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Tuesday, 28 July, 1998, 08:52 GMT 09:52 UK
Why did Dylan Thomas die so young?
Dylan Thomas
Dylan Thomas was "never accepted" at the BBC
Theories of who was responsible for the tragically early death of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas are resurfacing as the country honours the man who was undoubtedly one of its greatest writers.

A revisionist spotlight on his death will probably not be welcomed by most people.

After all, it is already clear who killed Dylan Thomas - Dylan Thomas himself, ably assisted by a voracious appetite for alcohol, which finished him off at the tender age of 39.

Nevertheless, fellow writer Adrian Mitchell thinks there is great deal more to say about the demise of the man who has come to epitomise the cult of the rebellious, tortured artist.

Thomas with drink
Thomas turned from beer to spirits, says Mitchell
The launch of his new book, Who Killed Dylan Thomas? kicks off the first major festival devoted to the life and work of Wales's most famous man of words.

Fittingly, the month-long event is being staged in Swansea, where Thomas was born and trained as a newspaper reporter.

It's taken a long time, but Swansea is finally waking up to the legend of its most famous son, says festival organiser Dave Wooley.

"Other cities, like Dublin, have long celebrated their famous writers and we realise that it adds to the character of a city, and helps bring in tourism.

"Dylan is huge in America, Australia, Japan and Europe and we want people to come here and find out more."

Dylan with fag
Dylan during the production of Under Milkwood
A glance at the month's schedule proves there is no shortage of Thomas-related material for public airing. Readings and plays are supplemented with talks, documentaries and concerts. Each promises a valuable contribution into breaking down the myth of the man.

But it is Mitchell's book, illustrated by satirical cartoonist Ralph Steadman, which will raise most eyebrows.

In 1953 Thomas was on his fourth lecture tour of America and drinking heavily. That he died in a New York hospital from alcohol poisoning is beyond dispute.

The cuplrits

But lurking in the background are a host of culprits, who must share some responsibility for letting Thomas slide like he did, says Mitchell. Chief among them is the BBC.

"He applied for several jobs at the BBC, to write documentaries which he had done successfully during the war. But he was rejected every time," says Mitchell.

"No one could explain why, but he had never been to university and, of course, he was Welsh, which did not fit in well with them at the time. He also had left-wing connections."

A craving for stability

Although Thomas was commissioned for ad hoc scripts and broadcast his own work on radio, he craved the stability of a steady job.

Some of the blame must also be laid at the door of universities, says Mitchell.

"Other writers recognised him as wonderful poet. He should have been given a fellowship."

Money worries

Living in poverty, Thomas began to depend on the lucrative US lecture circuit. But his long absences from both his home and wife, Caitlin, drove him to deep depression and heavy drinking, says Mitchell.

"He was always a big drinker but in Britain he would just drink beer. It was in America that he took to spirits and that finished him off."

Lessons to be learned

But Mitchell says his book is more than a meditation on what might have been. The tragedy of Thomas is a lesson to anyone who values "serious writers", he says.

"It's too late to be ashamed of what we did to Dylan, but we are in time to do something about the serious writers who are around now.

"We must value them and appreciate them and not squander their talent."

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Dylan Thomas reading In the White Giants Thigh for the BBC in 1950
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Tributes from school friend Wynford Vaughn Thomas, Louis MacNeice and Hugh Griffith
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