Combining two birthdays: Dylan Thomas and Pobol Y Cwm
Ynyr Williams is the series producer of the BBC’s Welsh language soap opera, Pobol y Cwm, which is celebrating its 40th birthday this year. Here he writes about a special radio drama production he and the programme cast have been involved in - one that coincides with another important Welsh cultural milestone - the 100th anniversary of poet Dylan Thomas’s birth.
I was chatting with Inga Burrows, Pobol y Cwm’s artist in residence, one day in February this year, who mentioned she thought it would be a great idea for our cast, in Dylan Thomas’s centenary year, to do the voices in a Welsh language version of Under Milk Wood. It was an idea that made so much sense, particularly as 'UMW' was probably the first ever written soap. The idea set me off on an emotional personal and professional journey.
I was already aware that Radio Cymru had commissioned a play about Dylan in Fern Hill for broadcast in the autumn, but wasn’t sure what else BBC Wales was doing in Welsh. I also knew that T James Jones’s Welsh version of UMW was a fantastic one - and one that needed to be recorded for posterity. I also was also looking for publicity for Pobol y Cwm's 40th anniversary, and for the great talent we have involved inPobol y Cwm.
But first, I need to trawl back through the years…
Under Milk Wood (UMW) was first performed in Laugharne in the late 1950s. ‘Voice 1’ and ‘Voice 2’ in that production were performed by none other than T James Jones (Jim) - yes, the same man who later adapted UMW into Welsh under the title ‘Dan Y Wenallt’ (DYW), published in the 1960s. I went to Trinity College, Carmarthen in 1977 and who was there as drama lecturer, but T James Jones himself - and one day he offered me the part of ‘Voice 1’ and ‘Voice 2’ in our college production. Jim also gives me credit for translating, or rather adapting his translation, of the first line of the play "To begin at the beginning…" - of which I’m really proud.
Thoughts about how we can get the production together are still coming to mind in March 2014. We can’t do a TV version as S4C have already commissioned Rhys Ifans and Kevin Allen, so I’ve got to find some other way. I then pitch the idea to Sian Gwynedd, Head of Welsh Language Programmes and Services at BBC Wales. It goes a bit like this… “DYW is a soap opera. Pobol y Cwm is a soap opera. Why don’t we get the archetypal characters from Pobol to play the same archetypal ones in DYW and then broadcast it on Radio Cymru!?” Sian likes it and asked me to talk to Betsan Powys, Editor of Radio Cymru. She likes it as well, so too Rhodri Talfan Davies, Director of BBC Wales. Game on. There was one last thing to consider: I wanted somehow to involve my old mentor from college and adapter T James Jones without upsetting anybody. For those who don't know, T James Jones isn't a member of the Pobol cast.
Then, one day, there was a kind of breakthrough. Jim (T James Jones) had been chief script editor of Pobol y Cwm in the late eighties and early nineties, I think to myself - I was sure I could legitimately ask him on board because of this. Same day, I see Victoria Plucknett - a member of the Pobol cast, whose mother had appeared in the same productions as Jim in Welsh and English. I ask Victoria her thoughts on inviting Jim to the production. She's more than happy and thinks it makes perfect sense. I call Jim, he accepts.
Ffion Emlyn, a radio drama producer from BBC Bangor, stepped up to produce. We recorded all of the 115 minutes of the play in one weekend. It will be broadcast on the morning of the centenary of Dylan’s birth - 27th October at 10am on Radio Cymru.
Arwyn Davies, who plays the loveable rogue Mark Jones in Pobol y Cwm, asked if he could do the incidental music for DYW - an opportunity I jumped at. Arwyn is a really talented musician and the son of Ryan Davies who played ‘Voice 2’ in Andrew Sinclair’s film version of UMW from the early 1970s.
I’m really pleased with the outcome. Pleased that BBC Wales and Radio Cymru backed the project, pleased that we were involved in Pobol’s 40 birthday and Dylan’s 100th. Pleased that T James Jones was able to give us a magnificent performance supported wonderfully by the Pobol y Cwm cast. And, pleased that we could bring it all together for the enjoyment of our viewers and listeners.
Ynyr Williams is a producer at BBC Wales
- Dan Y Wenallt is broadcast on Radio Cymru on Monday 27 October at 10am
- Read Dylan Thomas Season executive producer Martin Smith's blog 'Reawakening our connection with Dylan Thomas on the BBC'
- Cerys Matthews unearths early recordings of Dylan Thomas and friend's in Saturday's Archive Hour on Radio 4 this Saturday at 8pm.
- Discover more about the Dylan Thomas Season on BBC One and in a series of special iWonder guides.