The Richard Burton Legacy

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Michael Sheen grew up in the shadow of the steel and coal industries of South Wales but there was another towering figure in his youth as he started showing signs of what was to become a glittering acting career. That figure was his fellow South Walian Richard Burton.

Rich, as he was known to his friends, was one of the worlds richest and most famous men in his day. But above all else he was a proud Welshman and an actor of extraordinary power both on stage and on stream. And then of course there were the exploits beyond drama. His marriage to Elizabeth Taylor dominated the tabloids of the 1960s and his reputation as a drinker is legend.

In this programme Michael looks back at the Burton legacy with the help of a selection of family, friends and colleagues including his last wife Salley, his nephew Guy Masterson, his close friend Robert Hardy, his biographer Melvyn Bragg and the film critic Barry Norman. There's also plenty of the man himself with that extraordinary voice suffused with 'coal dust and rain' according to Burton himself. And his own writing, the notebooks and diaries and his letters.

Michael's intention is to try and measure how much of Burton's life and work still resonates today. Is it the stage performances that entranced audiences in Stratford, London and on Broadway, or the films. Or perhaps it's the Burton story, the myth he made, including the grand passion for Elizabeth Taylor. And there's also the story of the family, the Welshmen and women he kept so close, none more so than his beloved elder sister Cecelia who brought him up after his mother died when he was only two.

But perhaps the Burton legacy is at its most lasting in his championing of the people he revered above all others. A copy of Shakespeare's plays was always at his side, not that he needed it much having committed huge swathes of it to memory. And the poets, Hopkins, Donne and perhaps above all others his friend Dylan Thomas. One of the greatest treasures in the BBC archive is Under Milkwood and there, beguiling the listeners and conjuring the imaginings of Thomas, is the Burton voice at its very best.

It'll be an hour rich in 'Rich' riches with a very personal view from one of today's great actors at its heart. This documentary first broadcast in 2010 and it's repeated as part of Radio 2's Best Of British season.

Michael Sheen grew up in the shadow of the steel and coal industries of South Wales but there was another towering figure in his youth as he started showing signs of what was to become a glittering acting career.

That figure was his fellow South Walian Richard Burton.

Rich, as he was known to his friends, was one of the world's richest and most famous men in his day.

But above all else he was a proud Welshman and an actor of extraordinary power both on stage and on screen.

And then of course there were the exploits beyond drama.

His marriage to Elizabeth Taylor dominated the tabloids of the nineteen sixties and his reputation as a drinker is legend.

In this programme Michael looks back at the Burton legacy with the help of a selection of family, friends and colleagues including his last wife Sally, his nephew Guy Masterson, his close friend Robert Hardy, his biographer Melvyn Bragg and the film critic Barry Norman.

And there's also plenty of the man himself with that extraordinary voice suffused with 'coal dust and rain' according to Burton himself.

Michael's intention is to try and measure how much of Burton's life and work still resonates today.

Is it the stage performances that entranced audiences in Stratford, London and on Broadway, or the films, some less than memorable but others as good now as the day they were launched? Or perhaps it's the Burton story, the myth he made, including Le Scandale - the grand Celtic passion with Taylor for which he sacrificed a family and raised the hornets nest of national and international paparazzi which has been on a feeding frenzy for similar targets ever since.

And there's also the story of the family, the Welshmen and women he kept so close, none more so than his beloved elder sister Cecilia who brought him up after his mother died when he was only two.

There's Burton the King of 'Camelot' the musical, Burton the narrator voice in Jeff Wayne's rock album 'War of the Worlds' and then there's his own writing, the notebooks and diaries which are to be published soon and of course his letters.

But perhaps the Burton legacy is at its most lasting in his championing of the people he revered above all others.

A copy of Shakespeare's plays was always at his side, not that he needed it much having committed huge swathes of it to memory.

And the poets, Hopkins, Donne and perhaps above all others his friend Dylan Thomas.

One of the greatest treasures in the BBC archive is Under Milk Wood and there, beguiling the listeners and conjuring the imaginings of Thomas is the Burton voice at its very best.

It'll be an hour rich in 'Rich' riches with a very personal view from one of today's great actors at its heart.

Michael Sheen looks at the life and legacy of his fellow Welshman Richard Burton