Archives for May 2012

Full line-up announced for Dinefwr Literature Festival

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Joe Goodden Joe Goodden | 12:49 UK time, Thursday, 31 May 2012

The line-up for next month's Dinefwr Literature Festival has been announced, with National Poet of Wales Gillian Clarke opening the first day.

More than 100 literature, music, arts and comedy events will take place at the bilingual festival, which runs from Friday 29 June to Sunday 1 July at Dinefwr Park and Castle in Llandeilo, Carmarthenshire.

Among the spoken-word guests will be Andrew Motion, Tim Burgess, Howard Marks, Jasper Fforde, Robert Minhinnick and Wendy Cope. Comedy will be provided by John Hegley, Simon Munnery, Josie Long, Tom Wrigglesworth and others, while music performers will include Julian Cope, Gruff Rhys, Georgia Ruth, Ghostpoet and Emmy The Great.

Lleucu Siencyn, one of the festival's directors, said: "This is a festival with everybody in mind - families, music fans, readers, writers and those who love the great outdoors."

Weekend, day and camping tickets are available, with discounts for National Trust and Literature Wales members.

Remembering Hugh Griffith, 100 years on

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Laura Chamberlain Laura Chamberlain | 09:00 UK time, Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Today, 30 May, marks what would have been the 100th birthday of one of Wales' Oscar-winning actors, Hugh Griffith.

Griffith scooped the gong in 1960 for best actor in a supporting role, as he played Sheik Ilderim in Ben-Hur alongside Charlton Heston.

He beat fellow actors Arthur O'Connell and George C Scott, both nominated for Anatomy Of A Murder, Robert Vaughn (The Young Philadelphians) and Ed Wynn, for his role in The Diary Of Anne Frank, to take the award.

Hugh Griffith in costume for the BBC Playhouse production of The Joke in 1974

Hugh Griffith in costume for the BBC Playhouse production of The Joke in 1974

Born in Marianglas in Anglesey in 1912, Griffith was awarded a scholarship to RADA and left his career in banking to enter the acting profession.

However, he had to put his career on hold as with the outbreak of World War Two he enlisted in the British army and served in India and Burma.

Griffith's film career took off in the late 1940s. He broke into the Hollywood film industry in the 1950s and went on to star with some of the biggest names in the business.

He appeared with Laurence Olivier in The Beggar's Opera (1953), Dirk Bogarde in The Sleeping Tiger (1954) plus Marlon Brando and Richard Harris in Mutiny On The Bounty (1962) .

Griffith received another Oscar nomination in the category of best supporting actor for 1963 blockbuster Tom Jones as well as a Bafta nomination for best British actor and a Golden Globe nomination for best supporting actor. All three awards sadly proved elusive.

Kenneth Griffith, Aubrey Woods, Hugh Griffith and Cyril Cusack in the 1971 BBC drama Clochemerle

Kenneth Griffith, Aubrey Woods, Hugh Griffith and Cyril Cusack in the 1971 BBC drama Clochemerle

The late film critic and historian Dave Berry said of Griffith:

Griffith had long been a stage and TV favourite, since at least 1951 when in Mario Zampi's comedy Laughter in Paradise he played a dying eccentric who, for one last jape, forces relatives into acts alien to their natures to secure a share of his legacy.

Never has a bedridden incipient corpse rolled his eyes more to convey sheer devilry, and rarely has so little screen time been put to such use by a class performer.

The Welsh actor was always in his roistering element in comedies bursting with life, and many enjoyed the burlesque relish of his Oscar-nominated supporting role as the eccentric Squire Western in Tony Richardson's ebullient Tom Jones (1963), from Henry Fielding's classic.

Griffith conveys superbly the cant, hypocrisy and devil-may-care qualities of a man delighting in getting his own way, but gives Tom Jones (Albert Finney) unforgettably uncomfortable moments in the hero's sexual odyssey.

