Emrys James

Emrys James

Black and white image of Emrys James, pictured in a 1973 production of George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion

Last updated: 20 January 2009

Emrys James was one of Wales' most prolific Shakespearean actors in a stage career spanning three decades from the late 1950s.

James was born in Machynlleth, mid Wales on 1 September 1928. He attended Machynlleth County School where he acted in the annual school plays, performing his first Shakespearean role as Malvolio in Twelfth Night.

After completing National Service in the RAF and his studies at Aberystwyth University he moved to London upon being accepted into RADA.

Following his training James worked for the Liverpool Repertory Company, making his stage début at the Liverpool Playhouse in The Young Elizabeth.

Just two years later in 1956 he starred in Hamlet as Guildenstern and as Claudio in Measure For Measure in Stratford.

Between 1960 and 1962 he took on a number of high profile roles at London's Old Vic including Feste in Twelfth Night, Malcolm in Macbeth and Richmond in Richard III. He also appeared in the 1960 television adaptation of Richard Llewellyn's novel How Green Was My Valley, enjoying a screen career that ran parallel to his stage career.

Spells as Hamlet followed in 1963 and 1965, and in the late 1960s he took parts in The Merry Wives Of Windsor, Pericles and Henry VIII in addition to James reprising the role of Feste.

His continued stage success in the early 1970s was reflected in the significant roles he undertook, notably the Cardinal in The Duchess Of Malfi, Shylock in The Merchant Of Venice, Iago in Othello and Mephistopheles in Doctor Faustus.

Title roles in King John and Henry IV, Parts I and II at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in 1975 were followed by parts in Saint Joan, Henry VI (Parts I, II, and III), As You Like It, The Dance Of Death and The Changeling between 1977 and 1978.

James continued his performances with the RSC, of which he was made an Associate Artiste, until 1984. In 1988 he was the narrator in Dylan Thomas' Under Milk Wood with Anthony Hopkins.

Noteworthy screen appearances include 1977 television film The Man In The Iron Mask, the BBC's 1981 production of Antony And Cleopatra and the four-part Doctor Who serial State Of Decay, the film Giro City (1982), BBC drama serial Dombey And Son (1983) and the 1987 television adaptation The Diary of Anne Frank.

Emrys James spent his twilight years in the Cotswolds, and died on 5 February 1989 after developing a brain tumour.


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