Pamela Hansford Johnson
Pamela Hansford Johnson (1912 - 1981)
Dylan and Pamela Hansford-Johnson at Caswell Bay, 1934 - credit Lady Avebury
On 9 April 1933, Pamela Hansford Johnson, a young writer from London, had a poem published in the 'Poet's Corner' section of the Sunday Referee newspaper. 'Poet's Corner' was a new initiative edited by the eccentric Victor Neuburg, who was usually referred to irreverently by Dylan as the Vicky-bird. That year she won the Sunday Referee's prize for poetry - the publications of her poems in book form.
Just five months later, on 3 September 1933, Dylan Thomas' poem 'That sanity be kept' was also published in the Sunday Referee (he won their prize the following year, resulting in the publication of 18 Poems in 1934.) Hansford Johnson admired the poem and wrote to Dylan to tell him so, thereby initiating a friendship initially conducted by letters. The long, intense and sometimes flirtatious letters that Dylan wrote to her show a young poet honing his craft, and taking the time to provide her with a detailed analysis of her own work.
Their friendship blossomed into a love affair after they met in February 1934, but faltered after Dylan's move at the end of the year to London when, as Pamela put it, "Comrade Bottle" got in the way. Before that, he visited her several times, and even after their relationship began to disintegrate she and her mother visited the Thomases, staying in the Mermaid hotel, Mumbles. Dylan took her to Gower, and they were photographed together on Caswell Bay. They corresponded spasmodically until around 1937, and in 1939 Dylan unexpectedly sent her a copy of the newly published Map of Love.
In the early thirties Pamela had an unfulfilling job in a bank and lived with her widowed mother in Battersea, London. Her father had been a colonial civil servant but her maternal grandfather moved in more permissive theatrical circles as treasurer to Sir Henry Irving. Pamela married an Australian journalist, Gordon Neil Stewart, in 1936. Her second husband was the novelist Lord CP Snow. A prolific playwright and novelist as well as a poet, her best known work is the novel, An Error of Judgment (1962). Her other novels include Night and Silence, Who Is Here? An American Comedy (1963) and Cork Street, Next to the Hatter's: A Novel in Bad Taste (1965). She died in 1981. Although her work is not readily available now, she has a number of high-profile fans, including Ann Widdecombe, who has spoken about her work at the Dylan Thomas Centre.