Notable and Famous People

The region of Swansea is the provenance of a wide range of notable people from both past and present.

The region of Swansea is the provenance of a wide range of notable people from both past and present.

Dylan Thomas and the Kardomah Boys

Swansea's most famous son is the poet Dylan Thomas, who was born and lived in the Uplands area of Swansea until he moved to London when he was 20.  During the early 1930's in Swansea he mixed with a group of young talented artists/writers who became known as the 'Kardomah Boys', named after the Kardomah Cafe in Swansea where they regularly frequented.  

The bohemian group comprised of:

  • Dylan Thomas and Vernon Watkins (poets)
  • Daniel Jones and Thomas Warner (composers)
  • Fred Janes and Mervyn Levy (artists)
  • Wynford Vaughan-Thomas (broadcaster)
  • John Prichard and Charles Fisher (authors)

Read more about Dylan Thomas

Ceri Richards

Born in Dunvant, Gower in 1903, Ceri Richards was a painter and print-maker.  Despite the fact he and Dylan Thomas grew up in close proximity, they only met once at Dylan Thomas' Boathouse in Laugharne, in the same year that Thomas met his untimely death.  

Richards produced numerous paintings and drawings which were inspired by and in homage to Thomas' poetry.  As if by a strange coincidental bond between the two artists, Ceri Richards died 9 November 1971, 18 years to the day from Dylan Thomas' death in 1953.

John Dillwyn Llewelyn

John Dillwyn LlewelynJohn Dillwyn Llewelyn, who became known as a botanist and pioneering photographer, was born in 1810 in Swansea. He inherited his maternal grandfather's estate in Penllergare, near Swansea when he turned 18.  

His father's connection to Parliament and respected learned societies, meant he was in a privileged position to meet and be influenced by many eminent scientists of the time, such as Michael Faraday, Sir David Brewster and Charles Wheatstone.

He married Emma Talbot in 1833 who was the cousin of photographic pioneer William Henry Fox Talbot. Dillwyn Llewelyn was inspired by the invention of photographic processes and was encouraged by Henry Fox Talbot to experiment with all the available processes.  Dillwyn Llewelyn gained respected from fellow photographers and scientists in 1856 when he developed his own oxymel (honey and vinegar bath) process that allowed collodian negatives to be preserved for a week or two to be developed at leisure.  

He had to give up photography in his later life because the poisonous chemicals exacerbated his asthma. Dillywn Llewelyn died in 1882 at the age of 72.

Pic: Self portrait of Dyllwyn Llewelyn [license: Public Domain]

John Charles

John CharlesJohn Charles was a Welsh international footballer, who is considered to be the best footballer to ever emerge from Wales.  He was born in 1931 in the Cwmbwrla district of Swansea.  

Even though he was a towering 6 foot 2 inches, he held a strong ethical sportsmanship, which resulted in the remarkable record of never being cautioned or sent off the pitch and being nicknamed 'Il Gigante Buono – The Gentle Giant'.

After his death in 2004 a memorial statue was erected outside the newly built Liberty Stadium in Morfa, close to his birth place.

Pic: John Charles by Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru / The National Library of Wales from Wales/Cymru [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Catherine Zeta Jones

Born in Swansea in 1969 and lived in Mumbles during her childhood, Catherine Zeta Jones gained notoriety as a young actress in The Darling Buds of May.  Further acting opportunities took her to Hollywood in films such as, The Mask of Zorro, Entrapment and Traffic.

Catherine Zeta Jones and Michael Douglas

Her middle name, Zeta, was taken from her grandmother, who was named after a boat harboured at Swansea.  She married actor Michael Douglas in 2000.

Pic: Catherine Zeta Jones and Michael Douglas by David Shankbone (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Sir Harry Secombe

Singer, actor, author and comedian, Harry Secombe was born in St. Thomas, Swansea in 1921.  He became famous as a comedian when he teamed up with Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan and Michael Bentine to create the radio troupe, The Goons.  He was also an accomplished singer and appeared in many stage musicals, such as Pickwick, The Three Musketeers and Oliver!

