As the Son of a clergyman Christmas was always going to be a very important time of year for my family. It came second only to Easter which my later Father always said was more important as everyone had done what Christ did at Christmas, namely being born, but it took Christ to rise again on Easter Day, before we could do likewise.
The earliest memory I have of Christmas was going to a party at the Chapel in Efailnewydd when I was 2. A member of my Fathers congregation who I knew as Uncle Ty’n Ffordd was dressed as Santa. From what I was told by my parents I was placed on his lap and I kept asking who he was. He replied that he was ‘Sion Corn’ (Welsh for Santa Claus). I then said he wasn’t. My parents had to move me from there as soon as I received my present. I was determined to embarrass my parents as often as I could!
When we moved from Efailnewydd to Blaenau Ffestiniog I went through a worrying phase. I started to get very distressed when people applauded. For a while, my GP thought it was raised hydrocephalus pressure. After some tests it proved not to be the case. To my parents relief it disappeared and I could enjoy parties again.
Christmas was very important during my time at Ysgol Gogarth. In fact, the school plays became well known and friends and families used to look forward to attending.
The junior classes used to do an adaptation of the Nativity each year. Looking back, I find it odd that the only ministers son in the school was never to play Joseph. My first part was playing a tortoise! Don’t ask me why, but I have a photo of a group of us dressed as different animals.
What is amazing about the plays was that all the costumes were made by the staff as were the sets and the props. We were very fortunate to have Emrys Roberts as an arts teacher. He painted some incredible sets and worked hand in hand with Wil Parri Williams, Ifan Glyn Jones and Dafydd Price who over the years wrote and directed the senior school panto’s.
The first time I got to watch the school panto we used a real live donkey which had been donated to us by the Comedian Wyn Calvin. It stole the show when he was led on to the stage by a pupil from Shrewsbury called David Paddock and decided he needed the loo and decorated the stage.
In another panto called “Cinder Alfred” a pupil who travelled from Blaenau Ffestiniog with me called Alun Jones played one of 3 ugly Sisters called “Pearl, Plain and Twist”. The other 2 were played by Dafydd Williams and Chris Hand. They took a lot of stick for being in drag.
On one occasion Wil Parri Williams decided that we were going to do something different. He wrote a play based on the music of Vivaldi’s 4 Seasons. In the weeks running up to that I had been in hospital for surgery on my leg. It was touch and go if I would be back in time. Luckily I was and played a young boy going around the countryside with 1 leg up on a board.
When I was a pupil in Ifan Glyn Jones class he decided to write a play based on the story of a group of pirates led by Captain Harry Morgan and his second in command Barti Ddu. When we started rehearsals of the panto he had titled “The Jolly Roger Boys” we thought it was really funny. Someone turned to Mr Jones and said that it was like Carry On Pirates. From that day the title was changed.
As Harry Morgan it was decided that I would have a big moustache like our Headmaster Mr Rhapps. He wasn’t sure about it but took it well. On one performance the glue it was stuck on with dried just before the finale. Someone had to explain to the audience why I was clean shaven. We also carried wooden cutlasses. Mine got trapped in the spokes of my wheelchair and snapped send a piece flying into the audience. The highlight of that show was a pupil from Brynsiencyn called Edward or Ed Lloyd. He was fairly short and he had to mime to the bass solo, “Asleep in the Deep”. It stopped the show every time.
When Dafydd Price took charge of the plays we were very lucky. Before teaching us at Gogarth he had been at Theatre Felin Fach. He was a very talented script writer. He was also a very hard task master.
He wrote a panto based around the story of the “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” one year. I played the sorcerer and Barrie Caulcutt from Caernarfon played the apprentice. The apprentice wanted to show what he could do and created a cow. The only problem it couldn’t produce milk. I have been reminded that the two halves of the cow were David Garnet and Janet Pugh (Daniels now). Amazing to think I am still in contact with both of them.
He then created a machine which made milk in different colours. Emrys Roberts built a prop that looked like a wall. There were holes in the top of the wall and someone was behind it pushing different coloured tubes of polystyrene upwards to represent the milk. Each night when Barrie said what colour the milk was going to be it was sent up the wrong colour.
That show could have given Barrie heart failure. I had to go towards him and recite the only verse of poetry I can still remember from school, ‘what is this life if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare.’. I then had to count to three in my head and shout ‘fetch it’s really loud. What Barrie didn’t know was that Dafydd Price told me to count to a different number each night. Sorry Barrie!!
As a boy named Huw Griffith, named after one of Wales best character actors, I hope he would have approved. Acting was one thing I would have enjoyed to carry on with as an adult but like radio work I didn’t have the self belief to search further for opportunities.
As you can see Christmas is a special time of year. Especially for those of us within the church. We can celebrate Christs birth. What has always baffled me is why so many people who have no interest in the church or Christ’s message celebrate Christmas. What are they celebrating? I have a friend from my school days who reminds me in December each year that it will soon be time for the ‘Festival of Sprouts’. At least I know what he finds to celebrate. To quote my Father, when someone said about Christmas, “It’s all about the children isn’t it Mr Griffith?” Dad smiled and said, “I think you’ll find it’s all about one child”.