South Leigh residents talk about Dylan Thomas

The radio journalist, Colin Edwards, travelled to South Leigh in the late 1970s to interview those who had known Dylan during his time in the village, from August 1947 to May 1949. The interviews were tape recorded. They were transcribed and edited in 2003, and published in    D. N. Thomas (2004) Dylan Remembered 1935-1953, vol 2., Seren. The original tape recordings are in the Colin Edwards archive in the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth.

 Edited transcripts: © D. N. Thomas


Bill Green - Bill Mitchell - Lionel Drinkwater - Ethel Gunn - Dosh Murray - Harry Locke

BILL GREEN

I remember when he first came to the village, with his old caravan. He came down to my grandfather and asked him if he could park it in his land down the road – which he did. And from that period we met him every night...he was a grand man. And used to write a lot of poetry. He used to recite a lot in the bar of the local...

What was your work at that time? 

I was driving for the City of Oxford Motor Services, which I was there for twenty-seven years…buses in Oxford. On the Witney depot – Oxford to Witney. Witney, Burford and all the way round… as I said, he was a decent gentleman. He knew his job and he could write. When he put his mind to writing he could write good poetry.

 Who were running the Mason Arms in those days?[1]

 Mr and Mrs Albert Hopkins. My mother and father – which was Herbert Green – kept the post office... after coming out of the public bar, [Dylan] used to come back to them for supper and another drink. I used to go where I lived, next door. I used to go in and play the piano for him and his wife. Play all the Welsh hymns and songs, and really have a good beano there. And he usually finished up we had to put him in the car and take him to his caravan, the worse for what he drank...under the influence he was a very difficult man, but a very good-natured man. Never caused any trouble. We used to undress him and put him into bed, until the next morning.

 ..he used to, like everyone after worse for drink, to argue some, ‘bout something. But I never saw him in any fights, or really any great arguments. I took him about in the car all over the place in Oxfordshire, different public houses, different hotels; and I never see him cause any trouble whatsoever when I been with him. But now and again, when he’d had a few - when he was on his beers, he was all right. But when he went onto his spirits, then you’d got to watch him. And I used to put my hand down and say “Well, look, that’s enough for tonight. Have another beer, we’ll go.” And that used to be the end of it.

 The time he came to South Leigh, did they move straight into the Manor House?

 No, no. When he first came to South Leigh, I suppose he was in this caravan for about three months...just the wife. The children weren’t here...it was one of these old-fashioned gypsy caravans, all painted different colours, golden-brown and... wheels painted brown and yellow, and the iron round the wheels. It had a small bed in there, each side, for two, which was folded up, two single ones each side...then he’d got his table in the front. He used to push the rear and sit looking out, into the sky. With his knees under the table, and writing away. In the front they had an old primus stove with a kettle and an old paraffin convector heater thing, very old-fashioned one. They lived in it nearly three months.

What did they do for cooking, and washing up?

Oh, they just, used to have everything from tins and soups. Come up to my father’s for dinner and suppers...no water supply, but a little tap on the edge of the lane.

 Where did they get it [the caravan]?

It came, I think, by truck to Witney and they hired a horse...one of Mr Parsel's horses and fetched it from Witney.

 ...then they had this house, the Manor, which is across the fields and when he moved all his goods and papers, I went down with the car and helped them move it all down to the Manor House. And on this occasion he gave me a lot of  papers that hadn’t been published...he put it all into a box and say “Here you are Bill, you can have this.” Of course, I brought it home and it was in the shed for a very, very long time, and I thought, well, this is just a lot of rubbish, so I took it up the garden and just put a match to it. Much to my resentment now, which I hear about Dylan Thomas.

Was it Margaret Taylor who owned it?

That owned it, yes, they became very great friends. Used to come down here nights.

She was devoted to Dylan – to his work, yes?

Oh yes, she used to get all his papers out, you know, unpublished papers and read them all through...but I never saw anything between them at all, or any...

...I think Harry Locke and Mrs Sewell really introduced him to South Leigh.    And of course, he used to go up there a lot to see them. [for more on Taylor, Locke and Sewell, see Family and Friends: Who's Who on this site.]

