My grandfather and me

Friday 28 February 2014, 11:58

Hannah Ellis Hannah Ellis

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Hannah Ellis, granddaughter of Dylan Thomas talks about his work at the BBC.

My grandfather’s success on the radio was as a result of his wit and charm, sense of fun, empathy and, above all, his hard work. These attributes brought my grandfather respect from many of his colleagues. Contrary to popular belief, Ralph Maud, in his introduction to his book The Broadcasts, a collection of broadcasts for the BBC, stresses that Dylan was ‘a professional radio broadcaster, whose services as a performer and scriptwriter were sought and appreciated’.

Hannah Ellis Hannah Ellis

In terms of his other writing, he was a perfectionist. He worked slowly, experimented with a single phrase; writing sentences a hundred different ways before he was content. I’m heartened to discover that this same work ethic was clearly shown during his time at the BBC.

The BBC archive undoubtedly reveals to us that, as well as being a great writer, my grandfather was an excellent actor. Richard Burton described Dylan as an ‘explosive dynamic performing force’, and ‘a dangerous rival for other actors’.

My mum, Aeronwy Thomas, had strong memories of her father. Recalling their weekly reading sessions, acting out the stories, she described her father, while reading Hansel and Gretel, adopting ‘a falsetto voice’ making ‘quite a convincing old lady’. As well as dramatic parts, Louis MacNeice discovered that, when necessary, Dylan was capable of ‘underplaying’ a role.

This was never more evident than when my grandfather read his own broadcasts, letting the words speak for themselves. The one that really stands out for me is Return Journey, which shows how he was profoundly moved during the Second World War – especially after seeing the impact of a three-night-blitz on his hometown of Swansea.

The script sees Dylan describing the devastation caused, while also seeking out his younger self amongst the destruction. In his usual style, my grandfather researched the piece meticulously, in order to ensure that he had correctly named all the shops and buildings that had been ruined.

On a different level, hearing my grandfather’s beautiful voice describing a mischievous boy taunting cats and the exploits of his eccentric aunts and uncles in his classic A Child’s Christmas in Wales, never fails to make me laugh. His friend Bert Trick described listening to him saying ‘The glorious voice boomed out of the loudspeaker’, and the ‘living room filled with the presence of Dylan’.

These are just a few examples from the one hundred and forty five separate engagements that my grandfather had with the BBC. These included writing scripts, reading poetry and short stories, as well as acting. He also became a regular on many panel discussions, making him a well-known radio personality. I hope both the lighter, and the more serious, sides of my grandfather’s work for the BBC can be reflected in this season.

You can find out more about the Dylan Thomas season on the website.

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