EVENTS OF 2008
THE 2008 AGM
The 2008 AGM took place in same artistic surroundings that we enjoyed last year – the Julian Ashton School of Art at Georges Heights, Mosman. The cooler weather made for perfect indoor conditions and the warmth of the barbecues was appreciated by chefs Noel and Clive. Inside, Helen and Kay prepared an excellent meal, turning the occasion into a highly enjoyable social event.
The meeting itself was very successful. The one change in office bearers was the election of Gina as Secretary, replacing Helen who had filled the position most capably for eleven months but who had decided that her other roles within the Society were more than enough to keep her busy. The unopposed nominations were Clive as President, Will as Vice-President, Kay as Treasurer and John as Public Officer. From last year’s committee, we welcomed back Ann, Noel, Helen, Peter, Annie, Malcolm and Susannah. Emyr Evans and Ian Lewis became our two new committee members.
We discussed the forthcoming schedule for 2008 and set the dates for The Legend and The Poet night at Berkelouws Bookstore, Leichhardt, and for the Dylan’s Christmas in the Southern Highlands . We explored options for later activities including the Annual Dinner, and set a new alternative three year subscription for members (See Committee/Events 2008 for details).
Paul Delprat, Principal of the Art School, briefly addressed the meeting, expressing the hope we would come again for the next AGM. He, along with everyone else present, loudly applauded guest John Williams’ tenor solo of Eli Jenkins’ Evening Prayer to the tune of Troyte’s Chant. John is a life member of the famous Morriston Orpheus Choir visiting Sydney from Swansea in Wales, home town of the choir and of Dylan Thomas. Clive reminded everybody of two important meetings he attended on the same day: March 12, 1995 . One meeting was the first reception for a Swansea choir ever held in Sydney, at which John marshalled the choristers and Clive was compere; the other was the actual formation of the Dylan Thomas Society of Australia . The two organisations will be forever linked.
THE LEGEND AND POET EVENING
The 2008 Legend and Poet Night attracted 46 people, one of the largest audiences so far. The mood of enjoyment was set by the amazing food, prepared by Helen and Kay, and the copious wine dispensed by Noel. Poet's Corner wine was used, not just because it is so drinkable, but because Dylan Thomas is represented in Poet's Corner in Westminster Abbey, after Jimmy Carter, 39th President of the USA, took up his cause.
The theme for this year's event was Dylan Thomas: Gentleman of Leisure? Clive researched and wrote the script examining Dylan's interests outside his professional realm of poetry in such areas as family life, sport, reading, films and travel as well as his more publicised exploits in pubs. Helen acted as narrator, with the poems and prose passages read by Clive, Will, Elias, Emyr, Jenny, Annie, Dan and Noel. In additon, we had two memorable recordings of Dylan reading and one of Richard Burton in action.
The poems were drawn not just from Dylan's works but also from those of Seamus Heaney, D H Lawrence, Geoffrey Lehmann, John Betjeman, John Keats, Thomas Hardy, James Stephens, Henry Newbolt, John Arlott, A E Housman, Robert Service and Theodore Roethke. Prose passages included excerpts from Dylan's letters and short stories and from Caitlin's autobiography. There were many moments of hilarity,as well as a few of sadness, but by the end of the evening the members of the audience knew a great deal more about the life and works of Dylan Thomas and about a broad range of other poems and writings.
Clive and Helen addressing the group (photo by Annie Schlebaum - see photo gallery)
FIRST SESSION READINGS
1 FERN HILL by DYLAN THOMAS
2 BLACKBERRY PICKING by SEAMUS HEANEY
3 THE PIANO by DH LAWRENCE
4 CAITLIN ON DYLAN’S WORKING DAY
5 PARENTHOOD by GEOFFREY LEHMANN
6 TO MY SON AGED EIGHT by JOHN BETJEMAN
(read on CD by DYLAN THOMAS)
7 THIS SIDE OF THE TRUTH by DYLAN THOMAS
8 EXCERPT from RETURN JOURNEY by DYLAN THOMAS
9 VERSES FROM KEATS on DRINKING
10 THE OLYMPIC GIRL by JOHN BETJEMAN
11 LIZBIE BROWN by THOMAS HARDY
(read on CD by DYLAN THOMAS)
The readings will be linked by a script outlining Dylan’s leisure interests outside his professional world as a writer.