He died of prostrate cancer in 2001.

Read more about Sir Harry Secombe

Keith Allen

Keith AllenKeith Allen was born in Gorseinon near Swansea in 1953.  He has gained recognition as an actor, comedian, musician, singer-songwriter, artist, author and television presenter. He is also father to pop singer Lily Allen.

  • He first found success as a stand-up comedian, opening for rock bands such as the Clash.
  • Appeared in a number of parody films in the series The Comic Strip Presents... on Channel 4 (1980s)
  • Appeared in an episode of Inspector Morse (1993)
  • Appeared as the same character in both of Danny Boyle's films Shallow Grave (1994) and Trainspotting (1996).
  • Briefly appeared in the cult Swansea-based film Twin Town (1997) directed by his brother Kevin Allen
  • Appeared in two Harold Pinter plays at the Almeida Theatre (2000)
  • Co-starred in the BBC's Robin Hood drama series, as the Sheriff of Nottingham (2006-2009).
  • Directed a conspiracy theory documentary film abouth the death of Princess Diana, 'Unlawful Killing' (2011)
  • Presented on a number of television shows and documentaries (1982-2009).

Pic: By Kevan Davis from London, England (Keith Allen) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Melanie Walters

Melanie Walters was born in 1962 and still resides in Mumbles.  Best known for her television work as an actress, she has starred in BBC comedy series Gavin and Stacey as the character Gwen West.  Her appearances on TV include: Coronation Street, Casualty, Holby City, Dangerfield, Hollyoaks, Being Human and Stella.

Russell T. Davies

Born in Swansea in 1963, Russell T Davies is best known for the revival of the BBC series Doctor Who in 2005.  He completely updated the series to be more suited to a modern audience.  

Russell T. Davies and David Tennant

He started his young career as a children's television writer and won a BAFTA award for an episode of Children's Ward.  During his adult career he wrote scripts for many television series and soap operas before working on Queer As Folk (1999) and the critcally acclaimed Bob & Rose (2001). 

Most of Russell T Davies' recognition comes from his work on Doctor Who, for which the series and Davies received many awards such as: Best Drama Series, Pioneer Audience Award, the Dennis Potter Award for writing, Award for Outstanding Contribution to Network Television, Industry Player of the Year and the Hugo Award for 'Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form' (2010).  Whilst writing and directing Doctor Who it won five consecutive National Television Awards between 2005 and 2010.  For the fifth series, which was screened in 2010, Davies relinquished his role as Doctor Who headwriter and executive producer to the capable hands of fellow episode writer, Steven Moffat.

Following the success of Doctor Who the BBC commissioned Davies to produce a spin off series called Torchwood based in Cardiff, which debuted in 2006.  Thanks to Davies' choice to film in his homeland, Doctor Who and Torchwood succeeded in putting Wales, Cardiff, Swansea and the Gower Peninsula on the small screen and introduced the locations to wider audiences:

"There are so many good locations in Wales, and I love coming back to Swansea. I'm immensely proud of where I'm from and quite like the opportunity to show places like Rhossili to the world."

- Russell T Davies - Tuesday, 1 February, 2011

Pic: Attribution Some rights reserved by vagueonthehow

Iris Gower

The prolific novelist Iris Gower was born in 1935 in Swansea and took her nom de plume from the Gower Peninsula; her real surname was Davies.  She lived in Swansea all her life and the local area and its history became the primary focus of her inspiration.  

Her first novel, 'Burn Bright Shadow', was published in 1976, but it was not until the release of her novel 'Copper Kingdom' (1983); the combination of romance and detailed historical facts from Swansea's Copperopolis period, that established her as an international best seller.

Gower continued to write novels, often sequenced in a linked series, up until her death in 2010.

Paul Ferris

Born in 1929 and educated in Swansea's Bishop Gore School, Paul Ferris is a biographer and novelist.  His stories were often loosely based on true stories, such as his novel Infidelity (1999) which was based upon the murder of Mamie Stuart.

