A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE DYLAN THOMAS SOCIETY OF GREAT BRITAIN
The Society has been in existence for thirty-five years. It was founded in 1977 on the initiative of two of Dylan’s oldest friends – the composer Daniel Jones and the sculptor Ronald Cour – who were responding to a widely felt concern that Dylan’s achievements as a writer were being overshadowed in certain quarters by too much attention to other aspects of his life and that it was time for a literary society in his name to be established in his home town.
The Inaugural Meeting, held in Swansea on November 9th 1977 under the Chairmanship of the late Timothy Perkins, attracted 135 Founder Members and was attended by Dylan’s daughter, Aeronwy Thomas Ellis, who together with her husband Trefor presented a programme of readings from her father’s work. Also present was Swansea’s Deputy Mayor, Councillor Susan Jones, another lifelong supporter of the Society.
An early Dylan Thomas Society event at the Antelope, Mumbles
with Tim Perkins, John Rhys Thomas Megan Evans, Valerie Davies
and Dudley Evans.
Some time later Ted Hughes (who became Poet Laureate in 1984) accepted the Society’s invitation to become its President, and remained so until his death in 1999.
The main aim of the Society is to foster serious interest in the life and works of Dylan Thomas, and over the years much has been done to fulfill this ambition. In addition to its regular programme of events – both literary and social – the Society has produced several publications and recordings, has established worldwide links (including performances of Under Milk Wood in New York and Vancouver) and has invited a number of well-known writers, actors, academics and poets to speak at its annual Birthday Dinner, held in Swansea every October. (These speakers are listed elsewhere on this website.)
Another important annual event, arranged by kind permission of the Dean of Westminster, is the November Wreath-laying Service at Poets’ Corner, where a stone to Dylan was unveiled in 1982 [ a project initiated by U.S President Jimmy Carter and helped to fruition by the society's efforts]. This short ceremony is always well attended, not only by members of the Society, but by those visitors to the Abbey who happen to be in the vicinity of Poets’ Corner when the service is announced. Below is the Abbey’s description of the stone:
A memorial stone to Welsh poet Dylan Thomas was unveiled in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey on 1 March 1982. It lies between memorials to Lord Byron and George Eliot and is made of green Penrhyn stone, sculpted by Jonah Jones. The inscription, with a quote from his poem Fern Hill, reads:
27 October 1914
9 November 1953
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea
Buried at Laugharne
The opening of the Dylan Thomas Centre in 1995-96 brought with it many benefits for the Society, not least the use of the Centre for meetings and other events, including the aforementioned Birthday Dinner. There were occasions, too, when the Society was invited to participate in the DylanThomas Festival, one particularly memorable production being Gilbert Bennett’s dramatisation of the Majoda Incident Trial, which was a sellout!
In 2003, the 50th Anniversary of Dylan’s death, the Centre was made available to the Society for a whole weekend when we hosted the AGM of the Alliance of Literary Societies and arranged a programme of Dylan-related visits, talks, seminars – and a dinner with entertainment by the DylanThomas Players – for around 90 delegates from a wide range of British and Irish Literary Societies. Our visitors were greatly impressed by the Centre and the warm welcome they received from its staff.
No account of the Society since its inception would be complete without tributes to three remarkable people who are sadly no longer with us: Gilbert Bennett, Dr.Rodney Hughes, and Aeronwy Thomas Ellis.
Gilbert, who chaired the Society for many years until ill-health forced him to stand down, will be remembered as a man of vision and integrity whose dedication to the Society led to many worldwide contacts – not least the links with Vancouver. After his death in 2003 the Dylan Thomas Circle of Vancouver presented the Dylan Thomas Centre with a plaque in his memory which was unveiled at a special event in the autumn of 2003.
Rodney Hughes, who took over the Chair from Gilbert in the late 1990s, made an invaluable contribution to the activities of the Society. He, too, was an enthusiast with an impressive depth of knowledge about Dylan. His meticulously organised excursions into Dylan’s Carmarthenshire will be long and happily remembered by many. After moving to North Wales in 2000 he kept in regular touch with the Society until his death.
Aeronwy Ellis Thomas at the DYLAN THOMAS CENTRE SWANSEA
Dylan’s daughter Aeronwy became the Society’s President on the death of Ted Hughes in 1999. Engaging, charismatic, with a lovely smile and a distinctive speaking voice, she gave the Society – and the Centre – her unstinting support until her untimely death in 2009.
Happily, the role of President has now been taken on by her daughter Hannah, who is already much involved in the planning of the many events – both at home and abroad – that will make 2014, the Centenary of Dylan’s birth, yet another year to remember.
HRH Prince Charles, Aeronwy and Jeff Towns at the DYLAN THOMAS CENTRE