The Birth of Under Milk Wood

"Of course, it wasn’t really written in Laugharne at all. It was written in New Quay, most of it." Ivy Williams, Brown's Hotel, Laugharne.

"When Dylan came to write Under Milk Wood, he didn’t use actual Laugharne characters." Richard Hughes, Laugharne Castle

"He wrote the first half within a few months; then his inspiration seemed to fail him when he left New Quay, Cardiganshire, and came to live in London." Douglas Cleverdon, the play’s producer.

Llareggub "resembles New Quay more closely [than Laugharne] and many of the characters derive from that seaside village in Cardiganshire..." Constantine Fitzgibbon, Dylan’s friend and first biographer.

“...New Quay, so similar in many ways to Laugharne, was crucial in supplementing the gallery of characters Thomas had to hand for writing Under Milk Wood.” Walford Davies, editor, the Definitive Edition of Under Milk Wood.

“The story of the drowned cemetery [of Llanina, New Quay] is the literal truth that inspired the imaginative and poetic truth of Thomas’s play.” John Ackerman, biographer.

This paper is a revised and much expanded version of an earlier paper about the writing of Under Milk Wood; it contains a good deal more information about the work that was done on the play in New Quay, Elba, South Leigh and New York, as well as a fuller account of the extracts from the play that were read by Dylan in Prague in March 1949, three months before he moved to the Boat House in Laugharne. It provides additional information to that in A Postcard from New Quay.

My original paper, which demonstrated that little of the play was written in Laugharne, appeared in the spring 2001 issue of the New Welsh Review. Many found it fascinating, but others rushed to defend Laugharne, pointing out both that Dylan wrote some of his finest poems at the Boat House and that the general public "loved" Laugharne because it fitted their ideas of where a writer like Dylan would live and would write a play like Under Milk Wood. Who was I to spoil the pretty picture?

Certainly, Laugharne and Under Milk Wood are linked in the popular mind as closely as fish and chips or cockles and laverbread. It is widely believed that Llareggub was based on Laugharne and that Dylan wrote the play there. Literary opinion has bolstered the public view, from Ferris in 1977, who wrote that much of the play was written at the Boat House, to Stephens in 2000 who said that the greater part was.[1]

In his 1993 biography, Tremlett was content to claim just the first half for Laugharne but ten years later he would have us believe that all of Milk Wood was written there, even though we've known since Brinnin's 1955 book (and Cleverdon's of 1969) that the second half was mostly written in America.[2] Carmarthenshire's tourist office, and the local authority's website, also boast that the whole play was written at the Boat House.

Carmarthenshire, which prides itself on being a "land of myth and legend" where "in certain places, the facts become intertwined with fiction", has turned Dylan's time in Laugharne into a world-wide marketing opportunity to attract the devoted and the curious. Laugharne, after all, has everything it takes to make a perfect shrine: the poet's grave, his work hut, his favourite pub and a ready-priested shore, all in a magnificent estuary setting. No wonder that within weeks of Dylan's death the News Chronicle predicted that "Now will begin the Dylan cult and Laugharne will become a shrine." [3]

The commercial enshrining of Laugharne began with the renaming of the cliff path to the Boat House as 'Dylan's Walk'. This was followed by the opening of the Boat House in 1975, an event consolidated in 1977 by the founding of the Dylan Thomas Society and the publication of Ferris' biography.

In 1978, the 25th anniversary of Dylan's death, three Swansea businessmen enticed Dylan fans to journey on "up market pilgrimages" to Laugharne. Chauffeured Bentleys and Mercedes took parties on trips around Dylan's Swansea and Laugharne, stopping for champagne receptions, cordon bleu dinners and poetry readings.

This promotion was part of a marketing blitz from the Welsh Tourist Board, who believed that "Dylan could soon be one of the biggest attractions to foreign tourists to Wales..." [4] Carmarthenshire Council thought the same and bought the Boat House, spending over half a million pounds to save it from collapse, and refurbishing it as a heritage centre. It has been a wise investment - around 20,000 people annually visit the Boat House, which has become "one of Wales' most popular national monuments".

Dylan began his 1953 radio talk on Laugharne with the claim that "Off and on.....I've lived in Laugharne for fifteen years......" i.e. from 1938 to 1953. Unfortunately, this is Dylan's own contribution to the Laugharne mythology; the fifteen years include eight years between 1941 and 1949 when he did not live in the town at all. The facts are clear and simple. Off and on, Dylan lived in Laugharne for a little under six years: fifteen months in Gosport Street and Sea View between May 1938 and December 1939; four months in Sea View in 1940; three months in the Castle in 1941; and then for four years at the Boat House between May 1949 and November 1953.

Overall, Dylan's time at the Boat House was not the happiest period of his life, as his marriage collapsed, debts mounted, the tax man chased and the damp estuary air took its toll on his health. It became a place he wanted to escape from. His wife and children lived there, but he got away as much as he could. Of his four years at the Boat House, more than a quarter were spent in America and Persia, and much of the rest in London or travelling the country to read poetry or to broadcast on the radio. As his daughter, Aeronwy, has recalled, "he sought any pretext to escape." [5]

Dylan wrote eight poems at the Boat House (two of which were unfinished) but, by the autumn of 1951, the poetry had virtually come to an end, with just the Prologue to the Collected Poems to come. He found it hard to complete even his commissions for hack work. Under Milk Wood fared no better. Dylan's work at the Boat House on the play was, at best, desultory, as I'll describe later in this paper.

But did he draw on the town for any of the play's features and characters? In an interview, Dylan's friend, the author Richard Hughes who lived in Laugharne, said when Dylan "came to write Under Milk Wood, he didn’t use actual Laugharne characters." Hughes had made the same point in his 1954 review of the play. Although Dylan had once intended "to use some of his fellow-townsmen recognisably", reports Hughes, when he abandoned the plot about a mad town (see below), he also decided on "the total abandonment of particular 'true' portraits." The characters of Llareggub "ought to live in Laugharne, perhaps, but in fact not one of them does."[6]

Hughes is probably right that there are no true or complete portraits of Laugharne residents in the play. But there are certainly some elements of Laugharne that can be found in the text: a Rosie Probert, age 14, was living in Laugharne in Horsepool Road at the 1921 Census, though the name does not appear in the 1939 War Register. Mog Edwards' boater and butterfly collar came from Laugharne draper, Mr Watts, though his shop was Gwalia not Manchester House. Laugharne can also claim the clock tower of Myfanwy Price's dreams.

It’s often said that Salt House Farm inspired Salt Lake Farm but it is not on top of Sir John's Hill, as some writers claim. Neither does it root Milk Wood in the particularity of Laugharne since it was not written into the play until 1953. Denzil Davies MP has claimed Organ Morgan for Laugharne, asserting that he was based on E.V. Williams, the organist at St Martin's Church, who lived a few doors down from Brown's Hotel.[7] Butcher Beynon certainly draws in part on butcher and publican Carl Eynon, though he was in St Clears not Laugharne:

"He [Dylan] used to come in here and sit in the room with the coracle men around an open fire and I'd watch him listening and memorising and writing down. He told me he was writing a play and that I was in it, but he'd put you off if you started fishing him...My fridges are down the lane out the back there and sometimes Dylan would see me walking back up to the shop carrying a cleaver, often with my little dog. It was a dachshund, see, a sausage dog, but in his play he calls it a corgi." (Burn 1972)

And which Laugharne resident was Captain Cat? In his Edwards interview, John Morgan Dark suggests it was a Mr Whittaker Jones, who was not blind, and Jane Dark of Laugharne that it was a sea captain nicknamed Cat, who was. Both agree that, whoever he was, he frequented the Cross House Inn, but neither Phil Richards, who ran the Cross House, nor his daughter Romaine, were at all convinced about this in their interview with Colin Edwards in the 1960s, and do not suggest any names of their own. None of these accord with Min Lewis' suggestion (1967) that it was Laugharne resident Johnny Thomas. Most tellingly of all, Billy Williams of Laugharne told Colin Edwards that the original for Captain Cat was a New Quay sailor. And Mr Whittaker Jones, by the way, was not a sea captain at all but a retired marine engineer, as the 1939 War Register tells us. [7a}

It is particularly interesting that so few of Laugharne's distinctive and historic features are reflected in the play. This is hardly surprising - how could a play about a "quintessentially" Welsh town peopled with identifiably Welsh characters be plausibly based on an English-cultured, English-speaking enclave such as Laugharne?

