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:


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