Thomas v Times Book Co

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Thomas v Times Book Company
CourtHigh Court, Chancery Division
Full case nameThomas v Times Book Company Limited, Cox and Cleverdon
Citation(s)[1966] 1 WLR 911
Court membership
Judge(s) sittingPlowman J

Thomas v Times Book Company [1966] 1 WLR 911 is an English law case, in which the legal requirements of making gifts were explored.

A gift, in the law of property, is the voluntary transfer of property from one person to another without full valuable consideration. In order for a gift to be legally effective, three requirements must be met:

  1. Intention of donor to give the gift to the donee
  2. Delivery of gift to donee.
  3. Acceptance of gift by donee.



On Monday 19 October 1953, writer Dylan Thomas told BBC producer Douglas Cleverdon that he could keep the original manuscript of the play Under Milk Wood - if he could find it. Thomas had lost the manuscript a few days earlier in a London pub, but Cleverdon had made copies. Thomas made the promise to Cleverdon as he handed over three copies in London’s Victoria Station, from where Thomas was due to journey to America to promote the play. Thomas suggested a number of likely locations for the manuscript, and a day or two later, Cleverdon successfully found it. Unfortunately Thomas died whilst still abroad. His wife claimed the manuscript back, originally from the Times Book Company who had possession of it. Mr Cleverdon and another party were later added as defendants to the claim.

Dylan Thomas Welsh poet and writer

Dylan Marlais Thomas was a Welsh poet and writer whose works include the poems "Do not go gentle into that good night" and "And death shall have no dominion"; the 'play for voices' Under Milk Wood; and stories and radio broadcasts such as A Child's Christmas in Wales and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog. He became widely popular in his lifetime and remained so after his premature death at the age of 39 in New York City. By then he had acquired a reputation, which he had encouraged, as a "roistering, drunken and doomed poet".

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is a British public service broadcaster. Its headquarters are at Broadcasting House in Westminster, London, and it is the world's oldest national broadcasting organisation and the largest broadcaster in the world by number of employees. It employs over 20,950 staff in total, 16,672 of whom are in public sector broadcasting. The total number of staff is 35,402 when part-time, flexible, and fixed-contract staff are included.

Thomas Douglas James Cleverdon was an English radio producer and bookseller. In both fields he was associated with numerous leading cultural figures.

The overall issue was the question of what is required to make a gift. The judge analysed this into what is required to deduce intention to make a gift, and what is required to make effective delivery of the manuscript as a gift.


Plowman J found that there was intention to make a gift and there was satisfactory delivery, and therefore a valid gift was made. Because Mr Thomas had told Mr Cleverdon that the manuscript was his to keep, there was intention to make a gift and because Mr Thomas had told Mr Cleverdon where he might find the manuscript, and as Mr Cleverdon succeeded in finding it from one of those locations within two days, there was effective delivery. Although there were evidential difficulties about who said what at a railway station over twelve years before, and one of the parties was now dead, the judge did not dismiss the claim as being out of time under the Limitation Act 1980. The judge followed the advice of Brett MR in Re Garnett that he should be suspicious of claims made against dead men, as they are unable to argue for themselves, yet need not place any undue “corroborative” burden on the evidence of those still alive. He did however give more weight to Mr Cleverdon’s statements than those of Ruthven Todd, who Mr Thomas met shortly on arriving in America, in finding that Mr Todd’s evidence was second hand. The judge accepted Mr Cleverdon’s evidence through logical inference. The day after the promise was made at Victoria Station, Mr Cleverdon told his secretary the story, even though Mr Thomas was still alive and due back in a few days. The judge reasoned that Mr Cleverdon would have not lied, as such a lie would have been quickly exposed if, as expected, Mr Thomas had returned safe and well.

A statute of limitations is a law passed by a legislative body in a common law system to set the maximum time after an event within which legal proceedings may be initiated.

William Brett, 1st Viscount Esher British lawyer, judge and politician

William Baliol Brett, 1st Viscount Esher, PC, known as Sir William Brett between 1868 and 1883, was a British lawyer, judge, and Conservative politician. He was briefly Solicitor-General under Benjamin Disraeli and then served as a justice of the Court of Common Pleas between 1868 and 1876, as a Lord Justice of Appeal between 1876 and 1883 and as Master of the Rolls. He was raised to the peerage as Baron Esher in 1885 and further honoured when he was made Viscount Esher on his retirement in 1897.

The Keeper or Master of the Rolls and Records of the Chancery of England, known as the Master of the Rolls, is the second-most senior judge in England and Wales after the Lord Chief Justice, and serves as President of the Civil Division of the Court of Appeal and Head of Civil Justice. The position dates from at least 1286, although it is believed that the office probably existed earlier than that.


Plowman J did not give a wide ratio. It is not clear whether a gift would have been made if Mr Thomas had not listed locations, or if the manuscript was not at those locations, or if it took much longer to find.

Ratio decidendi is a Latin phrase meaning "the reason" or "the rationale for the decision". The ratio decidendi is "the point in a case that determines the judgement" or "the principle that the case establishes".

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