Gwyn Thomas - 1913 - 1981

High Street, Cymmer, Porth, CF39 9EY

Novelist, short-story writer and playwright. Born at Porth in the Rhondda Valley, Glam., the youngest of the twelve children of an often unemployed miner, he won a scholarship to St. Edmund Hall, Oxford, to read Modern Languages. After working in adult education in England and Wales from 1940 to 1942, he taught French at Cardigan Grammar School for two years and subsequently Spanish at Barry Grammar School, Glam., but abandoned teaching in 1962 to become a full-time writer.

Nine novels were published in his lifetime: The Dark Philosophers (1946), The Alone to the Alone (1947), All Things Betray Thee (1949), The World Cannot Hear You (1951), Now Lead Us Home (1952), A Frost on my Frolic (1953), The Stranger at my Side (1954), A Point of Order (1956) and The Love Man (1958). His collections of short stories are Where did I put my Pity? (1946), Gazooka (1957), Ring Delirium 123 (1960) and The Lust Lobby (1971). He also wrote six stage-plays, a great many talks, plays and features for radio and television, two volumes of essays, namely A Welsh Eye (1964) and A Haiful of Humours (1965), and an autobiography, A Few Selected Exits (1968).

Much of his work deals with working-class life in the mining valleys of Glamorgan in the first half of the twentieth century. His material is often fundamentally grim but he treats it with wit, eloquence and a humour which can at times become farcical. He identified closely with the community he described, with the aspirations, the suffering and even the absurdities of his characters, and his compassion saves his writing from the charge of buffoonery. His novels are usually narrated in the first person singular and the narrator is frequently one of a small group of friends, unemployed young men living in one of the poverty-stricken areas which the author calls Meadow Prospect or Mynydd Coch. Articulate, funny and well-meaning, they are likely to become involved in the schemes of rich, powerful or upper-class characters such as August Slezacher the arms dealer, Shadrach Sims the business tycoon or Sylvester Strang the idealistic landowner. Plot is usually of less importance than the array of characters, the hilarious episodes and the verbal wit. All who appear in the novels - be they ordinary people (Gwyn Thomas's 'elements' or 'voters'), or Spanish grandees, or Welsh schoolboys, or American millionaires, or nineteenth ¬century turnkeys - all tend to express themselves in a characteristically colourful idiom, used by Thomas for dialogue and narration alike. It has been suggested that this style owes something to modem American humorists like Perelman and Damon Runyon, whose work he admired.

In the 1950s Gwyn Thomas began to turn his attention to writing for the theatre. His stage-plays are The Keep (1962), Jackie the Jumper (1963), The Loot (1965), Loud Organs (first performed in 1962), Sap(first performed in 1974) and The Breakers (first performed in 1976); the last two remain unpublished. The Keep, perhaps his most popular play, deals naturalistically with the various conflicts arising in a family of five sons in the south Wales of the 1950s. Jackie the Jumper takes as its theme the Merthyr Rising of 1831, which he had already treated in one of his most successful novels, All Things Betray Thee. Later, in such plays as Sap, he moved in the direction of greater technical flexibility and used lighting and cutting from one part of the stage to another to indicate changes of time and location. But his ability to use vivid, rich and witty language remained undiminished in whatever medium he chose to express his response to the suffering and absurdity he saw in the life around him.

Information taken from Meic Stephens’ New Companion to the Literature of Wales, University of Wales Press, 1998)

Top image taken from the first series of Literary Postcards produced by Academi and The Rhys Davies Trust. Photograph: Julian Sheppard / National Library of Wales.

Academi would like to thank Anthony Pritchard from Treorchy Library for telling us about this plaque and sending the newspaper clipping of the unveilling of the plaque (Rhondda Leader, 22 September 1988).

There is another plaque for Gwyn Thomas at The Old College Inn in Barry. It was erected by the Pride in Barry Blue Plaques Scheme.