Refreshments: Helen, Kay, Clive & Noel
SECOND SESSION READINGS
1 DYLAN ON IRAN (extract from letter)
2 THE SHELL by JAMES STEPHENS
3 DYLAN TRAVELLING (extracts from 3 letters)
4 LETTER TO TOMMY EARP from ITALY
5 THE JOHN ARLOTT LINK
6 VITAI LAMPADA by SIR HENRY NEWBOLT
7 TO AN ATHLETE DYING YOUNG
by AE HOUSMAN
8 INTERNATIONAL EISTEDDFOD (extract)
by DYLAN THOMAS
9 BOOKLOVER by ROBERT SERVICE
10 THE WAKING by THEODORE ROETHKE
11 POEM IN OCTOBER by DYLAN THOMAS
(read on cassette tape by RICHARD BURTON)
Script and program: Clive Woosnam
Narrator: Helen Woosnam
Readers: Clive, Will, Elias, Emyr, Dan, Jennifer, Annie
DYLAN'S ALPINE CHRISTMAS
Every odd year in the calendar we pay homage to Dylan by boarding the charabanc for 'The Outing' to Swansea, where Lake Macquarie meets the sea. Every even year we recreate the magic of "A Child's Christmas in Wales' by heading to the Southern Highlands in search of snow, or at least cool, crisp weather and rural surroundings.
On June 22, 2008, 20 members of the society gathered in the atmospheric cafe at Berkelouws Book Barn, outside Berrima, for morning tea. Two years ago we'd carried out some of our readings in the cafe, knowing that public speaking over lunch in the Burrawang Hotel was likely to be limited by the extraneous noise. This year we had no such concerns. After our chatty morning tea we drove down through Mittagong to Alpine where DTSA Secretary Gina Ryman, along with husband Bill, were playing host at their beautiful property, Balaton Park. There our numbers rose to 27, and we had a microphone and sound system to use inside the house and on the lawn.
We took advantage of the near-perfect weather (snow was needed for perfection) by having drinks and a recital of 'A Child's Christmas' on the lawn before moving inside to tuck in to a big Christmas meal with all the trimmings. We had Christmas decorations, a flaming Christmas pudding, and even a visit from an impressively realistic Santa Claus. We had mass readings of Dylan stories set in the Swansea snow and Dylan's own voice on CD reading part of his poem, 'A Winter's Tale'. Clive performed his version of Richard Burton's 'A Christmas Story', and then it was time for the Northerners to hit the motorway while the locals meandered their way home.
Our thanks go to Gina and Bill for being perfect hosts and working so hard to make their beautiful house the ideal venue. Thanks also to Helen, Joy, Kay and Noel for all their practical help with the food. It was a great day!
Please see Photo Gallery for photos of the event. Below is an abbreviated copy of the flyer we sent out.
COME AND BRIGHTEN UP THE BLEAK MIDWINTER WITH
A FESTIVE DYLAN THOMAS ALPINE CHRISTMAS
This photo was taken in 2004 with real snow and
snowmen to provide extra atmosphere
Date: Sunday 22 June 2008
Time and Place: a) 10.45am for 11.00 at Berkelouws Book Barn, Berrima
b) 12.30pm at Gina & Bill’s house, Alpine
What’s on? Our Dylan’s Alpine Christmas, with morning tea in the Book Barn café, and Christmas lunch at Gina & Bill’s, complete with Christmas decorations. At both venues there’ll be readings of different works of Dylan concerning Christmas and snow, including, of course, A Child’s Christmas in Wales, as well as Richard Burton’s A Christmas Story.
Cost Lunch will be prepared for you and will cost $20. Morning tea will not cost more than $10. Please bring your own drinks to the lunch.
