J O Francis Papers

Scope and Content

The archive contains draft versions of many of J O Francis' plays, along with a small group of preparatory research notes; letters relating to the broadcasting of his plays; press cuttings of articles relating to his plays, and published copies of his plays, many annotated.

Administrative / Biographical History

John Oswald Francis was born on the 7th of September 1882, in Dowlais, Glamorganshire. He was one of the first pupils to attend Merthyr Tydfil Intermediate School, and went on to study at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, and at the Sorbonne. He was later awarded an honorary MA by the University of Wales.

On graduating, Francis became a teacher at Ebbw Vale County School, and later at Holborn Grammar School, London. He served in the army during the First World War, and on discharge entered the civil service. He retired in 1953, after having received an MBE for his work.

Francis is primarily remembered as a dramatist, and is regarded as a key figure in rekindling interest in drama within Wales. He began writing plays for former Aberystwyth students in 1910. One of his first dramas, The Poacher, was staged in Aberystwyth in 1914, and is regarded by many as a masterpiece. His light drama, Birds of a Feather, enjoyed a successful period on the stage of the London Coliseum, from 1914 to 1918, and has also been performed internationally. The historical drama, Howell of Gwent (1934), was staged across Britain by the Welsh National Theatre Company. Francis' best work is generally considered to be Change, written in 1913, a powerful play reflecting life in the industrial south Wales valleys. It secured him the Howard de Walden Prize. Francis' collected essays, The Legend of Wales, were published in 1924, and he also produced a history of the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, in 1922. He is regarded as one of Wales' finest dramatists, yet he remained a modest man who was unfailingly surprised at the success his plays achieved.

Although an Anglo-Welsh writer, many of his works have since been translated into Welsh, and he himself learnt to speak the language during his middle age. When over 70 years old, Francis also learnt to hang-glide. He died a bachelor on the 1st of October 1956, in the London house he shared with one of his sisters.

Access Information

The papers may be consulted through application by e-mail to: archives@aber.ac.uk or by post to: Aberystwyth University, Archives, Information Services, Llandinam Building, Penglais, Aberystwyth, SY23 3DB. Tel: 01970 628593.


Description compiled by Rhian Phillips, Archives Hub project archivist, with reference to E D Jones and Brinley F Roberts (eds), Y Bywgraffiadur Cymreig, 1951-1970, (London: The Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion, 1997), p61.

Other Finding Aids

Basic finding aid available on request from Archives staff.