...the Manor House lays right back in the fields. And in the winter, when we had a lot of rain, it was absolutely impossible to get there for water, floods. And he used to put on a pair of thigh boots, and I used to meet him at the gate on the road, and take him where he wanted to go, which pub he wanted to go to. Or come up to see my father. Or take him up to see the clergyman, whichever it was, very often. [Rev. Frank Freeman, vicar from 1934 to 1956, a former naval chaplain.]

The clergyman – the vicar?

The vicar, yes. 

Church of England?

Yes, Church of England, yes...and sit up and have a talk with him and after waiting for him some time he used to go and say “Look, I’m ready to go.” And he’d come out and bring back to father’s house, stay there and have a few drinks and tell a few yarns. Most of them dirty, but still - that’s beside the point. And he would go around and say “Well, I‘ve got to put my knees under the table,” he’d say, “and do some writing.”

What was his routine?

He used to come up here and have his pint first. In the morning. He’d go straight down and get his knees under the table...just have his eleven o’clock drink in the morning...just a light beer which then used to be from Burford. It was Garne’s beer then.

And then he’d go back home?

Ten thirty, eleven o’clock. He used to say, “Get my knees under the table.” That was always his expression.

When would you see him next?

In the evening he would have a walk up, just as far as Dad’s, sit out talking, have a drop of home made wine. He’d then go along to the public house at about half-past nine. Come back to Dad’s again, sometimes till about twelve.

...then he just wrote for days and days without drinking. And then he came up again. He said “I’m getting tired of this, Herbert.” He said “I’m gonna have a drink.”

You said Dylan sang Welsh hymns, but Dylan didn’t speak any Welsh.

Well, he used to break – well, an abrupt Welsh he used to sing...oh yes, he used to recite and all in Welsh, I’m sure he did.

I think he was fooling you!

...but I’m sure some of the poems he wrote, he used to recite some of them in Welsh, anyway. I’m ruddy sure of that.

...he [Bill McAlpine] was an Irish man and Dylan was a Welsh man - well, that meant two periods of drink: St Patrick's Day and -

You mean he celebrated St David’s Day?

Oh yes, he most certainly did! I remember once it came on a Thursday...I took them all in to Witney, the pub down Corn Street – the Angel. And that’s where they stopped. They drank theirselves drunk and they drank theirselves sober. They came back here, in this room we got, we’re sitting now - they brought the whisky and beers with them – they just sat here and drunk ‘til about two o’clock in the morning. You couldn’t make them drunk any more ‘cause they just got past it. I got the car out and I took Bill McAlpine home first, and I took Dylan down to the Manor after. [for more on the McAlpines, see Family and Friends: A Who's Who on this site.]

What was his health like in this period?

I think his health wasn’t all that good. He used to smoke a terribly lot...took him to the doctor in Hensham and he gave him some pills and it sort of brought him back more, return like, back of all the drinking.

Oh, he did give up the drinking for a while?

Yes, I think that’s why he packed up. He had to.

What do you remember of Caitlin, and what about their relationship?

Some time they were real husband and wife, next time they were foreigners to one another. But on the whole I think she kept him in hand...and I think she was an ex-Windmill girl, according to her dancing – because she could really dance...I used to play the piano to them.

At your father’s house, in the post office?

Father’s house, yes, yes – she used to do all the dancing there...Yes – yes, yes. She used to show all, take all her dressing off and really come down to brass tacks… 

Pardon? What was that? She used to what? 

Take all her, all her top dress and that off, you know. 

You mean dance bare-breasted! 

Oh no, no, no, no, no – no. 

Oh, I see. 

She still had the top part on, you know – just the dress, the long dress she used to wear.            I never saw her in a short dress, all my life. She always had a long dress on, always. 

So down to her, what do they call it – petticoat or something. 

That’s right, yes. We used to clear the table back to the side of the room, and I used to get on the piano and used to play it for her and she was really good.

...and another thing - he used to come up here and just sit on the side of the bank out here and get his pen out – that’s when he thought of something coming up that what he should write down. And he just sat out on the road and used to write...made notes all the time, yes. And even when he was taking to a pub, before he’d have enough to drink, if he had a dialect of someone, he used to put them in his purse or something else, and make a note of that.

You mentioned that you took him on little trips. What was the purpose of the trips? Was it just a pub crawl or what?