Getting There It’s an easy drive to Alpine (just before Mittagong) and you can even go by rail, so we won’t use a bus. Let us know if you’re coming by rail, and we’ll try to meet the train.
Booking We need to get an accurate count of numbers and early booking is essential as capacity at both venues is limited. Please phone Clive Woosnam on 9992019 to book or email firstname.lastname@example.org
The Edge of Love
Over thirty members of the society and friends braved the worst weather of the year to watch the film at the Cremorne Orpheum. Afterwards, 26 of the group dined at the nearby Golden Lion restaurant and compared notes on the movie. Most agreed that the film was better than many reviewers had suggested but did no favours to Dylan's reputation. Photos in the restaurant are in the picture gallery. Below we have the original article on the film followed by the true story of what happened along with stills from the movie.
Original Article, followed by later items
The Edge of Love, the first feature film ever made on the life of Dylan Thomas, has been chosen to open the Edinburgh Film Festival on 18 June, three days before its general release in the UK. Given the high profiles of cast members Keira Knightley, Sienna Miller, Cillian Murphy and Matthew Rhys, the movie is sure to attract a lot of publicity. The script was written by Knightley’s mother, the Scottish playwright Sharman Macdonald, while a real-life granddaughter of Vera Killick (the part played by Knightley in the film) is co-producer. The director is John Maybury, who won the Best British Picture award ten years ago at the same festival with Love is the Devil, starring Derek Jacobi and Daniel Craig.
The artistic director of the Edinburgh Festival, Hannah McGill, claims that it is an “utterly seductive and fascinating film, which stars some of the most charismatic young performers in the business, and affirms John Maybury as one of our most important directors.”
21 August is the film’s release date in Australia . To join our cinema group the following night (Fri 22 August)at the Cremorne Orpheum, please phone Clive Woosnam on 9997 2019. The standard admission price is $16; Seniors $9.
To see a trailer of the film, please follow the link below:
Here is an article and appended comments made on the real life story behind the film and the departures from reality in the film.
THE TRUE STORY BEHIND THE FILM, THE EDGE OF LOVE
The film, The Edge of Love, deals with the life of Dylan and Caitlin Thomas during the Second World War, and concentrates especially on their stay in New Quay, on the west coast of Wales, in 1945. Having not yet seen the film, I do not know how closely the script, by Sharman Macdonald, sticks to reality, but I think it worthwhile for DTSA members to know the true facts, as far as we can tell from contemporary records and biographical reports. John Maybury, the director of the film, has been at pains to point out that, though the film story is based on real happenings, it has been embellished for the screen and is not meant to be historically accurate. It may well be that, on seeing the film, DTSA members will believe some of the concocted events are true while discarding the real happenings as film fantasies. The true story is certainly bizarre and somewhat convoluted, and some of the real-life characters are stranger than authors normally dare to invent.
During the war, Dylan and Caitlin lived in many places. West Wales appealed as being cheap, safe from bombing, and helpful for Dylan’s creative processes, but he had to spend a good deal of time in London and other places in his work as a film scriptwriter. Sometimes Caitlin accompanied him; sometimes she stayed in Wales, especially after their daughter Aeronwy was born in March 1943. Their eldest son, Llewelyn, spent most of the war with Caitlin’s mother in Hampshire, while their youngest child, Colm (who attended one of our DTSA meetings) was not born until after the war. While in London, Dylan met a childhood friend, Vera Phillips. They had both attended Mrs Hole’s ‘dame’ school in Mirador Crescent in Swansea and their friendship had increased in the days of the ‘Kardomah gang’ when Vera and her elder sister Evelyn had been fringe members of that coffee shop intellectual group. Dylan had often visited their house in Bryn-y-Mor Crescent, the street in which his elocution teacher lived, but the contact faded after Dylan left Swansea.
When Dylan and Vera met in London she had studied interior design at Chelsea Polytechnic, and was working whenever possible in the theatre and the rest of the time as a waitress in a local restaurant. Dylan and Caitlin became close friends of hers, and shared her London flat for a time. Vera is reported as saying, “I had more fun with Dylan, and with Catty too, than with anyone else, before or since”.