Dylan took several years to write the play, so it is not surprising that a number of villages and towns would swim in and out of his consciousness as he sought to create Llareggub's profile - including Laugharne, Llansteffan, Ferryside and New Quay.

I have described in A Postcard from New Quay the many ways in which New Quay was mother of the play, and I discuss the particular case of Polly Garter in Conceiving Polly Garter, also on this site. None of this makes Laugharne any less beautiful or attractive to visitors, or less significant as the place that inspired a handful of wonderful poems, but it played a relatively small part in the production of Under Milk Wood. I want now to examine the play's growth, and show that most of it was written in New Quay, South Leigh and America.

From Caswell Bay to Prague

According to Bert Trick in his interview with Colin Edwards, an embryonic Under Milk Wood was written by Dylan in 1933:

"He read it to Nell and me in our bungalow at Caswell around the old Dover stove, with the paraffin lamps lit at night...the story was then called Llareggub, which was a mythical village in South Wales, typical village, with terraced houses with one ty bach [lavatory] to about five cottages, and the various characters coming out and emptying the slops and exchanging greetings and so on; that was the germ of the idea which...developed into Under Milk Wood."

It is likely that what Dylan read to the Tricks was a story rather than a play for radio, for at this time Dylan had had no experience of writing for that medium, and did not make his first broadcast until 1937. He also recognised his own limitations for writing something "long" for the radio. His letter in November 1938 to T. Rowland Hughes, a BBC producer, was a prophetic warning about how difficult the writing of Under Milk Wood would prove to be:

"I don't think I'd be able to do one of those long dramatic programmes in verse; I take such a long time writing anything, & the result, dramatically, is too often like a man shouting under the sea. But if you 'd let me know a little more about these programmes - length, subjects unsuitable, etc - I'd like to have a try. It sounds full of dramatic possibilities, if only I was."

In 1939, Dylan had a discussion with Richard Hughes about writing a play about Laugharne, in which the villagers would play themselves. Four years later, in 1943, Dylan met again with Hughes, and this time outlined a play about a Welsh village certified as mad by government inspectors. Constantine FitzGibbon has written that "after the revelations of the German concentration camps," Dylan told him the plot about a mad village, and dates this to a "year or so" after 1943 (p237).

In September 1944, Dylan and family had arrived in New Quay, Cardiganshire, and moved into a bungalow called Majoda. He wrote Quite Early One Morning there, one of the most important precursors of the Under Milk Wood, commissioned by Aneirin Talfan Davies as Portrait of a Seaside Town, and broadcast on December 14 1944. In his Introduction to Under Milk Wood, Daniel Jones has noted that, following the success of the broadcast, Dylan contemplated "a more extended work against the same kind of background". Jones also writes that there was much discussion between Dylan and his friends about the form this extended work should take.

In January 1945, Dylan proposed a book about the streets of London, "to take the life of the streets from twelve noon to twelve midnight." The same year, the BBC producer Philip Burton visited New Quay to prepare a "radio impression of a Welsh village by the sea", broadcast on March 1. Burton's programme may have been another influence on Dylan that secured New Quay as a significant template for Milk Wood. The reminiscing sailors of the play are anticipated at the start of Burton's script (e.g. "I was in Wellington…the night of Pearl Harbour."/ "I'll never forget that dinner in Hong Kong.") And whilst the drowned sailors of Llareggub open Milk Wood, Burton's programme ends with the drowned sailors of New Quay, in "cemeteries of empty graves" because "the whole world is the grave-yard of this little village."

Gwen Watkins has noted that the "germ...of the earliest idea" of the play was conceived in New Quay. Theodora FitzGibbon has described how Dylan had told her in 1944 that he was writing a radio play "peopled with what he called 'a good cross-section of Welsh characters.'" Her husband, Constantine, has also written in his biography that Dylan started to write Under Milk Wood in New Quay. This is confirmed by Jack Patrick Evans of the Black Lion, who notes in his interview with Colin Edwards that Dylan was working on Milk Wood in New Quay. And one of Dylan's closest friends and confidante, Ivy Williams of Brown's Hotel, Laugharne, has said "Of course, it wasn’t really written in Laugharne at all. It was written in New Quay, most of it." [8]

Writing in January 1954, just days before the first BBC broadcast of the play, its producer Douglas Cleverdon has also drawn attention to Dylan's work at New Quay: "He wrote the first half within a few months; then his inspiration seemed to fail him when he left New Quay, Cardiganshire, and came to live in London." Dylan's friend and first biographer, Constantine FitzGibbon, noted that Llareggub "resembles New Quay more closely [than Laugharne] and many of the characters derive from that seaside village in Cardiganshire..." [9]

A few hundred yards to the north of Majoda stood the church of Llanina, as well as its mansion in whose Apple House Dylan used to write. Dylan scholar, John Ackerman, has rightly pointed out that the story of the drowned village and graveyard of Llanina, ‘is the literal truth that inspired the imaginative and poetic truth’ of Under Milk Wood.

The most extended description of the progress of Dylan's work on Milk Wood at New Quay comes from the writer and academic, Dan Davin. In the spring or summer of 1945, he went with Dylan to a gathering at a flat in Riding House Street, off Langham Place, in London. There Dylan recited

"some rather bawdy songs and verses he had lately been writing, things he seemed to regard as written for fun rather than in earnest. They were a sort of vers de société, except that the society was Welsh and humble, people from a village which Dylan said was called Laugharne but which in the verses he named Llareggub. The verses, quatrains for the most part, were rich in affection, humour, compassion, and vivifying detail, and their effect was somehow medieval in the intimacy of the alliance between the poet and the people he was describing...I remember my admiration and enjoyment being infiltrated and spoilt by a feeling of dismal envy for the remarkable flow of metaphor and fantasy which came so easily to the man - came from him, rather, as water pours from a fountain." [10]

Dylan and Caitlin left Majoda at the end of July 1945 to stay with his parents at Blaencwm in August and September. By early 1946, they were living in Oxford, and there wrote the other radio scripts, including The Londoner, Margate - Past and Present and Return Journey, that are recognised as milestones on the road to Llareggub. In April 1947, Dylan and family went to Italy. He intended to write a radio play there, as his letters home make clear.[11]

Dylan ended his holiday on Elba, staying in Rio Marina, a town, like New Quay, of steep streets, quarries and harbour. It's possible that Rio reminded Dylan of summer in New Quay, packed with South Wales miners, for he arrived at the beginning of the iron miners' holiday. They regarded him with "curiosity and simpatia", the Elba historian Gianfranco Vanagolli told me. Dylan drank with them, and with Pierino the anarchist, the most powerful miners' leader on Elba (see the Mad Town page on this site). Through these friendships, Dylan "perceived the soul of the community…as he was Welsh and the mine was in his blood."

