A look back at the news and developments of 2020 in the world of Dylan Thomas and his legacy.
The long-list for the 2020 International Dylan Thomas Prize was announced at the Jaipur Literature Festival in India. The list was described as “a rich, international collection of young, experimental writers who are offering platforms for under-represented voices and exploring pressing social and world themes across identity, culture and power.”
Digital journal Modernism/Modernity published Beginning Further Back: Dylan Thomas’s Early Work, an article on the early writings of Dylan Thomas by Imogen Cassels.
An episode of the BBC’s Antiques Road Trip included ‘expert’ Charlie Ross discussing a first edition of Dylan’s Deaths and Entrances. Meanwhile words from Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night made an appearance in Episode 2 of the BBC sitcom King Gary.
Under Milk Wood was the inspiration behind British menswear designer John Alexander Skelton’s Fall Winter 2020 collection. Skelton told Hero website
“What I found most interesting was how his characters, who had these very strange attributes and ways of doing things, were projected onto by Thomas, to almost rid himself of the banality of life, to entertain himself. He wants to imagine these characters doing even weirder things than what they might do. Like the postman, opening up all the mail with a hairdryer before re-sealing them and knowing everyone’s secrets in the town.”
A new academic study New Theoretical Perspectives on Dylan Thomas, edited by Rhian Barfoot and Kieron Smith, was published by University of Wales Press. The book “showcases eight new critical perspectives on Thomas’s work. It is the first to provide in one volume a critical overview of the multifaceted range of his output, from the poetry, prose and correspondence to his work for wartime propaganda filmmaking, his late play for voices Under Milk Wood, and his reputation in letters and wider society.”
Swansea poet Peter Thabit Jones discussed his recent book, America, Aeronwy, and Me, in the Western Mail. The book reflects on the American reading tours he undertook with Dylan’s daughter Aeronwy,
The Dylan Thomas Boathouse at Laugharne featured in an article on literary tourism for The People’s Friend.
The development of Under Milk Wood was the subject for a blog from antiquarian bookseller Peter Harrington.
Education provider Primary Lab announced they would be developing an interactive book and lesson plans based on the Story of Dylan Thomas for the new curriculum for Wales in 2022.
Indie alt/folk band Lost Hollow filmed the video for their song Oh Heart at the Dylan Thomas Birthplace and other locations in Swansea.
Readings from the works of Dylan Thomas featured in the launch of Sarah Burton‘s Welsh inspired Autumn Winter 2020 collection for Alexander Macqueen. Excerpts were read from Our Eunuch Dreams and Light Breaks Where No Sun Shines.
Poet Ian McMillan told the Yorkshire Post that Dylan Thomas was one of the poets that inspired him.
“Dylan was my favourite and perhaps he was the perfect poet for a lad like me to read at that stage in my life; I was a tortured adolescent boiling and seething with teenage emotions and I knew above all else that I wanted to be a writer but I wasn’t sure what to write or how to go about it, but good old Dylan Thomas showed me the way. He was often word-drunk and meaning averse; he wrote dense poems that were full of music but the tune drowned out the lyrics.”
Booker Prize winner Bernadine Evaristo told the Sydney Morning Herald that she had played Captain Cat at the age of 14 in a school production of Under Milk Wood
‘‘That was the moment I decided to become an actor. We did two or three performances and I just remember feeling that the audience was captivated by my performance. That level of admiration and recognition at that age was seductive. Isn’t it? It’s like suddenly, you’re powerful. And as writers we are also powerful. And we have got egos. Because we feel we have things to say and we want people to read them. Most people don’t have that sort of impetus. They just get on with their lives. Whereas we want you to know about these stories that we’re telling.’’
In Mid March, as we neared the first national lockdown of the Covid-19 pandemic, the BBC’s PM Programme provided some much needed comfort with Cerys Matthews reading the opening to Under Milk Wood.
Tracing Dylan’s footsteps featured in 22 reasons why a trip to Wales is better than a holiday in the Med, a St David’s Day piece for The Telegraph.
Broadcaster and writer Gyles Brandreth shared a Dylan Thomas quote on Twitter.
A social media challenge to design posters aimed at discouraging unwelcome visits to locked down Wales yielded this splendid parody of Dylan’s Llareggub, designed by Matt Appleby.
Cardiff born journalist and broadcaster Jeremy Bowen read an extract from Fern Hill on the BBC Today Programme.
