BBC man marks 60 years in broadcasting

Dewi Griffiths Dewi Griffiths recently hosted a programme about the broadcasts produced for the D-Day soldiers in 1944

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When Dewi Griffiths joined the BBC in 1954, Germany hadn't even won their first World Cup.

Since then he's had the equivalent of two careers at the corporation, the first dominated by directing live sports coverage, the second as a Radio Wales host presenting music from the golden era of showbiz.

A BBC man through and through, he started at the Welsh Home Service after three years as a Royal Air Force radar technician.

His mother cried with pride when he received his first job offer from the corporation. He then went on to be a vision engineer, sound supervisor and cameraman.

But after a few years in Cardiff, he was tempted by London, where he applied to work in light entertainment.

Instead he was offered a six-week stint as a stage manager with Peter Dimmock's outside broadcast department. That contract extended to 30 years, during which he covered sporting crown jewels such as the Olympics and World Cup.

Rugby focus

He also worked at a dozen Wimbledons, including the first match to be broadcast in colour in 1967, a pioneering TV moment heralded by a special introduction from David Attenborough.

But Griffiths' first experience of Wimbledon "technology" in the late 1950s was primitive. "At one stage, in order to get the results of the outside courts back to David Coleman, I had to run to each court, make a note, run back to David, run to the next court, then run back to David. I wore out a pair of trainers in less than a week.

"The second year I did Wimbledon, I was a bit clever. I borrowed a pair of binoculars from [commentator] Peter O'Sullevan and I went on the roof of Centre Court to see the scoreboards of the other courts below, and rang through on a wind-up telephone - it was really primitive. Having a camera up there eventually solved that for almost everybody."

He returned to BBC Wales in 1962, where he helped his former school friend and rugby legend Cliff Morgan set up a sport department.

Dewi Griffiths (centre with crew) Dewi Griffiths (second from left) with the crew for the 1968 British Lions tour of South Africa

Griffiths also worked on horse racing and boxing coverage but he is best known for directing the cameras at every rugby match at Cardiff Arms Park for 29 years.

He also covered seven British Lions tours on the technically demanding 16mm cameras. "It was not the easy way of pressing the button today and taking someone else's feed," he points out.

Broadcasting highlights

His outside broadcast experience proved useful when he was hired for the first Songs of Praise broadcast, which came from Cardiff in 1961. It was also the era when drama would play out live on air. "There were always mistakes but you covered them," he recalls.

"When I was trusted by my senior colleagues at BBC London, it gave me immense courage and bravado to carry on and assume that what you're doing is correct and useful to the organisation. It was great to be involved in things like the first programme that Shirley Bassey did when she was a young girl in Tiger Bay. We did a programme from the docks and she sang with one of the warehouses as a backdrop."

Start Quote

I am a very enthusiastic person for the world of broadcasting and it's all been good to me”

End Quote Dewi Griffiths

Other highlights included working on Princess Margaret's wedding, Prince Charles' investiture at Caernarfon Castle and setting up Welsh Sports Personality of the Year.

He's particularly proud of filming the last TV appearance of Sir Winston Churchill, when the latter received French president Charles de Gaulle at a special Westminster Abbey service.

Griffiths also remembers working with broadcasting greats such as Richard Dimbleby and rugby commentator Bill McLaren. "I was privileged to work with some brilliant people and a lot of that rubs off on you. If you survive, you gain a lot of strength and confidence and you start making decisions that a lot of people wouldn't dare to attempt.

"It could make you unpopular with some of your friends but I didn't mind. What I knew was that whatever I did, I believed it was right for the programme and for the standard and reputation of the BBC."

String of Pearls

As part of the Thomson Foundation charity, he also trained people in Romania and China on setting up television stations.

But Griffiths caught the broadcasting bug growing up in the Rhondda Valley, where he was born in 1931.

"My father was a nutcase about the wireless, receiving and picking up the BBC and repairing receivers."

Start Quote

All the music of the BBC days before television arrived is very important to older listeners”

End Quote Dewi Griffiths

This triggered Griffith's fascination, which was reinforced by watching Hollywood films at the local workmen's institute, where his father - an invalided coal miner - became the librarian and manager.

His love of big band music helped him switch from sport production to radio in 1988, when he was given an initial six-week contract to present the new weekly show A String of Pearls on Radio Wales.

Aimed at older listeners, it showcased music from the 1920s to 50s and, more than two decades later, it continues to be one of station's most popular programmes.

"Nobody was playing our music at all - it was all Elvis Presley and rock 'n' roll. We loved music by talented youngsters like the Beatles and Abba but most of it was just a noise to us.

"There are far more older people in this world, I think, than is realised and they are so grateful to have a programme that reflects the singing of Bing Crosby, Gracie Fields or Vera Lynn. All the music of the BBC days before television arrived is very important to them because it is part of their growing-up memories.

"It's when they first met their sweethearts, when they were in uniform during the war, when they came back and started a family, and the programme is geared deliberately to reminding them of what happiness they derived from anything that wasn't as horrible as the Second World War, so that's why it works.

"Everyone likes to have happy memories and that's what the programme does."

Aged 82, he jokes that he won't stop broadcasting until he has to go into a care home.

"I'm not an intellectual, I'm not an academic, what I am is a very enthusiastic person for the world of broadcasting and it's all been good to me. It's given me a fascinating life and I've seen the world but I hope I've given in return value for money."

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