Leonard Mitchard from Cwm was in the stage production of Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood 60 years ago. He tells Angharad Williams about his memories and what happened after his acting career

"I WAS born on July 28, 1941 in Cwm near Ebbw Vale and grew up there.

Life was brilliant. I was one of five children, and there was mam and dad of course. They had a fish shop, but dad had worked down the pit and his chest was bad. He didn’t have no breath so he finished when I was three and my youngest sister Anne was three months.

Money was tight. There was nobody working and my older brother Graham then had to get a job as an apprentice when he was 16. Then my mam worked in Glascoed in the ammunitions factory.

I went to school in Cwm and then to the grammar school in Ebbw Vale.

I was never into acting. When I was 15 in 1956 and Victor Spinetti, the actor who came from Cwm, he came looking for two boys for a stage production of Under Milk Wood and he seen one boy and when he went to another I was going to my aunt’s. They saw me and asked if I wanted to do it and I said ‘Yeah’ but they said I have to speak with my mam. I had to wait for her to come home from work. When I asked she said that I could do it and the next thing we went to London.

I had only ever been to Barry to see my auntie, so it was a new experience. It was great to go, and my mam went with me because my nan lived in London, near Hounslow. She stayed with them and I stayed with the agent. It was all really good fun.

When we knew we were going to stay my sister come up to London and they brought us clothes to take with us. That was that until we saw them again when we performed in Cardiff.

London was hectic, it was different then you see, it was wild for us. I’ve been up since and it’s even faster now, but we saw some good sights when we were there.

There were seven of us children in the show, and there was myself and my friend David Barnes. I was playing Nasty Humphry. I didn’t have too many lines, and we had to learn a song. We did the rehearsals for the show in London and then we went on tour to Newcastle, Edinburgh, Liverpool, Swansea, Cardiff and then back to London to perform for a few months.

When we were on stage you could only see one or two rows, the rest was all black so you couldn’t see nothing. You could hear the people when they cheered and clapped or laughing when it was funny. I didn’t think anything of it, we just got on with it. We didn’t have enough lines to forget any.

We met a lot of people like Harry Secombe who came to see the show, and Danny La Rue. I met Danny in the nightclub where he was working. Then there was the people in Under Milk Wood like Donald Houston and William Squire, they were lovely people. It was really exciting.

We went on tour and that was brilliant. We went up on the train to Newcastle and we would stay in different digs. We performed at the Edinburgh festival and that was lovely. When we were there we got to meet the mayor in their big mansion. We also met the mayor and mayoress in Cardiff when we were performing down there.

We had fun because me and David were from Cwm and were very down to earth, and the other children were ok as well. We just got on great like.

Both me and David would catch the night train on Friday from Paddington and travel to Cwm and then go back again on Monday morning. We didn’t miss home really, and people came to visit us. We went home for Christmas Day and then went back again. People in Cwm were asking us about where we lived and things like that.

We were on the BBC too. After the theatre run finished in London we went to the Lime Grove studios. It was quite different doing it in front of cameras. It was strange compared to being in the theatre. It was a big place and the set was up, I don’t think there was an audience there. We just did the play the same way we would the theatre.

It was lovely and different to see so many new things. I have lots of memories, I have so many. It was something that only happens once in life. We did it for roughly nine months, from when we opened in New Theatre.

We were in the papers including the Argus, quite a lot actually. People didn’t recognise us, I think we looked different to what we looked like on the television.

After we were finished I went for another acting interview in the Lime Grove studios for the BBC, but they said we were too tall. My friend David was only 5’4 and they said he was too tall, but it was for a children’s school programme. Because we wore short trousers they thought we were shorter than what we were.

I went and did an apprenticeship as an electrician down in the Marine Colliery in Cwm. I was there until 1966 and then I went and had a couple of jobs and then I went back to the same pit, not as an electrician though, because they had advanced so much I couldn’t get back in there. So I just did odd jobs there until I went to work in the sub-station and was still there when the pit closed in 1985.

I worked odd jobs and then went on the street lighting for SSE energy company in 1991. I retired in 2007 and I don’t miss working, I haven’t got time for work now because I’m so busy.

I met my wife Loretta when I was 20 in Ebbw Vale in a dance. She was from Ebbw Vale and we just met in the dance and that was it. We are married 52 years this year. It’s a long time ago now. We were supposed to get married on March 6 but because there was blizzard so we had to wait until the end of the month. We married in the Methodist chapel in James Street in Ebbw Vale and then went to the Park Hotel in Waunlwyd. There was snow on the ground and it was a beautiful day.

We have two sons, Carl and Darren, and five grandchildren who live from Ebbw Vale to Cwmbran and we have a great-grandson and another on the way.

I kept in touch with a few of the people from Under Milk Wood, but as we got older most have died now. David has passed away too now.

I kept in touch with Victor until he died. I don’t think about it so much now unless someone asks me. It will be 60 years this year since we did it. I have quite a bit of memorabilia like programmes, cuttings from the paper and photographs. It’s my claim to fame."