Wednesday, June 04, 2014


To begin at the beginning.   It was January, 1954.   My father had bought a television set the year before promising my mother how much she would enjoy seeing the coronation whilst his real motivation had been the Matthews Cup Final when Blackpool beat Bolton Wanderers 4-3 in a memorable encounter.   Television in those days was limited - just one BBC channel as far as I recall - and so radio was still a popular alternative in our household.

And we were entertained by such rib-tickling shows as Take it From Here, The Goon Show and perhaps most bizarre of all, Educating Archie, which revolved around a ventriloquist having problems with his adolescent dummy, the aforementioned Archie. Even then, in my own 14-year old burgeoning adolescence, I could see the absurdity of having a ventriloquist on the radio.

And then on that January evening along came Dylan Thomas`s Under Milk Wood.  I`m not sure I was supposed to listen to it because, at the time, there were parental concerns that it might have been a shade too risqué for my youthful innocence and in any case Thomas, like Brendan Behan, was alleged to have been possessed of a lifestyle, a persona and characteristics that might not provide memorable literature or a shining example for the callow youths of the time.  How wrong can you be?

But I managed to hear it all right.....and again a couple of nights later when, in response to public demand for increased doses of risqueness, Under Milk Wood was repeated.  And what wonders it evoked; the music of the language full of lyrical, dreamy, flowing prose bringing fantasies to my listener`s mind of those people and places that  Dylan Thomas mustered from his own imagination and experience in observing life, death, hopes and dreams in Laugharne and New Quay.  So many characters with so much to say and I found myself identifying with Llareggub`s very own recalcitrant scamp, Nogood Boyo, who wanted to be good boyo, but no-one would let him.  Maybe that was the root cause of my penchant for minor rebellion.

Fast forward 30 years or so and I found myself on an extended management development course at Bristol University`s School for Advanced Urban Studies.   The course was run by very demanding people who were keen to show just how terribly clever they were.   We were given tasks and I began to feel like one of Mrs. Ogmore - Pritchard`s two shambling phantoms, Mr. Ogmore and Mr. Pritchard.   We were given tasks.  ("In order.  I must take my cold bath which is good for me.  I must take my salts which are nature`s friend.  I must make my herb tea which is free from tannin.  And have a charcoal biscuit which is good for me.....")   And we were sent to bed and expected to prepare for the next morning`s management task.

Fortunately, I had taken my copy of Dent`s  1974 edition of Under Milk Wood (price 85p) and I turned to it, like an old friend, for consolation and escape, losing myself in my own dream of Rosie Probert ("33, Duck Lane.  Quack twice and ask for Rosie") who Captain Cat implored to "Lie down.  Lie easy.   Let me shipwreck in your thighs."

Some years ago, I bought the video (yes, the video) of the 1972 Burton/Taylor/O`Toole film and I also had the CD of the original 1954 radio broadcast which I still have in the car as well as my 85p volume, courtesy of Dent and Co.  So Under Milk Wood has been something of an obsession of mine, perhaps even a passion.   And a few nights ago, I managed to record the BBC Wales television production, shown on BBC Four, with an entire cast of Welsh actors - Michael Sheen, Jonathan Pryce, Matthew Rhys, Sian Phillips, Bryn Terfel, Katherine Jenkins, Charlotte Church and even Sir Tom Jones as a convincing Captain Cat.   Well, it`s not unusual.

It was terrific and where the 1954 radio version provided the sound of genius, the 2014 television version provided the vision and brought light to the original play for voices. It beautifully, sensitively and accurately captured the images and the feeling of Thomas`s imagination and if you`re quick, you can catch it on BBC i player in the next few days.   Perhaps the best compliment I can give is that it made my own `wind shaken wood spring awake for the second dark time this one Spring day.`

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