He was born in the August of 1925 in the Temperance Hotel in the town of Narberth in Pembrokeshire, North Wales, which his mother ran as a B & B in Main Street, opposite the Old Town Hall. He was delivered by the district nurse who identified herself to him over forty years later, as a member the audience when he played at Tenby's De Valance Pavilion. The son of Ethel and John Calvin -Thomas, he was the seventh of eight children and became known as 'Wyn' after his second forename, 'Wyndham'."Thursday, I recall, was market day in the town where I remember the sheep, goats and cattle being tied-up against the houses in the street waiting for a sale. Now there’s a blue plaque on the wall that records my birth in a pub with no beer. The trip to the railway station was my first experience of riding in a taxi – it was well-known as 'Ben the Bus' - a four-wheeled trap with a black covering which took Mother Ethel with baby Leo and my two sisters Molly and Betty and myself - the boys had to walk. When asked on the train how old I was I was told to say "three" - that meant no fare; free travel for me".
"well-steeped in Prebyterianisn - non-conformity" and one sunday he recalled that he made his first : "Stage appearance at Tabernacle Church, the constant twice-on-Sunday venue. I remember speaking to my sister during a service and being told, "You do not talk in chapel". Not to be silenced, I pointed to the pulpit and ad-libbed, "He's talking all the time" ". It was in the same chapel that he found his performing feet at concerts and recitals."Sitting in the circle and looking down on this world of music, amusement, movement, colour and thinking : 'That's the world I want to be part of. Not this rotten world in this awful school I'm going to. It was my road to Damascus". He felt the same way about his secondary school, Canton High School for Boys when he was 16, during the Second World War when he said : "On 2nd January 1941, one hundred and eleven German planes came over to destroy the City and the following morning I went down to see the smoking ruins of the school I was going to in Canton and I remember thinking : 'That Hitler can't be all bad. It was exactly what I wanted to do to the place". (link)
"Holidays meant swimming trips to Saundersfoot or the North and South beaches at Tenby. Then a lemonade at the exciting cafe on the cliff-side with wonderful views of the harbour and the monk's boat either arriving or leaving for Caldey Island. Many years later I visited the island (and its monastery) to record a BBC radio interview with the Father Abbot. On my arrival at the monastery he greeted me with : "It's good to meet you with your own clothes on". Surprisingly, he added : "I saw you a few months ago at Birmingham when you were playing Mother to Ken Dodd in the pantomime".
War"A lorry driver, haring down to the South Coast" of England . He did, however collapse during training and was diagnosed with a heart condition and recalled : "My medical report invaliding me out of the Army sounded a serious, final warning. I had a heart problem, it seems, and the medical reports said, 'Probable length of life – six months'". With characteristic resilience he bounced back and later said : "Anyway, I thought : 'If I can't join them, then I want to entertain them. Make them laugh, cheer them up at a difficult time in Britain’s history'. There was not much else to laugh about".
Wyn said : "So I passed an audition at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, believing you should always start at the top and joined ENSA - 'Every Night Something Atrocious,' the massive organisation to entertain the fighting forces. With war still raging, our rehearsing revue was told we were to leave for France, Belgium and newly-liberated Holland, so we had to be in uniform – or be shot as spies by one side or the other. The day I was put into that ENSA uniform Hitler committed suicide. "He must have heard that I had joined up again. Serve him right", I said with a laugh". In the ENSA Review he played in a cast which consisted of a comic, to whom he, as the juvenile, fed lines and the rest were women in uniform who performed the song and dance.
