Emlyn Williams Correspondence

Scope and Content

These folders contain handwritten letters written by Emlyn Williams to May Swallow covering the years 1964 to 1971. There are also a small number of letters to and from a number of unknown correspondents, and two letters to Swallow from Emlyn's wife, Molly.

Administrative / Biographical History

Emlyn Williams was born in Wales in 1905. Educated in Holywell and Switzerland he won a scholarship to Oxford with the help of Miss Sarah Grace Cooke, a teacher who encouraged Williams in his studies (in particular fostering his gift for languages), offered financial and emotional support, and stayed a life-long friend and confidant until her death.

As an undergraduate Williams joined O.U.D.S. (the Oxford University Drama Society) and began writing plays, of which, two were performed at the local Oxford Playhouse Theatre. In 1927 he joined a repertory company and began his stage career. The early 1930s saw him achieve his first successes as a playwright with works such as A Murder Has Been Arranged, The Late Christopher Bean and Night Must Fall. His most popular play remains The Corn Was Green (1938), whose main character Miss Moffatt was based on Miss Cook. Ethel Barrymore played the lead in the successful 1940 Broadway production and 1945 saw a film version made starring Bette Davis.

Williams' screen career saw him acting in a number of movies, including The Stars Look Down (1940) with Michael Redgrave and Ivanhoe (1952) with Elizabeth Taylor. He wrote a number of screenplays, and in 1956 worked with Alfred Hitchcock on The Man Who Knew Too Much. His only film as a director, The Last Days of Dolwyn (1949), featured the screen debut of fellow Welsh actor Richard Burton.

In 1951 Williams began touring his one-man show of Dickens readings, which became popular internationally. He followed this success with other one-man shows; A Boy Growing Up (1955) based on the life of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas and Saki (1977) based on the writings of H.H. Munro.

Williams published two volumes of autobiography; George (1961) and Emlyn (1973), as well as two books exploring the psychology of murder.

In 1935 he married actress Molly Shan (real name Mary Marjorie) and they had two sons. He was awarded a CBE in 1962 and died at his London home from complications from cancer in 1987.

May Swallow was a friend and teaching colleague of Miss Cooke. They lived together in Leeds during the 1960s and 1970s.


The letters are arranged in folders according to their year, followed by a folder containing correspondence concerning other people and a folder containing fragments and undated items.

Access Information

This archive collection is available for consultation in the V&A Blythe House Archive and Library Study Room by appointment only. Full details of access arrangements may be found here: http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/a/archives/.

Access to some of the material may be restricted. These are noted in the catalogue where relevant.

Acquisition Information

Gift, 2006.

Conditions Governing Use

Information on copying and commercial reproduction may be found here: http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/a/archives/.

Appraisal Information

This collection was appraised in line with the collection management policy.

A number of theatrical reference books collected by Williams were removed and added to our library collections.


No further accruals are expected.

Related Material

See also the core collections of the V&A Theatre and Performance Department. Material relating to Emlyn Williams and his theatrical productions may be found in several collections, including the biographical, productions, company and photographs files.

Please ask for details.