There are only two Richard Burtons

A famous chant involves supporters singing the praises of their star player to the tune of “Guantanamera.” My first memory of it involved the Manchester City supporters in the late Seventies singing “there’s only one Kazy Deyna” about a Polish international player who played for them briefly.

Most people have a namesake and most people can describe the good and bad antics of somebody with the same name as them. A few people liven up the lives of their contemporaries with tales of a famous namesake and some actually change their name by deed poll to do this. Very few celebrities actually share the same name as each other because prospective candidates rightly don’t want to limit their career chances and usually adopt a suitable stage name at the earliest opportunity. Richard Burton is an exception to this rule.

Chronologically the second but probably the most famous Richard Burton was a Welsh actor who was nominated for an Oscar seven times without ever winning. His film roles included The Robe, The Spy who Came in from the Cold, Look Back in Anger, Becket and 1984. He also starred in Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolfe with Elizabeth Taylor and they were married on two separate occasions. This Richard Burton is probably best known for his heavy drinking, his womanising and his tempestuous, on-off relationship with Ms. Taylor who he met on the set of Cleopatra. He also had a successful stage career on both sides of the Atlantic and died in 1985 aged 58.

The other Richard Burton was far more interesting. He was a Victorian explorer who led a life that made Indiana Jones seem like a quiet and retiring chap. Richard Francis Burton travelled in disguise to Mecca and Medina to become one of the first non-Muslim Europeans to make and give a detailed description of the pilgrimage known as the Hajj. He led various expeditions to Africa on behalf of the Royal Geographical Society, explored the Great Lakes and attempted to locate the source of the River Nile. In 1858, this Richard Burton and his partner John Hanning Speke, discovered both Lake Tanganyika and Lake Victoria and the subsequent public quarrel about their adventures entertained Victorian society. Burton and Speke were due to publicly debate the subject but unfortunately Speke was killed in a tragic accident the day before.

This Richard Burton was a prodigious and erudite author who wrote articles and books on a wide range of diverse topics including travel, human behavior, falconry, fencing and ethnography. He was a renowned linguist who spoke approximately thirty European, Asian and African languages. This Richard Burton was responsible for the first full translations of both the “The Arabian Nights” and “The Karma Sutra” into English.

Richard Francis Burton served as British Consul to Fernando Po, Damascus, Santos and Triesteand was awarded a Knighthood in 1886. He died of a heart attack aged 69 in 1890 and is buried alongside his devoted wife Isabel at St Mary Magdalen’s Church in Mortlake near London. His remarkable tomb is the shape of a Bedouin tent and is a fitting tribute to his extraordinary life. It is well worth a visit.

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