Your drive around the coast to Tenby takes you through Cardigan, which Dylan dismissed as a ‘filthy town’ in a letter to Vernon Watkins. Today it is much more salubrious. Your journey then runs through Fishguard where Andrew Sinclair made his film ‘Under Milk Wood’ with Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, Peter O’Toole and the cream of Welsh actors. Fishguard was the sea town most suited to Sinclair’s cinematic vision of the topography of Dylan’s Llareggub’. Continue on from here to Tenby.
‘You may travel the world over but you will find nothing more beautiful; it is so restful, so colourful and so unspoilt’
This is how the painter Augustus John described Tenby, and it is indeed a jewel of a town, combining a glorious natural harbour with medieval town walls and stunning pastel-hued Georgian terraces. For these delights along it is worth a visit but the town also figures in Dylan’s life in many ways.
By a curious coincidence two famous artists who affected Dylan throughout his life were born at either end of the same street in Tenby.
On Valentine’s Day in 1890 Nina Hamnett was born at 3 Lexden Terrace. Some dozen years earlier at the other end of the street Augustus John was born.
Nina Hamnett was the legendary queen of bohemia in London and Paris. A true eccentric artist, her circle included Sickert, Wyndam Lewis, the Sitwells, and the Bloomsbury Group. She was a close friend of Modigliani and had love affairs with Gaudier-Brzeska and Roger Fry. She first crossed Dylan’s path when he was a young journalist; in fact she may have been the cause of him losing his job. One of Dylan’s last articles for the ‘Evening Post’ was entitled ‘Genius and Madness Akin in the World of Art’. It appeared in January 1933 and in it he mentioned Nina Hamnett’s recent infamous autobiography ‘Laughing Torso’. However, Dylan referred to it as a ‘banned book’. Nina, ever on the lookout for some profitable litigation, vigorously complained about his inaccuracy and libel.
The following week the paper issued a fulsome apology and concluded ‘We are informed by Miss Hamnett it enjoys a very wide circulation’. Dylan boastfully dismissed the incident.
‘I have just evaded a libel action through some pot-boiling article of mine’
But shortly after Dylan left the paper’s employ. A year or so later, when he went to London, he would meet up with Nina in person around the late night drinking clubs of Fitzrovia and they became good friends. When Dylan introduced her to his friend Ruthven Todd, her first words were, ‘You know me, m’dear……I’m the one in the V and A with me left tit knocked off’
She was referring to the famous Torso of her by Gaudier-Brzeska, but it gives some idea of her style!
When Augustus John met up with Nina Hamnett in Fitzrovia he declared with some degree of pride, ‘We are the sort of people our father warned us against!’
Augustus John met Dylan in London in the early thirties but it was a little later that he was to bring Dylan and Caitlin together. They all first met in April of 1936 in the ‘Wheatsheaf’ pub in London’s Fitzrovia. Caitlin was modelling, clothed and unclothed, for John, and she was also his reluctant mistress.
Dylan and Caitlin were immediately and mutually attracted and slid quietly away and locked themselves into their own little love nest in The Eiffel Tower Hotel for the next few days – charging the bill to Augustus John’s account! They were to part unwillingly but when a few months later in July, Dylan heard that Augustus John was bringing Caitlin to visit Richard Hughes in Laugharne, he had Fred Janes drive him to meet up with them.