Staying in the same hotel as Dylan was the Florence intellectual, Augusto Livi, who wrote:

"…in the village of steep houses and stone stairs, the small reddish dogs used to stop at the corners when the poet Dylan Thomas passed by, with his Bacchus head and his two colour clothes, green trousers and pink shirt…[looking] like an archbishop, with his white cap and the long shirt out of his trousers." (1949)

Dylan was solitary and introspective, Livi told Colin Edwards in 1969. There were long, silent walks along the coast when Dylan was "preoccupied by poetical activity." Rio had a "very kind and human atmosphere...Dylan loved this atmosphere… I think that he saw in the landscape, the naked landscape, a souvenir of the Galles, of Wales." Both Livi and Luzi describe how Dylan was busy writing during his stay in Rio Marina. Luzi told Edwards:

"On the island of Elba, he managed to get started again, to break his silence, resuming the typical lilt of his poetry but at the same time renewing it. I think it was actually in Elba that he wrote Under Milk Wood, if I’m not mistaken. I think that’s the composition that he at least started in Elba."

Dylan's letters from Rio mention the "fishers and miners" and "webfooted waterboys" who we later find as the "fishers" and "webfoot cocklewomen" of the first page of Milk Wood. The "sunblack" and "fly-black" adjectives of Italy would be re-worked as the "crowblack" and "bible-black" descriptions of Llareggub. Alfred Pomeroy Jones, sea-lawyer, "died of blisters", and so, almost, did Dylan and family as he vividly describes in his letter of August 3 1947. And in time, Rio's "blister-biting blimp-blue bakehouse sea" would appear as Llareggub's "slow, black, crowblack, fishingboat-bobbing sea." [12]

On their return in August 1947, the Thomas family moved to South Leigh outside Oxford, living in the Manor House, a dilapidated cottage, with a caravan provided for Dylan's writing. Phyllis Broome's books describe the village at the time. Rob Brown, who lived near the Manor House, told me that Dylan "worked very hard writing in the caravan." In a 1963 BBC interview, Betty Green of the village shop said that Dylan:

"used to go into the caravan so as to do his poets and he used to be there all day long…he used to write all day long. Dylan was never still, but he must do his poets first, but if he could do his poets, he could go and have a drink. But unless he had done that, he couldn't." [13]

It was here that Dylan continued work on the play, as he told his parents he would in his letter of July 19 1947: “I want very much to write a full-length - hour to hour & a half - broadcast play; & hope to do it, in South Leigh, this autumn.” Philip Burton encouraged Dylan to build upon the success of Return Journey. He has recalled a meeting in the Café Royal in 1947, when they discussed the play:

"…he was telling me an idea he had for…The Village of the Mad…a coastal town in south Wales which was on trial because they felt it was a disaster to have a community living in that way…For instance, the organist in the choir in the church played with only the dog to listen to him…A man and a woman were in love with each other but they never met.…they wrote to each other every day…And he had the idea that the narrator should be like the listener, blind.…" (1953 and recorded talk, but see also Broadcasting Under Milk Wood on this site)

Dylan continued with the play in 1948, as he mentioned in his March letter to John Ormond from South Leigh: "A radio play I am writing has Laugharne, though not by name, as its setting."

John Davenport has confirmed that Dylan worked on the play at South Leigh, observing that Milk Wood "took six years to make." [14] In his interview with Colin Edwards, Harry Locke, a good friend of Dylan's and a neighbour in the village, comments that Dylan wrote a substantial part of the first half at South Leigh. Talking about Dylan's time in the village, the following exchange occurs:

Joan Locke: He'd written a great deal of Under Milk Wood at that time, hadn't he?

Harry Locke: Oh yes, he worked on Under Milk Wood for about six years but he finished it off at 260 [Kings Street, Hammersmith, Locke's home]…he finished most of it in the pub. In the Ravenscourt Arms.

A few miles from South Leigh was a German POW camp, whose inmates were waiting to be re-settled. They chopped wood for Caitlin, looked after the garden and worked on the neighbouring farms. Perhaps the camp was, for Dylan, a daily reminder of the plot about the mad village, which he described to FitzGibbon as having barbed wire "strung about it and patrolled by sentries." [15]

The time at South Leigh was a key period in the writing of Milk Wood, building on the work that had been done at New Quay. Distractions were few in early 1948; there were no poems on the go, only a handful of radio scripts to write, and the new round of film scripts had only just begun. In one of these South Leigh films (Three Weird Sisters), we find the familiar Llareggub names of Daddy Waldo and Polly Probert.

Dylan travelled from South Leigh to Prague in March 1949 to a Congress of the Writers' Union. The visit is often used as an example of Dylan's political naivety. But he had personal reasons for going. In wartime London, he had got to know Jirí Mucha, who had been part of the group in London around John Lehmann, and had translated Czech poets for the periodical New Writing.

On March 7, Dylan went to a party in the suburb of Horní Krč to meet the leading Czech poet, Vladimír Holan. The host Jan Grossman remembers that

"The evening began with the help of those of us who could speak English….Holan crushed glasses of red wine with sculptor's hands and Thomas…lit cigarette after cigarette to go with the wine; the ash fell on his suit lapels, then onto his lap, and from his lap onto the parquet floor which he systematically ground in with his shoes. The night came on rapidly, the poets' conversation became more agitated, but the interpreters were no longer necessary. Holan and Thomas began to communicate in a language which was born on the spot, which formed its experience and rules, was built on verbal and mimetic gesture, and insisted on being listened to and reacted to through its intonation and the melody of its sentences…in a moment a world appeared which could be entered into just with a look, with a look of the eye and the soul. And this night lasted until morning. After it there were memories and poems, even those which the master of the house insisted Holan write in his Guest Book: 'Devil take these books,/but he won't take them.../they are immortal, they live on eternally/ and so my name here quickly too!' The night ended late. When we accompanied both poets out an orange sun rose above the frosty morning." (Justl,1988)

In her memoir, Jiřina Hauková, who was Dylan's guide and interpreter, recalls that Dylan "narrated the first version of his radio play Under Milk Wood." She describes how he outlined the plot about a town that was declared insane, and then portrayed the predicament of the eccentric organist and the baker with two wives. A government official arrives with evidence of the insanity of the town:

"He said that the document, which had proofs of their insanity, was too voluminous, so he would only read some of the proofs at random. “In this community they play the organ for goats and sheep.” The citizens were angered by this and called on the organist. He says: “One evening I went to church to play the organ, I left the gate open and the goats and sheep came into the church and I played for them.” “In your city there is also a baker who has two wives.” The people protested again. But two women at the assembly stood up and said: “Yes, we both live with the baker and we all like each other." Finally, the assembly acknowledged that they were crazy, and even agreed that the town would have a fence put around it and would be separated from the rest of the world. He then entirely reworked this theme into the form that came out as a book" [16]

In their interviews with Colin Edwards, Grossman also said that Dylan "spoke about Milk Wood, the radio play, and he quoted some parts of it…." And Josef Nesvadba who, like Grossman, had been educated at the English school in Prague, was another at the party who remembered Dylan referring to the mad town plot, as well as the Voices in the play.[17]

This testimony from Prague, when taken with that of Burton about the meeting in the Café Royal in 1947, indicates that many of the characters of the play were already in place by March 1949: the organist, the two lovers who never met but wrote to each other, the baker with two wives, the blind narrator and the Voices.

