Richard Hughes - Laugharne's other son

Sunday 28 April 2013, 09:00

Phil Carradice Phil Carradice

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Say "Laugharne" and most people immediately think of Dylan Thomas and his home at the Boat House. But Thomas was not the only writer to live in the west Wales village.

Indeed, up until the outbreak of World War Two a far more famous writer was in residence at Laugharne. This was Richard Hughes, the author of one of the true classics of maritime adventure, A High Wind In Jamaica.

Hughes was not Welsh but lived for long periods of his life in the country, either at Laugharne or just outside Harlech. He was born in 1900 at Weybridge, in Surrey, his mother having been brought up in Jamaica. Hughes' early life was marred by grief, in particular by the deaths of his father, brother and sister but, in due course, he moved on to Charterhouse and Oriel College, Oxford, for his education.

At Oxford he met writers including TE Lawrence and WB Yeats and even edited Oxford Poetry with Robert Graves. Always a nervous, highly strung man, Hughes suffered a nervous breakdown in the mid 1920s but it did not stop him producing a regular stream of poetry and stage plays.

His earliest published work - a critical article on a novel about homosexuality in public schools - had been sent, not by Hughes himself but by one of his Charterhouse teachers to The Spectator while he was still at school. However, it was as a dramatist that he first made his name.

In 1922, the year he left Oxford, his play The Sister's Tragedy was being performed on the West End and being hailed by none other than George Bernard Shaw as the finest one-act play ever written - overstating the mark, perhaps, but a clear indication of the esteem in which Richard Hughes was already being viewed.

Hughes was beginning to cultivate his love of Wales and in 1922 helped form The Porthmadoc Players. In 1924 he wrote what is still thought to be the world's first radio play, Danger, for the BBC, the action taking place in a Welsh coal mine.

After marrying the painter Frances Bazley, Hughes moved to west Wales where he lived in the house attached to Laugharne Castle. By now a popular and well-recognised figure in the literary world, Hughes received dozens of visitors at Laugharne, people such as Augustus John, Glyn Jones and Robert Graves.

In particular there were Dylan and Caitlin Thomas who, according to legend, would lie in wait up on the castle battlements until Hughes had opened his wine cellar and then raid it. Hughes never did know where his wine was disappearing although with neighbours like the Thomases living in nearby Sea View - not, then, the Boathouse - he might have had a good idea.

Richard Hughes wrote only four novels. As well as the classic High Wind In Jamaica, he began a trilogy called The Human Predicament. The trilogy was unfinished at his death but the first of the books, The Fox In The Attic, is surely another masterpiece, much of the early action being set in the marshlands outside Laugharne.

Richard Hughes was, for a while, chair of the Welsh National Theatre but in the years after World War Two - when he carried out an important desk job for the Admiralty - he moved to north Wales where he died on 28 April 1976.

Hughes was a poet, playwright, novelist and children's writer. These days he is something of a forgotten figure in the literary world but there is no doubt that in A High Wined In Jamaica and The Fox In The Attic he wrote two of the most interesting books of the 20th century.

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    Comment number 1.

    I read A High Wind in Jamaica when I was a teenager. I loved it and thought it was a wonderful book. Then they made a film of it, starring (I think) Anthony Quayle. Like so many films it didn't stick very closely to the actual story line and that rather spoiled it for me. I've never really bothered with Hughes since then and I've certainly never heard of The Fox in the Attic. Maybe I'll give it a go as I certainly like his style.

 
 

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