It was a pub crawl, but he just wanted to learn the people who got in there and see what information he could get from going into this pub...on a tour, used to go up and stay in about half an hour in one. Perhaps if he got interested in there, he’d stay for an hour. Or if he didn’t like it, he’d just have one drink and away...within a twelve-mile radius I should think, actually. Stanlake. Abingdon. I been to some in Oxford, but not many – he didn’t like Oxford pubs at all. He couldn’t get on with Oxford – he said too crowded and too snob-nosed there.

Did Dylan go up to London?

Oh, he used to stay up in London perhaps for four or five days at a time. Writing his scripts at the BBC. And he used to come down here and run through them with some of the staff and what have you, and he would go up there again and I suppose they would make a recording of it...the train ran right the way through to Oxford...used to have three – five trains a day to Oxford.

...he was a genuine friend, there’s no doubt about that.

[1]   The pub was and is called the Mason Arms - no apostrophe "s". The local landowners had been the Mason family. 


BILL MITCHELL

How long have you lived in South Leigh? 

Fifty years come the fourth of November this year…I came from South Wales up here. 

So you had some things to talk about South Wales, with Dylan? 

Well, yes. 

What were you doing here?

I was in charge of the railway station here…

…he was very sociable. Nice to talk to. And he had a bit of an impediment in his speech. He used to sort of stutter now and again. Then when he went and started talking, it come out fluently. He’d got this little impediment in his speech, but that prevented him from mixing in with the upper crust, like...but when he went to the ‘phone or anything like that, he was as clear as a bell. Or when he was saying anything like a bit of poetry or a line of anything it was as clear as anything. 

What do you remember of Caitlin? 

Oh, she was a lovely girl. She used to dance up in the pub, up on the tables in there...oh yes, lovely dancer – do the handstand, cartwheel on the table – yes...he encouraged it...Caitlin was quite an enjoyable person to be with...oh, she was a peach of a girl. 

...I wouldn’t say he worked every day with special hours. He used to do his bit of work in the caravan and the next thing you’d know, he’d be up the road, him and Bill [McAlpine], they’re off to Witney...the only time I went out with Dylan on drinks was when we used to go with darts, down at the different villages, down at Glanfield and Alvescot. Used to have night trips from the village in a coach. 

The regulars at the pub would organise it?

I don’t know who actually organised it at the time. Chap called Bill Russell, I believe.[1]

Yes, I see. The McAlpines were here all the time Dylan was here? 

Oh yes, they was together with them. I don’t know whether they went off when they went. 

And Harry Locke was here, too. 

Yes, Harry Locke and Cordelia. Oh, I know Harry Locke quite well. 

Harry Locke was living in the cottage down Chapel Lane? At the same time? [2]

Yes, when Dylan was down the bottom there…I can’t remember where Bill was living. 

What would Dylan be drinking there? Always beer?

...I’ve never known him drink spirits...oh, he was a good drinker. I wouldn’t say very much, no...I’ve never known him boisterous. Of course, he wasn’t going to put up with anybody’s cheek or anything like that – well, nor would anybody...he was very good tempered. 

...very seldom had anything to eat, I don’t think. I can’t remember him eating anything. Not in the way of bun, or anything. 

So at lunchtime he was drinking his lunch, was he? 

I should think so, yes. Working man’s lunch that, isn’t? He was a bit tight for money very often, because I used to have to wait for my paper money for a long, long time… I used to do the papers. 

Did he borrow a lot of money from people? 

Never borrowed any off me. But his paper bills, he was a long time paying them, you see.

So he didn’t have a reputation in South Leigh for sponging off people? 

Oh no, no, no. He never borrowed any money off me, anyhow. Nor never borrow any off anybody else... 

Now, this is a receipt you’ve got for Dylan’s papers? 

*[The interview is halted whilst Mitchell shows Edwards a handful of receipts for the settling of Dylan's paper bills from 1947-1949. The receipts are  dated May 19 1950, February 28 1951 and July 12 1951. These bills were settled after Dylan had come into funds: the May 19 receipt seems to have been a payment by Caitlin with the $50 sent by Dylan from America (Letters, May 7 1950); the February 28 after Dylan had just returned from Iran; and the July 12 after Dylan had received money from Oscar Williams and Princess Caetani (Letters, July 10 and 18, 1951). In other words, Dylan took pains to settle these bills, some considerable time after they had been incurred - he was under no compulsion to do so, as he was living in Laugharne at the time.]

