My time as a journalist in Basildon was not all politics and crime, although I did spend a lot of time in the council chamber and the magistrates’ courts.
The Arts Centre, just off the town square, was a cultural centre for the district and, as well as hosting concerts and professional entertainment, it provided a base for local amateur dramatic and music societies.
Tony Blandford had already recognised my passion for the theatre, as well as for all things Welsh, and that November he offered me my first opportunity to do a review – Under Milk Wood by that great Welsh poet and playwright Dylan Thomas.
I have loved this wonderful play for voices ever since I heard a BBC recording, made in 1954 with Richard Burton as First Voice, and later released on record. There was also a BBC TV version made in the 1960s, once again with Richard Burton.
To me the original 50s recording, relying only on voices, has always been the definitive version of this masterpiece. This is what Thomas himself had envisioned when he wrote the play about life in a Welsh village by the sea.
On this particular November night I was to be treated to a stage presentation by a local am dram group called the Basildon Players.
Looking back on it I might have been a tad harsh on them but I still believe they brought it on themselves. Many a Welsh group has tended to shy away from this piece which relies on the listener being carried away by the lilting Welsh voices to Llareggub.
I think those reading the review would have guessed by the second paragraph that I was not overly impressed:
“Basildon Players attempted to capture the beauty of this bawdy play”
Just that one word “attempted” must have warned them.
It got worse:
“… I, a Welshman in exile, wept for the ghost of Dylan Thomas.”
I had once told my editor in Rhyl, Brian Barratt, that if I could find a redeeming point in any production I would use it and I did so, picking on the performance of a man called Eddie Griffiths and, as I said:
“His morning prayer outside his door, as he stood barefoot, had the poetic flow of the genuine article. Thank you Eddie Griffiths.”
I was surprised that the piece was used precisely as written. I don’t think the Players were exactly overjoyed when they read that review on the Friday morning, but, as my theatrical mentor Angela Day always told me: “If you pay money to see a performance you expect professionalism.”
That was the first of many reviews on productions at the Arts Centre, both professional and amateur. I also found a friend there, the manager, Malcolm Jones, who was born and raised in Rhyl and remembered my father.