Further success in the 1960s followed with notable roles in How To Steal A Million (1966) with Audrey Hepburn and Peter O'Toole and the musical adaptation of Oliver! (1968) starring Oliver Reed and Harry Secombe.

Aside from Ben-Hur, Griffith is perhaps most associated with the film comedy Grand Slam. It follows a group of Paris-bound Welsh rugby fans making the trip across the Channel to watch the climactic match in the Five Nations championship in the late 1970s.

He played the undertaker Caradog Lloyd-Evans alongside Windsor Davies and Dewi Morris. It was a huge hit, and is still popular with Welsh rugby fans today.

Griffith died of a heart attack in 1980, aged 67.

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Rolf Harris collects Bafta Fellowship

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Laura Chamberlain Laura Chamberlain | 11:54 UK time, Monday, 28 May 2012

Artist and presenter Rolf Harris was awarded a prestigious Bafta Fellowship at last night's awards ceremony for his "outstanding and exceptional contribution to television".

Harris, whose grandparents hailed from Merthyr Tydfil, told BBC News: "It's unbelievable for a start, it's very humbling and thrilling. I can't tell you how exciting it was when they asked if I would accept the award."

Rolf Harris at Cyfarthfa Castle Museum in front of portraits by his grandfather GF Harris

Rolf Harris at Cyfarthfa Castle Museum in front of portraits by his grandfather GF Harris

Rolf's grandfather George Frederick Harris was a noted portrait painter. He revisited some of his grandfather's works at the Cyfarthfa Castle Museum and Art Gallery during the series Rolf on Welsh Art. Browse a photo gallery of images taken from the episode.

In this clip from the series, Rolf heads back to his Welsh artistic roots and Merthyr to find out more about GF Harris and attempts to paint in the style of Wales-based Australian artist Shani Rhys James.

In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions

Watch more clips from the television series and browse photo galleries from the episodes on Graham Sutherland, Josef Herman and Sir Kyffin Williams.

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Dylan Thomas' probate record shows £100 left to Caitlin

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Laura Chamberlain Laura Chamberlain | 09:56 UK time, Thursday, 24 May 2012

It's news that perhaps won't surprise many people given his penchant for a small dram or two but the will of Dylan Thomas, which has been now been published online, reveals that the Welsh poet left very little wealth behind him after his death.

Genealogy website has published the wills of millions of famous Britons online for the first time, including the likes of Thomas, Winston Churchill, Florence Nightingale, AA Milne, George Bernard Shaw and Beatrix Potter.

The probate record of the Welsh poet shows that effects worth just £100 were left to his widow Caitlin, which equates to roughly £2,300 in monetary value today.

Copy of the online probate record relating to Dylan Thomas. Courtesy of

Copy of the online probate record relating to Dylan Thomas. Courtesy of

More than six million records dating from 1942 to 1966, that form part of the England and Wales National Probate Calendar, 1858-1966, have been put online.

When compared to sums left by other well known authors whose details have been unearthed during the publication of the records, Thomas' bequest seems a small sum indeed.

For instance author Lewis Carroll left £4,145 (approximately £440,000 today) to his younger brother Wilfred in 1898 while George Orwell is listed as having £9,908 (just under £280,000 today) to his name in 1950.

Meanwhile, former prime minister Churchill left behind effects totalling £304,044 (nearly £4.8 million today) to his wife Clementine in 1965.

Thomas died on 9 November 1953 in New York. The post mortem gave the primary cause of death as pneumonia, with pressure on the brain and a fatty liver given as contributing factors. He is buried at St Martin's Church in Laugharne.

Read more about Dylan Thomas on the BBC Wales Arts website.

Jenny Sullivan wins 2012 Tir na n-Og award with Full Moon

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Laura Chamberlain Laura Chamberlain | 10:38 UK time, Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Welsh children's author Jenny Sullivan has scooped the 2012 Tir na n-Og English language award for her novel Full Moon.