What about his attitude to women? Because in America people said that he was chasing women. 

Never known anything to do with women while he was here. ‘Cause we all used to go together, and my wife used to come, and then we used to go down to these other places for darts and one thing and another in the coach. 

...the wife and I were down in Titchfield in Hampshire, when the news came through of his death out there. And the first thing I said “That’s that blumin’ hot stuff they drink out there.” 

Did Caitlin come back here later? 

Oh, she came back here two or three times. 

To visit friends here? 

Well, Mrs Green that used to be at the shop, where the post office is now. Just to see the people in the village, see people she knew...she never brought the children with her, I don’t think. I don’t remember seeing the kiddies after they went away.       

[1] See Dylan's letters of June 20 and August 3 1947 to Margaret Taylor, mentioning  a Bob Russell.

[2] Sewell and Locke lived in The Cottage, now called Acre Cottage.

                         

LIONEL DRINKWATER 

I was cowman up at the Church Farm...and that was ‘bout 1948, I s’pose. I lived along the bottom of the village here then, just along the bottom row. We used to see him go by...every head was out of the window to see him come along when he was going to the pub, ‘cause they know they was out for a good night! 

Do you know why Margaret Taylor chose this village? Did she have a previous connection with it? 

I don’t think so. The Manor was for sale, wasn’t it, and she came and bought it. And put Dylan and his wife in...Mrs Taylor used to come down here, just for breakaways from Oxford, I s’pose, because she was an Oxford don’s wife, wasn’t she? 

Yes. Did she live in the Manor with Dylan and Caitlin, or did she have a separate place? 

I think they all lived together. They’d got their own bedrooms, separate bedrooms and whatnot. They all lived together when I was there, when I ever went there. 

...Dylan was here before Margaret bought that...‘cause he lived along in the caravan...he was on his own, and then about three – maybe six – months after Margaret bought that and...I’m not sure that she didn’t lodge here before they went to the Manor. 

When was the first time you saw Dylan? 

I think I was along at the local and he came in and he was a very good-natured bloke, and I was told "Keep the right side of him, you’ll have a pint.” 

He was generous? 

When he’d got it, he was very generous. 

He had a reputation amongst some people of being a sponger on his friends. Was that true? 

Well – yes and no. He knew where he could and where he couldn’t, if you understand the meaning! The people that he was in with, outside the village, that used to come, they used to get out of him what they could...he didn’t seem to have the valuation on money as such – he’d let it go whilst he’d got it. Then, if he hadn’t got the money, he’d tell the landlord straight “I’m not paying for this.” ‘Course, they all knew him, and he was trusted. 

...when he come down the pub he was always just ordinary. You know, open shirt, everything. And I don’t think he was a feller as found the cold much. I think he’d got a very good constitution. He seemed always amiable that way. 

...she was highly excitable, you know. If you went out on a bus, it was nothing for her to do a cartwheel down the middle of the bus. That’s plus dancing on the table...she’d get up there and do the Spanish dance as nice as pie...she was as much a boozer as him. She could put it back, but she could carry it...Dylan was one of those fellers then you could not judge. He might be putting it on for the benefit of other people, to see what other people’s reactions would be to him, try to think he hadn’t got his wits about him. 

He liked telling stories about things that had happened to him – that was his form of humour, wasn’t it? 

Oh yes, yes. It was always, “it happened to me” – always. He’d never tell a story about, you know, like anybody getting up, like telling stories about of Irishman. It was always him. Always him, in his younger days, when he was a child. He’d tell you his history...oh, very interesting. I was interested in the man; I liked being in his company. 

Mr Mitchell has told me of outings they’d take, some regulars at the Mason Arms would go on outings. 

Oh yes, we used to have the coach out from Witney, and oh, they’d all muck in and come with us. They were good company. We’d go to Bampton – always the New Inn which is just been renamed the Morrisman...Ampleforth, I think, up Eddington. Then come back to the Bannock Gate, the Britannia. We always finished up at Ban at the Brit. 

Did Dylan ever read his poetry or any of his writings in the pubs?

No. No – he’d never divulge none of it. It’s said that Dylan preferred the company of ordinary people, rather than the academics and the intellectuals. 

Well, he was very much like that. He was more with the poorer class in this village than he was with the upper class of it...he was a very good judge of, he could tell you what a person was...whether he was any good. 

