In light of the death of Her Majesty The Queen, we thought we’d share a recollection by Dylan Thomas’s daughter Aeronwy, of her family’s encounter with the Queen at the Llangollen Eisteddfod in 1953.
Dylan Thomas had been commissioned by the BBC to write a radio broadcast about the International Eisteddfod, and he was accompanied on his trip to Llangollen by his wife Caitlin, and daughter Aeronwy.
Aeronwy later recalled the occasion in her memoir My Father’s Places.
Dad had been commissioned to write about the International Eisteddfod by the BBC producer Aneirin Talfan Davies, so in July 1953 my parents and I set off by train to North Wales. We stayed at a family boarding-house in a street of terraced houses.
The marquee of the Eisteddfod was huge and a tunnel of canvas led to the main arena where choirs competed, to be judged, so far as I could see, by men covered from head to floor in white drapes. My father said they were called druids. We waited for twenty minutes or so, shepherded here and there be nervous, sweating men in suits, my father smoking one Woodbine after another. A suited man told him to stub out his cigarette when a young, pretty woman appeared in a floral dress, high heels and hat, a leather handbag across her arm. She was steered to our side. She talked to someone before us, then came towards my parents with a huge smile, as if we were the people she was most pleased to see.
My father was nervous, and bereft of his comforting cigarette, but rallied himself to answer the Queen’s questions, of which there were about three.
“Was he enjoying the Eisteddfod?” she asked, pronouncing Eisteddfod correctly.
He mumbled, “Yes, very colourful.”
She then became more personal, “My mother, the Queen Mother, asked me to send her warm regards to you.” This was not a question and Dad thanked her with some animation, mumbling something to the effect that he returned the kind regards and remembrance.
“I hear you are representing the BBC this year? She both stated and asked.
“Yes,” said Dad and told her briefly of the commissioned broadcast.
The suited men were nudging her away as it looked as if she’d overstayed. She acknowledged my existence, with a kind smile and nod towards me, to remain vivid I my memory. My hair had been brushed to crying point and Mother insisted I wear my new dress, a pretty sprigged yellow, made to order from Carmarthen market material. Mother looked like Rita Hayworth with stacked heels and a suit with a polka-dot silk blouse. Dad wore a respectable suit of tweed which he found too hot for the day.
My father seemed awed, even stunned, by the occasion until he was safely back in the pub, with me hidden in a corner. He was told ‘no children’ by the man behind the bar, who has spied me by then, and jogged back into reality. The barman relented when he heard about our encounter with royalty and gave me a lemonade. Dad relaxed at the bar with Aneirin Talfan Davies, telling him about his last meeting with royalty, when the Queen Mother met him for the second time and remembered his name. He said how pretty and young the new Queen Elizabeth seemed and ‘unspoilt,’ I think he said.
Dylan’s broadcast, The International Eisteddfod, was first heard on the BBC Welsh Home Service on July 13 1953.
“Here they come, to this cup and echo of hills, people who love to make music, from France, Ireland, Norway, Italy, Switzerland, Spain, Java, and Wales: fine singers and faulty, nimble dancers and rusty, pipers to make the dead swirl or chanters with crows in their throats: all countries, shapes, ages, and colours, sword-dancers, court-dancers, cross-dancers, clog-dancers, dale-dancer, morris, ceilidhe, and highland, bolero, flamenco, heel-and-toe. They love to make music move. What a rush of dancing to Llangollen’s feet! And. oh, the hubbub of tongues and toes in the dark chapels where every morning there’s such a shining noise as you’d think would drive the Sunday bogles out of the doldrums for ever and ever.”
A manuscript notebook of Dylan’s notes from his Eisteddfod visit survives in the archive of the Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin, and can be viewed by clicking here.
Dylan had previously performed before the Royal family, at London’s Wigmore Hall in 1946, when the then Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother), accompanied by Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, attended a star-studied poetry recital. Dylan recited William Blake’s The Tyger, and his own poem, Fern Hill, which closed the proceedings.
Fern Hill would later be recited by Prince Charles for National Poetry Day in 2013, providing a third generation link between the royal family and Dylan Thomas.