Jenny Sullivan with her novel Full Moon

Jenny Sullivan with her novel Full Moon

The author, who was born in Cardiff and lived in Raglan in Monmouthshire for many years, moved to Brittany in 2004. She often returns to Wales and did so last Friday to pick up the award, which was presented at Cardiff Central Library.

It's not the first time that the author has won the Tir na n-Og award, as she gained the accolade in 2006 for her historical novel Tirion's Secret Journal.

Sullivan said: "I am absolutely delighted and honoured to have won this major award for the second time. I must admit to being a compulsive writer and I'm currently working on a sequel to Full Moon."

In Full Moon average teenager Nia - "she likes make-up and boys, but she's not so keen on homework" - encounters a strange creature in her Aunty Gwen's cellar that only emerges during a full moon, and it changes her average life for ever.

The Tir na n-Og English Award recognises the exceptional quality of books with a Welsh background for children and young people.

The Welsh language winner will be announced in a ceremony at the 2012 National Urdd Eisteddfod in June.

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Gareth Evans' The Raid premières in Cardiff

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Laura Chamberlain Laura Chamberlain | 10:01 UK time, Wednesday, 16 May 2012

The Welsh première of Indonesian action thriller The Raid, directed by Gareth Evans, takes place in Cardiff this evening.

Gareth Evans

Gareth Evans

Evans is originally from Hirwaun in the Cynon Valley and graduated from the University of Glamorgan with a MA in Scriptwriting for Film and Television.

He was named by Variety as one of 2012's "directors to watch" and has written, edited and directed The Raid, which goes on general release in the UK this Friday.

The Raid is Evans' third directorial feature. Set in the slums of Jakarta the film's main focus and setting is an impenetrable 30 floor apartment block, a safe house that is home to some of the city's most hardened criminals.

A SWAT team is tasked with taking down the notorious drug baron who runs the safe house and it falls to the rookie member of the team Rama, played by Iko Uwais, to complete the mission.

Evans' fascination with Asian cinema began when he was a child, after he watched his first Bruce Lee film Enter The Dragon at what was probably too early an age, by his own admission.

He moved to Indonesia in 2007 and worked on a documentary called Land Of Moving Shadows about the lesser known martial art Pencak Silat.

The Raid publicity film poster

The Raid publicity film poster

It was during filming that Evans started to realise the art's cinematic potential. In filming the documentary he met his future leading actor Iko Uwais, a student who was a delivery driver at the time.

The Raid is Evans' second foreign language film collaboration with Uwais; their first was Merantau, in which Uwais was the star and fight choreographer, and which first highlighted the art of Pencak Silat.

Gareth Evans and Iko Uwais

Gareth Evans and Iko Uwais

The Raid combines Pencak Silat with other martial art disciplines, fighting styles and weaponry and is the first in a planned trilogy of films surrounding its main character Rama. The sequel will be called Berandal.

The Raid played to sold-out crowds at the 2011 Toronto Film Festival. Unashamedly violent and gory, and most definitely one for the over 18s only, the film has picked up many rave reviews and has scooped a number of awards.

These include the Midnight Madness People's Choice Award at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival plus both the Audience Award for best film and the Dublin Film Critics Award for best film at the Dublin International Film Festival in February 2012.

Iko Uwais in The Raid
Iko Uwais in The Raid

Iko Uwais in The Raid

Another string to the film's bow is that the musical score has been composed by Linkin Park vocalist Mike Shinoda, marking his début foray into the word of film score composing. He's teamed up with Joseph Trapanese for the score, who has recently worked on Tron: Legacy with Daft Punk.

The Raid opens in UK cinemas this Friday, 18 May.

Tune into this Friday's Kermode and Mayo's Film Review on Radio 5 Live to hear what Mark and Simon make of the film.

