Dylan Thomas
(1914-1953)

Five, Cwmdonkin Drive, and Warmley, the two houses, were very different in atmosphere. At Dylan's we had a gas fire that spluttered, an asthmatic sheep that coughed in the field opposite, and always a few owls hooting in the woods. I remember one terrifying night when we stared at one another in the gathering darkness until our heads became griffin and wyvern heads.

Warmley was not so mysterious, but it was more popular for several reasons; there were, for example, the Broadcasting Station and the Cricket Pitch. The Cricket Pitch in the back garden was about twelve feet long; every fine evening we played there without subtlety, hurling or driving the ball with the utmost force at one another, while old Harding, the neighbour, leaned on the wall smoking his pipe, sometimes calling out with perfect solemnity, `Well played, sir!' and finally asking, with a certain wistfulness, `Will you be playing again tomorrow evening?'

Through the W.B.S. system, which consisted of two loud-speakers connected to the pick-up of a radiogram, we were able to broadcast from the upstairs to the downstairs rooms. I still have some of the programmes: `The Revd. Percy will play three piano pieces, Buzzards at Dinner, Salute to Admiral Beattie, and Badgers Beneath My Vest'; `Rebecca Mn will give a recital on the Rebmetpes'; `Locomotive Bowen, the one-eyed cowhand, will give a talk on the Rocking Horse and Varnishing Industry'; `Zoilredb Pogoho will read his poem Fiffokorp'. These broadcasters became real people to us, and we collaborated in a biography of the greatest of them, Percy. Here is a description of one of the trying experiences we inflicted on Percy's old mother: `Near the outskirts of Panama the crippled Negress was bitten severely and time upon time, invariably upon the nape, by a white hat-shaped bird.'

— Daniel Jones, in Dylan Thomas: The Legend and the Poet, ed. cit., pp. 15-16; reprinted from Encounter (1954).

DYLAN and Caitlin . . . were at a guest house called the Lobster Pot in Mousehole. Off Mousehole lay a small island, once, it was said, occupied by a hermit. After an evening's drinking in Lamorna, we came down over the hill when a huge, brilliant moon lay over this island, its light reflected with only the faintest tremor in the still waters of the bay. The splendour of the spectacle infuriated Dylan, who made savage remarks about picture-postcards and visual cliches. I also recall a morning occasion in a sunny field above Newlyn. Dylan was carrying around with him and intermittenly sipping from a flagon of `champagne wine tonic', a Penzance herbalist's highly intoxicating brew sold very cheaply and without licence. Dylan talked copiously, then stopped.

`Somebody's boring me,' he said. `I think it's me.'

— Rayner Heppenstall, Four Absentees (1960), p. 139.

Desmond MACCARTHY had got me a fine full-time job on the B.B.C. . . . I had four years with an immense salary and the chance to find work for Dylan. It was about then that the famous Third Programme was started with Barnes at the head, myself in charge of the Literature, and Commander Ian Cox, also a disabled ex-service man, in charge of Science. Ian and Dylan and I became very thick from then on. . . . Dylan had only one weakness—he could not read correct poets like Pope or Dryden. He was at his best at the `wild and woolly' poets. I used to keep him on beer all day till he had done his night's work and then take him down to the duty room where the charming Miss Backhouse or Miss Tofield would pour us both a treble whisky as a reward for our labours. It was with Blake and Manley Hopkins that Dylan became almost Superman; but we had bad luck with Dryden. Dylan had got at the whisky first and he started behaving like a prima donna. He insisted on having an announcer instead of beginning the programme right away as we used to on the Third Programme. There were only two minutes to go and I rushed back to the studio and found Dylan snoring in front of the mike with only twenty seconds left. He was slumped back in his chair, with an almost seraphic expression of blissful peace. I shook him awake, and, to his horror and consternation, began announcing him, not in my South African accent, but trying to talk like an English announcer, with my tonsils, in an `Oxford accent'. Dylan nearly jumped out of his skin with fright and horror, and was almost sober when he got the green light, though he did bungle the title as `Ode on Shaint Sheshilia Day'; but after that his voice cleared up and I began to breathe again.

When he had finished reading the `Ode' I got another fright: he began to beckon me wildly with his arms and point to the page before him. I got the engineer to switch off the mike and slipped in the studio again. Dylan had forgotten how to pronounce `Religio Laici'. I told him and slipped out. He had about three shots at it, bungled it, gave it up; and then went on reading. The next day I was hauled up in front of George Barnes, but he was a good boss and had a sense of humour. I promised to keep an eye on Dylan: Dylan promised me to keep an eye on himself —and he kept his word.

— Roy Campbell, in Dylan Thomas: The Legend and the Poet, ed. cit., pp. 42-44.

Once in New York, not long before he died, he was talking about writing. `When I experience anything,' he said, `I experience it as a thing and a word at the same time, both amazing.' He told me once that writing the `Ballad of the Long Legged Bait' had been like carrying a huge armful of words to a table he thought was upstairs, and wondering if he could reach it in time, or if it would still be there.

— Alastair Reid, in Dylan Thomas: The Legend and the Poet, ed. cit., p. 54.

— Roy Campbell, in Dylan Thomas: The Legend and the Poet (Mercury Books, 1963), pp. 41-42.

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