Dr John Edmunds (1929 - 2023)

As the Department of Theatre, Film and Television Studies approaches its fiftieth anniversary in September this year, we were saddened to hear of the passing of its first Head of Department, John Edmunds, at the beginning of May.


John was born in London in 1929, the son of two Welsh-born parents. He was evacuated to Aberystwyth during the Second World War and grew up in Borth, studying at Ardwyn Grammar School and going on to gain a First-Class degree in French at what was then the University College of Wales Aberystwyth. During his time as a student in Aber, he became a leading member of the student theatre society, joining the local professional weekly repertory company run by Edna and Alex Dore.


After three years National Service in the Royal Navy he was employed as an English teacher at Battersea Grammar School and Brighton College. In 1956 he began on an illustrious career in the broadcast media, which saw him working as continuity announcer and newsreader for the infant ITV regional station ABC in the Midlands and for London-based Associated Rediffusion. He then joined the BBC, presenting Top of the Form between 1966 and 1967 and then, in 1968, he became one of the BBC’s newsreaders, working with colleagues such as Richard Baker on BBC1 and BBC2.


John was appointed as Director of Drama in his alma mater in 1973, heading the newly-founded Department of Drama housed in the old Barn buildings in Alexandra Road. In those early years, Drama was intended to be offered only as a Part 1 (first year) subject, but through John’s persistence, and with the support of colleagues such as Emily Davies and Elan Closs Stephens, a joint honours scheme was established, with a single honours degree offered from 1978 onwards.


John headed the Department until 1985 when he moved to North America where he continued to work as Professor of Drama at the University of the Americas, Mexico, and the University of California at Santa Cruz. He returned to England in 1987 and continued to work in theatre. His translations of the work of French dramatists Racine and Molière were published by Penguin in their World Classics series.


In his late 70s and 80s, John directed and performed many of his translations on the London Fringe at Pentameters Theatre, Hampstead, notably as his favourite Shakespearian role Prospero. Until four years ago, John continued to inspire many adult lifelong learners, holding weekly classes on Shakespeare in Notting Hill, where he enjoyed reading all the main roles. He last performed in Aberystwyth for the Wardens drama company in October 2011, playing Newman Noggs in The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby.


We extend our deepest sympathies to his family and friends.


Professor Jamie Medhurst, Head of the Department of Theatre, Film and Television Studies, with thanks to Richard Cheshire and Paul R Jackson for providing information on John’s career.