Frank Brangwyn and Swansea's Empire panels

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Laura Chamberlain Laura Chamberlain | 15:01 UK time, Friday, 11 May 2012

The vibrant panels that adorn the walls of Brangwyn Hall at Swansea's Guildhall are some of the finest examples of the decorative, large-scale mural work of British artist Sir Frank Brangwyn.

145 years on since his birth, on 13 May 1867, the name Brangwyn will always be closely associated with Swansea due to the panels. However, the Guildhall was not the original destination for the paintings.

The interior of the Brangwyn Hall, taken in 1949

The interior of the Brangwyn Hall. Photo taken in 1949

The panels were an original commission from the House of Lords.They voted in 1925 to commemorate the dead of World War One with a memorial that would sit in the the Royal Gallery at the Palace of Westminster.

The Royal Gallery, 100ft long and 45ft high, was - and still is - dominated by two giant paintings by Daniel Maclise. Depicting battles scenes from the Napoleonic wars, the vibrant colours used by Maclise in the paintings deteriorated drastically within two years of their hanging, and continued to fade thereafter.

The new art work was expected to compliment the faded paintings by Maclise, and would be painted in a series of 16 panels to fill the north and south walls of the gallery, covering an area of 3,000 square feet.

Lord Iveagh, Edward Guinness, was in charge of the commission and provided the fee of £20,000 at his personal expense - a huge amount of money for an artistic commission in the 1920s. He chose Frank Brangwyn as the artist to complete the task.

Brangwyn was born to a Welsh mother and English father in Bruges in 1867. He had no formal training but was incredibly versatile; his artistic output ranged from oil paintings to interior design and he had a reputation for large-scale mural work. This, together with the fact that he was one of the most famous and successful artists in Britain in the early part of the 20th century, made him the obvious choice for the commission.

Brangwyn worked on the large-scale war panels during 1925-6. They were in the same military vein as Maclise’s paintings and depicted events from World War One. Yet after months of working on the panels both he and his patron Lord Iveagh decided that the subject of war was wrong, and that the panels should be more optimistic and uplifting. Brangwyn later donated the panels to the National Museum Wales in Cardiff, where they now hang in the main hall.

Brangwyn restarted the commission with a new theme concentrated on the beauty of the Great Britain that would show the riches of the British Empire, and what the British forces had fought for during the war.

The new decorative and wildly colourful panels showed the people, beauty and the produce of the Empire, although the idea of the British Empire was fast become outmoded at the time. Scenes on the new panels included themes of fantasy, fruit, flora and fauna, from his studies of animals at London Zoo, and images from his travels.

Sadly Lord Iveagh died in October 1927, when Brangwyn had only completed only five of the 16 panels. Though Lord Iveagh’s trustees agreed to honour the commission the other peers repeatedly demanded to see the artist’s progress. The one condition that Brangwyn had made with Iveagh at the start of the commission was that he was able to work without interruption and that he wouldn’t have to show his work to anyone until the entire scheme was complete.

He had to relent and the five completed panels were erected in the Royal Gallery for the committee to view. They decided, with the advice of the Royal Fine Art Commission, that they were not suitable to be housed in the House of Lords. They were deemed inappropriate and too exuberant for the gallery as they wouldn’t sit in harmony with Maclise’s sombre paintings.

The rejection of the panels was a crushing blow for Brangwyn. He was encouraged by Iveagh’s trustees to complete the commission despite the decision and eventually finished the panels in October 1932 after seven years work.

In 1933 it was announced that the panels would be given to a municipality or a body who could house and display them. The panels were shown at the Ideal Home Exhibition in London in 1933 and happened to be viewed by Swansea councillor Leslie Hefferman.

The Brangwyn Hall in Swansea, in 1949, with the panels visible on the right

The Brangwyn Hall in Swansea, in 1949, with the panels visible on the right

Hefferman was determined to bring the panels to Swansea but faced competition from other cities such as Cardiff, Liverpool and Birmingham who had also expressed an interest in housing the panels.

