The usual perception of Richard Burton is that he wasted his talent. As legend has it, he was a Shakespearean actor who sold out to the movies and was prepared to act in any old rubbish for the money, and a womanising drunk, posturing about his love of Wales and rugby, who gained fame and fortune mainly on Elizabeth Taylor’s back (in more ways than one); he may never have loved her. What he said about Michael Redgrave could apply just as well to him: ‘He is in love with himself but he’s not sure if it’s reciprocated.’ His private diaries, now published with the permission of his last wife, Sally, confirm all this but reveal that it is only one side of the picture.
Unquestionably, Burton was both a social and an intellectual snob. He yearned to be offered a fellowship at an Oxford college and courted academics for this purpose (eventually he spent time at St Peter’s College). He schmoozed with and toadied to the titled and powerful: the Duke and Duchess of