Groggs creator John Hughes, 79, from Pontypridd dies

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Media caption"They've become part of our culture, cherished and hugely collectable"

The man who created Groggs, the hand-carved caricature statues of sporting heroes and other celebrities, has died.

John Hughes, 79 and from Pontypridd, passed away after a long illness.

His business started in a garden shed and became well known for models of famous names, starting with Welsh rugby greats like Gareth Edwards and grew to include celebrities like Elvis and local hero Tom Jones.

Pontypridd RFC called him "a passionate supporter of Welsh rugby".

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Media caption'I was still playing when John Hughes started off the Groggs' says Gareth Edwards

In a website statement the club paid tribute to his support of his local club, and added: "John leaves behind a legacy worthy of his lifetime achievements. A genius, a gentleman, a character - he will be greatly missed."

In 2010 Mr Hughes was awarded an MBE for his services to ceramics.

Mr Hughes began a career in ceramics in the 1950s after he was able to take up a photography course in London because of the growing demands of a young family.

Originally, with his wife Pamela working to support the family, he worked out of three sheds in his back garden, scraping a living by selling ashtrays, plates and animal figures to gift shops.

He also carved figures of giant characters from the Mabinogion, a collection of ancient Welsh folk-tales.

Image caption John Hughes pictured with some of the famous Groggs he has created

But, in an interview with BBC Wales Mr Hughes said he had become tired of explaining the myths and legends behind the figures.

"I suddenly thought of doing modern 'giants' like the second row in the [Wales rugby] team, Brian Price and Brian Thomas," he said.

"I put the red jerseys on them and that's how it started. Then Gareth Edwards and the glory years of the '70s came along and we haven't stopped making them."

The Groggs are made at the family shop in Treforest, Pontypridd, are exported all over the world.

Auctions of the statues have raised thousands for charity over the past 40 years.

Tributes have started coming in to Mr Hughes who died on Tuesday.

Family friend and former Wales international and Pontypridd player Tommy David called him a "unique, hard-working and talented man" who always supported charity throughout his life.

"The incredible thing is that he put Pontypridd and Wales on the map.

"And he didn't just do Groggs of rugby players, there were entertainers too."

And Mr David explained how important getting a Grogg was to rugby players.

"Getting a Welsh cap in rugby is one thing, but to have a Grogg is unique and something special."

Wales and Lions prop Adam Jones also paid tribute in a tweet from the Australia tour: "So sad to learn about John, legend of a bloke will be sadly missed! My thoughts are with you all! #legend."

Rugby legend Gareth Edwards is the best-selling Grogg and still gets asked to autograph them wherever he is travelling in the world.

"John started off with a concept which a lot people at the time thought 'Oops it doesn't look very much like you'. But, of course, they were missing the point really.

"It was a great moment to enjoy a time and an era when we were enjoying the game, and it was a memento and a record of those achievements."

Pontypridd MP Owen Smith said it was "deeply sad news - a great man of Pontypridd and also of Wales. All our thoughts are with John's family."

Mr Smith said Groggs and the Groggs shop in Pontypridd were his lasting legacy but it was also very much a family business.

"I know his loved ones will be devastated by his death as will the wider community of Pontypridd."

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Media captionBBC Wales Today's Carwyn Jones went to meet Mr Hughes when he celebrated 40 years of making Groggs in 2005

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