Photo – Glyn Houston (left) with Roger Moore in ‘The Saint’
Rhondda born actor Glyn Houston has died at the age of 93
The article below is by Dean Powell who co-wrote his autobiograhy “A Black and White Actor”
Glyn Houston was the last of a generation of Welsh actors who rose to fame in the 1940s and 50s.
In a career lasting almost seventy years he appeared in more than eighty films alongside a significant amount of radio and theatre work before making a name for himself as a television star from the 1960s to the 1990s.
Glyn Houston was the first on-screen lover of Joan Collins in her debut cinema appearance in “Turn The Key Softly” and worked alongside the likes of Clark Gable, Alan Ladd and Lana Turner.
Glyn was the younger brother of matinee idol Donald Houston and became a contemporary and close friend of fellow Welsh actors Richard Burton and Stanley Baker.
Although Glyn admitted his star did not shine as bright as his colleagues, it certainly shone twice as long. His career continued until he retired at the age of 88 when he bowed out gracefully after playing Danny Abse on a BBC Radio 4 documentary.
Glyn was a true gentleman. He was kind, generous and an incredibly funny man who was a pleasure to know for over twenty years.
He enjoyed his career and was proud of his achievements and although I think he genuinely wanted to be a comic more than an actor, his vast quantity of work will remain a great legacy to the man and his natural talent.
Glyn enjoyed life, his family and his hobbies and didn’t let work get in the way of that. He always had time to speak to you, showing a genuine interest in other people’s lives.
Although he left the South Wales valleys seven decades ago, he had all of the great qualities of a working-class Welshman at heart.
Glyndwr Desmond Houston was born on October 23 1925 at 10 Thomas Street, Tonypandy, the second of three children to Elsie May Jones and footballer Alex Houston of Dundee.
His great-grandfather settled in mid Rhondda with the coming of the coal industry, leaving his Cardiganshire background for life in the colliery. David Lloyd was the first of the family to work at the Glamorganshire Colliery in Llwynypia, known locally as “The Scotch”.
When his daughter Gwenllian was widowed with a large family he gave her a financial loan which saw her establish a milk-round business in thriving Tonypandy which lasted several decades and was affectionately known as “Jones the Milk”.
It was her daughter Elsie who met the dashing, athletic young professional Scottish footballer who came to South Wales after a successful start to his sporting career in Dundee United and Portsmouth to play for the Mid Rhondda Athletic Team, known locally as “The Mush”.
A young corporal in the Black Watch Regiment who was shot in World War I, Alex married Elsie in 1922.
Their first child, Donald, was born in 1924, followed by Glyn in October 1925 and finally a daughter, Jean.
With massed unemployment and economic depression causing widespread poverty in the industrial valleys, the Houstons decided to move to Wood Green, London where Alex found work.
But unable to afford to take all of the children, young Glyn was left in the care of his grandmother, “Mam” Jones. He wouldn’t see his parents or siblings again for three years.
Tragically their return to the Rhondda took place as Elsie was close to death due to a leaking heart valve which was a difficult operation to undertake at the time. Sadly she lost her fight and died in Tonypandy aged just 29.
Unable to cope with parenthood alone, Alex left all three children with “Mam” Jones who gave them a loving home surrounded by extended family of uncles, aunts and cousins. Alex had little connection with his children again and moved to Manchester where he later remarried and became the lift operator at a large department store.
Surrounded by a large family in the same street, including Uncle Glyn, Uncle Evan, Aunty Ethel and Aunty Gwen and enveloped in love, the three children flourished despite the absence of both their parents
Glyn attended Llwynypia Elementary School but in truth educated himself by studying subjects including philosophy and history at the nearby Tonypandy Central Library.
Despite almost losing his life after a burst appendix and subsequent peritonitis at the age of eleven, Glyn flourished as a young soccer player before becoming captain of a school rugby team. His love for sport included spending evenings with his brother playing snooker and watching boxing matches in Llwynypia Boys Club.
