Richard Burtons blunt put down of Anthony Hopkins years before Oscar win: Not Welshman!

Sophia Loren discusses playing Scrabble with Richard Burton

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Burton is often remembered as being the greatest actor to never win an Oscar, as well as becoming one of the highest-paid actors in the world. His relationship with actress Elizabeth Taylor was as engaging as his performances, with the couple marrying and divorcing twice, and always appearing in the news. Today, Burton stars opposite fellow acting heavyweight Clint Eastwood on ITV4 for the 1968 classic Where Eagles Dare.

The story follows a Secret Intelligence Service paratroop team who raid a castle, and is often cited among the best World War Two films of all time.

And while Burton earned a reputation for his distinct baritone voice, using it to become a formidable Shakespearean actor in the Fifties, it was his warmth that was also fondly remembered by his contemporaries.

Among these was fellow Welsh actor Hopkins, a winner of two Best Actor Academy Awards for Silence of the Lambs and The Father.

Both stars grew up in Port Talbot, near Swansea, in a country renowned for his love of rugby.

But when Hopkins approached Burton to ask for an autograph at his home in the Welsh town, the Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? legend asked the aspiring actor a question that sparked tension.

Hopkins, who at the time was 17, decided to approach Burton, who was preparing to drive off to Cardiff to watch Wales play in the Five Nations Championship.

Speaking to Candis magazine, Hopkins, 84, said: “My father was the local backer and Richard’s sister, Cecily, used to come into my parents’ shop.

“And in the Fifties, after Richard became famous, he was home staying with his sister, and I went to his house to get his autograph.

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“I remember knocking on the door and this lady came and I said ‘Hello, can I have Richard Burton’s autograph?’ ‘Oh, you’re Dick Hopkins son aren’t you?’

“So I went down the passageway and heard this ‘bzz’ and there was Richard Burton, shaving with an electric razor, and he had a T-shirt on and blazing blue eyes.”

Hopkins recalled Burton asking him if he spoke Welsh, to which he replied no, leaving the legend to declare: “Then you’re not a true Welshman.”

He continued: “[Burton] looked through me with those eyes and his wife, Sybil, who was eating breakfast, said ‘Oh, come on Richard, just sign the autograph’.

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“Then he said ‘We’re going to the rugby match in Cardiff’, ‘Oh yes?’ I said, ‘What match is that?’

“He said, ‘What do you mean what match? Don’t you know that Wales are playing France? You’re really not a true Welshman!’

“So, he signed the autograph and I walked back out of the house and back to my father’s shop, and as I was walking down the hill, his grey Jaguar went past – to see a Jaguar in Port Talbot in 1955 was something.

“And Richard and Sybil were inside, and Sybil waved at me and Richard looked at me and I looked back at him, our eyes met and I thought ‘One day, I want to be like that’.”

Both men make up half of an unprecedented set of actors from Port Talbot, which includes Michael Sheen and Rob Brydon.

Sheen, who rose to prominence for his incredible portrayals of the likes of ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair and former Nottingham Forest Football Club manager Brian Clough, reflected on life growing up in the town, particularly when it had such heritage.

In an interview with the Daily Mirror newspaper last year, he said: “Growing up in Wales, let alone in Port Talbot, the voice of Richard Burton is one of the most recognised there is, next to your own mother.

“You grow up with it, the extraordinary myth of a man, the legend of Richard Burton. Then there’s Anthony Hopkins, a man I’ve come to appreciate as one of the best actors of all time.”

He added: “To have those people in your consciousness from such a young age makes a massive difference.

“These were iconic performances, and not just from Welsh actors – these were actors from the town where I grew up.

“It means a lot to see that people from the same background as you have gone out and done what you want to do. It gives you something to aspire towards and the confidence to know it’s possible.”

Where Eagles Dare airs today at 1.05pm on ITV4.

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