In the run up to International Dylan Thomas Day on Thursday May 14th we thought we’d share some lesser known facts about Dylan Thomas.
1 Dylan’s lost poem
In 1933 Dylan entered a BBC poetry competition. His poem “The Romantic Isle” was selected for broadcast, and read on air by Ian Sinclair Phail. This was the first time Dylan’s work appeared on the BBC. Sadly no copy of the poem is known to exist.
2 Dylan the athlete
In 1928 the 14 year old Dylan won the Swansea mile race during Swansea Grammar School’s Annual Sports Day. When he died in 1953 a newspaper cutting recording his achievement was found in his wallet.
3 Dylan the ace reporter
Dylan’s first job after leaving Swansea Grammar School in 1931 was a short-lived career as a junior reporter for the South Wales Daily Post. Dylan’s short story Old Garbo takes an affectionate look at his days as a newsman.
4 Dylan wed in Cornwall
Dylan married Caitlin McNamara at Penzance Register Office, Cornwall, in 1937. He only broke the news to his parents by letter after the event.
5 Dylan’s war work
During the Second World War Dylan wrote scripts for propaganda films for the Ministry of Information. He’d been deemed unfit for military service after an army medical at Llandeilo.
6 Dylan sells his notebooks
In 1941 Dylan sold four manuscript poetry notebooks in order to raise funds for his family. Through the London bookseller Bertram Rota they were sold to the University at Buffalo in New York. Dylan is believed to have received less than £35 for the notebooks. In 2014 a newly discovered notebook of Dylan’s was sold for £104,500.
7 Dylan versus Winston Churchill
On November 10th 1942 a live performance of David Jones’ In Parenthesis with Dylan in the cast was bumped from the radio schedule in order to broadcast Churchill’s famous “Blood, tears, toil and sweat” speech from the Mansion House. A performance of In Parenthesis was finally recorded in 1946 with Dylan and a young actor called Richard Burton in the cast.
8 Dylan at Oxford
During 1946 Dylan and Caitlin lived in a summer house at Holywell Ford which stands in the grounds of Magdalen College. They were guests of Dylan’s patron Margaret Taylor, and her husband, the historian AJP Taylor.
9 Dylan and John Laurie
In 1946 Dylan took part in a poetry recital before members of the royal family at the Wigmore Hall. Dad’s Army actor John Laurie (Private Fraser) later recalled how he coached Dylan on the best way to read William Blake’s The Tyger.
10 Dylan and Satan (the cat)
During a period living in South Leigh, Oxfordshire, Dylan revealed in a letter to BBC producer Robert Pocock that their cat had died, it’s name was Satan.
11 Dylan and Charlie Chaplin
On his first American tour in 1950 Dylan had dinner at Charlie Chaplin’s house in Los Angeles. The dinner was also attended by actress Shelley Winters and writer Christopher Isherwood. At Dylan’s request Chaplin cabled Caitlin in Laugharne so that she’d believe he’d met him.
12 Dylan visits Iran
In 1951 Dylan visited Iran after being commissioned by the Anglo Iranian Oil Company to write the script for a promotional film. The film wasn’t made but Dylan used some of his material for a BBC radio broadcast ‘Persian Oil’.
13 Dylan on television
Dylan made two appearances on BBC television. The programmes “Home Town – Swansea” and “Speaking Personally” were both broadcast in 1953. Sadly no footage is known to have survived.
14 Dylan the cricket fan
Dylan was a keen cricket fan. He listened to cricket on the radio during his visit to Italy in 1947, and on his return from his third trip to America his first port of call was the Oval Cricket Ground where Surrey were playing Derbyshire.
15 Dylan and two Queens
As well as performing before Queen Elizabeth, Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret at the Wigmore Hall in 1946, Dylan also met the newly crowned Queen Elizabeth II at the Llangollen Eisteddfod in 1953.
16 Dylan loses the script (again)
In 1953, just before his final and fateful trip to North America, Dylan mislaid the newly completed script for Under Milk Wood in a London pub. He told BBC producer Douglas Cleverdon that if he could find it, he could keep it. Cleverdon did find it and Caitlin later took legal action in a failed attempt to recover ownership of the manuscript. Dylan had earlier left the script behind after a solo reading in Cardiff.
17 Dylan and Igor Stravinsky
Dylan’s untimely death prevented a planned collaboration with composer Igor Stravinsky. Dylan was to write the libretto for an opera about a post-apocalyptic world. Stravinsky planned to build an extension to his Hollywood home for the Thomas’s to live in during the collaboration.
18 Caitlin’s reburial plan
In 1955 Caitlin sought permission from the Home Office to have Dylan’s body re-interred in the garden of the Boathouse at Laugharne. She felt that his resting place in St Martin’s churchyard was not fitting for “Wales’ foremost poet”. Despite receiving approval the plan was never seen through.
19 Dylan and The Beatles
Dylan’s portrait appeared on the cover of The Beatles’ 1967 album Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band at the request of John Lennon. The iconic cover designed by Peter Blake and Jann Haworth features a tableau of historical figures and celebrities.
20 Dylan and Desert Island Discs
The work of Dylan Thomas has been chosen more times by guests on the BBC’s Desert Island Discs than any other poet apart than William Shakespeare. In 2011 the BBC invited the public to vote for their own castaway choices, the most popular non musical choice with the public was Under Milk Wood.
21 With Richard Burton to the grave
No actor has been more associated with Dylan’s work than Richard Burton, and his masterly performance in the 1954 BBC production of Under Milk Wood has arguably done much to boost Dylan’s international popularity. When Burton died in 1984 he was buried with a copy of Dylan’s Collected Poems.
22 Dylan in Space
A photograph of Dylan was taken into space on board the Space Shuttle Columbia in 1998. Nasa official George Abbey made the arrangements to honour his Welsh roots and his mother who was born in Laugharne.
Thursday May 14th is International Dylan Thomas Day.