By chance, the Guildhall in Swansea was still in construction in 1933 and the architectural plans of the building could be adjusted - the ceiling height in particlular - to account for the huge panels. It was successfully selected by the trustees and in September 1934 the panels were transported to Swansea and installed in their new permanent home.

The Brangwyn Hall at the Guildhall, Swansea was officially opened on 23 October 1934 by HRH the Duke of Kent.

Brangwyn donated all the studies and preparatory drawings related to the panels to Swansea council, and are now displayed in the corridors of the Guildhall. It is thought that Brangwyn never made the journey to Swansea to see all 16 of his panels in their complete glory. He died on 11 June 1956.

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Videos of Ebbw Vale Steelworks demolition sought for Ghost Parade

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Laura Chamberlain Laura Chamberlain | 12:46 UK time, Thursday, 10 May 2012

Welsh artist Stefhan Caddick is appealing for videos of the demolition of one part of Ebbw Vale Steelworks for his project Ghost Parade, part of Wales' involvement in the 2012 Cultural Olympiad.

Ghost Parade will mark the arrival of Adain Avion in Ebbw Vale at the start of July, and will also celebrate a decade of transition in the former industrial town.

Twelve public art commissions will be taking place across the UK's nations and regions this summer to help celebrate the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. The commissions are part of the UK Arts Councils' flagship project for the 2012 Cultural Olympiad, called artists taking the lead, and Adain Avion is the chosen project for Wales.

It is a mobile arts space, created from the transformed body of a DC-9 aeroplane, which will travel across Wales in June, July and August. Performances, installations, workshops and events with leading Welsh and international artists will take place at each of its destinations.

Ghost Parade will take place at night on Sunday 1 July. The procession will take place along the final mile of Adain Avion's journey from Swansea to Ebbw Vale until the plane reaches its destination outside the former steelwork's General Offices where it will nest for a week. The parade will include outdoor projections and archive moving images, plus music from Ebbw Valley Brass.

The General Offices in Ebbw Vale

The General Offices in Ebbw Vale, the destination of Adain Avion in Ebbw Vale

As well as celebrating the fuselage's arrival, Ghost Parade will mark the 10th anniversary of the closure of the Ebbw Vale Steelworks.

Artist Stefhan Caddick is looking specifically for videos of the demolition of one particular part of the steelworks, called the pickler. The pickler was an iconic part of the steelworks and integral to the steel making process: it was in this part of the works that the surface oxide (or scale) formed on the hot roll coil during the hot rolling process was removed with acid.

The enormous structure spanned the valley below the village of Ty Llwyn and when it was demolished on 31 March in 2004 hundreds of people turned out to see the building come down, many armed with film and video cameras to record the event.

Here are some before and after photos, screen grabs taken a film submitted by the Ebbw Vale Institute, which show the demolition:

The Pickler before demolition (screen grab taken from a video by the Ebbw Vale Institute)

The Pickler before demolition...

The Pickler demolition (screen grab taken from a video by the Ebbw Vale Institute)

and afterwards

Stefhan is appealing for people to come forward with their recordings of the demolition so that he can bring these individual films, each shot from differing angles and viewpoints, together and screen them simultaneously on a large screen as part of the Ghost Parade event.

If you want to contribute to the project, or you know someone who may have filmed the demolition, you can contact Stefhan on For more information about Ghost Parade visit or visit the Ghost Parade page on Facebook.

Rhod Gilbert's Work Experience: series three

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BBC Wales Arts BBC Wales Arts | 17:01 UK time, Thursday, 3 May 2012

A new series of Rhod Gilbert's Work Experience begins on Monday 7 May, with four new jobs for the Welsh comedian to get to grips with.

Previous series have seen Rhod try his hand at being a butler, tattoo artist and army recruit, but this time round he may have found something that he could seriously consider as a new career.

