Dylan Thomas’s radio masterpiece brought back to life 70 years on

A famous radio broadcast by poet Dylan Thomas about Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod is being recreated to mark its 70th anniversary. 

The reading from actor, writer and director Celyn Jones will form the centrepiece of a mini programme of events to celebrate the literary magician’s 15-minute masterpiece on the BBC’s Home Service when he visited in 1953. 

The vivid verbal images conjured an enchanting and unforgettable picture from the unique event and was delivered in his deep, resonant voice. 

But it’s been revealed that the historic broadcast very nearly didn’t happen because at one point Thomas lost his notes on the way back to the BBC’s studio in Cardiff. 

That same year the late Queen Elizabeth also attended the Eisteddfod shortly after her Coronation. 

The festival had been established six years earlier under the dark shadow cast by the Second World War as a way of promoting peace through musical harmony and dance. 

Since then hundreds of thousands of competitors from all over the planet have beaten a path to Llangollen. 

The picturesque town in the Dee Valley where “Wales meets the world” is now gearing up for the first  full length festival since the Covid-19 pandemic struck. 

It all gets underway on Tuesday, July 4, and the competitions and concerts continue until Sunday, July 9, with thousands of singers and dancers from around the world due to take part. 

Each day features a full programme of competitions in the Pavilion and a line-up of stalls and exhibitions on the field along with the competitors from around the world, many in colourful dress while three open-air stages run a stream of live performances. 

Entertainment on the outside site includes workshops, talks, international showcases, outdoor theatre performances, circus skills, sound bath sessions, yoga, belly dancing, beginner’s Welsh and  salsa. 

The Globe Stage will feature music acts spanning folk, jazz, world and indie. 

There will also be an international flavour to the cuisine available in the new Globe Food Court. 

Visitors will be able to “go around the world in 80 minutes” with stalls serving food from different countries including India, Greece, Jamaica, Mexico, Germany and Italy. 

According to the Eisteddfod’s executive producer, Camilla King, they were particularly keen to celebrate the anniversary of Thomas’s memorable broadcast. 

She said: “Although sadly Dylan Thomas died in New York a few months after his visit to Llangollen, his priceless legacy will live on because he is rightly regarded as one of the literary greats. 

“We felt it was particularly appropriate to remember not only his brilliant broadcast but also the wider canon of his work which turned him into a superstar poet.” 

The activities will include a presentation by Prof Chris Adams, vice chair of the Eisteddfod and a member of its  Archive Committee, who revealed the poet was paid the princely sum of 20 guineas for his endeavours.  

Prof Adams said that  Swansea-born Thomas had “generated verbal images of the early Eisteddfod whose power resonates to this day”. 

It was all the more remarkable, he said, because locals recall he had spent a lot of his time in Llangollen in the pub, with the Wynnstay Hotel (now The Three Eagles) being a favourite watering hole. 

That was borne out by the late Aneirin Talfan Davies, the BBC producer who was despatched to Llangollen to keep an eye on Thomas, who accompanied by his wife, Aeronwy and their daughter, Caitlin. 

Talfan Davies, who was himself a talented poet, later told how Thomas had spent the week  “wandering aimlessly through the streets of Llangollen, with the odd half hour spent in the eisteddfod tent and many hours in the  bars of the town’s pubs.” 

He also described the poet’s way of working which involved “writing notes on cigarette packets, and the panic on the way back to Cardiff when Thomas feared he had lost the material”. 

Thankfully, the notes came to light in the nick of time and the finished, finessed piece has been described as a classic example of his genius with words. 

Apart from the competitions and remembering Dylan Thomas, other highlights include a concert starring Alfie Boe and musical theatre supergroup Welsh of the West End on the first night of the Eisteddfod on Tuesday, July 4. 

Wednesday will see The White Flower: Into The Light, a concert of remembrance for the fallen of Sarajevo and Ukraine, featuring the NEW Sinfonia orchestra with soloists from Bosnia, Wales and Ukraine, with the centrepiece formed by Karl Jenkin’s much loved work, The Armed Man. 

The popular procession of international participants and celebration of peace takes place on Thursday, followed by Flight, a new mixed-media dance, music and theatre work by visionary artists Propellor Ensemble, inspired by migratory patterns in nature and humanity. 

On the Friday night Guy Barker’s Big Band will take the stage with Strictly Come Dancing singer Tommy Blaize. 

Saturday features the blue riband event, the Choir of the World competition for the coveted Pavarotti Trophy, and also Dance Champions and the Pendine International Voice of the Future 2023. 

There is a new look to the final day of the Eisteddfod on Sunday with an all new live final which sees rising vocal stars battle it out to claim the title Voice of Musical Theatre, and Cân i Llan, a new song-writing competition for unsigned acts aged 14-22, providing a platform for emerging voices in contemporary popular music.  

Camilla King added: “Entertainment on the outside site spans across three main stages with further daily pop-ups and includes workshops in the Amphitheatre with Small World Theatre Company inviting visitors to create their own white flower sculpture and Propellor Ensemble building a giant instrument from recycled materials. 

“There will also be daily Lego building, arts and crafts, floral sessions from the Eisteddfod’s famed arrangers, circus skills with Jester Jack, Xplore Science, yoga, sound bathing, belly dancing and the chance to learn new skills from the wide ranging visiting competitors.  

“Talks on the Dome Stage feature Calan’s Bethan Rhiannon ‘From clog dancing to comedy’, poet Mererid Hopwood leading a panel for the annual Peace Lecture, reflecting on the incredible Women of Wales Peace Petition. 

“International showcases take the Globe Stage from acts including the Tibetan Tashi Lhunpo Monks, SOAS Min’yo Japanese folk music, Bosnian and Ukrainian performers, and music from Filkin’s Drift, Seprona, Kilbride Brothers, The Billy Thompson Trio, The Bartells, Chester Big Band and Lilly Boughey amongst many others.” 

Tickets & What’s On: www.international-eisteddfod.co.uk/whats-on/