What are you looking for?

15 January 2015 | Comment | Article by Roman Kubiak TEP

Dylan Thomas helps clarify the law of gifts

With 2014 marking the centenary of Dylan Thomas’s birth, many events took place to celebrate and appreciate his work and life. Who knew, however, that the Welsh author and poet also left his mark in the legal world?

To begin at the beginning, as Dylan Thomas would say, there are two ways of making a gift of chattels (personal items and effects such as furniture, clothing, cars etc. as defined by s.55(1)(x) Administration of Estates Act 1925): by deed of gift or by an intention to give coupled with a delivery of possession.

Whilst researching the method of delivery of gifts, I came across the case of Thomas v Times Book Company Limited [1966] 1 WLR 911. This case involves the original manuscript of Dylan Thomas’s famous, Under Milk Wood.

Dylan Thomas’s widow, Caitlin, was the sole administratrix of his estate and brought the claim to recover the manuscript of Under Milk Wood from the defendant, Times Book Company Limited. The defendant claimed title to the manuscript by the initial gift of the book to Mr Douglas Cleverdon, a BBC producer. Accordingly, the crux of the case concerned whether Dylan Thomas had made a valid gift of his manuscript.

Dylan Thomas delivered a manuscript of Under Milk Wood, which had been commissioned by the BBC, to Mr Cleverdon on Thursday, 15 October 1953 for a stencil to be cut and copies to be made. Dylan Thomas was set to fly to America the following Monday, 19 October 1953 to give a reading from the manuscript. The manuscript was returned to Dylan Thomas on the Saturday. However, he lost the manuscript over the weekend in London.

Dylan Thomas called Mr Cleverdon and he asked for three copies of the script to be delivered to the air terminal in London. Mr Cleverdon managed to get the copies to Dylan Thomas in time for his flight. Dylan Thomas was so grateful that he told Mr Cleverdon that he could keep the manuscript, if he found it, and named half a dozen pubs he might have left it at. Mr Cleverdon found the manuscript a couple of days later in the pub in Soho, the name of which he had been given. Dylan Thomas sadly passed away some three weeks later, on 9 November 1953, in New York City.

Mr Cleverdon kept the manuscript until 1961 before selling it to Mr Cranston who, in time, sold it to the defendant.

It was held that when Mr Cleverdon obtained possession of the manuscript with the previous consent of Dylan Thomas, the gift was perfected. The case, therefore, confirmed that there is no need for the donor to transfer possession directly to the donee.

Author bio

Roman Kubiak TEP


Roman Kubiak is a Partner and Head of the market leading Private Wealth Disputes team.

He advises across the whole spectrum of private wealth disputes, with a particular focus on high value, complex and cross-border disputes including: trust disputes, breach of trust claims and applications to remove trustees; will disputes, particularly those with an international element; claims under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975; and claims for equitable relief under proprietary estoppel, constructive trusts and resulting trusts.

Next steps

We’re here to get things moving. Drop a message to one of our experts and we’ll get straight back to you.

Call us: 033 3016 2222

Message us