Laugharne: dreaming of America

In May 1949, the Thomases moved to the Boat House in Laugharne. Just four months later, on September 23, Dylan met with his agent David Higham, who sent a letter summarising their discussion:

"Your own radio play nearly finished hasn't been taken into account in the above, but I imagine it may finish itself before you go to the USA. We have noted that P.H. Burton of Cardiff knows all about it, and will eventually want to do it."[18]

We know now that “nearly finished” was an exaggeration, and only the first half was close to completion. Yet it tells us that substantial progress had been made on the play.

Of great interest, too, is an article by the poet Allen Curnow in the NZ Listener, in which he writes about visiting Dylan in Laugharne in October 1949. Curnow describes being taken to the writing shed. Dylan "fished out a draft to show me of the unfinished Under Milk Wood" that was, says Curnow, titled The Town That Was Mad. The draft was fished, not from Dylan's "littered desk" where he was working on Vanity Fair, but from a chest of drawers.

But could this draft, which was undoubtedly the "nearly finished" play described by Higham a month earlier, have been written at the Boat House between May and September 1949? This is wholly improbable. It conflicts with the evidence from New Quay, South Leigh and Prague. There is nothing in his letters, or in any documentary or biographical source, to suggest that Dylan was working on the play in these first months in Laugharne. Most writers stress the other things on Dylan's mind, including writing Living in Wales and "Over Sir John's hill", and making a start on Vanity Fair. There was, too, the birth of Colm, as well as broadcasts, debts, illnesses and a summons to contend with. Curnow has also mentioned that he found Dylan busy preparing himself "very seriously" for the forthcoming American trip, choosing and rehearsing poems for his readings.

Furthermore, the "nearly finished" script had been discussed with Philip Burton some time before the meeting with Higham. A letter from Jean LeRoy of Highams in March 1950 to Caitlin tells us that Dylan's meeting with Burton had taken place in 1949.[19] They may have met around July 29 when Dylan was in Cardiff for a BBC programme, or even earlier. This further reduces the possibility that Dylan had written the script in the first few months at the Boat House.

Higham had been optimistic in thinking the play might "finish itself". Dylan worked on his poetry for the rest of the year, finishing the first draft of "In the White Giant's Thigh" and starting "Poem on His Birthday". But it was hard going; he was "tangled in hack work", Caitlin was ill, and the Laugharne traders were snapping at his heels for money.[20]

Dylan did not read from the play in Cardiff in October or Tenby in November 1949, nor is it mentioned in his letters about his forthcoming American trip.[21] At the turn of the year, he was preoccupied with the arrangements for travelling, his father's serious illness and broadcasting in London. It was, he said, "hard to sit down every day in peace...and write..."

It seems unlikely that Dylan did any work on the play in the early part of 1950. His first American visit, a tour of twelve thousand miles and thirty-nine readings, began in February. There is no record that Dylan read from the script or did any writing there. In her March letter to Caitlin, LeRoy asks if Dylan had made any progress in finishing the play. Caitlin replied that she couldn't find the script, but didn't think that Dylan had got very far with it.

Dylan returned in June. The next three months were spent in Laugharne, with trips to London to broadcast. He completed "In the White Giant's Thigh" and worked on "In Country Heaven". He planned a piece on America for Vogue and the BBC agreed to take Letter to America, but he failed to write either.

September was not a month for writing. The first two weeks were in London with Pearl Kazin and John Malcolm Brinnin, who makes no mention of the play in his account of this time together. Indeed, Brinnin did not hear about “Llareggub Hill” until 1951. It appears that Kazin, too, did not hear of the play either in America or in London. She told me that she has never heard of the title The Town that was Mad: “The only early title I knew of for UMW was Llareggub…”

Caitlin soon found out about Pearl and the marriage was plunged further into crisis. Dylan extricated himself, and in mid-September he went back with Caitlin to London, where she was to have an abortion. He spent a good deal of the next five weeks there, some of it ill with pleurisy. He met with Douglas Cleverdon, who wrote on October 20 1950 to say that the BBC "have agreed to take the Town that was Mad." Later that month, Dylan sent Cleverdon thirty-five handwritten pages of the first half, a script that contained most of the places, people and topography of Llareggub, and which ended with the line "Organ Morgan's at it early…" [22]

I conclude from all this evidence that most of the first half of Milk Wood was first written in New Quay and South Leigh, with probably some work done in Rio Marina, as well as later revisions and additions done in America in 1953. The work at South Leigh was completed within three years of Dylan's leaving New Quay, presumably with memories still fresh and Cardiganshire notebooks to hand.

The Chase Begins

The half-script sent to Cleverdon in October 1950 was wholly in the manner of the play as we know it today, and Dylan's plan was to develop the mad town plot in the second half. He did write some pages of mad town script, which are reproduced in Davies and Maud (ppxix-xx), and he also outlined the way in which he would write about the mad town and its trial in the town hall - this is also helpfully reproduced in Davies and Maud. We do not know how much more, if any, of the mad town plot Dylan actually wrote, but the poet Heath-Stubbs has recalled Dylan

"one evening in the Wheatsheaf reciting parts of Under Milk Wood, which was in the process of composition. This included some scenes which did not find a place in the final version. One of these was set in the town hall where alarming messages were coming through on the ticker tape such as 'The fish have declared war!' and 'Anti-Christ has reached Caernarvon.'" (p146)

Cleverdon's job now was to get this second half script from Dylan. In the meantime, he had the first half of the manuscript typed and returned in November: "Let me urge you to press on with it with all speed...June and Angela adored typing it, and are both looking forward eagerly to the next instalment." By December 1950, Cleverdon was sending the first of many letters exhorting Dylan to complete the play: "I am frightfully anxious to get the programme on the air...moreover, I can get the whole thing paid for immediately the script is approved." He advised Dylan to drop the idea of a plot about a mad town, and to write the second half in the same lyrical vein as the first. This, says Cleverdon, "seemed to relieve him considerably; but even so he couldn't get going." [23]

Cleverdon chased Dylan through 1951 but to no avail. Dylan was in Iran in the early part of the year. On his return, the play was "temporarily shelved", as he put it in his letter of July 18 to Princess Caetani, while he worked hard on poems. Nothing afterwards matched this brief period of creativity; in the next two years, Dylan completed only one poem and a handful of prose pieces at the Boat House.

In August 1951, Dylan wrote to Donald Taylor: "I am writing a plotless radio play, first thought of as a film." If he had resumed work on the play, he said nothing to Cleverdon about it who wrote from the BBC in September "I long to see the rest of it. By all that you hold most holy in Wales, do try and finish it." In October, Dylan sent the uncompleted script to Botteghe Oscure as "the first half of this piece" - it only went "up to a certain moment of the morning", as Dylan put it in his covering letter to Princess Caetani. It was virtually the same as that given to the BBC a year before, except that he removed some eighty-six lines that had been in the BBC version. These were the exchanges between Mr and Mrs Cherry Owen, and the scene in which Willy Nilly does his rounds. Botteghe Oscure published the shortened script the following year.

In an October 1951 notebook, now in Texas, Dylan lists nine new scenes to be written for the play. Between this point and the first cast reading in May 1953, he wrote most, but not all, of the second half. He also re-instated the eighty-six lines from the 1950 BBC script and wrote over a hundred lines of new text for the first half, including the section "In Butcher Beynon's" to "My foxy darling." But when was all this work done?

Dylan's letters indicate that little progress was made in 1952, the year of his second trip to America, although he made two small changes to the Botteghe version for the reading at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in May. FitzGibbon noted that Dylan was working on the play only

"sporadically and very slowly…Under Milk Wood progressed with almost incredible slowness. He was a sick, unhappy man, and very tired."