In 1940 Vera met William Killick, an Old Harrovian officer in the Royal Engineers. When she married him in August 1943, Dylan acted as Best Man. William was later seconded as a commando captain in the Special Operations Executive, and was sent overseas to work on a very dangerous mission behind the enemy lines in Greece. While he was away, Dylan and Caitlin stayed several times in West Wales with Vera, and in 1945 they rented a small fibro cottage on a cliff top near New Quay. The cottage was called Majoda, after the owner’s three children, Marjorie, John and David; Dylan threatened to re-christen it Catllewdylaer, a name more in keeping with Ffynnonfeddyg, William and Vera’s house next door. Majoda was a primitive house, with no electricity or proper bathroom, using calor gas and paraffin for heating and lighting, but Caitlin was happy to invite well-to-do London friends to stay with them there.
One such guest was the beautiful Mary Keene who, though disabled, was model, muse or mistress to famous artists and writers such as Louis MacNeice. She and Caitlin were in the house one evening with their baby daughters while Dylan went into New Quay with two editors from Gryphon Films, the company he worked for in London. They were film director John Eldridge and assistant Fanya Fisher, a Russian Jew. Dylan took them to The Commercial Hotel where William Killick was drinking. Back on leave after surviving the rigours of the military operation in Greece, Killick was angry with Dylan. He disliked the way Dylan had been able to avoid military service and his off-hand attitude to the war. He disliked the fact that Dylan seemed to treat him as being less important than the London visitors. He also was annoyed to discover that Vera had been spending his hard-earned money subsidising Dylan and Caitlin’s drinking. Caitlin herself had a poor opinion of William’s drinking habits, nicknaming him ‘Drunken Waistcoat’, but she conceded that he was right in thinking his money was being drunk by his next door neighbours. She also believed that Killick felt that Vera was living in a ‘menage-a-trois’ with Dylan and Caitlin, but that, she stated, was ‘a ridiculous thought’. An argument developed in the Commercial Hotel, so Dylan and his friends moved back to the Black Lion Hotel, where Eldridge and Fisher were staying. Killick followed, making a disparaging remark about Jews to Fanya Fisher, resulting in blows being exchanged and the group throwing Killick out of the pub. Dylan was driven home by another larger-than-life character, Alastair Graham, who had been a former lover of Evelyn Waugh and Lord Tredegar, and was the model for Sebastian Flyte in Brideshead Revisited.
When Dylan and Graham returned to Majoda, he took bottled beer to share with Caitlin and Mary and two other male guests. Forty minutes later their jollity was dispelled by a hail of Sten gun fire; William Killick fired at least fourteen bullets from outside the house, then entered and fired at least five more. Fortunately, most of the shots were fired into the air or the ceiling, but two went through the scullery window and several through partitions within the house. With five adults and two children in a tiny house with flimsy walls, someone could easily have been hit. Improbable as it seems, it was Dylan himself who is reported to have taken the gun from Killick, but he returned it when Killick then produced a hand grenade (later found to be without a detonator). Eventually the commando was pacified, and the matter might have ended there had the police not been called by neighbours hearing the shooting. Killick had to stand trial on attempted murder, but with the support of the SOE he was acquitted. Dylan, Caitlin and friends did not attempt to make a strong case against him, and his war record and the stress he was under worked in his favour.
Vernon Watkins wrote to Killick to assure him that Dylan believed he was innocent of the attempted murder charge, but Dylan’s letters to Vernon show that the experience left him very jittery.
“…It’s all very nasty, and I’m as frightened as if I’d used the Sten gun myself…Caitlin and I go to bed under the bed.”
