Interview with Rhiannon James

Interview with Rhiannon James Trowell

Richard Burton was brought up by his big sister Cecilia (Cis) after his mother passed away when he was just 2 years old. Richard became a son to Cis and was brought up alongside his niece Rhiannon and her sister Marian. Richard and Rhiannon grew up as brother and sister.

In this interview, Rhiannon recalls fond memories of her uncle.

How would you describe Richard?
“Amusing, generous and kind. A raconteur!”

What was Richard like as a big Brother (uncle)?
“He used to take Marian my sister, and me to the playground in Taibach.  I am sure he would have preferred to play rugby with his friends but he had a great love and respect for my mother and would help out if necessary”.
“He was also ready to help us with our homework, although one had to understand it first time round as he was a bit short on patience”.
“Occasionally he looked after us when my parents went to choir rehearsals and he would tell us stories which we loved, particularly his ghost stories (he once covered himself with a sheet which was very frightening), complete with vocal sound effects such as creaking floorboards and ghostly howls. My parents were not pleased to arrive home and find us wide awake and agitated”.

Did Richard always want to be an actor?
“In his early teens, he wanted to be a schoolteacher and as time went on, he later wanted to be a writer”.

Did Richard have a Favourite book?
“Rich always had a book in his hand and would read until the early hours of the morning. My father, who was a coal miner, would get up at 5.30am for his shift and would find Rich still reading in a chair downstairs.
He loved poetry at a young age, but I can't remember if he had a favourite poet or writer. But he spent many hours in the Taibach Carnegie Library in Port Talbot”.

What are your fondest memories of Richard?
“Our last meeting was about one and a half years before he died. At the time, Rich had been having back and neck pains and was very unwell.  He was spending a few days with my mother in Hadley Wood, Hertfordshire, and as I lived next door to my mother and shared a garden with her, we saw quite a lot of him at this time. There were no entourage, no photographers, no press, just Rich and the family having some quiet time which was rare. Marian, Rich and I were sitting in the garden on a sunny afternoon reminiscing. We talked about our remarkable mother and her gift for making all three of us feel very special. Each one of us had secretly felt we were the favoured one”.

Cecilia (Cis), photograph courtesy of Graham Jenkins“In Rich's book, 'A Christmas Story' a semi autobiographical account, loosely based on my birth on the 24th December, he wrote about our mother saying "Now my sister was no ordinary woman - no woman ever is, but to me, my sister less than any. When my mother had died, she, my sister, had become my mother, and more mother to me than any mother could ever have been. I was immensely proud of her. I shone in the reflection of her green-eyed, black-haired, gypsy beauty".