By late summer 1952, the BBC still had only the first part of the play which, as internal memos suggest, amounted to no more than the script received in 1950.[24] Cleverdon has confirmed this, writing that "nothing more emerged, other than the first half which he had given me earlier." (1954b) Dylan wrote to Cleverdon in August, claiming that "I want, myself, to finish it more than anything else. I'm longing to get to work on it again." He could, he said, finish it in six weeks if he were able to work on it every day ("I write very slowly when I'm very much enjoying it") but hack work to raise money was getting in the way. If the BBC were to pay him a weekly sum, then "I could shove all other small jobs aside & work on 'Llareggub' only".

Rejecting Dylan's request for a weekly wage, the BBC tempted him with five guineas for every thousand words he produced. Dylan accepted but sent nothing. In October, Dylan wrote to Cleverdon promising "to start work on Llareggub today." Cleverdon went to Laugharne a week later but returned empty-handed. Dylan resolved to finish the play in sixteen days of solid work, but nothing came of it.[25]

The same month Dylan met with Brinnin in London. In the back of a taxi en route to Waterloo Station, Brinnin suggested that the title of Llareggub "would be too thick and forbidding to attract American audiences. 'What about Under Milk Wood?' he said, and I said 'Fine,' and the new work was christened on the spot." [26]

Botteghe Oscure still had only a "half-play", and in November, Dylan wrote to explain why he hadn't been able to "finish the second half of my piece for you". He had failed shamefully, he said, to add to "my lonely half of a looney maybe-play", but promised the rest of the script by February.

By this point in 1952, Dylan had been at the Boat House for three and a half years, but the half-play had made little progress since his South Leigh days. There is nothing here to support the view that the magic of Laugharne was at the heart of the Llareggub project. The town provided little in the way of inspiration or motivation as Dylan's failure to work effectively on the play clearly shows. Cold and damp Laugharne, which Caitlin grew so much to hate, was less a place of creativity than a burden, as the marriage crashed, debts mounted and the events of the wider world pressed in.

On December 16 1952, Dylan's father died. In the new year, Dylan wrote to Gwyn Jones saying "I've been terribly busy failing to write one word of a more or less play set in a Wales that I'm sad to say never was…" He wrote to Charles Fry in February, complaining that, apart from the 'Prologue' for Collected Poems, he had not been able to write anything for a whole year. A memo from Higham's office the same month noted tersely: "He hasn't made any progress on the Llareggub things."[27]

On March 10, Dylan read a "chunk" of the play in Cardiff. The journalist Alan Road was a student at the time, and turned up in lecture room 103 at the university, gazing down across the steeply raked seating on the diminutive figure of the poet:

"I believe he was wearing a double breasted suit with a polo neck jumper. It was an odd combination in those more conventional times. The neck of the jumper sagged like a horse collar...he said he would give us a preview of a play for radio he was writing called Llareggub and he explained the origin of the name. He said the play's action happened in 24 hours. He had finished the day, he said and added with a stage leer that he was looking forward to the night. I do remember that the applause when he finished was tumultuous. Sufficient, I felt, for an encore, but when the noise had died down Thomas merely said 'Thank You' and vanished from the stage." [28]

Later that evening, Dylan lost the script. It took him seven days to write to his host, Charles Elliott, to ask him to find it: "It's very urgent to me: the only copy in the world of that kind-of-a-play of mine, from which I read bits, is in that battered, strapless briefcase whose handle is tied together with string."

The Show Goes On

It may well be that Under Milk Wood - the "infernally eternally unfinished" play - would never have been completed had not Brinnin taken the risk of advertising performances in America for May 1953. This forced Dylan's hand, and he wrote on March 18 promising that the script (at that moment still unfound in Cardiff) would be ready by the date of his sailing. In New York, Brinnin was noting with satisfaction that "hundreds of tickets" had already been sold for the first performance on May 14 at the Poetry Center. Together with his assistant, Liz Reitell, he began assembling a cast, as Nancy Wickwire, one the of young actors has described:

"I was working in the Poetry Center, working the switchboard...and Liz Reitell came through one morning looking very distraught and said Dylan arrives in another week and one of his requests was for five actors because he's going to do a play for voices called Under Milk Wood. And she said 'Where do I get actors?' And you're looking at one, and I know right in this building you'll find anyone you need. I said first of all there's Sada Thompson who's teaching speech; that's an actress. Roy Poole who relieved me on the switchboard is an actor. Dion Allen who relieved Roy is also an actor. Al Collins, who is stage manager of the Kaufman Auditorium, is an actor. So there are your actors."[29]

On Dylan's arrival on April 21, Brinnin realised that the play "was still far from finished". If, as it seems, Dylan had arrived with little more than the 1950 BBC text, then some sixty percent of the play that we know today had yet to be written, including some first half material.[30] Brinnin installed Dylan in his Boston apartment and set him to write:

"the unfinished part of his play was no longer merely a matter of scenes to be filled in and lines to be brushed up but a problem that would demand all of his creative resourcefulness. The making of Milk Wood had assumed the first proportions of a marathon…"

But Dylan had poetry readings to give along the East Coast and, according to Brinnin, Dylan worked on Milk Wood on only three days - April 26 and May 1 and 2. On the evening of May 3, Dylan was due to give a solo reading of the play at the Fogg Museum, Harvard. He worked on revisions and additions "from late morning until late afternoon", and then went to a party at the home of the portrait painter, Gardner Cox. The reading of the still unfinished play that evening was, according to Brinnin, "one of his memorable performances" but we do not know how incomplete the play was because no script or recording has ever surfaced. The only records from this event seems to be Gardner Cox's portrait done immediately afterwards, and the review of the play in The Boston Herald the next day.

This review contains details which provide some information on the state of the play at the May 3 reading. The reviewer mentions Mr Pugh's book about the lives of great poisoners, as well as Captain Cat's comments on Mrs Ogmore- Pritchard beeswaxing the lawn to make the birds slip. Both these indicate that Dylan had restored the section about Willy Nilly doing his postal rounds, which he had removed from the Botteghe Oscure version of 1951. The review also tells us that Mog Edwards' love letter written to Miss Price on his shop's stationary received its first known public airing at the May 3 reading - it was not in the 1950 BBC script nor in the Botteghe Oscure version.

Brinnin describes how the audience's enthusiastic response at the May 3 reading proved a turning point in the making of Milk Wood. Dylan's confidence in himself and in the play was boosted and "From that time on his concern for the success of Under Milk Wood was deep and constant...he seemed to have come upon a whole new regard for himself as a dramatic writer." (p207)

Rehearsals had already started for the first cast reading to be given on May 14th. Nancy Wickwire, has recalled that the script given to the actors ended with First Voice's description of Lord Cut-Glass' clocks. Another of the actors, Sada Thompson, confirmed that "we got about half of the script to begin with, and then we didn't have many rehearsals - there weren't more than half a dozen, if that." [31] The first cast rehearsal with Dylan was on May 8 and it was apparent to the actors that "Dylan had no experience of rehearsing." Wickwire commented that they

"Didn't know how we were going to do it...didn't know who was going to do what or how it was all going to turn out, and we were all reading rather tentatively because we didn't know what the play was about...Dylan, of course, didn't cast the play...there was no casting at all. I read the first woman that came along in the script, and if that part happened to be repeated then I would read it again; Sada took the next woman that came far as I remember, once we had cast ourselves he made no changes at all."