Did you get anything from him about his attitude to women? 

He never seemed a woman’s man to me – unless there was anything between him and Mrs Taylor, I wouldn’t know...he was never what I’d term a ladies’ man...he was men’s company more than a woman’s...he was more at home with a man’s company, in my opinion...in that day, when they were here, there was no nothing, no neck in the women...it’s more so recent years...that they’ve had open and showed their bosoms, boobs or whatever they call them. But he was never like that. I don’t think he – well, he may have despised women, I don’t know, but I don’t think so, but as I say, he preferred a man’s company here.

 

ETHEL ANN GUNN

August 29 1979, and I’m in the home of Ethel Ann Gunn, The Cottage, Station Green, South Leigh, who's  ninety-three. What was your first encounter with Dylan?

...on Thursdays, my sister and I used to catch the ten o’clock train into Witney, and Dylan came in, and shared our railway compartment, and that’s how we first met. And he often did that...we went in for shopping but I really didn’t inquire what he did...he’d usually come back again on the midday train.

...Dylan came here several times...he’d come and have a chatter, you know, and then go. We used to talk about everyday things...he scarcely ever spoke of his work in any way. Not to me...perhaps we didn’t give him the chance...he’d just hop in and out again, just when he felt inclined.

...we used to have a small dramatic society and Dylan always came for the dress rehearsals, and just passed his opinion on the characters...he’d tell us if he liked our costumes or if he didn’t, and if we’d done well in the parts...oh, we used to look forward to his coming...he didn’t take part in it but Mrs McAlpine, of course, entered into the characters with us...Mrs Hopkins at the pub...she was the producer.

He made a lot of friends in the village?                                                                   

Ooh, yes – he was very popular....he was never disagreeable – slightly moody sometimes, but never disagreeable. Always trying to look on the bright side of things.     

...he was typically Welsh...he was always proud of being Welsh, wasn’t he? That he’d always speak well of anything Welsh. 

He didn’t get a reputation for drunkenness here? Because that’s been talked about 

a lot.                                                                                                                        

Yes. I know it is, but I actually never met that...I had the BBC people down here several times...and they particularly said about the drunkenness, so I said “I never met it.” And I said ”I think if there was anything, your people were worse than he was.” 

 

Dorothy 'Dosh' Murray (née Worley) 

I wasn’t born here. I was born in Wallingford [1906]. Mrs Hopkins [Mary Hopkins, landlady of the Mason Arms, South Leigh] was my aunt...when I was eighteen, she asked me if I’d like to come and live with her. I’ve always loved the country, so I came...have lived here ever since...almost like her daughter, you know. They had no family. 

Tell us about the Hopkinses.

My uncle [Albert Hopkins] farmed the land, about three hundred acres on both sides of the road up to the corner there. His father had the inn before him. In those days it was known as Ivy Farm...uncle was really quite the John Bull type, thick-set and stout. And he mostly wore plus-fours, and very jolly, nice outlook on life...he was a great cricket fan...I think my uncle spent part of his life in Wales...my aunt was a complete hostess, she was very social, she liked social life and did a lot of good here, really. They were ardent churchgoers...they never opened on Sundays. 

So your uncle and aunt had a farm in addition to the…

Yes, it was called Ivy Farm – it was more farm than inn then, you see.  I loved it better as it was than it is now...the present sign over it [1979] was painted by Mr Hopkins’ nephew, Tom Farr – he’s an architect, he lives at North Leigh.

They had dairy cattle? 

Milking herd. ‘Bout thirty. They used to make their own butter…He had a little, dear little old lady, who used to do more or less everything, you know. She used to fill all the lamps of the house, daily...and she used to feed the calves, she used to look after the ducks, she was a most wonderful person. 

…but these were in the early days, when I first came here, and there were enormous bowls of cream. You know, we never thought of slimming in those days. They had lashings of cream on everything –well, people now, they would say you were crazy

But how did he manage to have the farm and then keep the inn going?

And the coal, yes. He was a coal merchant as well.

So he had to have people helping him?

Yes, he had three or four men, helping him, always...one of them used to come into the pub in the evening [Steve Claridge].

Did he have any barmaids?

No. Just aunty or me…anyone that was around. ‘Course, it wasn’t like it is now, swarmed out every night.

They didn’t serve food there at all?