Though on paper his stint as a drag artist might sound closer to his current role as a stand up comedian - as Rhod says, "it's on stage, and it's making people laugh, it's entertainment, which is what I do" - it was as a teacher in the first episode that he really came into his own.

Rhod as a teacher in the first episode of Rhod Gilbert's Work Experience

Rhod as a teacher in the first episode of Rhod Gilbert's Work Experience

Rhod spent time at Monnow Primary School in Bettws, Newport. He breached the school rules immediately by not wearing a tie, and discovered a whole new world where maths lessons are held in a forest and learning literacy involves addressing sounds to the tables and windows.

Despite struggling with this concept at first - "it was all happy clappy, modern funky teaching methods that were so different to when I was in school" - Rhod is soon overwhelmed by the inspirational attitude of the teachers, and describing the school as "one hell of a place".

The comedian said: "It was the most inspirational three days of my life by a mile. There's an element to teaching that I loved, which is imparting knowledge and information to kids, watching them learn and being hopefully a force for good in their lives. That is incredibly inspirational, moving, and the most wonderful privilege."

Rhod spent time at Monnow Primary School in Bettws, Newport for the programme

Rhod spent time at Monnow Primary School in Bettws, Newport for the programme

The second episode sees Rhod trying out as a zookeeper at the Welsh Mountain Zoo in Colwyn Bay, where he's put on feeding duties, pushing quails through the bars for a tiger and hiding fruit for a bears' treasure hunt.

He said: "I think I expected to be like David Attenborough, you know, snuggling up to gorillas, having life-changing conversations with a parrot, but there's not as much of that as you might expect. Ultimately, they are wild animals - you don't get in with chimps if you want to live."

Other episodes in the series see the comedian joining the police, in which he enjoys a taste of their training, and Rhod even transforms into woman as he tries a stint as a drag artist.

Of his performance he says: "You couldn't say it was entertainment; the crowd was probably enjoying my humiliation more than anything. I was leading guys round by the tie and flirting with the audience. It only lasted two minutes, but it was the longest two minutes of my life!"

Get involved

You can stage your own performance - and maybe give Rhod a better experience - by downloading the Rhod doll to stiff paper, cutting him out, and dressing him up in the costumes from this series. And you can use the clothing template to make your own designs - maybe in the uniform of the jobs you'd like to see him do next.

Take a picture of Rhod in the costumes you've made and send it to us at and we'll feature the best ones in a photo gallery. The closing date for entries is 28 May 2012.

Don't forget to watch the series, which starts this Monday, 7 May, at 10.25pm on BBC One Wales.

Elis James: "Mach Festival is one of my favourite things in the world"

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James Roberts James Roberts | 12:39 UK time, Thursday, 3 May 2012

Comedian Elis James is one of the most promising emerging acts on the Welsh comedy scene at the moment - although 'emerging' may be the wrong adjective, as he's become such a familiar voice on BBC Radio Wales of late.

Elis has enjoyed recent success with Pantheon Of Heroes, a mixture of sketch show and stand-up that was co-written with fellow comedian Ben Partridge. He also regularly collaborates with Chris Corcoran for the theatre show The Committee Meeting and on Social Club FM, again for Radio Wales.

I caught up with Elis ahead of his stints at the Machynlleth Comedy Festival this weekend, and the forthcoming Edinburgh Fringe, and threw a couple of questions his way.

Elis James at the 2011 Machynlleth Comedy Festival. Photo: Ed Moore, Edshots

Elis James at the 2011 Machynlleth Comedy Festival. Photo: Ed Moore, Edshots

How is life at The Social Club?

The Social Club currently has one customer, who is drinking tap water and using the radiators to dry his anorak but Rex used to babysit him in the 40s so he doesn't mind.

Rex is very well - he's just finished cleaning out the lines and is about the change the gearbox on the club minibus, before tarmacking the drive and duplicating some ledger books from 1967 "just in case".

How did 2011 go for you? Highlights and lowlights?