After the rehearsal, Dylan immediately left for further poetry readings, ending up with Brinnin in Connecticut on the evening of May 13. Dylan was up at dawn the next day, scribbling, says Brinnin, "on the little pieces of scratch-paper that made up a good part of the script of the play." By rehearsal time, he "had completed a whole new series of scenes", most written on the train back to New York. He then wrote until seven in the evening, when he gave up exhausted, with the performance only ninety minutes away. Brinnin is clear that even at this late stage "the final third of the play was still unorganised and but partially written."

Threats to cancel the performance made Dylan buckle down, and he "finished up one scene after another." But the play still had no ending. Liz Reitell locked Dylan in a room in Rollie McKenna's apartment. In her interview with Edwards, McKenna comments: "We set up a card table for him in a room in the back of the house on the top floor and had two or three typists from the “Y” in the other room, and he’d get something done and they’d type it and then he’d work over it again." Despite Dylan's protests, Reitell squeezed the final part of the play out of him:

"The curtain was going to rise at 8.40. Well, at 8-10 Dylan was locked in the backroom with me. And no end to Under Milk Wood. He kept saying "I can't, I simply can't do this." I said "You can, the curtain is going to go up." Strangely enough, he wrote the very end of Under Milk Wood then and there, and he wrote the lead-up to it. He would scribble it down, I would copy it, print it so that the secretary could read it, hand it to John Brinnin, and hand it to the secretary, do six copies. We all jumped into a cab finally, and got over to the theatre at half-past eight and handed out the six copies to the actors..." [32]

Brinnin's account makes it clear that parts of the play were still being handed to the actors "as they applied their make-up, read their telegrams and tested their new accents on one another. Some lines of dialogue did not actually come into the hands of the readers until they were taking their places on stage." (p213) The reading, nevertheless, was rapturously received by the audience, and at the fifteenth curtain call "squat and boyish in his happily flustered modesty, Dylan stepped out alone."

Dylan added some forty new lines to the second half for the next reading on May 28. The play was now almost complete, and we can safely conclude that most of it had by this point been written in New Quay, South Leigh, Boston and New York.

Dylan came home from America in June, enthusiastic about the play and full of good intentions. He prepared lists of ideas for new passages to write. Work sheets at Texas show that Dylan thought about more songs and poems for the ending section.[33] Dylan also asked "What have I missed out?" and added "Poverty. Jealousy. Idiocy. Incest Greed Hate Envy Spite Malice...Look at the churchyard: remember the early mortalities & fatalities. Quote some epitaphs, briefly...STRESS THE FEAR OF SOME OF THE TOWN AFTER DARK." But his work that summer on the play was "desultory", as Davies and Maud have described it, and his output failed, as it always did in Laugharne, to match his intentions.[34]

The script was sent to Dent, but the chief editor considered the play pornographic and referred it to Martin Dent, the proprietor. He thought it "a bit broad in places" but decided to publish because "it's too good, too authentic Dylan Thomas to let it go….to turn it down might be to lose the author." (Ferris, 2000)

On August 5, Dylan went to Porthcawl and read "almost all" of Milk Wood at a drama school being run by Thomas Taig. This was the first full British reading. Dylan gave another on October 2 at the Tenby Arts Club. Raymond Garlick has given an extended description of the reading, and written a poem about it.[35]

A few days later, Dylan travelled to London and stayed in Hammersmith with Harry Locke while he waited for his flight to New York. There was, Laurence Gilliam of the BBC told Edwards, a "frenzy" of writing for the next five days. Locke has recalled that Dylan

"completed the final version of Under Milk Wood night after night at my kitchen table. I'd come down in the morning to a bleary-eyed Dylan still writing, the table littered with paper, beer bottles and cigarette ends."

But whether at the Boat House or in Hammersmith, Dylan added only forty-nine lines to the second half, comprising Eli Jenkins' sunset poem, and Waldo's chimney sweep song. He also added some sixty lines to the first half, mostly through rewriting existing passages.

Dylan arranged to have lunch with Cleverdon at Simpson's in the Strand on October 12, when he promised he would hand over the manuscript but neither he, nor the manuscript, turned up. Three days later, on October 15, Dylan arrived at the BBC and gave the much-relieved Cleverdon the "finished" manuscript but "it was clearly not in its final form." The first part was hand-written as a fair copy, ending at "…and you snored all night like a brewery." It was on this section of the play that Dylan had mainly worked in Laugharne and Hammersmith. The rest was the typed script prepared in America for the May 14 performance, with many corrections added by hand for the May 28 production in New York and the October reading in Tenby. This typed part, says Cleverdon, was in "an extremely disordered state." Eli Jenkins' poem, and Waldo's song were only "working drafts written on leaves torn from an exercise book…" (1969, pp35-38)

It is evident from Cleverdon's description that neither the four months in Laugharne, nor the five days in Hammersmith, had given Dylan the time or inspiration to revise, or even make a fair copy of, the ill-starred second half of the play that had been so hurriedly written in America. Cleverdon took this in hand, and had the script typed onto duplicating stencils at the BBC. He gave the manuscript back to Dylan who promptly lost it. Cleverdon came to the rescue and three copies were made from the BBC stencils and, just before his plane left for America, the copies were delivered to Dylan. A few days later, Cleverdon found the manuscript in the Helvetia pub in Old Compton Street in Soho.

Dylan arrived in New York on October 20, and added another thirty-eight lines to the second half from "Dusk is drowned" to "where the old wizards made themselves a wife out of flowers." Some of these lines had been drafted at Laugharne, and they were incorporated in the script for the two performances of Milk Wood given on October 24 and 25.

Dylan continued to work on the script for the version that was to appear in Mademoiselle, and for the performance to be given at the 1020 Art Center in Chicago on November 13. In his unpublished memoir, Ruthven Todd has described how Dylan did much of this further work in the basement of his house in Bank Street, on the west side of Greenwich Village. Dylan would invariably turn up with a hangover but Todd describes how a single can of beer would last a whole morning while Dylan and Liz Reitell worked together on the play. With Reitell sitting at Todd's typewriter, Dylan would perch on his captain's chair ("adequate for the tubbiness he had gained around the backside") and

"Glowering at the world in general, and at the dismalness of my basement, he would take some sheets from Liz. Upon these she had marked his tentative suggestions. Growling, he would try out the new words and the revisions. While doing this he would alter, still dispiritedly, from one voice to another. Thus, according to the character, he might be Captain Cat speaking at one moment, or Rosie Probert, and then, quite suddenly, it might be Mrs Organ Morgan or Mrs Ogmore-Pritchard or, sadly, Polly Garter...Each emendation which he had made...had to be considered and weighed in his mouth. If it did not seem right, he would lean forward, his elbows on his knees, the cigarette drooping with the ash falling where it would. He would savour each phrase to the full, speaking slowly and seeming to taste the words. Then he would experiment with a succession of words until he found one which satisfied him, for the moment at least...If I said something was not clear or did not come over properly, he did not want me to make any suggestions for alteration. He, himself, would throw out different words or phrases, twisting them this way or that, until he found something that he wanted."

All this work was almost in vain for Dylan yet again lost the script. Todd received a frantic phone call from Reitell and he set off to search through Dylan's favourite bars. He was on the point of giving up when he decided, somewhat reluctantly, to enter Louie's Bar on Sheridan Square, a gloomy basement joint that Dylan seldom went to. The barman produced a briefcase and from it Todd pulled a dirty shirt, an unopened bottle of Old Grandad and the "rumpled, dogeared, but intact, the much corrected typescript."[36]

There undoubtedly would have been further work done on the play for the Chicago reading but Dylan died on November 9. Later that month in London, Douglas Cleverdon continued work for the broadcasting of the play using the BBC script copies, as well as the revised script sent from New York by Ruthven Todd. But Cleverdon had competition: one of Dylan’s BBC colleagues, Erich Fried, had been asked to translate the play into German; working day and night, and helped by two secretaries, he finished the translation within a week.

