Dylan Thomas at the Gotham Book Shop in New York in 1952. Photo: Getty
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His master's vowels: on listening to Dylan Thomas's voice

Thirty years after his death, Richard Burton remains one of the very few actors, along with Ralph Fiennes, Viggo Mortensen and Stephen Dil­lane, able to deliver poetry in a high-impact way that also makes them seem like they somehow own it themselves.

The numerous Dylan Thomas centenary programmes on BBC Radio 3 included a special edition of The Verb (5 May, 10pm) for a live audience at Laugharne on the estuary of the River Tâf, where the poet used to live, and a series of The Essay (5-9 May, 10.45pm) in which the New Jersey-born activist Kevin Powell spoke about Thomas’s far-reaching influence on black American poets. An archive recording of Richard Burton reading “Fern Hill” was superb:

Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green . . .

Thirty years after his death, Burton remains one of the very few actors, along with Ralph Fiennes, Viggo Mortensen and Stephen Dil­lane, able to deliver poetry in a high-impact way that also makes them seem like they somehow own it themselves.

I recently spoke with Tom Hollander, who plays Thomas in a forthcoming BBC TV movie about the poet’s last excessive days in New York in 1953. The actor has a recording of Thomas at the house of a NYC socialite who increasingly plies the poet with drink while capturing him on tape reading from John Donne. Hollander said it was Thomas’s (“pretty pissed”) lines of in-between chat that gripped him most. Never particularly Welsh-sounding, Thomas had the kind of voice that does not exist any more: Home Service grand. It is worth noting how deep that voice went culturally, all through the British middle class as much as the upper classes and right into the 1970s. An arch, musical timbre that over the past 30 years has been brutally culled. “Every so often you do still hear it,” noted Hollander. “I was speaking to a friend the other day who went to a book launch in Nepal and said that literally everybody there sounded like that . . .”

The empire voice. When, on Bank Holiday Monday afternoon, we eventually heard Thomas reading “There Was a Saviour”, that august, over-freighted fruitiness was there; also, the great poet’s ability to disappear entirely into his lines, as Yeats or Tennyson could. A voice with tremendous reserves of patience. A voice that abolished everything but the ear.

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 08 May 2014 issue of the New Statesman, India's worst nightmare?

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Katy Perry just saved the Brits with a parody of Donald Trump and Theresa May

Our sincerest thanks to the pop star for bringing one fleeting moment of edge to a very boring awards show.

Now, your mole cannot claim to be an expert on the cutting edge of culture, but if there’s one thing we can all agree on in 2017, it’s that the Brit Awards are more old hat than my press cap. 

Repeatedly excluding the genres and artists that make British music genuinely innovative, the Brits instead likes to spend its time rewarding such dangerous up-and-coming acts as Robbie Williams. And it’s hosted by Dermot O’Leary.

Which is why the regular audience must have been genuinely baffled to see a hint of political edge entering the ceremony this year. Following an extremely #makeuthink music video released earlier this week, Katy Perry took to the stage to perform her single “Chained to the Rhythm” amongst a sea of suburban houses. Your mole, for one, doesn’t think there are enough model villages at popular award ceremonies these days.

But while Katy sang of “stumbling around like a wasted zombie”, and her house-clad dancers fell off the edge of the stage, two enormous skeleton puppets entered the performance in... familiar outfits.

As our Prime Minister likes to ask, remind you of anyone?

How about now?

Wow. Satire.

The mole would like to extend its sincerest lukewarm thanks to Katy Perry for bringing one fleeting moment of edge to one of the most vanilla, status-quo-preserving awards ceremonies in existence. 

I'm a mole, innit.