Elaine Morgan: A Life Behind the Screen

Daryl Leeworthy
Publication Date: 
Monday, November 2, 2020
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Published to celebrate Elaine Morgan’s centenary, this informative biography restores Morgan’s reputation and establishes her significant place in writing from Wales. It outlines her early days living only just above the poverty line in the Rhondda in a Labour/Communist steeped family, before reading English Literature at Oxford.

The book details Morgan’s early career in (left-wing) adult education, her marriage to an International Brigade veteran, her continuing political engagement and her success as a writer of stories and journalism. This brought her to screenwriting and adaptations for tv, and in particular the BBC. In this her career ran in parallel with fellow Rhondda author Gwyn Thomas, and Leeworthy traces their rise and the reasons behind it.

Morgan went from being among the very first women writers for radio and television to one of the pre-eminent screenplay writers in the UK. She was truly a pioneer, on whose shoulders today’s female television writers stand. She is perhaps best known for her adaptation of How Green Was My Valley, and her original screenplay, Lloyd George. Morgan spent forty years screenwriting before a radical move into anthropology and ethics, with Descent of Woman and The Aquatic Ape. These books made her even more famous and more influential, and she spoke about them at conferences around the world.

Despite her enormous international reputation Morgan was essentially a Valleys person and the book explores the importance of Welsh identity to her. She was an early campaigner for Welsh language education, and became a Western Mail columnist towards the end of her life, a commentator on Welsh affairs, both political and social.

This richly detailed biography is essential in understanding the life and work of this important writer.


“In this scintillating new biographical study, Daryl Leeworthy pays tribute to the life and work of Elaine Morgan as intellectual polymath and feminist icon. But the book’s deeper value lies in the way, through a fresh and revelatory approach, he foregrounds and champions Elaine as a writer for television of both originality and lasting distinction. A torrent of dramas, adaptations and screenplays for broadcast have been neglected because of the ephemeral nature of the medium but, put together, they made her the foremost public storyteller from twentieth century Wales to the world. Now, this impressively researched and elegantly written account shows us how her life was the outcome of the culture which moulded her in the South Wales Valleys and how the resulting work was a commentary, subtle and far-reaching, on that dynamic culture’s relationship both to Wales and to a wider world beyond.” – Dai Smith


Watch Daryl in conversation with Carolyn Hitt at the launch in November 2020:



Review by Emily Edwards, Buzz Magazine

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

A Life Behind The Screen celebrates the considerable achievements – writer, broadcaster, lecturer – of south Wales’ Elaine Morgan, Daryl Leeworthy’s detailed narrative providing a real sense of this woman from a working class Pontypridd background. After studying at Oxford on a mining scholarship during the first few years of World War II, the first woman from this region to do so, Morgan’s screenplays were adapted for television and radio, notable credits including 1970s adaptations of Richard Llewelyn’s novel How Green Was My Valley and Vera Brittain’s memoir Testament Of Youth.

A move back to south Wales, after marrying and working as an adult educator in Lancashire, was the perfect setting to begin writing and collaborating – radio broadcasters in Cardiff, television with the BBC. Female screenwriters were considerably rare, with barriers to women’s entry into broadcasting; Morgan, who had immersed herself in left-wing politics at Oxford, fought for equal pay ahead of the women’s liberation movement. 

Her later years, Leeworthy relates, saw Morgan retire from the broadcast business at almost 70, after some 35 years. But she continued to write, moving to evolutionary debates – her 1972 book The Descent Of Woman had already gained international acclaim. A return to journalism with ‘The Pensioner’, a weekly Western Mail column, continued into her 90s; she died 12 July 2013, aged 92.  Published to celebrate Elaine Morgan’s centenary, A Life Behind The Screen is an informative, well-researched biography that pays homage to a great south Walian woman – one who never lost touch with her Welsh roots and was essentially a Valleys person.

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