Broadcaster and writer Gyles Brandreth recited the Reverend Eli Jenkins’ prayer from Under Milk Wood on Twitter.
Hollywood actor Sharon Stone paraphrased Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night in an emotional Instagram post about the loss of her adopted grandmother
American actor Ethan Hawke told the Toronto Sun that as a child he listened ‘over and over’ to an album of Dylan Thomas’ recordings that belonged to his mother.
Actor Mark Clancy read And Death Shall Have No Dominion at the funeral of Irish actor Roma Tomelty.
International Dylan Thomas Day
The Covid-19 pandemic dictated that celebrations for this year’s ‘Dylan Day’ largely took place online. Once again the day was well supported on social media, with ‘Dylan Thomas’ trending on Twitter in the UK. Many high profile Twitter users took part, including Michael Sheen, Cerys Matthews, The Jimmy Carter Presidential Library, England rugby great Brian Moore, Penguin Books, and the Orwell Society.
Some of the highlights of the online content included the London Welsh Centre creating a special podcast; the launch of a new blog about the Sound Archive of the National Library of Wales; a zoom performance of Under Milk Wood from Ceridwen Theatre; the Begin at the Beginning online celebration from the Dylan Thomas Birthplace; and Dylan Thomas content shared as part of the Good Evening Rhondda online project.
2020 International Dylan Thomas Prize
This year’s prize was awarded on May 14, with the ceremony taking place online for the first time. American writer Bryan Washington won for his collection of short stories, Lot.
Tesla boss Elon Musk once again paraphrased Dylan Thomas in a tweet to his followers. He’d previously misquoted Do Not Go Gentle in a 2019 tweet. He has over 40 millions followers.
WGYTC (West Glamorgan Youth Theatre Company) received praise for an online company performance of Under Milk Wood that included current and former alumni, as well as high profile supporters such as Michael Sheen and Russell T Davies.
The beautiful Gardens of Ninfa were the location for an Italian language recital of Dylan Thomas’ poetry by actor Clemente Pernarella. The gardens were once owned by Dylan’s patron Marguerite Chapin Caetani, who was the first to publish a version of Under Milk Wood in her literary journal Botteghe Oscure.
Augustus John‘s portrait of a youthful Dylan Thomas was included in the Daily Mail’s list of 9 Great paintings to see.
The first episode of Staged, a BBC TV lockdown comedy starring Michael Sheen and David Tennant, opened with the two stars joking about a Dylan Thomas impression by Sheen.
Indie Cinema website Filmuforia published a blog that looked at the two films directed by Daniel Birt that were co-scripted by Dylan Thomas, The Three Weird Sisters, and No Room at the Inn.
David N Thomas’s article Under Milk Wood, A Play for Ears: Endnotes & Reading was published in New Welsh Review (subscription only).
A Crowdfunder campaign to raise funds to support the Dylan Thomas Birthplace through the pandemic raised over £15000.
The Poetry Exchange podcast featured Fern Hill.
The same poem was recorded by the Irish Scholar, civil rights activist, and Father of the House, Senator David Norris.
Michael Jackson’s son Prince Jackson quoted from Do Not Go Gentle in an Instagram post following the death of George Floyd.
Don’t Go Gentle, a documentary about the Bristol rock band IDLES, was premiered in June. It’s title is influenced by Dylan’s Do Not Go Gentle.
The Ted Hughes Estate and T.S. Eliot Foundation both contributed financial support for the ongoing maintenance of the Dylan Thomas Birthplace in Swansea.
The National Library of Wales commissioned two pieces inspired by the Colin Edwards oral history interviews of the family and friends of Dylan Thomas as part of the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage Project. These Streets is by musician and film-maker Geraint Rhys, and ‘as a poet uses paint‘ is by composer Luciano Williamson. Rhys talks about the project here.
Brown’s Hotel, Laugharne and it’s sister establishment, The New Three Mariners, both former drinking haunts of Dylan Thomas, were put for sale.
Meanwhile, another of Dylan’s iconic drinking haunts, the White Horse Tavern in Greenwich Village, had it’s license suspended for social distancing violations.
Children’s author and poet Michael Rosen was seriously ill in hospital with Covid-19 and spent time in an induced coma. After his recovery he recalled hearing a recording of Under Milk Wood being played to him in hospital. His wife Emma-Louise Williams later confirmed that she had brought in the recording. In December the incident was recalled during BBC Radio 4’s The Reunion: Covid-19 Ward.
