), The Perils of Pendragon, Clochemerle and The Bus to Bosworth, where his personification of a Welsh schoolteacher out on a field trip won him many accolades back in his homeland of Wales.[7][8]

His later film roles included the "mad old man" in Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994), Reverend Jones in The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain (1995) and the Minister in Very Annie Mary (2001).[5]

Documentaries and political activity

In 1965, Huw Wheldon and the director of BBC2, David Attenborough, asked Griffith if he would like to make a film for the BBC on any subject that he chose. This resulted in a series of films on subjects as diverse as the Boer War in Soldiers of the Widow (BBC tx. 27/5/1967), A Touch of Churchill, A Touch of Hitler (BBC tx. 30/7/1971), the controversial story of Thomas Paine in The Most Valuable Englishman Ever (BBC, tx. 16/1/1982), David Ben-Gurion (The Light), Napoleon Bonaparte (The Man on the Rock), Jawaharlal Nehru, Roger Casement (Heart of Darkness 1992) and on one occasion a film commissioned by Thames Television on the story of the Three Wise Men of the New Testament, A Famous Journey (ITV tx. 20/12/1979). Griffith was expelled from Iran by the country's Foreign Minister. [4]

In 1973, Griffith made a documentary film about the life and death of Irish military and political leader Michael Collins titled Hang Up Your Brightest Colours (which is a line taken from a letter from George Bernard Shaw to one of Collins' sisters after Collins' assassination) for ATV, but the Independent Broadcasting Authority did not permit it to be screened (it was not shown by the BBC until 1993).[9]

In 1974, for a programme titled Curious Journey, he interviewed nine surviving IRA members from the 1916–23 period, i.e. the Easter Rebellion, Anglo-Irish War and Irish Civil War; they were Maire Comerford, Joseph Sweeney, Sean Kavanagh, John O'Sullivan, Brigid Thornton, Sean Harling, Martin Walton, David Nelligan (or Neligan) and Tom Barry. He was allowed to buy this last film back, as long as he did not mention who had commissioned it (the Welsh TV company HTV). At one point in his career, Griffith accused the anti-censorship group, Index, of censoring him by delaying the publication of two book reviews he had written for its magazine.[2]

His sympathetic portrayal caused some concern, given The Troubles and ATV boss Sir Lew Grade decided to withdraw the film, which was not shown publicly until 1994. In response Griffith made a documentary, The Public's Right to Know, for Thames TV. The political troubles left him "a frustrated and bemused figure". Screenonline described Griffith as "a world class documentary film-maker" who knew that "refusing to compromise his views has damaged his career".[10]

His autobiography, The Fool's Pardon, was published in 1994 by Little, Brown. BBC Wales presented a retrospective season of five of his documentaries in 1993, including the suppressed Michael Collins work, opening the season with a biographical study of Griffith called The Tenby Poisoner (BBC Wales, tx. 1/3/1993) in which Peter O'Toole, Martin McGuinness and Jeremy Isaacs paid tribute.[4] BBC Wales screened a film on Griffith's life in the "Welsh Greats" Series Two, shown in 2008. In 1994, Griffith was given a Cymru lifetime achievement award by BAFTA.[11]

A Boer War historian, Griffith was sympathetic to the Afrikaners in South Africa. His opinion, in a South African television-funded documentary, released in 1984, was "provokingly sympathetic" towards the Afrikaners; South African television eventually withdrew its funding.[2] He made a BBC2 documentary on runner Zola Budd, which purported to reveal injustices done to her by left-wing demonstrators and organisations during a tour of England in 1988.[12][13]

He named his home (110 Englefield Road, Islington, London) as Michael Collins' House. In later life, Griffith said: "In my time I've been accused of being a Marxist, a fascist, a traitor and, probably worst in most people's eyes, inconsistent. I was a radical Socialist. I'm now a radical Tory. It has been a very painful journey".[1]

Personal life

Griffith was married and divorced three times, and had five children:[2]

  • Joan Stock (son: David)
  • Doria Noar (actress/theatre historian Eva Griffith)
  • Carole Haggar (Polly, Huw and Jonathan)

Death and burial

Griffith suffered from complications associated with Alzheimer's disease in his later years, resulting in his retirement. He died at his home in London on 25 June 2006, aged 84. He was buried on 4 July 2006. At his request, his coffin was decorated with the flags of Wales, the Untouchables of India (of whose society he was president for many years), Israel, and the Irish tricolour. Griffith was interred beside his beloved grandparents (Emily and Ernest) in the churchyard adjoining St Nicholas and St Teilo Church in his native Penally.[9][14]


Tenby Museum and Art Gallery in Pembrokeshire houses an archive of "national importance" of Griffith's papers and documentaries, and a cabinet containing a collection of personal memorabilia from his house in Islington.[15]



  1. "Kenneth Griffith obituary". The Daily Telegraph. 27 June 2006. Retrieved 14 July 2009.
  2. Barker, Dennis (27 June 2006). "Kenneth Griffith". The Guardian. London, UK. Retrieved 14 July 2009.
  3. "Kenneth Griffith". The Independent. 27 June 2006. Retrieved 14 July 2009.
  4. "BFI Screenonline: Griffith, Kenneth (1921-2006) Biography".
  5. "Kenneth Griffith". BFI.
  6. Arnold, Gary (14 November 1978). "'The Wild Geese': Betrayal of the African Mercenaries" via
  7. "Kenneth Griffith".
  8. "Bus to Bosworth". 29 February 1976. p. 20 via BBC Genome.
  9. "Welsh film-maker fascinated by Irish history". The Irish Times.
  10. "Actor Kenneth Griffith dies at 84". Retrieved 23 August 2017.
  11. "1994 Cymru Special Award: BAFTA Cymru Lifetime Achievement Award | BAFTA Awards".
  12. "Zola Budd - The Girl Who Didn't Run (1989)". Retrieved 23 August 2017.
  13. True to his beliefs, WalesOnline, 28 June 2006.
  14. "Kenneth Griffith (1921-2006) - Find A Grave Memorial".
  15. "Tenby Museum & Art Gallery » On this day in 1947".
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