No, no. But if anyone came and wanted to stay…they never refused; if anyone came and wanted to stay, they wouldn’t refuse them.

They didn’t  list themselves as accommodations?

No, no, no, no…my aunt had it full of all antique furniture. She had four-poster beds…it was delightful...but upstairs now, the doors are just ordinary doors; we used to have latches on before…it really was charming, and she had it as it should be…I loved it better as it was than it is now…it’s very efficient now, but a bit Continental, isn’t it?

When Dylan came here you were...? 

I was married, living here, but I used to go frequently to my aunt’s...Dylan was a very nice little man – I met him on many occasions. 

When would he come down to the Mason Arms? 

Mornings, when they were out for a cycle ride – when he and Caitlin were out. They used to go for bicycle rides round the country...and they would drop in – well, I don’t know whether I should divulge this, but there was something wrong with their plumbing. She used to come to my aunt’s to have a bath...that used to bring her along, and if my aunt was baking cakes in the kitchen, he’d love to go and sit in there with her and have a little cake out of the oven...and, of course, my uncle sold coal, and so he ordered coal from him...he [Dylan] just used to call...nothing regular about it, just when he felt he wanted to drift in and talk – he used to like to talk about the country...he would have a little half-pint...and drink some of that with a cake. 

Now, when Dylan was here, he was doing scripts for BBC largely.

He was writing Under Milk Wood.

Oh, writing Under Milk Wood here?

Yes – because, you know that one of the names in Under Milk Wood is Proberts, isn’t it? Well, that was the name of one of my uncle’s cowmen… Harry Proberts…I often wonder if that’s where he did get it from. [i]

Did he talk about him, about Under Milk Wood when he was here, when he was working on it?

No. He just used to say “I must hurry home and do some more work.”

Oh. He didn’t say what he was working on.

No, no - we didn’t know what it was called until afterwards.

How would you describe him?                                                                     

Very likeable, very unassuming, quiet and yet happy...very friendly with everyone...you’d have just thought he was, apart from his accent, just one of the village people....I think, perhaps, you could say he was rather nervy. Nervy, would you call it? Yes, I think perhaps you could say that. 

...he used to talk to my aunt – he wrote us our Christmas play...but unfortunately, when my aunt moved house...her two sisters came, and they must have burnt it on a bonfire...it would have been priceless, wouldn’t it? 

Your aunt, Mrs Hopkins, was very active in local dramatic work? 

Yes, she produced plays...we had what they call a Mothers’ Union, which wasn’t at all stuffy, as people think Mothers’ Unions are, and we used to do a Christmas Nativity play. We started during the War, to make some entertainment, and then we did Passion plays and we thoroughly enjoyed it. 

Some people have accused Dylan of being a sponger... 

His dealings with uncle were scrupulously honest and businesslike, you know. He would sometimes order a crate of beer, little orders he had – but coal chiefly and logs, and it was always – as I remember – nothing dubious about it, or long paying. 

He never left your uncle with a big bill unpaid? 

Ooh no - no, no, no. Quite honest about all of it. 

Did Dylan ever talk about politics at all when he was here? 

Not to me - I don’t know whether he did to my uncle or not. He was rather more of a man’s man, I think – he enjoyed men’s company rather than female company. 

In America the people say that he was after the women... 

Yes, that’s what I can’t believe, that’s what I cannot understand. I cannot accept that, really – unless he changed drastically. I don’t know if anything happened to him, whether he became ill...mentally ill. That wasn’t the Dylan we knew... 

Of course, here he was drinking beer. 

I’ve never seen him what I call drink too much....I should think, perhaps, when he went there they overwhelmed him with...and that got hold, I don’t know...to me that’s unbelievable – the picture they made of him. So sad – I thought it was dreadful. 

When was the last time you saw Dylan?

They had a farewell party next door, at the cottage.

At Harry Locke’s cottage?

Yes. Cordelia’s, we called it in those days. They had a farewell party. It was called a bottle party. We went, my husband and I. You take a bottle with you, you know. But they started dancing, and I don’t dance. I came home before it was over.

...there was a woman who used to work for them, named Mary Walters. She was very devoted to the children, and I think they used to come back and see her sometimes. [ii]

What is the most striking memory you have of Dylan? 

Well, just a very nice, unassuming, happy little man, who was interested in all country things and just a very normal person...I often think about them.