While Donald left the colliery to embark on an acting career with the Pilgrim Players which led him to Oxford Repertory and a flourishing film career as a handsome leading man, Glyn continued to work on his grandmother’s milk round.
He briefly left the Rhondda to work in the Bristol Aeroplane Company, living in Weston Super Mare before volunteering for the Fleet Air Arm as an air-gunner in the latter part of World War II.
He was ordered under the Labour Act to work on Cardiff Docks before being called up to the Military Police on the busy docklands of Birkenhead, Glasgow and Leith.
Finally he was sent to Singapore where he transferred to the Royal Signals Regiment and his Commanding Officer soon recognised Glyn as a confident and ambitious stand-up comic who could entertain his fellow troops.
Glyn was given the enviable task of building a bandstand and organising a show to celebrate the arrival of British legend Tommy Trinder on his visit to Singapore. The event changed Glyn’s life as he followed the well-worn path as the starting point of many brilliant young British performers by joining the Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA).
Within a week he was promoted to Acting Sergeant and formed an entire show which toured India called “Flags are Flying” featuring the aspiring sitcom-writer Jim Perry who based his hit programme “It Ain’t Half Hot Mum” on Glyn’s troop. Thirty years later and Glyn also appeared on the comedy.
On being demobbed Glyn settled in London and had an unsuccessful career as a waiter in the Officers Mess of Eton Square. Desperate to become a stand-up comic he failed an audition for the domineering Mr Van Dam at the Windmill Theatre while learning his craft by watching young acts perform at the Stage Door Canteen.
By 1949 his brother Donald had earned widespread acclaim for his performance in “A Run For Your Money” and “The Blue Lagoon” and was in a position to assist Glyn with his career, pulling the strings so his younger brother was appointed Assistant Stage Manager with the Guildford Repertory Theatre. Learning his craft in plays performed the length and breadth of the UK, he enjoyed a six-month term on Ivor Novello’s “The Dancing Years”.
A self-proclaimed “eclectic Buddhist”, Glyn’s positive thinking came to fruition when a chance encounter at Ealing Studios saw the director of the new Dirk Bogarde thriller “The Blue Lamp” create a character especially for Glyn. His performance was his first cinema film appearance and throughout the 1950s he appeared in literally dozens of films in cameo and bit-part roles alongside the major film stars of the day.
He remembered, “Being a sort of boy-next-door, working class type I found myself playing small parts in army and naval films and the boyfriend of a few J.A. Rank ‘starlets’ including Joan Collins, Lana Morris.”
By now he was firmly part of a group of young Welsh actors living and working together in London, including Richard Burton, Stanley Baker and Donald Houston. They worked, socialised and lived the high life as a close-knit circle of friends far from their Welsh valley homes.
Some of Glyn’s early films included “Waterfront” with Burton, “Trio” with Michael Horden, “Home to Danger” with Baker and as the railway shunter in “High Treason” with Kenneth Griffith. It was followed by “I Believe In You” with Celia Johnson and “Gift Horse” with Trevor Howard. By the end of 1953 he was playing the part of Philips in a famous British film of its time “The Cruel Sea” with Jack Hawkins.
In the same year he appeared in the same film as his brother and Petula Clark in “The Happiness of Three Women”, followed by the epic “The Sea Shall Not Have Them” with Dirk Bogarde and Michael Redgrave.
Glyn also enjoyed more than just a brush with Hollywood, by appearing in “Hell Below Zero” starring Alan Ladd and “Betrayed” with Clark Gable and Glyn’s childhood sweetheart, Lana Turner. His encounter with Victor Mature saw him dislike the star for the rest of his life. Further box-office success came with “Private’s Progress” alongside Richard Attenborough and the sleuth drama “The Long Arm”.
Glyn played Controller Leuchars in “High Flight” starring Ray Milland, followed by the prisoner of war film “The One That Got Away” with Hardy Kruger and he was a stoker in the first major Titanic disaster film starring Kenneth More called “A Night To Remember”.
