Dyfed Thomas – An Actor for All Seasons.
On Saturday July 3rd. local actor Dyfed Thomas plays one of the most important roles of his career when he appears as John Jenkins in BBC2’s long awaited drama documentary “The Extremist”, possibly one of the most controversial productions to be screened on British television.
The film, for which some of the exteriors were shot in the Wrexham area, traces the events which led to ex-army sergeant John Jenkins being jailed for ten years for his involvement in the Welsh bombing campaign of the sixties, which culminated in an abortive attempt to disrupt the investiture of the Prince of Wales at Caernarvon in 1969.
“When I gas offered the part in the Autumn of 1980” says Dyfed “I felt compelled to go to talk to John Jenkins to try to discover for myself what had motivated him in the first place. I had several long talks with him and found that he was and still is a man who feels strongly about his Welsh heritage and doesn’t want to see it wasted.
His protest was in the main, directed against the flooding of Welsh valleys to make reservoirs to provide water for English industry. His targets were pipelines and establishments rather than people and I feel that the film sets out to explain rather than sensationalise his actions”.
For Dyfed, the role of John Jenkins in “The Extremist” could be one of the most outstanding of his brilliant career as actor, a career which at one time nearly took second place to his other consuming interest – Football.
As a youngster he played for Flintshire Schoolboys and later in amateur status for Wrexham, Crystal Palace and Ashford Town, latterly becoming a director of Northern Premier League team Bangor City.
But football’s loss is acting’s gain, and though the profession is for many, fraught with months of unemployment, Dyfed has seldom been without work, due in no small part to his boundless versatility. He’s prepared to tackle any role either straight or character with an ease which belies his thirty-three years.
He also sings and dances and is a successful writer of television situation comedy. Born and brought up in Rhos, where his parents Ada and Ambrose Thomas still live, he attended the primary school in the village before moving to Ruabon Grammar School for two years. His father however wanted him to have a Welsh education and he travelled daily to the Welsh School in Mold where he competed in all activities, one of which interested him slightly more than the others, acting.
At eighteen he gained entrance to the Rose Bruford Drama School in South East London, where for three years he studied all aspects of stagecraft, graduating with a stage diploma. His first acting job was for Michael Hurd in a Scandinavian folk theatre tour of the musical ‘Mr. Punch, returning to England at the end of the tour to study English and Drama at Kent University.
It was while he was on a summer holiday visit to his parents’ home in Rhos that he met his wife to be, Mary, a young schoolteacher from Gosport who was working in the village. Following a brief engagement, they married and now live in a converted cottage near Llangollen with their two children, six-year-old Joseff and four-year old Alys.
In 1972 Dyfed worked for a time as an assistant to the Clwyd Drama Organiser but teaching was not his forte and he returned to acting. Following several unsuccessful auditions for repertory companies he was finally accepted by the Victoria Theatre at Stoke On Trent, where for three years he played roles as diverse as Julius Ceasar and Willy Mossop and acted in and narrated protest plays like Peter Cheeseman’s documentary drama “The Fight For Shelton Barr” a play which stirred up a great deal of public opinion against the closure of the Shelton Barr Steelworks.
In 1976 he joined Cwmnu Theatr Cymru for a nine month national and Scandinavian tour of “Under Milk Wood”.
“We played in small theatres and community halls in Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland “he recalls” the production was in English but the enthusiastic audiences seemed to understand every word. At the end of the tour we were booked into the Mayfair Theatre in London for a season but I felt that I wasn’t going to learn anything more as an actor by staying with the play and so I left”
He was lucky though, for at that time BBC television were casting a children’s drama series “Hawkmoor”, Dyfed auditioned, was chosen and so began his career in television. “Hawkmoor” was quickly followed by a play for ITV a ‘two hander’ with Ray Mort titled “The Leaning Virgin of Albert” by Ewart Alexander and in 1978 he was cast opposite Donald Houston in “Heyday in the Blood” a 90-minute drama in the Border Country series.
Through the medium of television, he was reaching wider audiences, but missed the rapport of the live theatre. He returned to the stage with a play he had written himself. It was a straight play in Welsh with a rock music content “Cofiant Y Cymro” (Memoirs of the last Welshman), which was produced by Cwmnu Theatr Cymru.
To provide the live music for the play Dyfed formed a Welsh rock group which he called ‘Hywel Ffiadd’ So successful was the rock group that they have remained together ever since and a couple of times a month play ‘gigs’ throughout the principality in what Dyfed calls “a Theatrical Rock Presentation”
“We carry two lighting men and a sound engineer and use quite a lot of heavy makeup and strange costumes in an effort to create a great sense of happening” With friends in Cardiff he runs a twelve track recording studio ‘One, Two, Three Music’ in which Hywel Ffiadd regularly record.
“At the moment we’re trying to get the Welsh Rock Scene established” he says “and hopefully in a few years, Welsh groups will become as well known internationally as some of the English ones”.
In addition to writing for the stage he also writes and acts in Welsh television situation comedy. His first series for BBC Wales “Siop Siafins”, back in 1979 was so successful that he was immediately commissioned to write a fourteen episode follow up.
HTV Wales were quick to realise the potential of Dyfed’s ability as a situation comedy writer and they too commissioned a series, this time he came up with “Gwesty Gwirion”, set in an hotel which he plays the inept manager with slight shades of Basil Fawlty!
Earlier this year (1982) he played in a six hander for Central Television titled “Jerusalem’s Army”, it traced with music, sketches and old newsreel clips the history of unemployment in our country.
Then it was into character as Archie Lush, Anuerin Bevan’s agent for BBC2’s 90-minute semi-documentary “Nye”.
His football training and enthusiasm for the sport stood him in good stead for last month’s “The First World Cup” in which he played Jock Jones, inside right for the little known team of West Auckland, in their bid to win the World Football Trophy in Milan back in 1910.
Now it is back to Wales for “The Extremist” and probably his most important role to date. “I’ve thought a great deal about extremism since finishing the film” he says “and feel that perhaps it is the apathy of people in general which causes the extreme minority in our society to overcompensate in the way they do. Perhaps if we did more as individuals for the things we say we care about, extremism would be a thing of the past”.
During his career, Dyfed has played many parts and I asked him how he ‘fixes’ a character in his mind? “Firstly I have to get the voice right” he says “it’s pitch and pace, then I get the feet right, I go to the wardrobe department and try on different shoes until I find the ones to fit the role I’m playing. You know our feet and the way we walk says a great deal about us. As an actor, I always maintain that if you get the voice right and the feet right you’ve got the character right”.
Dyfed Thomas – An actor for all seasons.
Interviewed by Geoff Wilding 1982. Pictures (c) Geoff Wilding.
Transcribed by Graham Lloyd.