Andy Martin questioned whether Dylan was right to rage against death in an article for The Independent.
Welsh journalist Mark Rees looked for the ghost of Dylan Thomas in an edition of his Ghosts and Folklore of Wales podcast.
Dan Y Wenallt, the Welsh language adaptation of Under Milk Wood, was performed at the all online virtual edition of the National Eisteddfod
Actor David Barry remembered a production of Under Milk Wood performed by the cast of 1960s ITV sitcom Please Sir! on his blog.
Warmley, the former Swansea home of Dylan’s childhood friend, the composer Daniel Jones, is being restored. You can follow the restoration on the Warmley House blog.
The recently restored Sunbathers sculpture that was described by Dylan Thomas in his 1951 radio broadcast about the Festival of Britain is now on display at Waterloo Station.
“the linked terra-cotta man and woman fly-defying gravity and elegantly hurrying up a W.C. wall.”
September 3rd saw the publication of The Fifth Notebook of Dylan Thomas: Annotated Manuscript Edition, edited by John Goodby and Adrian Osbourne. Published by Bloomsbury as part of its Modernist Archives series, the book takes an in depth look at contents of the recently rediscovered Fifth Notebook that was acquired by Swansea University in 2014. The book received an online launch on Zoom on October 27th. John Goodby discussed how the book revealed a change in Dylan’s style in The Conversation. A brief review by Imogen Cassels appeared in the TLS with a response by John Goodby in the following weeks edition.
The Best American Poetry blog featured a post Stanley Moss Remembers Dylan Thomas, Theodore Roethke, and Stanley Kunitz
Dylan Thomas and I became passionate friends—I loved his poetry and his deep-throated Christianity. I remember his saying “the truth doesn’t hurt.” He could and would talk intimately to anyone, regardless of class or education, not a habit of American or English intellectuals. He drank, he told me, because he wasn’t useful, which I understood to mean he could not relieve human suffering
Dr Matt Morgan argued that Dylan was wrong, and right, about death, in a piece about Do Not Go Gentle for the British Medical Journal.
Future of the Dylan Thomas Centre in doubt
News finally emerged following months of rumours that Swansea Council were considering moving the Dylan Thomas exhibition from the Dylan Thomas Centre to Swansea Museum.
As a result of an independent strategic review and feasibility study, we will be consulting on a proposal to relocate the Love the Words exhibition and learning resource from the Dylan Thomas Centre to Swansea Museum. This move would enable us to consolidate and improve our cultural and heritage offer for residents and visitors to the city. The Love the Words exhibition and learning resource is funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Swansea Council.
The plan has received a surprising lack of local or national press coverage, and no further public announcements have been made by the Council (at the time of publication) following the public consultation. It is just six years since the Heritage Lottery Fund made a £1 million investment in the Dylan Thomas Centre.
A Children’s Literary Christmas: An Anthology edited by Anna James, and published by British Library, includes Dylan’s A Child’s Christmas in Wales.
It was announced that Brown’s Hotel and the New Three Mariners public house in Laugharne had both been sold to a couple who already own Dylan’s former Laugharne home Sea View. Brown’s reopened in October.
Sixth form pupils from Haileybury College staged an online production of Under Milk Wood.
The Nerdist website took a look at The Cinematic Legacy of Burke and Hare, including the 1985 screen adaptation of Dylan’s screenplay The Doctor and the Devils.
US Astronomer Natalie Batalha read Dylan’s Being But Men for the Brain Pickings blog.
Birthday Celebrations – October 27th
An international collaboration between the Dylan Thomas Trust, Swansea University, and the Harry Ransom Center at The University of Texas, will make extensive Dylan Thomas archives available digitally for the first time. The project was announced on the 106th anniversary of Dylan’s birth.
Celebrations for Dylan’s birthday on October 27th included an online event staged by the Dylan Thomas Birthplace in Swansea, and a recorded tribute from Michael L Roberts. Poet and Dramatist Jim Parc Nest celebrated Dylan’s life on Lisa Gwilym’s show on BBC Radio Cymru, and Poet Philip Bowen read Hunchback in the Park on Youtube for Venue Cymru. Dylan Thomas scholar Dr Adrian Osbourne wrote a guest post celebrating Dylan’s birthday for the Bloomsbury Literary Studies Blog, and Dylan was described as Britain’s last romantic poet in an article for British Heritage Travel.