A FEW THOUGHTS AFTER SEEING THE FILM
THE EDGE OF LOVE or THE SCALPEL OF THE CINEMA
Most of the members who attended the showing of The Edge of Love at Cremorne enjoyed the movie, but felt that Dylan was harshly treated. It may have been more a scalpel operation than a hatchet job, but it created an image of a man who had very little going for him. Why this was done I cannot say, as it reduced the realism and logic of the story. Newspaper film critics wondered why two such attractive females as were portrayed in the film should compete for Dylan’s affection, and found that his lack of positive attributes undermined the plot. The distortion of reality was particularly marked at the end of the film in the courtroom scenes. The writer, producer and director were interested in showing how a dispute between two men could end in forcing apart two women who were the best of friends, and the film bent the facts to make their point. Here are a few realities that were misrepresented in the film:
1 In the film, Dylan was responsible for reporting the shooting to the police the day after the event. The truth is that it was reported by neighbours at the time of the event.
2. In the film, Dylan said in court that William Killick had tried to kill him and his friends. In reality, Dylan and Caitlin watered down their evidence so that William would not be convicted.
3. In real life, the judge instructed the jury to find William not guilty, whereas in the film he was disappointed with the not guilty verdict.
4. According to eye-witness reports, Dylan was the person who disarmed William. In the real court case, Dylan claimed that William voluntarily laid down his sten gun, to show that he was not intent on killing anyone. In the film, Dylan trembled in fright when faced by William in the Majoda bungalow.
5. In the film, Vera tried to stop the shooting and was knocked to the ground by William. In reality, Vera and her baby were staying with her mother that night, and weren’t anywhere near the shooting.
6. The wrong adults were in Majoda at the time of the shooting. (John Eldridge and Fanya Fisher – or ‘Anita’ as she was in the film - were at their hotel in town).
7. It seemed as though the wrong child was in the house – it should have been Aeronwy, not Llewelyn.
8. Vera actually met William in 1940, three years before they married.
9. Of course, the main inaccuracy is that there is no evidence that Vera had an affair with Dylan. Vera denied it, and it is hard to believe that Caitlin, whose ferocious jealousy was widely known, would have continued her friendship with Vera if there had been an affair. She was dismissive of the idea.
10. Caitlin had many abortions (not all when she was married to Dylan), but there is no evidence she had one while staying in New Quay, or that Vera paid for it..
11. The initial argument in the pub turned into physical violence when William made an anti-Semitic remark to the Jewish secretary. This did not appear in the film.
Of course, the factual inaccuracies do not invalidate the film as a work of art, but there’s no doubt that the film played down Caitlin’s shortcomings whilst over-emphasising Dylan’s. No one doubts that Dylan had many weaknesses, notably womanising, drinking and smoking too much, neglecting his children and cadging, but Caitlin’s character defects ran even deeper.
The film even tries to reduce Dylan’s stature as a poet.. While living at New Quay, Dylan wrote part or all of a number of famous poems, including the lyrical Fern Hill, A Refusal to Mourn…, A Winter’s Tale, Conversation of Prayers and This Side of the Truth. He also wrote the evocative and witty story Quite Early One Morning, the precursor to Under Milk Wood. However, in the film the only New Quay poem he is heard reciting is In My Craft or Sullen Art. The other poems that feature in the film are Love in the Asylum (written four years earlier, and not as a response to Vera departing) and Lament., which was written six years later, in 1951. This is particularly revealing, as Lament is totally out of character with Dylan’s other poems, which are all very serious. Lament is more of a bawdy ballad, and fits well with the coarse limericks that the script writer invents for Dylan in the early part of the film. The impression is given of a man who played at being a poet because it freed him from convention and allowed him to ‘feed off life’. The script is determined to distort reality and paint Dylan in the worst possible light.
I suppose there’s nothing new in this - critics have been doing it for decades – but they don’t normally invent incidents to suit their characterisation. It is one thing to condense the time scale or change the location of an event; it is another to manipulate the facts to create the fictional image required. If the plot is fictional, the characters should not be real people who behaved in a different manner from their screen reincarnations.
I once gave a talk to the DTSA titled The Vilification of Dylan Thomas. Now I have a new section to add to the essay.
