On Wednesday 8 September 2021 the National Library will be celebrating the centenary of the birth of Welsh comedian, actor, singer and television presenter Harry Secombe who was born in Swansea on the 8 September 1921. In a live online Q+A session, two of Harry Secombe's children, David Secombe and Katy Secombe, will discuss the life and career of their father, along with items from his archive with Nia Mai Daniel of The Welsh Music Archive.
The family have looked after their father’s archive for many years, which they have recently started transferring to the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth. Dating from the early 1920s to the early 2000s, the archive comprises correspondence, drawings and cartoons, showbusiness ephemera, scrapbooks, film, TV and radio scripts, longhand book drafts, press photos from the 1940s onwards, portraits and audio visual material.
The archive reflects his life from his childhood in Swansea and includes items such as his school report and photos of him as a child and adolescent. There are also interesting letters home from the Army during the Second World War, some of which feature his cartoons and photos of him as a soldier. During his service with the Royal Artillery in North Africa he met Spike Milligan for the first time, a meeting which was to lead, ultimately, to the creation of The Goon Show.
His early career is also recorded, with photos and promotional material relating to his first professional engagement at the Windmill Theatre in 1946, where he met Michael Bentine, who together with Secombe and Peter Sellers, was essential to the performances in The Goon Show, the scripts for which were written by Spike Milligan. Harry Secombe kept many scripts and pictures from this period, including scripts for The Goon Show. First broadcast in May 1951 as Crazy People, it later became known as The Goon Show with Harry Secombe playing many characters, most notably Neddie Seagoon. He also started keeping a series of scrapbooks, which reflect his career in the 1950s.
An accomplished tenor he appeared in musicals and films in the 1960s, and there are scripts and photos for some of his performances such as the Ealing film Davey in 1958, the stage musical based on Charles Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers in 1963 (and 1993), and his performance as Mr Bumble in the film Oliver! in 1968. Many of his greatest fans would also remember him fondly as the television presenter and singer on religious programmes such as Songs of Praise and Highway.
Manuscripts drafts of his autobiographical novel Twice Brightly, which he wrote in 1974, are already in Aberystwyth as well as other draft manuscripts of his books.
Pedr ap Llwyd , Chief Executive and Librarian of the National Library of Wales said:
“We are constantly growing and developing our collections at the National Library and we are truly grateful to the Secombe family for the addition of this generous and wonderful archive. It is important that the Library’s collections continually evolve in order to fully reflect the history of our rich and diverse culture. We are delighted that we are able to celebrate the centenary of the birth of the popular entertainer Harry Secombe in this fitting way.”
David Secombe, writer and photographer, and one of Harry Secombe’s sons commented:
“The army letters and drawings offer an especially vivid insight into the mind of a serviceman during WW2. The scrapbooks and the substantial press photo archive offer a fascinating window onto the times my father lived through; and the archive as a whole is an unexpected reflection upon Britain’s 20th century social history, the changing nation seen through the prism of one man’s career”
Nia Mai Daniel, Programme Manager at The Welsh Music Archive said:
“I look forward to discussing the archive with David and Katy Secombe , and to note the centenary of such a talented and much loved comedian and singer. We are grateful to the family for gifting this amazing archive to the National Library, and I’m convinced that this material will be of scholarly and general interest to students of the period, particularly to those interested in the second world war and the development of post-war British culture.
The online event Remembering Harry Secombe (1921-2001) will be held on Wednesday 8 September at 7pm, visit our website for details and to book a ticket.
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Nia Wyn Dafydd
**Mae'r datganiad yma hefyd ar gael yn y Gymraeg**
Notes for Editors
The Welsh Music Archive
The Welsh Music Archive was established at the National Library in 2017, in order to collect, and to promote the use of, music archives and manuscripts in the Library.