(c) Mark Gerson (National Portrait Gallery), 1965, with Permission of David Jones Estate

ESSAY Jasmine Hunter-Evans

NWR Issue 104

'You're Awfully Unorthodox, David'

On 15 March 1965, the BBC aired a televised interview between Saunders Lewis and David Jones as part of their Writers World series. In a letter to René Hague, Jones fondly recalled this rare foray into film, despite his general antipathy towards what he termed the ‘awful business’ of ‘impromptu questions, “interviews”’. Indeed, Jones directly attributed the success of the interview to his close friendship with Lewis:

When you consider how bloody difficult it is to say anything remotely accurate in writing a considered article or something, it becomes ludicrously crude & sometimes positively the opposite of what one intends when asked point blank some direct question – a ‘question’ which is impatient of an ‘answer’ without going into endless stuff & making presuppositions of all sorts. The only occasions when impromptu ‘recordings’ seem to be any good are when the questioner & the questioned have a rather special common view, a ‘shared background’ of some sort...

This interview covers a wide variety of Jones’ views, and includes insightful passages on the Great War, Catholicism, artistic and poetic experimentation, the Roman inheritance of Wales and the civilisational problems facing artists in the modern world. The ‘complete understanding’ Jones felt with Lewis imbues the interview with a disarming openness and honesty, inviting the viewer into a seemingly private conversation between old friends who tease, interrupt and conclude each other’s thoughts. Their relationship began in 1937, with Jones sending In Parenthesis to Lewis in support of the protest at Penyberth, and the decades of correspondence and mutual published praise testify to its longevity. Jones admired Lewis’ plays, poetry and devotion to ‘his ardently beloved patria’, while Lewis advocated the ‘contemporary’ relevance of Jones’ Roman poetry and the skill of his inscriptions. Furthermore, Jones dedicated Epoch and Artist (1959) to ‘SAUNDERS LEWIS gŵr celfydd a gâr ei wlad a phob ceinder’ (a man of art who loves his country and all beauty), a sentiment equally true of Jones. In response, Lewis called Jones’ collection of essays ‘a vade mecum for anyone who works at a making of any sort’. The ‘common view’ and ‘shared background’ of Jones and Lewis, apparent throughout the interview, culminated in the belief that, in an age of increasing industrialism, secularism and capitalism, it was their essential role as artists to protect the cultural heritage of Wales, and indeed Western Christendom, so as to preserve the continuity between past and present.

Jasmine Hunter-Evans
In publishing this transcript, I am deeply indebted to the help and support of the National Library of Wales and BBC Cymru Wales, and also to the generosity of the estates of David Jones and Saunders Lewis.

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