Cleverdon just made it, and the first broadcast of the play went out on the BBC Third Programme on January 25 1954, and repeated two days later. But there was a complaint

"that reception of the Third Programme in Wales was so bad that few people had heard the broadcast…it had been virtually inaudible in Laugharne."

The Welsh Home Service, however, resisted attempts to broadcast the "lusty, Rabelaisian and uninhibited" play, which it thought unsuitable for

"family or home listening...Controller Wales reacts more strongly to it than I do, and his reasoning is only too sound in the context of this region as we know it." [37]

But the BBC German Service had no such qualms; it broadcast Fried’s translation of the play, Unter dem Milchwald, on March 10 1954, with a further broadcast on German radio on September 20. By now, a good many more German than Welsh listeners had enjoyed the play. Not surprisingly, Controller Wales soon relented and the sensitive listeners of Wales were allowed to hear their Milk Wood, eight days later, on September 28, on the BBC Welsh Home Service.

Under Milk Wood's first stage performance, as a play, took place a month later, November 1954, at the Théâtre de la Cour Saint-Pierre, Geneva, by Phoenix Productions, a company of experienced actors, with sound effects lent by the BBC. It was put on to mark both the first anniversary of Dylan’s death and to raise money for the Dylan Thomas Memorial Fund. [38]

A few weeks later, in January 1955, a French translation of the play was published in Les Lettres Nouvelles. [39]

Over the next few years, the play was performed in Germany, Edinburgh, New York and Mexico but banned in Cardiff. By 1957, it had already been translated into German, French, Dutch, Polish, Danish, Norwegian, Finnish, Japanese and Italian.

The play about a-Wales-that-never-was had been written almost entirely in England and America. At most, only some three hundred lines, about seventeen percent, of the play had been written at Laugharne, and some of these could well have been done in London. Claims that all, half, most, or even much, of Milk Wood had been written at the Boat House are unfounded.

Post Script

No script has survived that we can positively say is the "nearly finished" 1949 script mentioned in David Higham's letter. But I have identified a first-half script that predates the one Dylan gave to the BBC in October 1950. The manuscript of the first thirty five pages of this BBC script, provided for Walford Davies and Paul Ferris from the Texas archive, also includes a quantity of additional numbered work sheets. When these are separated out, they form a coherent sequence of pages, a single discrete text with no overlapping material or excess pages. The script has twenty-eight pages, five of which are missing. It is a working draft with many deletions and insertions, and the occasional instruction to improve the text.

The 28-page script, as I shall refer to it, ends with First Voice describing Beynon Butcher's shop, concluding with Mr Beynon's remark "He shd do Bess. It's his brother's." It then peters out with an unassigned sentence: "They grumble at the thought that maybe one day the Govt will make chapel compulsory for all children; will close the pubs; will conduct purges of immorality." This seems to be a note about how the play was to continue. In fact, Dylan changed the Beynons' "everymorning groan and grumble" of the 28-page script to their "everymorning hullabaloo" of the BBC script, and the scene takes the different, cat-eating turn that we know today.

There is no way of telling when the 28-page script was written out. But is it the text that Dylan discussed with Higham? It is only seven pages shorter than the 1950 BBC text, so it has sufficient length to correspond with Locke's comment that a "great deal" of the play had been written in 1947/48, and with the description that it was "nearly finished" in 1949. If it is not exactly the text discussed with Higham, then it must be very close to it and approximate to the body of work done at South Leigh.

The content of the 28-page script is substantially the same as that part of the play we know today, but without the section "In Butcher Beynon's" to "My foxy darling". It includes the two Voices, more than three-quarters of the cast list, and nearly all of the place, street and house names of the play, including Coronation Street, Milk Wood, Llareggub and the Dewi. If the first part was "nearly finished" at South Leigh in 1947/48, the inspiration for these people and names could not have come from Dylan's time at the Boat House. Ackerman's suggestion, for example, that the name Milk Wood was inspired by Dylan's view of Sir John's Hill from the Boat House now seems implausible.

The 28-page script includes lines that Dylan then crossed out. The Voice of a Guide Book tells us that "The one pub, the Sailors Arms, is a beer house only and offers no accommodation." Mr Pritchard was a Photographer Elite before becoming a failed bookmaker. There are also some details that add to my account (Thomas 2000) of how Dylan drew on New Quay for the play. The Fourth Drowned sailor asks "Knock three times for Liz?" This recalls the libidinous Liz in Dylan's 1943 New Quay pub poem. The Rev. Eli Jenkins and his morning poem are already well developed in the 28-page script, so it's possible that Dylan was drawing on New Quay's own white-haired bard, the Rev. Orchwy Bowen. Like Eli Jenkins, he intricately rhymed in strict metres; he had published some poetry before moving to New Quay, where he was a regular competitor in county eisteddfodau.[40]

In preparing to send the half-script to the BBC in October 1950, Dylan did more work on the play, probably in Laugharne, though some may have been done in London. He deleted a number of lines from the 28-page script, and made other small changes. Only two new characters were added between the 28-page and the BBC scripts - the Old Man and Ocky Sailors. Dylan then wrote out the 28-page script as a fair copy, adding just over a hundred lines to it, which correspond broadly to "Oh, d'you hear that, Lily?" to Captain Cat's lines "Organ Morgan's at it early…" which end the first half (this addition included the section about Willy Nilly doing his rounds, which was not in the 28-page script where Willy Nilly had only one line - "Fishing for puffins.") Dylan also added four pages in which the mad town plot develops. These additions to the 28-page script have the appearance of a working draft, not a fair copy.

Finally, it might to helpful to note the names that were not in the 28-page and BBC scripts, and which first appear in the script for the performance on May 14 1953. They were Salt Lake Farm, Mr and Mrs Utah Watkins, Gossamer Beynon, Mrs Willy Nilly, Mae Rose Cottage, Mrs Organ Morgan, Evans the Death, Bessie Bighead and Ocky Sailors became Sinbad Sailors.

David N. Thomas A version of this paper first appeared in Dylan Remembered 1935-1953, vol 2, Seren 2004


Many thanks to Walford Davies and Paul Ferris for their generous advice and help, and to Jeff Towns and Robert Williams for access to their collections. I am particularly grateful to Kasey Clark for carrying out research in Harvard and Boston on the reading of Under Milk Wood on May 3 1953. Thanks, too, to Tara Wenger at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin, the Dylan Thomas Estate, James Codd, Paul Johnson, Marc Lawton, Jean Migrenne, Josef Nesvadba, Daniel Thomas, Gianfranco Vanagolli, Liz Welch, Keith Davies, Sue Passmore, Griff Jenkins, James Partridge at Oxford for the Czech translation and Laura Bianconi for the Italian. Archive sources included the Dylan Thomas and David Higham Archives, Texas; Colin Edwards Archive, the National Library of Wales; La Bibliothèque de l'IMEC and the BBC Written Archives, Caversham. Photocopies of the many drafts and work sheets of Under Milk Wood, as well as copies of other material in the Thomas and Higham archives, were provided by the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center.


NLW = National Library of Wales.

The Colin Edwards archive of interviews is in the National Library of Wales. To read edited versions of the interviews, see Dylan Remembered 1914-1934 and Dylan Remembered 1935-1953 , 2 volumes, ed. David N. Thomas. Seren 2003, 2004.

[1] Ferris, 1977 and 1999 p2. Stephens 2000 p108. Ackerman 1998 Part IV and Davies 2000 p113 both seem to suggest that most of the play was written at the Boathouse.

