Richard Burton

The papers, and associated bequests of Raymond Williams’ papers, among others, are the foundation stones of a planned Richard Burton Research Centre at Swansea University.  

The Richard Burton Diaries

The diaries have been edited by Professor Chris Williams and are published by Yale University Press.

In his personal diaries Richard Burton is a man quite different from the one we familiarly "know" as acclaimed actor, international film star, and jet-set celebrity. From his private, handwritten pages there emerges a different person - a family man, a father, a husband, a man often troubled and always keenly observing. Understood through his own words, day to day and year to year, Burton becomes a fully rounded human being who, with a wealth of talent and a surprising burden of insecurity, confronts the peculiar challenges of a life lived largely in the spotlight.

This volume publishes in their entirety the surviving diaries of Richard Burton (born Richard Jenkins, 1925-1984). The diaries were written between 1939 and 1983 - throughout his career and the years of his celebrated marriages to Elizabeth Taylor. Diary entries appear in their original sequence, with annotations to clarify the people, places, books, and events he mentions. At times Burton struggles to come to terms with the unfulfilled potential of his life and talent. In other entries, he crows over achievements and hungers for greater challenges. He may be watching his weight, watching his drinking, or watching other men watch his Elizabeth. Always he is articulate, opinionated, and fascinating. His diaries offer a rare and fresh perspective on his own life and career, Elizabeth Taylor's, and the glamorous world of film, theatre, and celebrity that they inhabited.

Visit the YaleBooks website

On the Archive:

 The diaries begin with a small volume kept by Burton in 1940 when he was fourteen years old, and subsequently cover the years 1960, 1965-1972, 1975, with partial diaries for 1977-1983.

They offer an insight into the making of the man and of the actor, and provide a fascinating view of the theatrical and film world in which he moved: major directors, producers and actors, poets and novelists, royalty and other celebrities all people these pages. To intrigue the celebrity followers there is plenty on Elizabeth Taylor, on Burton’s many other romantic involvements, and on his struggle with drinking, but the diaries also show him to be a deeply cultured, widely-read and thoughtful man with a restless and intellectually hungry mind, sharp political opinions, a passionate and enduring involvement with Wales, and a sardonic and occasionally vicious wit. He was a fine writer and an astute and uncompromising observer of others, and of himself.

A sampling of the 1965, 1966, 1970 and 1972 diaries is rich in film and politics. There is material from 1965 on the filming of  The Spy Who Came In From the Cold and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?; discussion of Elizabeth Taylor’s health, of meetings with directors and actors, and of family life. The 1966 diary has extended entries on the making of  The Taming of the Shrew, on  Burton’s view of working with Franco Zeffirelli, and of the filming of Dr Faustus. In 1970 there is a great deal on Frank Sinatra; views on actors and acting; life in Mexico; the Oscar Ceremony in which Burton was nominated as Best Actor but did not win; on Elizabeth Taylor’s addiction to pills, her operation and her recovery, and reflections on British and American politics, and the British General Election. 1972 includes discussion of the filming of The Battle of Sutjeska in various locations in Yugoslavia; visits with Tito and his wife, and Burton’s attempts to learn Serbo-Croat. It includes the period of filming The Assassination of Trotsky in Rome and of Bluebeard in Budapest; his feelings about acting, his response to press coverage that admonishes him for having deserted the theatre, and thoughts about the political situation in Yugoslavia and observations on the Slav people and on communism.  Burton always prided himself on his writing skills and the diaries make very compelling reading.

 Although Melvyn Bragg had access to the diaries and quotes from some sections of them in the second half of his biography of Burton, there is a great deal of material that he did not use. Among this material is one of the most interesting and tragic diaries – that of 1975,  which, although it contains only short entries, covers the period of his second marriage to Elizabeth Taylor in Africa, and indicates in stark terms the effects of his heavy drinking.

 Throughout the diaries, Burton reflects on what he is reading, for he is a compulsive and idiosyncratic  reader, consuming biography, fiction, political analysis, thrillers, detective novels and poetry in vast quantities at all times. He reflects on the theatre and on acting; on his family and his children; his wives and lovers; his birthplace and wherever he is living – and on the media and the public who variously love and revile him, and perpetually pursue and harass him.