Dylan Thomas : Bardd a’i Ryfel

S4C | 1 x 60minute

Documentary revealing more about a little-known aspect of the poet’s literary product, his work as a propaganda screenwriter during the Second World War.

One hundred years after the birth of the world-famous poet Dylan Thomas, you would think that we’d know virtually everything about all aspects of the writer’s life and work.

But the documentary Dylan Thomas: Bardd a’i Ryfel reveals more about a little-known aspect of the Swansea-bred poet’s literary product, his work as a propaganda screenwriter during the Second World War. In the programme, poet and television producer Ifor ap Glyn takes a look at this less prominent facet of Dylan’s life.

Ifor ap Glyn says, “As we mark the centenary of the poet’s birth, it’s quite natural for us to focus primarily on his work as a poet, dramatist and short story writer. But we should not ignore his work in the field of propaganda and film, as it did influence his development as a writer, as we aren’t able to fully appreciate his work without also appreciating his love for film.”

Between 1941 and 1945, Dylan Thomas wrote scripts for the UK Government’s Ministry of Information. In his quest to find out why and how Dylan Thomas (1914-1953) went to work as a propagandist, Ifor travels from Swansea to London and takes us on a journey through some priceless film archive.

He interviews Dr John Goodby, whose field of expertise is Dylan’s life, and Dr Jamie Medhurst, who has studied the wartime propaganda film industry.

And what about Dylan’s politics? How did a man who leaned towards the left-wing of the political spectrum, and towards pacifism actively sell the government’s wartime propaganda message? The journey starts at the poet’s first home at Cwmdonkin Drive, Swansea where he wrote illuminating essays about the film industry for the school magazine.

He was 25 years old by the time he went to work for the Ministry of Information and had already published five volumes of poetry, as well as scripting for the BBC. However, his love for film as a medium, as well as his need to support his family and keep the wolf from the door, meant he ended up working for Strand Films in Soho, and later on, Gryphon Films.

The Second World War propaganda films were much less jingoistic than those of the First World War, says Ifor, and they put a far greater emphasis on fighting to defend the values of our own country rather than on fighting the enemy.

Ifor explains, “The wartime propaganda films showed his ability to convey a message and tell a story in a lyrical and poetic way which also had a popular touch and was easy to understand. This ability came to the fore in a very creative way later in his classic play, Under Milk Wood.”