The South Wales Echo recently asked its residual rump of remaining readers to select the ‘Greatest Cardiffian’ from a shortlist that included Gareth Edwards from Gwaencaegurwen, Ruth Jones from Porthcawl, Neil Kinnock from Tredegar, William Burges from London and Robert Scott from Devon. Leaving to one side whether these candidates should be rated ‘great’ or not, this typically hollow exercise stretches the definition of ‘Cardiffian’ to meaninglessness. Apparently you count as a Cardiffian if, like Captain Scott, you once spent an evening here. On this reckoning everybody – and thus nobody – is a Cardiffian. Sigh….this is just the Echo‘s usual desperate overcompensating for a total lack of confidence in actual Cardiff, the bipolar flip-side of the paper’s ceaseless boosterist aggrandising of the city, and is symptomatic of the general approach to all things Welsh at Media Wales (Cardiff office of London phone-tapping corporation Trinity Mirror).
I can’t let the Echo get away with playing fast and loose with one of my own identities like this, so I’ve hurried to completion a piece I’ve been working on for years: a catalogue (in alphabetical order) of Cardiffians who found fame beyond the city in their chosen fields. I hope it will show that there’s no need to shoe-horn in non-Cardiffians on flimsy pretexts; Cardiff has produced plenty of notable people thank you very much.
Moreover, these people have emerged in a comparatively short period of time. As recently as 1801 Cardiff was a tiny fishing village with a population of less than 2,000 and there was barely any such thing as a ‘Cardiffian’, or even such a concept. As a result, there are few pre-industrial names here. Also notably lacking are names from spheres where Cardiff supposedly excels: business and industry (outsiders run things, the natives do the work) and rugby union (none of the Welsh immortals so far have been Cardiffians). However, as will become apparent, the image of Wales as a land of bards, music and literature is well and truly reinforced by its capital city. What emerges too is an encouraging trend: increasingly you no longer have to escape to make it – you can make it here. As the new century develops, Cardiff is beginning to stop apologising for not being English and start setting its own Welsh terms. However the absence of any political heavyweight, anyone to inspire Wales to reach for the stars, is something a serious capital will need to rectify.
Note: Only those who were born, or spent their formative years, within today’s Cardiff boundaries qualify for inclusion.
DANNIE ABSE (1923-2014)
The youngest of the three high-achieving Abse brothers from Roath is in the very top rank of Wales’ English language poets, while his bitter-sweet prose recollections of inter-War Cardiff have become part of the city’s DNA. Deep, yet accessible; melancholy, yet life-affirming; Dannie Abse’s work will stand the test of time.
LEO ABSE (1917-2008)
From the tradition of secular, intellectual, socialist Jewry, young Leo Abse wanted to change the world – and did just that. After setting up Leo Abse & Cohen, which grew to be Cardiff’s biggest law firm, he was Labour MP for Pontypŵl for 29 years, a maverick backbencher who pioneered more private members’ legislation than any other 20th century parliamentarian, making a real difference to human relationships and social welfare. His Divorce Reform Act of 1963, Sexual Offences Act of 1967 and Children Act of 1975 are landmarks of liberalisation in UK history. Dynamic, dapper, prodigiously articulate Leo then embarked on a 3rd career as a writer of off-beat, Freudian biographies, the best of which, Margaret, Daughter of Beatrice, nailed Thatcher as a father-fixated misogynist, while The Man Behind The Smile forewarned us of Blair’s dark undercurrents.
WILFRED ABSE (1914-2005)
The oldest of the Abse brothers was a psychoanalyst who spent much of his career in the US, becoming an authority on group therapy and hysteria.
JIM ALFORD (1913-2004)
Middle distance runner from Temperance Town who won the Mile in the 1938 Empire (now Commonwealth) Games at Sydney to become the first ever athlete to win a gold medal in a Welsh vest. After his war-interrupted career ended he was appointed Wales’ first national athletics coach. Later he worked around the world as a revered coach and wrote definitive coaching manuals.
STEVE ANDREWS (1953-)
The Bard of Ely’s folky noodlings reach the global counterculture via the internet. Druid, herbalist, horticulturalist, poet, and as green as his goatee beard, the ‘last of the hippies’ is now Getting It Together in Portugal.