[i] A William Proberts, a cowman, is listed on the 1939 Register for South Leigh.

 [ii] Mary Walters is mentioned in Dylan's letters of April 21 and 22 1948. She also looked after Dylan's parents, as well as Aeronwy and Llewelyn.


 Harry Locke

We first met in 1946 at a party. I told Dylan a story and it made him laugh so much he had to go out of the room and be sick! It was in London at Bill and Helen McAlpine's flat and we took to each other straight away…I didn't know a thing about his poetry. [for more on the McAlpines, Margaret Taylor, Harry Locke and Cordelia Sewell, see Family and Friends: A Who's Who on this site.]

…he was with the BBC. He took me up to Oxford, up to South Leigh, and I remember we were sitting in the train, and he said "I'll read you my new poem." And he read it to me and I said, "Well I don't understand a word of it. What does it mean?" He said "Don't ask me boy - I don't know either!" 

...he was on a train journey and he felt a bit hungry. He'd got a sandwich in his pocket and he took it out and started to eat it, and opposite him were two American GIs, who were watching every single move. He thought he'd like to start writing, so he took out a pencil and an envelope - he always wrote on the back of envelopes - and he started to write this poem. And he was still eating his sandwich at the same time. And his pencil broke, so he took out a razor blade and he started to sharpen the pencil, and still these two GIs were watching him like mad, and he was terribly conscious of it, with the ham sandwich and the envelope and the pencil and the razor blade. So he said "I put the envelope in the ham sandwich with the razor blade and the pencil and threw it out of the window!" 

Was he living in South Leigh then? 

Yes, at The Manor...a beautiful, old rambling house with about two, three acres in which they grew grass. They grew grass until it was about seven feet tall and Caitlin would be out there with an enormous scythe, hacking away at this grass and she said "I hope to God none of the children are in here!" 

…South Leigh was lovely, and everybody in South Leigh loved Dylan. They absolutely adored him. Of course, he was a shove ha'penny champion at the local pub…oh God, he was absolutely superb at shove ha'penny…at The Turf in Oxford where they've got a board that nobody's touched except the very experts for about a hundred years, Dylan was the only man who was allowed to play on it…when I used to try he'd say "You've got to see the patterns, Harry - you've got to see where they're going, otherwise you'll never play at all." And he was superb. 

…now, in South Leigh, Dylan used to write in a caravan…it came from Margaret Taylor and he said to her one day in the pub "You’ve never given me anything." She said: "What do you mean, Dylan? What about the suit you're wearing?  You only bought it the day before yesterday." 

He said "Oh yes, I know, but, for instance, you've never given me a caravan." And she said, "Do you want a caravan?" And he said "Of course, I want a caravan. I want a caravan to work in!" 

And she said, "Alright, Dylan, I'll get you one." And I knew that Dylan was thinking of one of these aluminium towed trailers. A couple of days later, it was delivered in his garden at The Manor, a hand-painted gypsy's caravan. And he took me there one day, he said "Come on, boy, I'll read you something that I've just written." And he took me into the caravan, and it was full of flies, big bluebottles - and brown bottles! And a drawer full of papers! I said: "Dylan - open the window!  It stinks in here!" 

You mentioned The Mason Arms 

The landlord of the Mason's was a very nice old bloke but his wife was a real old termagant…she was terrible and she used to come down in her nightie at ten o'clock, and say "Now come along!  All out, everybody out!" 

And all these old ploughboys: "Ar, well, oo-ar, ow, we'd bedder be goin'."

Then she'd say "And that means you Mr Thomas, as well." 

And he said "Look at that!  How can you say it's time with a notice like that on the wall?"  Which said "Christ is the invisible listener." 

Had you worked professionally with Dylan? 

No, except he was instrumental in getting me my first job. In No Room at the Inn. That was a film. 

Dylan wrote a part specifically for you, didn't he?

Yes.  Part of the tobacconist.  As well as No Good Boyo! He said he'd written a part for me and then when I heard it on the radio, first of all, I didn't get it.  I asked him and I said: “Come on Dylan, what was the part you wrote for me?  He said "No Good Boyo." I said: "You sod!"

* The complete interview with Locke about his friendship with Dylan Thomas can be found in  D. N. Thomas (2004) Dylan Remembered 1935-1953, vol 2., Seren. 

 

 




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