Soon enough Glyn was back in policeman’s uniform for Max Bygraves’s film “A Cry From The Streets” and the famous John and Hayley Mills film, “Tiger Bay”, set in the docklands of Cardiff. “The Battle of the Sexes” starring Peter Sellers came next, along with “Follow That Star”, “Jet Storm” and as the seaman on board the Prince of Wales in “Sink the Bismarck!” He also went over to Hammer Films to appear in “Circus of Horrors” as the Carnival Barker.
One of his many claims to fame was becoming Joan Collins’s first onscreen lover in “Turn The Key Softly” in 1956.
With the advent of television the need for fresh young talent was greater than ever as many established leading film actors refused to lower themselves to television roles. It allowed a whole new generation of young performers to enjoy massive exposure on what was usually live television broadcasts – prone to all manner of accidents and incidents!
Glyn’s career flourished and the huge national exposure furthered his ambitions. From his role in the first soap opera of its kind “The Grove Family”, he took the lead next to Oliver Reed in “The Brigand of Kandahar” and to critical acclaim in “The Rescuers” followed by “Payroll”, “The Wind of Change” and two boxing films entitled “Panic” and “Micky Duff”. His aspirations of playing childhood boxing hero Tommy Farr in a biopic failed to materialise.
With the advent of commercial television, salaries doubled and Glyn featured in dozens of early programmes including “Douglas Fairbanks Jr Presents”, “Lilli Palmer Theatre”, “The Flying Doctor”, “Stryker of the Yard”, “English Family Robinson” and “Colonel March of Scotland Yard.”
His love for stand-up comedy never wavered, particularly when friendships developed with Tommy Cooper and also Norman Wisdom during his appearance as the “straight” man to Wisdom’s comic genius in four of his popular films, beginning with “A Stitch in Time” in 1962.
Old friend Stanley Baker offered him a role in his epic “Zulu” which Glyn sadly turned down owing to his busy television career. He played Davy Morgan opposite Rachel Thomas in “How Green Was My Valley” which led to a break for ATV when he played the leading role of news editor Mike Grieves in the newspaper series “Deadline Midnight” which ran for several years.
Glyn met his future wife Shirley Lawrence in 1954 when she worked as stage manager of the Whitehall Theatre. An aspiring actress who appeared in “Pure Hell at St Trinians” and as Dennis Waterman’s sister on television’s “William”, Shirley enjoyed a long career as a magazine cover girl. They were married at Caxton Hall on March 31st 1956 and had two daughters, Karen and Leigh. Glyn and Shirley enjoyed a happy marriage of more than sixty years before her death.
With Glyn’s career going from strength to strength they bought land in the up-and-coming St George’s Hill in Weybridge, Surrey and built the house which would become a family home to the Houstons for almost fifty years. They later settled in Pulborough, West Sussex.
Glyn went on to star in a number of “B” films including “Emergency” in 1962, “Mix Me A Person” with Adam Faith and as the lead, Detective Sparrow in “Solo for Sparrow” which saw him kill the relatively unknown Michael Caine in the final scene. Further parts came in the comedy “One Way Pendulum” with Eric Sykes and as Berry in “The Secret of Blood Island” followed by the role of Police Sergeant Draycott in “Invasion” in 1965.
Through his friendship with Burton he first met Elizabeth Taylor who became part of their social circle, although by now Glyn had largely stopped drinking altogether.
Glyn’s television roles were major and frequent, ranging from “Taxi” with Sid James and crime drama “Gideon’s Way” to playing opposite Patrick McGoohan in the cult programme “Danger Man”. He appeared frequently in the role of Detector Inspector James in “No Hiding Place”, also “The Saint”, “Dixon of Doc Green”, “Z Cars” and the reoccurring role of Detective Superintendent Jones in “Softly Softly”.
During the 1960s Glyn made twelve episodes of thriller “The Long Chase” followed by comedy roles alongside Leslie Crowther in ATV’s “My Good Woman”. One of his most memorable roles came as Bunter, the valet and assistant to Ian Carmichael’s “Lord Peter Wimsey”. The publicity surrounding the programme saw a large feature in Esquire magazine in 1978 which resulted in Glyn visiting Hollywood to meet his American agent. Sadly the long-term writer’s strike saw Glyn and his wife enjoy a length USA holiday, and not a “break” over the Atlantic as hoped before returning home where he played alongside Nigel Havers in the period drama “Horseman Riding By” for the BBC.