His first biography in 1971 was of newspaper tycoon, Northcliffe: The House of Northcliffe: A Biography of an Empire. He then wrote Dylan Thomas' biography in 1977, followed by Thomas' wife Caitlin's biography in 1993.  British psychoanalysts described his biography on Sigmund Freud, called Dr Freud (1997), as disrespectful, but was better received in America.

Ferris also wrote a historical and factual book about the Gower Peninsula, called Gower in History. Myth, People, Landscape in 2009

Bonnie Tyler

Born in Skewen near Swansea in 1951, Bonnie Tyler now lives in Mumbles.  She first gained international fame as a singer with the 1977 single, 'It's a Heartache' , which reached the top 4 in the pop charts in the UK, America and Germany.  The trademark, raspy quality of her voice on this release was the direct result of accidentally damaging her vocal cords after nodule removal surgery.

Her continued success from 1982-1986 was primarily helped by collaborating with Meatloaf's songwriter, Jim Steinman.  The collaboration helped Tyler move away from the pop-country style genre her previous management had encouraged to the rock style she desired.  She released her first Number 1 single 'Total Eclipse of the Heart' in 1983 with the Number 1 hit album 'Faster than the Speed of Night'.

 'Holding Out for a Hero' was released in 1984 on the soundtrack for the film Footloose also became a Number 2 hit in the UK in 1985.

Since the Steinman days, Tyler has had some success in Germany between 1990-2003 and continues to make guest appearances to sing her 80s hits. 

Bonnie Tyler will once more become a household name when she represents the UK in the 58th Eurovision Song Contest 2013.  Youtube comments seem to suggest the song has a good chance in being successful in the contest, so fingers crossed for Bonnie.

Badfinger/Pete Ham

Badfinger were a British rock band whose lead singer and songwriter, Pete Ham originated from Swansea.  Badfinger, previously called The Iveys, became famous when they released a top ten hit, 'Come and Get It', written by Paul McCartney.  The band's three consecutive releases, written by Pete Ham, 'No Matter What', 'Day After Day' and 'Baby Blue', also became worldwide top ten hits.  

Ham's greatest success was the Number 1 hit song 'Without You', co-written with fellow band member Tom Evans, and covered by Harry Nilsson in 1972.  Ham also collaborated with The Beatles' George Harrison.

In 1975, legal and financial problems with the band's manager, Stan Polley, and record label, Warner Bros Records culminated in the withdrawal from market of Badfinger's sixth studio album 'Wish You Were Here'.  All financial income was cut off from the band during the dispute and Pete Ham became depressed and worried about maintaining his family and expensive home in Surrey.  He took his own life in 1975 when he was only 27.

Swansea council will honour his memory with the unveiling of a Heritage Blue Plaque near the entrance of Swansea train station on April 27, 2013 (Pete Ham's birthday).  

Mal Pope

Welsh musician and composer Mal (Maldwyn) Pope was born in the Brynhyfryd area of Swansea in 1960 and now lives in Mumbles.  A massive Swansea City FC fan and Tweeter, Mal Pope is well known for writing musicals, celebrating Welsh culture with music and radio/television presenting.  

His talent was first discovered by BBC Radio 1 DJ, John Peel, when his brother sent in demo tapes for Peel to review.  He was subsequently invited to BBC studio and was soon signed up to Elton John's recording company Rocket Records.  

Mal Pope has written songs for Cliff Richard and The Hollies and collaborated with Welsh singers Bonnie Tyler and Aled Jones, and toured with Belinda Carlisle and Art Garfunkel.

His musicals include: 

  • Amazing Grace - 2005
  • Contender - 2007
  • Cappuccino Girls - 2009

Karl Jenkins

Born and raised in Penclawdd, Karl Jenkins is known for composing jazz, rock and classical music.  He has written music for a number of commercials such as, Levi's jeans, De Beers diamond jewellery and Renault Clio.

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