The highlight was getting Pantheon Of Heroes and Social Club FM commissioned by Radio Wales and being asked to go on Eight Out Of Ten Cats, the lowlights were having my body described as "laughable" when I took my top off on a stag do in Liverpool and getting a new coat stolen from a nightclub.

Pantheon of Heroes contributors Ben Partridge, Elis James and Nadia Kamil

Elis James with Pantheon of Heroes collaborators Ben Partridge and Nadia Kamil

You'll be making a return to the Edinburgh Festival this summer. Do you feel like part of the furniture?

I've actually taken shows to Edinburgh every year since 2008, but with 2,500 shows at the festival and over 20,000 performers, it would be very difficult to describe myself as part of the furniture. I do know Edinburgh very well though; it's one of the few cities that I would recognize instantly if I woke up there having been kicked out of the back of a Transit van.

General plans for Edinburgh?

Chris Corcoran and I are performing The Committee Meeting every day at the Underbelly at 1.30pm, and then I'm doing a solo stand up show at The Baby Grand in the Pleasance at 7pm.

My general plan is to not gain too much weight by drinking real ale at four in the morning - I have a wedding to go to a few weeks after the festival finishes and I won't be able to afford a new suit.

With such a successful presence on BBC Wales, is it extra work being a London-based comic, performing in Wales as well to a different audience?

A huge amount of travel is a part of what I do, so in the main living in London is slightly more convenient, although working so closely with Chris means I'm in Cardiff all the time anyway.

I loved writing for Radio Wales and they're programmes I'm immensely proud of, but the best thing about writing is that you can do it anywhere. My favourite writing session for Pantheons was in Ben Partridge's parents' house, where the session was bookended by us laughing at photos of Ben as a child while his mum made us toast and tried to explain some of his haircuts.

You'll be performing in Swansea on May 18. Do you enjoy coming "home" to perform?

I love performing gigs in south Wales, especially south west Wales, but not Carmarthen - the last time I did that the venue was flooded with my aunties and uncles which I found very weird.

Swansea is perfect because I can still talk about the area I grew up in but it's just far enough from home to stop any second cousins turning up and threatening to dob me in for swearing. That's the first time I've used the phrase 'dob me in' since 1989. It felt good.

You are performing at the Mach Comedy Festival this weekend. Tell us a bit about the festival and what we can expect from you.

The Machynlleth Comedy Festival is one of my favourite things in the world - it's a truly wonderful line up and the organisers should be proud of it.

Elis James performing at Machynlleth in 2011. Photo: Ed Moore, Edshots

Elis James performing at Machynlleth in 2011. Photo: Ed Moore, Edshots

The atmosphere's great and the audiences are lovely; they understand that most of the comics are gearing up for Edinburgh so don't mind if you take a sneaky peek at your notebook halfway through the performance.

My parents went last year and my mum described it as "the best weekend of her life," so you can't say any more than that. Thankfully my girlfriend is more organized than me and has sorted us a B&B, because otherwise I'd be sleeping in the car. I'm about as suited to camping as Hermann Göring was to HR.

Henry Widdicombe on the 2012 Machynlleth Comedy Festival

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Laura Chamberlain Laura Chamberlain | 09:30 UK time, Thursday, 3 May 2012

The Machynlleth Comedy Festival may only be in its third year but its popularity among comedians and visitors alike is already well established.

Henry Widdicombe at the 2011 festival

Henry Widdicombe at the 2011 festival

Described recently on Twitter as a "boutique comedy weekend", the Mach festival has attracted some of the most high-profile performers over the last couple of years. Perhaps surprisingly, given the size of the small but perfectly formed mid-Wales town.

I spoke to one of the festival directors, Henry Widdicombe, about this year's festival which begins tomorrow.

Half past four on a dreary afternoon was, I grant you, not an ideal time for an interview chat but Widdicombe's enthusiasm for the festival, and for Machynlleth in particular, shone through.