[2] Tremlett 1993, pxxv; and "Laugharne and Under Milk Wood" in Dylan Remembered - Laugharne Festival Programme, 2003. Tremlett is also mistaken in his Chronology (1993, xxv) in dating the writing of the first half to 1951- the first half was sent to the BBC in late 1950.

[3] News Chronicle, November 25 1953

[4] Daily Express May 26 1978 and Western Mail November 4 1978. It was also the tourism authorities that helped to pay for a memorial plaque (a replica of the one in Westminster Abbey) that was erected in St Martin's Church, Laugharne, in October 1982.

[5] A. Thomas (2009) p21

[6] Hughes: interview with Colin Edwards in D. N. Thomas (2004) p75, Dylan Remembered 1935-1953, vol. 2, Seren. Review of Under Milk Wood, Sunday Times, March 7 1954.

[7] Denzil Davies, letter in the New Welsh Review, 51

[7a] Colin Edwards interviews: see Dylan Remembered 1935-1953, vol. 2, Seren.

[8] Gwen Watkins: letters to Douglas Cleverdon, February 9 and 18 1968, and quoted in Cleverdon 1969, p5; Theodore FitzGibbon, p156; Constantine FitzGibbon, p267. Ivy Williams: interview with Colin Edwards, op.cit..

[9] Cleverdon: January 22 1954 in the Radio Times. It has to be said that Cleverdon is not consistent in his dating of work on the play. This reference in January 1954 to New Quay is part of Cleverdon's first article on the subject, and it is closest in time to the events he describes. But in the Radio Times on June 28 1957, he noted that Dylan "conceived Under Milk Wood in 1947...he wrote the first half within a few months" i.e. Cleverdon here presumably has South Leigh in mind. On December 16 1966, he seems to confirm this in the Weekend Telegraph when he writes that "it took seven years to extract Under Milk Wood" from Dylan. But by the time of his 1969 book, Cleverdon thought it "unlikely" that Dylan had written much of the play at South Leigh. He then went on to conjecture that the first part "seems" mostly to have been written at the Boat House in Laugharne. By the time of Cleverdon's 1972 Introduction to the play, South Leigh and New Quay had been forgotten.

FitzGibbon: 1964, p237.

[10] Davin, 1985, p126. Davin writes that after the party he returned to his home in Notting Hill Gate. Davin dates the party as happening before the autumn of 1945. This means before September 30, the day on which he and his family moved from Notting Hill Gate to Oxford. Dylan's letters tell us he made visits to London from New Quay in January, May and June and from Blaencwm in August and September. The use of quatrains, probably much like those that conclude Quite Early One Morning, was largely to be abandoned as the play developed.

[11] See the letters of May 24, May 29, June 5 and July 19.

[12] The webfooted cocklewomen also appear in Dylan's letter to Margaret Taylor written in South Leigh in October 1948.

[13] 'Dylan Thomas', a programme transmitted on November 9 1963.

[14] Davenport's comment was in his pre-broadcast interview for Dylan Thomas, BBC Third Programme, 9/11/1963. He makes the same point in an article amongst his papers in the National Library of Wales.

[15] There was also an Italian POW working at Waunfforte farm opposite Blaencwm - see Dylan's letter to Oscar Williams of July 30 1945. See also From Laugharne to Rio Marina on this site.

[16] Organ Morgan playing for nobody (Cafe Royal, 1947) and playing for sheep (Prague, 1949) are both found in a passage at the end of the Davies and Maud definitive version of the play: "Organ Morgan goes to chapel to play the organ. He plays alone at night to anyone who will listen: lovers, revellers, the silent dead, tramps or sheep." (p61)

[17] Under Milk Wood at a party in Prague, 1949: see J. Hauková (1996) Záblesky života, H & H:Jinočany and translated at Thomas, D. N. (2004) p163. Hauková had previously given this information about Under Milk Wood and Prague in a letter to FitzGibbon (1965 p304). On Josef Nesvadba and Jan Grossman: see Thomas, D. N. (2004) pp 167, 169-170. Nesvadba has also confirmed this Prague party and Under Milk Wood in letters to David Thomas.

[18] David Higham archive, Texas.

[19] David Higham archive, Texas.

[20] The "awful" and "wretched" script of his autumn 1949 letters is now considered to be Vanity Fair (Ferris, 2000)

[21] Tenby Arts Club; in Cardiff, to the English Society at the university on October, as noted in its Minute Book (letter to David Thomas on June 19 2001 from Charles Elliott, secretary of the Society at the time.)

[22] Philip Burton left Cardiff and producing in October 1949 when he was made Chief Instructor at the BBC training school in London. Douglas Cleverdon then took over responsibility of getting Under Milk Wood finished and produced.

[23] The first two Cleverdon quotes in this paragraph are from the BBC archives, and the third from Cleverdon (1954b).

[24] See in particular Head of Copyright's memo of September 2 1952 to A/CTP about the "half-written programme" and Cleverdon's memo of August 26 1952 to Mrs Gray in Copyright about having only the first half of the script.( BBC Archives, Caversham.)

[25] The resolution was in an engagements book - see the footnote to his October 9 1952 letter to Cleverdon.

[26] All quotes from Brinnin are from his book Dylan in America (1955) pp186-227

[27] David Higham archive, Texas.

[28] Note to David Thomas April 8 2001.

[29] Interview, NET series, Colin Edwards archive, interviewer not known but could have been Edwards

[30] Notably the section "In Butcher Beynon's" to "My foxy darling" and forty-six lines added to the passage "Oh, d'you hear that, Lily?" to "Organ Morgan's at it early…"

[31] Interview, NET series, Colin Edwards archive, interviewer not known but could have been Edwards.

[32] BBC 1963 programme on Dylan.

[33] for example, mother-song for Evans the death, nightmare poem for Lord Cut-Glass, Eli Jenkins' poem to a swan.

[34] Davies and Maud, p82. In his July 6 letter to David Higham, Dylan had written: "Now, however, I am paying as much attention to the evening as, say, to the morning; & I hope to improve 'Milk Wood' very much structurally by this."

[35] The article is in Planet, February/March 1995, and the poem, "Dylan Thomas in Tenby", is in Raymond Garlick Collected Poems.

[36] The revised script was given to Mademoiselle in the week beginning November 26, as a note at the end of the text in the magazine confirms. A copy of the script with the revisions made in Todd's basement after the readings of October 24 and 25 was sent by Todd to Cleverdon after Dylan's death. See Cleverdon, 1969, p42.

[37] BBC archives, Caversham. For more on Erich Fried, see S.W. Lawrie (1994) Dylan Thomas's Work in German Translation


[38] The cast for this performance of UMW: Avril Hall, who was also the producer, Jane Vaughan, Richard Hanson, Kenneth Grinling, Alan Lancaster, Paul Lawton and Frederick Fuller. They were a group of actors, most of whom worked in NGOs in Geneva, such as the World Health Organisation. Hall, Vaughan and Grinling all had considerable experience in British repertory. Lawton had been in amateur dramatics since his Cambridge days and was also a member of the Geneva English Drama Society.

Three of the cast had Welsh connections:

Phoenix Productions was run by Frederick Fuller and his wife Pat. For more on Fuller’s singing career, see

For more on Fuller and Dudley Moore, see

[39]The French translation, Le Bois de Lait, by Roger Giroux was published in instalments in Les Lettres Nouvelles, the first in January 1955, with two further instalments in February and March.

[40] Bowen's sons, Geraint and Euros, were winners of the Chair and Crown in post-war National Eisteddfodau.


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