Postscript, November 2008
The film has now been made into a DVD and the DTSA already has a copy. The film purports to be based on the book, Dylan Thomas: A Farm, Two Mansions and a Bungalow by David Thomas, but the author, in an email to me, stated:
The film is 98% fiction, and my first reaction to it was: why did they bother to buy the film rights from me when they ignored what was in the book. My second was that they would not have dared make it if DT were alive - he could have sued them. Your paper listing the errors is accurate, and there were lots of others eg New Quay has never had a railway station, Vera's first child was a girl, not a boy, called Rachel who is alive and well in Cambridge, Vera probably didn't have a Welsh accent because I believe she went to elocution lessons......
(David Thomas has written a dramatic new book on Dylan's death: Fatal Neglect: Who Killed Dylan Thomas? is published by Seren on November 9 2008, the 55th anniversary of the death. £9.99, ISBN 978-1-85411-480-8)
FILM NIGHT HELD ON 26 SEPTEMBER
The main feature of this year's film night were two remarkable interviews of Caitlin Thomas by famous Welsh TV presenter Vincent Kane. The interviews were made over 30 years ago and then lost. They are particularly interesting in the light of the portrait of Caitlin given in the film, The Edge of Love. The interviews would, no doubt, have been widely shown in 2003, the 50th anniversary of Dylan's death, had they been available.
The other main item was a new DVD version of The Kardomah Boys, a re-creation of the highly talented group of young writers, musicians and artists which included Dylan, Daniel Jones and Fred Janes.
As usual, there was a feast of great food and plenty of wine and soft drink to ensure the success of the evening.
Here is the flyer advertising the evening:
THE DYLAN THOMAS SOCIETY OF AUSTRALIA
A SPECIAL FILM NIGHT
Caitlin and Dylan with baby Llewelyn
Featuring short films and film clips linked to Dylan.
Of particular importance is the brilliant interview with
Caitlin filmed 30 years ago and recently re-discovered.
Date: Friday 26 September Time: 7.00pm
Place: Mitchell Theatre, Sydney Mechanics School of Arts,
Level 1, 280 Pitt Street (between Bathurst and Park Streets)
The charge of $15 (members $12) covers wine, soft drink & finger food
Enjoy a great social and educational night in impressive surroundings.
Please book at email@example.com or phone 99972019
Keep abreast of DTSA events at www.nogoodboyoz.com
ANNUAL CELEBRATORY MEAL
The annual celabratory meal was held this year as a lunch on 9 November, the exact 55th anniversary of Dylan's death. We tried out a new venue for the occasion: the Horizons Grill at the Mosman Club, with its expansive views and lovely atmosphere. Many stalwarts were unavailable, but the 32 people who came seemed to enjoy themselves thoroughly. The main speaker was Neville Thomas, the vice-president of the Vancouver Dylan Thomas Circle, an organisation that was born in response to the formation of our society in 1995.
Photos of the lunch may be found in the Photo Gallery.
Below is an abbreviated version of the flyer used to advertise the event.
FIFTY FIVE YEARS LATER: A CELEBRATION OF DYLAN’S LIFE
“The wonderful sunlight there, the hills, the great bridges, the Pacific at your shoes. Beautiful Chinatown. Every race in the world. The lobsters, clams & crabs. Oh Cat, what food for you. Every kind of seafood there is. The city is built on hills; it dances in the sun for nine months of the year; & the Pacific Ocean never runs dry. And all the people are open and friendly .” Dylan Thomas, April, 1950
OK – so he was writing to Caitlin about San Francisco , but we all know how much Dylan would have liked Sydney. And we can celebrate his life and works while we enjoy a beautiful lunch with glimpses from the ocean to the harbour.
PUT THE DETAILS IN YOUR DIARY OR ON YOUR CALENDAR NOW!
Time & Date: 12 for 12.30, Sunday 9 November 2008 (the exact 55th anniversary of his death)
Place: Horizons Terrace Grill, top floor of the Mosman Club, 719 Military Road , Mosman
Menu: Go to http://www.mosmanclub.com.au/page/horizons_grill.htm for details
Cost: Prices of food and wine are good; you choose from the menu and pay individually
Replies: Please email firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a message on 99972019
IT’S THE LAST EVENT OF THE YEAR – LET’S MAKE SURE IT’S THE BIGGEST!