One of our Christmas traditions is listening to Dylan Thomas reading A Child’s Christmas in Wales. We spent last Christmas in a cottage in Shropshire near the Welsh border. I only had this recording on a cassette, so we went out to Steve’s car on Christmas eve and listened to it on his in-dash cassette player, with mugs of mulled wine and wolves howling in the background.
A Child’s Christmas In Wales is an anecdotal sketch of the festive season. This humorous, poignant, magical account of Dylan’s Thomas’s own childhood and of a Christmas Day in a small Welsh town has become a modern classic. It is an exercise in storytelling and Thomas recreates the experience of Christmas as though it were a fairy tale.
Click here to listen:
Incidentally this recording, made in New York City in 1952, was the first one made by Caedmon Records, a company formed by Barbara Holdridge and Marianne Roney to record the spoken word performances of famous writers.
At the time Holdridge and Roney pursued Thomas, he was ‘at least as well known for his drinking as his writing’. Several missed recording studio appointments later, there stood Dylan Thomas, poems in hand. But not enough, it turned out, to fill a long-playing record. A catastrophe in the making, remembers Barbara Holdridge, since the B side had to have something on it or they couldn’t put out the record.
They asked the poet if he had anything else he could record. Holdridge says: “He thought for a minute, and he said, ‘Well, I did this story that was published in Harper’s Bazaar that was a kind of Christmas story.'” It was “A Child’s Christmas in Wales.”
They borrowed the only known file copy from the magazine. That was dusting off something that undoubtedly would have remained buried and that became one of the most loved and popular stories recorded in the 20th century. Holdridge describes the Thomas recording as a “momentous” experience. “We had no idea of the power and beauty of this voice. We just expected a poet with a poet’s voice, but this was a full orchestral voice.”