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Last Updated: Friday, 14 October 2005, 14:02 GMT 15:02 UK
Poet's hell-raising image 'myth'
The hell-raising image of Dylan Thomas is given a knock in a revised book about the Swansea-born poet.

Gwen Watkins, 82, and her late husband Vernon were close friends with Thomas and his wife Caitlin until he died.

Mrs Watkins said his reputation as a heavy drinker and womaniser had been blown out of proportion and he often fell asleep after just a few pints.

In Dylan Thomas: Portrait of a Friend, she also talks candidly about Thomas's tempestuous relationship with Caitlin.

The book was first published 40 years ago but was out of print for many years and has now been revised.

Mrs Watkins, whose husband Vernon was a great friend and admirer of Thomas and wrote his obituary for the Times, said as Caitlin had also passed away she could be more open about the couple.

"My husband knew Dylan very well and I'm quite sure that he meant to write a book about Dylan but he died very early.

"Vernon wrote a lot not only about Dylan the man but I think he understood his poetry better than anyone else ever has."

She said she looked back on both Thomas and Caitlin with great affection and said the man she knew was very different from the image often portrayed today.

"Those days were much more sober than they are now - Dylan's quite mild drinking and girl hugging exploits seemed to be tremendously exotic where as now they would not be noticed.

Author Gwen Watkins
Caitlin could drink a half bottle of whisky and you would not notice any difference
Gwen Watkins

"I think people like to think of poets as wild and I think the legend has sort of grown its self in a way.

"I think it's absolutely stupid because so many people know Dylan as a drunkard and womaniser who don't know a single line of his poetry - they may have seen Under Milkwood, they may have learned Do Not Go Gentle at school, but that's all.

"But after all it's because of the poetry that we remember him, isn't it?

"It did not take very much to make him quite merry and from merry just a little bit rambunctious and then fast asleep.

"I like to tell the anecdotes that Vernon told me and (in the book) all the time I am saying this is not a drunk - this is not a person who spent his time chasing woman - it was women who ran after him.

"They wanted to cuddle him and Dylan did not mind being cuddled but really to think of him as a womaniser is laughable because there was a part of Dylan that was a little boy.

Dylan Thomas, pictured in 1949
It was 'laughable' to call Thomas a womaniser

"Spirits were a disaster to him - he really could not take them.

"Caitlin could. Caitlin could drink a half bottle of whisky and you would not notice any difference. She was an Irish drinker - someone who was brought up on whisky."

Mrs Watkins said Caitlin had a terrible temper which made many people afraid of her.

"They really were very in love in the beginning. But I think Caitlin got quite worn down by never having enough money.

"I felt sorry for her. She was a very beautiful woman but was left alone in Laugharne to bring up the children.

"Laugharne now is all touristy but in the 1930s and 40s it was the end of the world - it was a dump.

"Towards the last years she was in a constant simmering range."

The book concludes with Dylan's death in New York in 1953.

"Perhaps it was the right time for him to die although it was terribly sad." added Mrs Watkins.

Dylan Thomas: Portrait of Friend will be launched at Swansea's Dylan Thomas Festival on 27 October and is published by Y Lolfa.

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