Charles Fisher

Last of the 'Kardomah Boys'
Click to follow

Charles James Fisher, writer and journalist: born Swansea 21 November 1914; twice married (one daughter); died Bangkok 24 January 2006.

In his 1965 Life of Dylan Thomas, Constantine Fitzgibbon, the official biographer of the Welsh poet, writes, "Charles Fisher was one of Dylan's closest Swansea 'friends of my youth' ". He also claims that "Charles Fisher was more than just a journalist and was thought by many to show more promise as a writer than did Dylan".

Born in Swansea in 1914, Charles Fisher was an almost exact contemporary of Dylan Thomas. They both attended Swansea Grammar School, where they met and became friends - indeed, Fisher could claim to be Thomas's first "wife" inasmuch as he played that role in the school's all-boy production of John Galsworthy's Strife, with Thomas taking the lead role of Roberts the strike leader.

After school they both became reporters on the local newspaper, The South Wales Evening Post, where Fisher's father was head printer. Fisher was by far the better journalist and wrote general news, music criticism and a well respected angling column under the by-line "Blue Dun". He loved the outdoors and country pursuits and was known to arrive at the urban newspaper offices dressed in riding breeches, having hitched his horse to a lamppost outside. Even in 1930s Swansea this was eccentric behaviour. Fisher once described Thomas as "looking like an unmade bed". But Fisher was the complete opposite, a well-groomed dandy, who, every Saturday, would don top-hat and tails and head for the local dinner-dance, where he cut a swathe through the Swansea girls.

Fisher and Thomas were both part of a group of bright young men who have come to be known as the "Kardomah Boys", after the Swansea café where they would meet up on an ad hoc basis. All were talented artists in one field or another - the poet Vernon Watkins, the painter Alfred Janes and the musician and polymath Daniel Jones, together with other talented writers and musicians like John Prichard and Tom Warner. Dylan Thomas would describe these meetings at length in his 1947 radio broadcast Return Journey, writing "Charlie's got whiskers now" and saying that he will become famous for "catching the poshest trout".

After their work on the local paper, they both moved up to London - Thomas to pursue his literary career and Fisher to continue his journalism, working for Reuters. But Fisher continued to write poetry and plays - his poems were published in the early issues of Kiedrych Rhys's seminal literary magazine Wales alongside Dylan Thomas and other key Anglo-Welsh writers.

Fisher and Thomas stayed in touch and they began to collaborate on a spoof murder mystery, The Death of the King's Canary. But with the advent of the Second World War, Fisher volunteered and joined the Army Intelligence Corps. His place as co-writer on The Death of the King's Canary was taken up by John Davenport and the book was eventually published in 1976, with an introduction by Fitzgibbon, who wrote warmly of Fisher's early involvement.

Fisher had married a Spanish singer some years older than himself but by the time of Dylan Thomas's death in 1953, this marriage had broken up. Fisher was shocked and saddened by his friend's untimely death and he attended Thomas's infamous funeral in Laugharne before striking out for a new life in Canada.

He ended up in Ottawa, where he worked at the Canadian parliament, transcribing the proceedings for their version of Hansard. It was an ideal job for Fisher as it brought him into contact with a rich and colourful social scene which he thrived on. But it also gave him long holidays where he could indulge his passion for travel. To begin with, he was captivated by Spain - in particular Granada and its gypsy population. Remarkably he won their affection and respect as a flamenco guitarist, dancer, drinker and bon viveur, and was eventually accepted into a gypsy family, even giving away the bride at a huge gypsy wedding.

On his retirement, Charles Fisher continued to travel, but now he explored the Far East and Pacific islands. He came to love Thailand, which became a favourite destination. He also began to write poetry and prose again and in 1988, his volume of poems The Locust Years was published to critical acclaim. His account of his time with the Spanish gypsies, Adios Granada, is to be published shortly.

In 2003, Fisher returned to Swansea and gave a mesmerising talk to a packed auditorium at the Dylan Thomas Centre on the last night of the festival commemorating the 50th anniversary of the poet's death. Nearing 90 himself, Fisher cut a fine figure in a midnight-blue Armani jacket, upright and chiselled, his steel-grey hair tied back in a neat pony-tail - he looked like a cross between Geronimo and Timothy Leary.

He was on another of his long solo journeys across the globe when he died peacefully in his sleep in a hotel in Bangkok.

Jeff Towns