The book is edited by Chris Williams, professor of Welsh history, and former director of the Richard Burton Centre for the Study of Wales.
According to Swansea University,
They offer an insight into the making of the man and of the actor, and provide a fascinating view of the theatrical and film world in which he moved: major directors, producers and actors, poets and novelists, royalty and other celebrities all people these pages. To intrigue the celebrity followers there is plenty on Elizabeth Taylor, on Burton’s many other romantic involvements, and on his struggle with drinking, but the diaries also show him to be a deeply cultured, widely-read and thoughtful man with a restless and intellectually hungry mind, sharp political opinions, a passionate and enduring involvement with Wales, and a sardonic and occasionally vicious wit.
A sampling of the 1965, 1966, 1970 and 1972 diaries is rich in film and politics. There is material from 1965 on the filming of The Spy Who Came In From the Cold and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?; discussion of Elizabeth Taylor’s health, of meetings with directors and actors, and of family life. The 1966 diary has extended entries on the making of The Taming of the Shrew, on Burton’s view of working with Franco Zeffirelli, and of the filming of Dr Faustus. In 1970 there is a great deal on Frank Sinatra; views on actors and acting; life in Mexico; the Oscar Ceremony in which Burton was nominated as Best Actor but did not win; on Elizabeth Taylor’s addiction to pills, her operation and her recovery, and reflections on British and American politics, and the British General Election. 1972 includes discussion of the filming of The Battle of Sutjeska in various locations in Yugoslavia; visits with Tito and his wife, and Burton’s attempts to learn Serbo-Croat. It includes the period of filming The Assassination of Trotsky in Rome and of Bluebeard in Budapest; his feelings about acting, his response to press coverage that admonishes him for having deserted the theatre, and thoughts about the political situation in Yugoslavia and observations on the Slav people and on communism. Burton always prided himself on his writing skills and the diaries make very compelling reading.
Though Melvyn Bragg uses some sections of the diaries in the second half of his biography of Burton, there is a lot of material that he did not use. Among this material is one of the most interesting and tragic diaries – that of 1975, which, although it contains only short entries, covers the period of his second marriage to Elizabeth Taylor in Africa, and indicates in stark terms the effects of his heavy drinking.
Throughout the diaries, Burton reflects on what he is reading, consuming biography, fiction, political analysis, thrillers, detective novels and poetry in vast quantities at all times. He reflects on the theatre and on acting; on his family and his children; his wives and lovers (for more see here); his birthplace and wherever he is living – and on the media and the public.
According to Wales Online, Burton’s diaries also reveal another life-long desire: “Although Burton’s ability to cite Shakespeare at will was legendary and his love of Dylan Thomas poetry was so great he was buried with a volume of it at his side, few realised he once hankered to be a serious academic. […] As a perfectionist, his published writing was occasional rather than prolific.”
Burton’s notes cover the years 1939 to 1983, and the volume will be released as a £25 hardback on 31st October.