Paul Ferris 1929-2018

 

We’re sorry to learn of the death of the writer and biographer Paul Ferris, at the age of 89.

His 1977 biography of Dylan Thomas has been the standard work for many years and will have introduced many of us to the colourful life behind Dylan’s writing. In the introduction to his biography of Thomas, Ferris wrote,

My private reason for wanting to write about him is that I was born in a suburb of Swansea, fifteen years after Thomas and a mile from his house. The fence of the newly-built lunatic asylum that ‘leers down the valley like a fool’ in one of his notebook poems was at the end of the garden, its hooked nails pointing both ways, and I would wake, terrified, at the voices of madmen in my dreams. I was twelve before I heard of Dylan Thomas, when I read ‘The Peaches’ in a wartime paperback. But in the Grammar School we soon became Thomas fans and imagined some lingering presence in the place.

Ferris went on to skilfully edit The Collected Letters of Dylan Thomas, shaping the rich treasure trove that has only recently been re-issued. He also wrote a biography of Caitlin Thomas, arguing that ‘Caitlin’s life has been a fight to assert herself as a woman and an artist, and if she failed in what she sought, the attempt was full of fire.’ His screenplay for the 1978 BBC television biopic of Dylan Thomas helped produce one of the finest on-screen portrayals of Thomas, by Ronald Lacey. Ferris was not just a Dylan Thomas specialist, his varied subjects for biographies included Sigmund Freud, Huw Wheldon and Richard Burton, and he wrote novels and non-fiction. He wrote for television, and served as radio critic at The Observer for thirty-five years. His most recent book Gower in History: Myth, People, Landscape was published in 2009.

Paul Ferris set the standard for study of the life of Dylan Thomas and will be much missed.

 

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