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Ryan Davies 1937 - 1977

Ryan Davies I remember with great fondness, as he was instrumental in my first memory of the Grand Theatre’s magic appeal.  It was during 1972 and my father took me to see Cinderella starring Ryan Davies and Ronnie Williams, From the opening bars by the orchestra through all the comedy slapstick and musical Interludes I was spellbound and left the theatre elated and happier than I had been for a long time. I vividly remember trying to recreate some of the scenes in my front room and pretending I was Ryan Davies, telling jokes and singing. One joke I remember from the show still makes me laugh now, even though today it may be regarded as a little corny to say the least, but that’s pantomime for you. It featured Ryan dressed I think, as Shirley Bassey talking to Ronnie.   


Ryan                "I went to the Top Rank the other night and the Doorman asked me for my ticket,

                        I said my face is my ticket"

Ronnie              "what happened next”?


Ryan                "he punched it".

  

  

Not exactly side-splitting by today’s standards but to a seven year old this was exactly what was needed to ignite a love for the theatre that I still have today, I also still leave a pantomime with the happy feeling I remember from my youth, Although it now leaves my pockets a little emptier,   Ryan possessed perfect comedy timing and could have an audience hanging onto his every word and also mesmerised by his beautiful singing voice, this thankfully is captured on his 1975 album 'Ryan at the Rank'. I challenge anyone to listen to his rendition of 'Myfanwy' and not fail to be moved by its tenderness whether you Speak Welsh or not. He was also a very gifted musician and played the piano and the Harp very well, his comedy crossed the boundaries of every age group and he was loved by all. He was a very slight man, but what he lacked in stature he more than made up for in sheer dynamism and personality. He was a true Cabaret entertainer whose aim was to give everyone a good time. He never failed.

  

Ryan was born in Mountain View, Glanamman in the Black Mountains on 22nd January 1937 and was educated in Llangadog and Llanfyllin. He did two years national service in the R.A.F. after which he went to Bangor College followed by enrolment in London’s Central School of speech and Drama.  In 1960 Ryan got a job as a primary school teacher in Croydon.  

He developed his craft performing in clubs as a cabaret singer and comedian. Then In 1965 he began his association with BBC Wales, and was offered a full-time contract by the new light entertainment department. He also sang at the National Eisteddfod in 1966. His partnership with Ronnie Williams from Cefneithin (also the home of Welsh Rugby legend Barry John) began in 1967 during the ‘Ryan and Ronnie and Jill and Johnny shows’ that also starred Gillian Thomas and Johnny Tudor. Johnny who was born in Cardiff was an impressionist and comedian who had won Opportunity Knocks. He later appeared in the West End in the musicals “Cindy” and “A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum” and himself appeared at the Grand in “Robinson Crusoe” with Stan Stennett in 1969/70.  Ryan and Ronnie then became a duo and made the Ryan and Ronnie show for BBC Wales, after three series in Welsh the BBC decided to commission a series in English and it ran from 1971-1973. Ryan's speciality was dressing up as a "typical" Welsh housewife for a weekly sketch on the show known as "Our House", in which Ryan played "Mam" and Ronnie played Will, the father. The running joke was that "Mam" doted on her son, Nigel Wyn, played by Bryn Williams (who incidentally appeared in Mother Goose with Ryan in pantomime at the Grand in 1974/75 and again with Clive Dunn in Cinderella in 1977/78 also at the Grand) and forgave him anything, while being indifferent to her daughter, Phyllis Doris (played by Myfanwy Talog, who was also the partner of British comedy legend David Jason until her death from breast Cancer in 1995). Bryn Williams also appeared in “Dick Whittington” with Ryan and Ronnie at Swansea Grand in 1973/74. They recreated an “Our House” sketch during the Panto, which was very well received in Swansea. Ryan also appeared with another Welsh actor, non-other than Richard Burton in the 1972 film 'Under Milk Wood’ which was written by Swansea’s own Dylan Thomas. Ryan played the part of 2nd voice to Critical acclaim.  The Welsh language sitcom 'Fo a Fe’started in 1972 originally transmitted only in Wales but unbelievably it was then repeated in England for Welsh speakers .The series centred on two men, one a happy drunk, the other a God-fearing teetotaller, and follows the lengths to which the drunk's daughter goes to keep the peace. The title Fo A Fe translates into English as This One And That One. There was a special episode aired in 1976 and series 2 went out in 1977.   

