Beefy Jenkins, the colossus of Cwmaman, died 18 years ago not long after he turned 40. He had osteogenesis imperfecta – or brittle bone disease and wasn’t expected to live more than four months let alone four years. He packed more into those forty years than most of us manage in one – including more than a hundred fractures. He was an actor, showman and my friend who took the words in my head and gave voice to them on stage, radio and one television play, RAINBOW CHASER.
I first met him in the Muni in Ponty in 1991 when we were rehearsing the Valley of the Kings. Director Jamie Garven had invited along a local actor to beef up the community cast. I was told to expect man in a wheelchair. The wheelchair arrived first – empty and pushed by a young woman. It was followed by a four-foot cube of a man wielding a stick and bristling with bravado. He spotted me and barrelled & rocked and rolled his way across the floor.
‘I’m looking for the writer ‘ he growled.
‘That’ll be me’ I replied, trying but failing to match his bravado.
‘ It had better be a good part’
‘You had better be a good actor – you’re playing my grandfather’
He took the script off me and gave me the look of man who knew the Oscar was his.
For the next 10 years, I wrote plays, he played the parts and I handed him the Oscars. On The Road Again, a two hander for Hijinx Theatre with the comedy genius that is Richard Berry, took him all over Wales and England and memorably the Dublin Fringe Festival. He took no prisoners on stage or in the bar with his arsenal of abusive wit and wisdom. Even Dublin was defenceless.
His ambition and his sense of self-belief was huge and he wanted to prove himself beyond Larry Allan plays. I think he thought I was casting him out of friendship. He was wrong, I was writing for him out of belief in him and his absolute empathy with the characters I wrote. So when he landed a part with Volcano he was bursting with pride and optimism. He was also ill and carrying a fracture that he kept hidden. He had fought this crippling disease all his life and it wasn’t going to stop his dream now. He battled through rehearsals, confessing that half the time he didn’t know what was going on but loving the experience. He made it to opening night at Chapter and then during the second performance, in his own words, his leg fell off, and he collapsed on stage with a traumatic fracture.
Anyone else would have been sunk into black dog pessimism by this latest setback but even in hospital recovery for two months he was already planning his next move. He would rejoin the Volcano tour for its European tour and he would even consider another Larry Allan play if it went to New York. He was ready. I wasn’t sure New York was ready for him.
Not long after, he died. His spirit was strong but his whole body finally gave up on him. It was no contest. Defeated by a relentlessly optimistic, irrepressible force of nature.
I’d lost a friend but I thought I’d lost my voice. But it wasn’t mine to lose, it was his. And I still hear it now, every time I write. It’s in RAINBOW CHASER. It was his story. About his father. And every line is an echo of Beefy’s voice. Raw. Raucous. Hilarious. And absolutely authentic.