In 1957 I was a schoolboy in what was then known as Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia, when Arnold Jones, my English teacher, insisted that we all go with him to hear his compatriot, the Welsh author and actor Emlyn Williams, who was on tour with his one-man tribute to Dylan Thomas, A Boy Growing Up. This performance was a watershed in my appreciation of the spoken and written word. Williams held us spellbound for three hours: a small middle-aged, grey-haired man on a bare stage, bringing to life a child’s Christmas in Wales, making us laugh at Thomas’s self-portrait as a schoolboy drawing ‘a wild guess below the waist’, as a Young Dog with a beer bottle stuck on his finger, and then unexpectedly reducing us to pin-dropping silence with ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’ and ‘Death shall have no dominion’. For me, this was the beginning of a lifetime’s enjoyment of the work not just of Dylan Thomas but of Emlyn Williams himself.
From school I went on to the recently established University College of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, the first multiracial university in Africa, and in 1961 our Dramatic Society put on The Corn Is Green, Williams’s very successful semi-autobiographical 1930 play about schooldays in a village in Wales. For our programme the author wrote:
From my short but vivid glimpse of the University College and its setting I was able to realize how much you have the welfare of the underprivileged at heart, and it seems that the theme of this particular play – apart from the entertainment value I hope it will provide first and foremost! – is peculiarly suitable in the circumstances.
Ten years later I was back in Africa as a teacher at my old school, and the Welsh connection was affirmed as we introduced the next generation to what had inspired me as a schoolboy. I put on a production of Under Milk Wood with a cast of fifty teenagers, and stage-managed Williams’s 1935 thril
The full version of this article is only available to subscribers to Slightly Foxed: The Real Reader’s Quarterly. To continue reading, please sign in or take out a subscription to the quarterly magazine for yourself or as a gift for a fellow booklover. Both gift givers and gift recipients receive access to the full online archive of articles along with many other benefits, such as preferential prices for all books and goods in our online shop and offers from a number of like-minded organizations. Find out more on our subscriptions page.Subscribe now or Sign in