He recalled in one season at St Annes-on-Sea : "We had a producer who on a Tuesday night would stand at the back of the stalls and if there was a bit of dialogue he didn't hear he used to yell : "Are you keeping it a secrets ?" And if there was a danger of that voice coming from the back of the stalls, you made sure that yours was heard at the back of the circle, but without shouting - natural projection of the voice - but not shouting. A very valuable, early lesson for an actor or performer of any sort". "I found the more dramatic and more romantic of the roles I played, the bigger the laughs I seemed to get. So it dawned on me that with a face and voice like mine, it had to be comedy". (link)
PantomimeHe first added pantomime to his repertoire at the Palace Theatre in Reading in 1947 and the following year was in Swansea playing the Baron in Cinderella, played by Joan Laurie with her mother, the radio star, Gladys Morgan playing the Ugly Sister and whose laughter, Wyn affectionately remembered : "Would generate more in the audience". In the years that followed he played Buttons, Idle Jack, Simple Simon but, most successfully, Humpty Dumpty, the script of which had been written for Harry Secombe who played it in the West End of London.(link)
He recalled speaking to Ken in 2018 : "A month before he died I was having a long chat with him on the phone. We talked about the 50 years wed known each other - the experiences and the changes over 50 years and I said : "Ken we have both been very lucky and he said : "No Wyn. I must contradict you. We have not been lucky. We have been blessed and that is much deeper than luck". And I thought : 'Bless his heart. The philosopher remains. He was highly intelligent and knowledgeable man. A very wide-read man, a very wide character and a delightful pal. His interest was always in you not in me. A great character. One of those it has been a great privilege to have known and been friendly with".(link): "He did his first panto in Leeds and used to stand in the wings watching me and one day he said to me : "Me, I could never do what you're doing playing Dame". I said : "Les, you could because you've got all of the attributes of one of the greatest-ever Dame performers, Norman Evans, with his 'Over the Garden Wall'. You've got the same accent, appearance and ability that he has. You would make a great Dame and he started thinking about that and trying find film of Norman Evans and of course from that came the wonderful double act he did with Roy Barraclough". (link)
He himself had said : "I was always fascinated by the variety theatre of the time. That world of twice nightly variety, using a vast array of variety acts- many would go into the panto at Christmas". He described it as that : "World that followed music hall" and said :"I was intrigued by anyone who had the ability to entertain an audience in some way : comically or musically or physically. It impressed me very much that people could keep a theatre full of punters interested and entertained".
In 1967, while appearing at the Arcadia Theatre in Llandudno, Calvin surprised the audience by making an impromptu political speech from the stage. The MP, the Secretary of State for Wales, later the Speaker of the House of Commons, George Thomas, had been persuaded to visit the theatre, which was threatened with closure. After listening to Calvin’s plea for the theatre’s future, Thomas approved its purchase by the local council and the venue continued to stage live shows for a further 25 years.
In 2005 Wyn received a telephone call at home from Ian McKellen who was to play the Widow Twankey in an Old Vic production. Wyn recalled : "Mr Calvin ?" and I said "Yes". He said : "Ian McKellan here" and I said "Sir Ian?" and he said : "Well, more or less, 'Yes'. He said : "I've been invited to play pantomime, which I've never done before". I'm talking to a Hollywood Great and one of our finest actors, but he said : "I'm going to play Widow Twankey in the West End and I've been told that you are the Principle Widow Twankey in the country and would you be available and free to give me some guidance about playing the role ?" and I said : "Sir Ian, I'll do that with the greatest pleasure, if our diaries can coincide". (link)
Wyn, who in 1991, at the age of 66, had became the first Welshman to be elected 'King Rat' of the Grand Order of Water Rats, a show business fraternity and charity, suggested that they meet in the 'Water Rats Lodge' in Grays Inn Road and Ian said : "That would be a great privilege" and I thought : 'This is one of our greatest actors and he has nowt opinion of variety, that world of entertainment from which the Water Rats have developed over 150 years and that is an interesting insight into his wide interest in entertainment and that he would have that impression that it would be a privilege to be chatted to in a Water Rats Lodge"
Wyn had said : "Looking at the business and remembering the names that suddenly appeared and equally suddenly disappeared, I’m reminded of the comment from Richard II when Shakespeare put words into the mouth of John O’Gaunt – "Sudden storms are short, small showers last long". And I am grateful to be a small, but long-lasting shower”.
"Pantomime was always a joy because there nothing more joyous in life than hearing a theatre full of people laughing. That is a great joy and a lasting experience".