Blue Plaque Honour For Film Star
One of Wales’s greatest film stars has been honoured by Rhondda Cynon Taf Council with the unveiling of a Blue Plaque on the house where he was born.
Family, friends and admirers flocked to the Council’s offices in Clydach Vale to honour Donald Houston, one of Wales’s most prolific actors of stage, cinema, television and radio.
Almost 20 years following his premature death at the age of 67, tributes were paid to the Tonypandy-born actor in a special ceremony this week.
Eminent historian, writer and broadcaster, Professor Peter Stead, who specializes in the history of cinema, sports and theatre, spoke passionately about the enormous contribution Mr Houston made to the British film industry from the late 1940s onwards.
As the handsome, fair-haired matinee idol, he had earned the respect and love of a legion of film fans for generations.
It was a poignant occasion as only a few days earlier Hollywood actress Jean Simmons, Donald Houston’s first female co-star in “The Blue Lagoon”, passed away at her Californian home.
Professor Stead gave an inspiring and eloquent speech on the life and career of the Rhondda actor, from his early days in the classic Ealing comedy “A Run For Your Money” with Sir Alec Guinness, through to his major successes in “Where Eagles Dare” and “Doctor In The House” which made him a household name.
He also spoke of Mr Houston’s close friendships with fellow Welsh stars Richard Burton and Sir Stanley Baker, his love of the Rhondda and how his classic good looks, warm spirit and openness endeared him to cinema goers of all ages.
Donald Houston’s daughter Sian and granddaughter Michela joined his sister Jean Rees at the event which also welcomed members of various civic societies who had participated in the decision-making process for the Blue Plaque scheme.
A message was sent from his brother, fellow Welsh actor Glyn Houston, who was unable to attend due to ill health. Also present was BBC broadcaster and close friend, Dewi Griffiths.
For almost two years Rhondda Cynon Taf Council’s Libraries & Museums Service has been working closely with various voluntary organisations and individuals to determine 30 sites in the county borough as yet unrecognized for their historical background with the placing of a Blue Plaque
Due to £49,200 of Heritage Lottery funding, the project has set out to identify icons, events and buildings, culminating in the placing of blue plaques to commemorate their history and achievements.
Donald Houston was born in 10 Thomas Street, Tonypandy in November 1923, the eldest of three children. Their father, Alex, was a professional football player from Scotland and their mother, Elsie, from Tonypandy whose own mother ran a family milk round business.
It was their grandmother, “Mam” Jones, who cared for the three children after their mother died aged 29 and their father left Wales in search of work.
Following school, Mr Houston worked at the Glamorganshire Colliery, or “The Scotch” before attending an audition at Llwynypia Boys Club and gaining a position in a traveling theatre company called The Pilgrim Players.
It was the start of a 40-year acting career which saw his handsome film-star looks in a vast array of films including “633 Squadron”, “The Longest Day” and “The Sea Wolves”. He worked alongside the likes of Henry Fonda, Robert Mitchum, Gregory Peck, David Niven, John Wayne, Dirk Bogarde and Clint Eastwood.
Jo Coles, a Committee Member of the Heritage Lottery Fund praised Rhondda Cynon Taf Council for organizing such a prestigious series of launches to celebrate the Blue Plaque project. She explained that the entire scheme had been professionally and successfully run by the local authority and with community consultation, the entire project had been one that the Heritage Lottery was honoured to support.
Rhondda Cynon Taf Mayor Cllr Robert Smith explained, “Wales is a remarkable country when you consider the phenomenal amount of talent it has produced and Rhondda Cynon Taf certainly punches above its weight in this regard.
“The county borough has been the starting point of a whole array of not just national, but world-famous individuals and organizations ranging from Stanley Baker and Tommy Farr to the Treorchy Male Choir and Cory Band. We’ve produced world-class sportspeople including Tommy Farr, Freddie Welsh, Arthur Linton and Teddy Morgan to name but a few.
“Rhondda Cynon Taf has certainly made its mark on Wales and the world, not just due to its industrial background, but because of the caliber and sheer talent of the people who were born, lived and worked here.
“Thanks to the generous support of the Heritage Lottery Fund we are able to showcase 30 of these individuals, places and events which not only attracts more visitors to the county borough and therefore has a positive effect on our local economy, but also allows residents more of an understanding of how special Rhondda Cynon Taf really is.”