His television career during the 1970s and 80s was prolific, including “Crown Court”, “Robin’s Nest”, “Bless This House”, “Dr Who”, “Minder”, “Inspector Morse” and the Thames TV comedy “Keep It In The Family” in which he played literary agent Duncan Thomas. He also played the unlikely Mexican bandit in the feature film of “Are You Being Served” in 1977
The detective series “Shoestring” led to his appearance once more alongside his brother and a star-studded cast of Gregory Peck, David Niven and long-time friend Roger Moore as the aged commandos in “The Sea Wolves”. Glyn went on to play Anthony Hopkins’ father in “Heartlands” before enjoying the lead role in “Conspiracy” and playing Bernard Ingham in “Thatcher: The Final Days”. He also appeared in the Welsh rugby comedy “Old Scores” and in Mike Bogdanov’s “A Light in the Valley” which again brought Glyn home to Wales.
His role of the aged miner in HTV’s “Better Days” won him the Best Actor Award in the Monte Carlo Film Festival in 1991 and he was also named the Wales TV Critics Award for “Personality of the Year”. Sadly during the same year he lost his brother Donald who died at his home in Portugal aged just 67 due to a stroke. Glyn’s sister Jean passed away in 2012.
Glyn also enjoyed a varied career in the theatre, playing to critical acclaim the part of Joe in Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons” and in plays by Chekov, Shaw and Shakespeare, although never achieving the theatrical prowess of his brother.
He appeared in several productions of Alan Ayckborn plays in the Sherman Theatre in Cardiff before working with Harry Secombe and Sian Phillips in Anthony Hopkins’s stage production of “Under Milk Wood.” Glyn also enjoyed a two-month run in “Little Lies” with John Mills at the Royal Alexandra Theatre, Toronto, Canada.
His enduring love affair with the work of fellow Welshman Gwyn Thomas saw him appear in “Loud Organs” which limped to an unsatisfactory halt in the West End but inspired Glyn to run his own one-man show, “Chunk and Chips” as a tribute to Thomas which was introduced by Sir Geraint Evans.
Glyn also enjoyed success in the musical “Pickwick” based on the Dicken’s masterpiece with Harry Secombe, Ruth Madoc and Roy Castle whilst also appearing in several pantomimes at the Grand Theatre, Swansea with Ryan Davies. He enjoyed plenty of voice-over work for commercials including British Airways and had considerable success reading the part of Ellis Peter’s Benedictine monk on the Cadfael audio book series.
Glyn remained faithful to his homeland, appearing in the star-studded concert to welcome the National Assembly for Wales, opening pedestrian shopping areas in his hometown of Tonypandy and unveiling a Mining Memorial in the nearby Rhondda Heritage Park in 2000. He was too unwell to appear at the unveiling of a Blue Plaque to his brother in Tonypandy in 2012, but did give the eulogy at his sister Jean’s funeral in Glyntaff, Pontypridd shortly afterwards.
In his spare time Glyn enjoyed golf – becoming a member of the charity fundraising Golf Stage Golfing Society in 1952 – and bridge as his favourite pastimes.
Glyn was the recipient of the BAFTA Lifetime Achievement Award from BAFTA Cymru in 2009, along with a Fellowship of the Welsh College of Music and Drama.
As for his legacy? He was asked how to encapsulate a remarkable seventy year career in cinema, television, radio and theatre. Glyn was far too modest with his reply when asked how he would like to be remembered?
“Could have done better”, he said.
Glyn Houston (Oct 23 1925 – June 30 2019) leaves two daughters, two grandchildren and a great-grandchild.
Dean Powell. 3rd July 2019
Hear Dean Powell in conversation about Glyn Houston with GTFM’s Terry Mann: