George Emlyn Williams CBE (26 November 1905–25 September 1987) known as Emlyn Williams, was a Welsh dramatist and actor. He was born into a Welsh-speaking, working-class family in Mostyn, Flintshire, Wales. At the age of 11 he won a scholarship to Holywell Grammar School. At the end of his time at the grammar school he won a scholarship to Christ Church, Oxford and joined the Oxford University Dramatic Society (OUDS).
In 1927, he joined a repertory company and began his stage career. By 1930, he had branched out into writing with works such as A Murder Has Been Arranged and The Late Christopher Bean. He became an overnight star, however, with his thriller Night Must Fall (1935) in which he also played the lead. It was made into a film in 1937 and again in 1964, and has been frequently revived, most recently in the West End with Jason Donovan. His other great play was very different: The Corn is Green (1938), partly based on his own childhood, and also later turned into a film starring Bette Davis- and even turned into a musical with lyrics by Williams. It was revived in London at the Old Vic in 1985 with Deborah Kerr. In addition to stage plays, Williams wrote a number of film screenplays, working with Alfred Hitchcock and other directors.
He acted in and contributed dialogue to various films based on the novels of A.J. Cronin, including The Citadel (1938), The Stars Look Down (1939), Hatter’s Castle (1942), and Web of Evidence (1959). In 1941 Williams starred in the film You Will Remember, directed by Jack Raymond and written by Sewell Stokes and Lydia Hayward. The film is based on the life of the popular late Victorian songwriter Leslie Stuart, played here by Robert Morley, with Williams as Stuart’s best friend.
He often appeared in his own plays, and was famous for his one-man-shows, with which he toured the world, playing Charles Dickens in an evening of excerpts from Dickens’ novels. This “one man show” was the start of a whole new theatrical genre. He followed up his Dickens performance with one man shows based on the works of Dylan Thomas, Dylan Thomas Growing Up, and H.H. Munro better known under his pseudonym Saki.
His postwar acting credits included The Winslow Boy by Terence Rattigan, and The Deputy aka The Representative by Rolf Hochhuth on Broadway. He also was the “voice” of Lloyd-George in the seminal BBC documentary The Great War (1964).
His autobiography, in the volumes George (1961) and Emlyn (1973), was also highly successful. In it, he wrote frankly of his early homosexual experiences, though he later married in 1935 and had two sons: Alan, a writer, and Brook, an actor; his wife, Molly Shan, died in 1970. Among Williams’ other books was the best seller Beyond Belief: A Chronicle of Murder and its Detection (1968), a semi-fictionalized account of the Moors murderers, Ian Brady and Myra Hindley.
Williams’ 1980 novel Headlong, the fictional story of the unexpected death of the entire British royal family in a freak accident in 1930, and the ascension of a most unlikely heir to the British throne as a result, was the loose basis of the 1991 motion picture King Ralph which stars John Goodman, Peter O’Toole, John Hurt and Camille Coduri. It was a comedic treatment of Headlong and was set in the contemporary United Kingdom. Goodman’s character is a failed lounge singer named Ralph Jones whose grandmother had an affair with the fictional Duke of Warren, in the line of succession of the “House of Windam”, a not too subtle play on the House of Windsor, the current royal house of the sitting monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. King Ralph mentions the “House of Stuart” as the antagonist’s royal House, which was in fact the actual royal House before the Windsors. John Hurt plays Lord Percival Graves, the antagonist plotting to regain the throne for the House of Stuart, and for himself as the first in the House of Stuart’s line of succession. King Ralph did reasonably well at the box office in 1991.
Williams was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1962.
Emlyn Williams died in London, aged 81, from complications from cancer on September 25, 1987.
- Full Moon
- A Murder has been Arranged
- Spring 1600
- Night Must Fall
- He was Born Gay
- The Corn is Green
- The Light of Heart
- The Morning Star
- A Month in the Country (Adapted from the play by Turgenev)
- The Druid’s Rest
- The Wind of Heaven
- Someone Waiting
- Beth, later revised under the title Cuckoo