Ryan’s first Pantomime at the Grand was ‘Cinderella’ in December of 1972, with his comedy partner Ronnie Williams. It was hugely successful and they were immediately booked for the following years offering ‘Dick Whittington’ Their stage performance ticked every box in terms of what a pantomime star needed to offer. They had almost a psychic understanding of each other and their comedy timing was impeccable, they were indeed a welsh version of Morecambe and Wise, and the Grand Theatre Swansea’s audience took them to their hearts and claimed them as their own. At a time when the social climate was grim to say the least, they provided light relief to a public used to the daily news bringing more doom and gloom into their lives. This could all be forgotten, for a few hours anyway, as grandparents, parents and children alike were taken on a magical journey into a world where there was always a happy ending with good conquering evil. Then in May of 1974 Ryan and Ronnie went their separate ways, and Ryan appeared in the next three Pantomimes at the Grand on his own. Ryan certainly came to regard Swansea as his home and moved into a house in Mumbles. It was a brave move to go it alone as his right hand man was missing, but Ryan had more than enough talent, charm and charisma to carry it off with ease. He appeared in  ‘Mother Goose’ in 1974/75 and on the 25th August 1975 he appeared for one night in his one-man show simply titled “Ryan”. “Jack And The Beanstalk” followed in 1975/76 and finally ‘Babes In The Wood’ in 1976/77 with the actor Glyn Houston. Tragically his life was cut short and the Welsh legends glittering career was extinguished far too soon when shortly after finishing at the Grand he took his family on holiday to New York, where he suffered heart failure, brought on by a severe asthma attack. His bright light dimmed forever. Welsh comedy has arguably failed to fill the void he left. I personally remember reading the headlines in the South Wales Evening Post on April 22nd 1977 and it felt like I had lost a family member. He is buried at Hen Bethel Chapel graveyard above Glanamman in the Black Mountains. His epitaph reads “I love thee with the breath, smiles, tears of all my life, and if god choose, I will but love thee better after death”     

Mike Evans Co-founder of Black Mountain Records with Ryan became his manager after Ryan and Ronnie’s well-publicised split. He has kindly shared with me his memories of a lovely man, who could not say no to anyone.   

“Ryan was a genius. I use the word genius, as there is no other word that describes him more aptly. Ryan was incredibly driven, with a determination to perfect every thing he did, be it song writing, singing, comedy, mimicry or broadcasting. He was blessed with equal talent in all of these areas. His work rate was at times astounding; Even though I was 13 years his junior, his work rate was very hard to keep up with, it was almost like he knew he wouldn’t have long left.”   

Ryan’s appeal transcended all ages and he could easily switch from family entertainer to cabaret performer, aimed at a more adult audience at the drop of a hat. Sometimes he would hide behind his own creation, Phyllis who would open his cabaret shows and break the audience before the “appearance” of Ryan. Mike went to every show that Ryan did and would record each performance, which Ryan would then analyse in the car journey home, fine-tuning so that next time he would be better.  Sadly very little exists of Ryan’s work, although fortunately Mike recorded “Ryan at The Rank” in 1975 in front of The South Wales Police, at the Top Rank Suite in the Kingsway in Swansea - now the home of the multi million pound Oceana Leisure Complex. It is now available on CD and is a must have for anyone wishing to experience a sample of his immense talent. Mike also recently discovered a cassette tape with some of Ryan’s performances. He has had these digitally enhanced to allow the public another opportunity to hear Ryan. It is now on general CD release as “The Many Faces Of Ryan”. I highly recommend anyone to get a copy to maybe get some appreciation of his wonderful and varied talent.

Ryan Davies was a Welsh entertainer, the complete all-rounder. 

His talent knew no bounds. He was a Comedian, in Welsh and English,  a Singer, in Welsh and English, 

a Songwriter, in Welsh and English, an accomplished Musician, an Actor on stage and screen, 

a conductor, Broadcaster and a Cabaret Performer. Ryan had an unique ability as

he excelled in all he did, showing no weakness in any area. His appeal transcended all ages. 

Sadly he died aged just 40 on April 22nd 1977. In 2008 a film was made about the relationship between Ryan and Ronnie entitled “Ryan a Ronnie”. It was filmed in a disused workingmen's club in Aberavon. The singing voice of Ryan was provided by his son Arwyn Davies. It aired on S4C on Xmas day 2009.

The Legendary live recording of “Ryan at the Rank”

£8.95 + 1.00 p&p



Ryan Cymanfa Ganu

£8.95 + 1.00 p&p



The newest release The “Many Faces Of Ryan”

£8.95 + 1.00 p&p




Ryan A Ronnie

£8.95 + 1.00 p&p
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