Dr Meredydd Evans, known familiarly and fondly as Merêd, is a national treasure. Philosopher and activist, musician and cultural engine, he is entirely deserving of an hour programme. Weekly. For the next decade.
Now 95, still writing industriously in his study every day, Merêd has an uncommon zest for life and a capacity to engage and generally enchant the people he meets. In this he is joined by Phyllis Kinney, his wife of over six decades. Together they have shaped the field of Welsh musical studies, shared their boundless enthusiasm for, and limitless knowledge of, traditional Welsh song and the folk tradition. But that is only one fraction of what Merêd has contributed to Welsh culture.
As a television documentary, Merêd, made by Cwmni Da, gave the viewer a peek into the man’s life and career, but not in a structured, chronological way. We see Merêd in his house in Cwmystwyth, we see him in his childhood village of Tanygrisiau, we see footage of him in the early days of Welsh television, we see clips of him in the 1949 film Noson Lawen, we see pictures of him from his years at Princeton University, we see him being escorted into a police van at a Welsh language protest, but we are not offered a linear narrative as such. It was an impressionistic hour, full of rich and wonderful images, not to mention the sound of his beautiful voice as captured on his landmark 1954 recording for Smithsonian Folkways; but a viewer unfamiliar with Merêd’s life and works might not have had a full sense of what a quiet cultural force he is. At 95.
There was certainly an unavoidable element of nostalgia to the documentary, and one cannot help but be touched by the sight of Merêd and Phyllis attempting to link hands around the trunk of an ancient tree, or the scene at Phyllis’ birthday lunch, with both of them giving quiet thanks for the years they have had together.
This programme is one in a recent run of biographies of cultural figures, from the singer and politician Dafydd Iwan, through another national treasure, the historian Professor John Davies, to the actor John Ogwen. It reflects the energies and interests of a new and young group of commissioners at the Welsh language channel, who respect the past but also explore it with an eye to the future.
Merêd shows us that there would not actually be a Welsh-language channel, or Welsh popular culture, without his inspiration and determination. This documentary stands as a testament to an extraordinary figure, visibly aware that the Wales he is leaving is not the same Wales that he was born into almost a century ago. His concerns about language decline should act as a clear clarion call for future visionaries, and his contributions to Welsh culture a reason for celebration and gratitude.