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Thursday, 14 March, 2002, 15:11 GMT
Hannan's Call to Order
Veteran political broadcaster Patrick Hannan
BBC broadcaster Patrick Hannan remembers the lost world of one of the Welsh literary world's most remarkable figures.

Just occasionally you read a single sentence that stops you dead in your tracks.

I came across one the other day and it said simply this: "What a shame the manuscript of Keidrych's autobiography, written with a Welsh Arts Council bursary, was stolen and never recovered."

Keidrych was Keidrych Rhys, one of the most remarkable figures in the Welsh literary world before and after the Second World War.

The man who wrote about the missing autobiography was Glyn Jones, schoolmaster, poet and novelist.

Dylan Thomas
Keidrych 'spotted' Dylan Thomas

Glyn, who died in 1995 at the age of 90, was a sweet-tempered man, sometimes combative over literary matters, modest and conscientious, and with a keen eye for the failings of his friends which he recorded with a mild innocence.

It was for this reason I read this sentence as, in effect, almost a replacement life of Keidrych Rhys.

The autobiography, I assumed, had never been written.

The bursary, eagerly received had been spent on some doomed literary enterprise or drink or a combination of both.

The theft of the manuscript was simply an invention, designed to keep the authorities at bay and stop them asking for their money back.

I may be wrong about all this but it certainly fits in with what I knew of Keidrych who was the founder and editor of Wales, the first magazine to be devoted to what became known as Anglo-Welsh writing.

Talent spotter

He founded it in 1937 and it went through three separate lives before its last appearance in 1960.

Keidrych himself went broke more than once in the process.

Keidrych, (born William Ronald Rees Jones) who went broke in the process, was above all a remarkable spotter of literary talent.

The people he published in the pages of the magazine and elsewhere amount to a literary history of 20th Century Wales.

They included Dylan Thomas, Idris Davies, Vernon Watkins, RS Thomas, Rhys Davies, John Ormond, Alun Richards and many others.

RS Thomas
The late RS Thomas contributed to the magazine

Most of them were young and unknown when he first put their talents on display.

The magazine itself has a rackety feel.

In among the poems, short stories and essays the character of the editor keeps breaking through, disrespectful, gossipy and funny.

Many of the references are incomprehensible today, but even in 1960 the BBC, ITV, various members of the Welsh establishment and the Anglo-Welsh literary world were getting it in the neck.

When I went to work in London in the early 1960s I had a vague idea of the need for another Welsh literary magazine and I thought he might be persuaded to start all over again.

Telephone gossip

He was quite happy to talk about the project and he often used to ring me in the afternoon at my office in the Council of Industrial Design (where my duties were on the undemanding side of non-existent) to discuss it.

He had married for a second time and had a very young child which he looked after while his wife went out to work.

The telephone was his main recreation and he would gossip on and on in his high, posh-English voice that contained no discernible trace of his native Llandeilo.

Sometime I would visit him in Hampstead to try and initiate further magazine discussions.

But by this time he had, in the words of Glyn Jones, "developed an impressive Wildean corpulence", and in the pub, after a hard day's baby-minding and a certain amount of alcohol, conversation would lapse as he snoozed gently in his chair.

I suppose it also said something about the compelling nature of my company.

Keidrych lived on for another 25 years but, sadly, his days as impresario and trouble-maker were pretty well finished, lost with the manuscript of the autobiography the arts council had fruitlessly subsidised.

Glyn Jones was right. Its disappearance (or non-existence) robbed us all.

Patrick Hannan's weekly political programme, Called to Order, is live on Radio Wales, 93-104FM, 882 and 657AM, and DSat channel 867.

You can also listen to BBC Radio Wales live online at http://www.bbc.co.uk/wales/live/rwv5.ram.

e-mail: order@bbc.co.uk

See also:

16 Sep 99 | Wales
Welsh author named as a spy
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