Annual Wreath-Laying Service
Due to the Covid pandemic there was no wreath-laying service at Westminster Abbey for the first time since 1982.
Poetry and Places blog featured a piece on US President Jimmy Carter‘s involvement in the campaign to have Dylan Thomas commemorated in Westminster Abbey
Novelist Tana French chose Under Milk Wood as ‘The book I wish I’d written’ for Books That Made Me in The Guardian.
Welsh singer-songwriter The Anchoress revealed that her forthcoming album, The Art of Losing, follows Dylan Thomas’ instruction to “rage against the dying of the light”.
Max Porter‘s Dylan Thomas Prize winning novel Grief Is The Thing With Feathers was adapted for BBC radio in a production starring Toby Jones.
The seemingly endless saga of the release of Last Call, the film starring Rhys Ifans as Dylan Thomas, reached a new milestone when it was released in the US on November 25th. Formerly known as Dominion, and filmed in 2014, Last Call has had a protracted post-production. To date there is no news of a UK release. Forbes talked to actor Rodrigo Santoro about the film.
Trinidadian poet and journalist Andre Bagoo‘s essay Dylan Thomas – Three Encounters was published by The Poetry Society.
Dylan Thomas featured in What Drives Writers to Drink? in The Atlantic.
Irish author Colum McCann discussed his love of Dylan Thomas in Culture That Made Me for the Irish Examiner.
A new audio version of Ivor the Engine was announced, featuring the voices of Eddie Izzard, Cerys Matthews, Rhys Ifans and Rob Brydon. Co-creator, the late Oliver Postgate, revealed in 2008 that he carried around a copy of Under Milk Wood, and that Ivor the Engine was ‘built entirely on a picture of Wales given by Dylan Thomas’.
Michael Sheen read an extract from A Child’s Christmas in Wales for the Donmar Warehouse‘s Looking a lot like Christmas, staged at the Actors Church in Covent Garden.
Swansea based Lighthouse Theatre recorded A Child’s Christmas In Wales on YouTube.
Esquire magazine republished their December 1955 publication of A Child’s Christmas in Wales on their website.
Poet Liz Berry told BBC’s Women’s Hour that Under Milk Wood was the inspiration for her poem Christmas Eve.
January brought news of the death of Terry Jones. The Monty Python actor and writer was an enthusiastic patron of the 2014 Dylan Thomas centenary, and supported the launch of International Dylan Thomas Day in 2015. In 2014 he wrote the foreword for Dylan Thomas: A Centenary Celebration, edited by Hannah Ellis. Listen to Terry discussing his first experience of Under Milk Wood with Mark Lawson in 2013.
January also saw the death of actor and broadcaster Nicholas Parsons. In 2014 Nicholas took part in Dylathon, the 36-hour non-stop reading of the works of Dylan Thomas, staged at Swansea’s Grand Theatre, where he read Dylan’s How to Begin A Story.
We also said goodbye to T Graham Williams, also known by his bardic name Cefnfab. Graham toured in a one-man show about Dylan Thomas; he wrote and performed in a play about Dylan Thomas with the Milkwood Players in Laugharne, and he gave his lecture The Undiscovered World of Dylan Thomas around the world.
February saw the passing of theatre director Terry Hands. Terry directed Under Milk Wood for the RSC in 1967, and returned to the work for a Clwyd Theatr touring production during the Dylan Thomas centenary in 2014.
September saw the death of playwright and Oscar-winning screenwriter Sir Ronald Harwood. In 1985 he adapted Dylan Thomas’s original screenplay for a big screen adaptation of The Doctor and the Devils, produced by Mel Brooks.
October saw the death of Irish poet Derek Mahon. In 2004 he edited a selection of Dylan Thomas poems for a book published by Faber and Faber.
The 7th annual International Dylan Thomas Day will be celebrated on Friday May 14th. It’s very likely that once again this year it will be predominantly an online celebration. Why not join in?
The award ceremony for the 2021 International Dylan Thomas Prize will take place on Thursday May 13th, at Swansea University.
For other forthcoming events visit the www.discoverdylanthomas.com website.
Andrew Dally – January 2021
* Thanks to Ben Harvey for permission to use his photograph of the masked Dylan Thomas statue.