Coal, Rent and Chaos

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A couple of years ago the judges for the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse prize for comic fiction decided that none of the sixty two books submitted was funny enough to win, so they withheld the award. One of them, the publisher David Campbell, explained: ‘Despite the submitted books producing many a wry smile amongst the panel during the judging process, we did not feel than any of the books we read this year incited the level of unanimous laughter we have come to expect.’ Humour is notoriously subjective, but I am confident that if the prize had existed sixty-seven years ago, Gwyn Thomas’s A Frost on My Frolic would have been a strong contender.

Thomas, who died in 1981 aged 67, was a popular writer in the Fifties and became a minor television personality; yet he is scarcely remembered today. His readers could certainly look forward to both wry smiles and guffaws, before being pulled up short by some searing emotional or political outburst that conveyed a more serious intent: the frost on his frolics. With a style rooted in his native Wales, he shared with Wodehouse a gift for creating strong characters and examining closely – in unorthodox, imaginative and often hilarious language – how they reacted to the extreme situations in which he placed them; albeit that the worlds the two authors chronicled are at opposite poles of the social scale. While ‘the poor man’s Wodehouse’ is not a characterization Thomas would have relished or even recognized, it is, in a literal sense, applicable to at least some of his writing.

Contemporary critics gave him rave reviews. John Betjeman lauded his ‘heavenly gift of amusing description’. Howard Spring detected in him ‘the gusto of genius’. Lionel Hale declared: ‘There is poetry in him – even the fun is poetical.’ And reviewing A Frost on My Frolic, published by Gollancz in 1953, John Connell called Thomas ‘a comic genius whose work takes you by the throat and shakes you with laugh

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About the contributor

Michael Leapman has written seventeen books, all non-fiction. They include a political biography of Neil Kinnock, which took him for the first time to the Welsh valleys that Gwyn Thomas wrote about. He has been a journalist for sixty years and still bursts into print from time to time.

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