"We've achieved something quite special, I think," he said. "The main thing for us is that we've achieved what we wanted - to create somewhere where comics actually want to play, to come and spend time.

"When you're at the festival you see the performers arriving on the Friday and some of them are still around when we're doing our wrap-up meeting with all the volunteers on the Monday!"

Many faces on the 2012 line-up will be familiar to previous audiences, with the likes of Elis James, Josie Long, Isy Suttie and Jon Richardson all having performed before at the festival.

Widdicombe said: "We do have a lot of returning people, with new shows, but I think we represent what we feel is exciting right now on the live comedy circuit and it would be a shame not to bring them back."

Josie Long performing at the 2011 festival. Photo: Ed Moore, Edshots

Josie Long, who returns to Machynlleth this weekend, performing at the 2011 festival. Photo: Ed Moore, Edshots

The Machynlleth Comedy Festival was born out of a desire to give comedy in Wales a wider base outside of the major cities of Cardiff, Swansea and Newport.

"We started running gigs in Brecon, Hay-on-Wye, Abergavenny in around 2008," said Widdicombe. "We wanted to do things outside of the cities, in rural areas, and I've been in love with Machynlleth for a long time; I love the mix of population in the community there. I'd always be there looking at the venue spaces they have in this tiny town, and I felt that something was waiting to happen there as it's such a glorious place.

"We looked at festivals we liked such as Green Man, Hay, Brecon Jazz - all of the small Welsh market towns. We got a small grant from Powys County Council in 2010, which meant that we had to pick a town in Powys but I would have picked it anyway! The plan was always for Machynlleth."

The festival enjoys a good relationship with the local businesses in the town, which Widdicombe calls 'a hidden gem' countless times during our chat.

As people buy individual tickets to the shows there's no accurate way of working out the official visiting figures, but he estimates that about 500 people turned up for the first event, 1,000 attended last year's festival and they're expecting 2,000 visitors this year. To put that into perspective, that's near enough the resident population of the town.

"Our stats do show that 50% have come from over 100 miles away, whereas a quarter have come from within 10 miles, so it's a nice mix of us bringing people into the area while also having the locals come to the show."

With its growing popularity you could easily envisage the festival losing the 'boutique' element and community feel, should the organisers choose to cash in with hiked ticket prices and more events crammed into the days. However, this doesn't register anywhere near Widdicombe's radar.

"What we've tried to do from the beginning is disassociate the process from the money. It's far more important for us to create something that's special, that people go to and feel that they've stumbled across something really amazing.

"I don't think we'll go beyond a certain number; we've no intention as a festival to keep putting tents in field and growing it to a massive scale, it's more about maintaining what is so good about it."

Elis James in 2011. Photo: Ed Moore, Edshots

Elis James in 2011. Photo: Ed Moore, Edshots

Festival organisers are keen to start developing the family and children's events at the festival. This year they include a clown called George Orange with his show Man On The Moon plus James Acaster Babysits, a "festival highlight" according to Widdicombe.

I asked him for more for his festival highlights: "I look at the Saturday night line-up and you've got Isy Suttie, Jon Richardson, Jarred Christmas - you could go to any of those and have a wonderful time. But for me it's always about the really exciting acts that are breaking through that you might not have heard of yet. They're always the ones worth seeing.

"There's a sketch show called Sheeps who are incredible, James Acaster's new material has just blown me away and then there's people like David Trent and Nathaniel Metcalfe that are exciting emerging acts who are going to Edinburgh for their first year.

"I think it's far more exciting going away from a festival having found someone that you can get on board with early and watch their careers flourish."

The 2012 Machynlleth Comedy Festival runs this weekend, from Friday 4 May to Sunday 6 May. Visit for more details and for the latest ticket availability.

BBC Radio will be broadcasting from the event, with Radio Wales' Jamie and Louise live from the festival on Friday 4 May and Radio 4 Extra's Comedy Club also broadcasting from the festival.

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