TREZZA AZZOPARDI (1961-)
Born in Butetown to a Welsh mother and a Maltese father, Azzopardi’s first novel The Hiding Place (2000), a pitiless tragedy about a Maltese family in 1960s Tiger Bay, was short-listed for the Booker Prize.
GARETH BALE (1989-)
Having been ignored by Cardiff City while at Whitchurch High, Bale was developed by Southampton. In 2013 the superb footballer moved from Tottenham Hotspur to Real Madrid for a world record transfer fee of £85 million.
LINCOLN BARRETT (1980-)
Innovative drum & bass producer, aka High Contrast, who leapt to prominence with his debut True Colours (2002) and now criss-crosses the planet on the international DJ circuit. Son of Lorraine Barrett, AM for Cardiff South & Penarth between 1999 and 2011, and fabled music-biz manager Paul ‘Legs’ Barrett.
SHIRLEY BASSEY (1937-)
Few can justifiably claim to be legends in their own lifetime, but the most famous Cardiffian of all time certainly can. It is odd how the very qualities which made the shy, mixed-race, 7th child of an impoverished single mother from Butetown seem uncool and ludicrous after her initial burst of success in the late 1950s, now make her seem refreshing and relevant. Her lack of black self-consciousness, epitomised by ill-advised tours of apartheid South Africa in the 1970s, speaks more of her upbringing by a white mother in the multiracial Cardiff docks than anything else, and who now would not prefer such casual colour-blindness to today’s mealy-mouthed pigeonholing? Her melodramatic performances, once written off as arch and kitsch, now seem like dazzling gifts of energy and commitment to her audience when compared to the self-regarding, studied indifference served up by the modern poseur, or the synthetic clichés of X Factor clones. Her unapologetic enjoyment of the shiny fripperies of riches and fame, no surprise for a girl who had to nick another kid’s jam sandwich at Moorland Road Primary School or go hungry, was for long condemned as shallow and vulgar, yet now appears classy and glamorous when set against the trashy conspicuous consumption of, say, Victoria Beckham. Her repertoire, formerly denounced as dated showbiz, is these days seen as a daringly eclectic garnering of global influences, drawing on everything from European operetta to American razzamatazz. Her flamboyant, regal manner, dismissed as drag queen camp, is now recognised as a highly attuned, self-mocking irony, decades ahead of its time. Even her tax-exile in the lap of luxury in Monaco begins to look like a wise rejection of a British state which never did anything for its blacks or its Welsh, when the alternative is shovelling money into Old Etonians’ craws. On her own terms, through sheer talent and determination, Shirley Bassey is one of the world’s supreme entertainers. That voice, with its unmistakeable Cardiff vowels, has an instantly recognisable quality most singers would die for. The back catalogue of songs, from genre-defining Goldfinger through to confessional show-stopper This is My Life, puts her up there with her girlhood heroes Garland and Piaf, and even in her 8th decade she added to the pedigree with self-referencing anthems The Performance Of My Life and The Girl From Tiger Bay, handwritten for her in 2009 by the Pet Shop Boys and James Dean Bradfield respectively. But more than all of this, her trump card is her own personality, forged in the back-streets of Splott: tough yet big-hearted, worldly-wise yet romantic. Not for her the sham angst of suburban neurosis; after teenage pregnancy, two divorces and a daughter’s suicide, she has lived the life not theorised about it. Cardiff never stopped loving her; she has always come back to us. And when she topped the bill at the concert to celebrate the opening of the Welsh Assembly in 1999, stunning in an off-the-shoulder gown bedecked in the Welsh dragon, belting it out over the transformed docks where she grew up, she somehow completed a circle began long ago, and transcendentally rose into the pantheon of all-time Welsh greats.
DONALD BAVERSTOCK (1924-1995)
Influential television producer and editor from Canton who became head of BBC programming in 1963 and commissioned groundbreaking satire That Was The Week That Was as well as modern survivors Dr Who and Songs of Praise. After getting embroiled in internal BBC politics he left in a huff to become programme director at Yorkshire Television. Yes, Emmerdale is his fault.
PETER BAYNHAM (1963-)
Comedy writer and performer, Oscar-nominated in 2007 as co-writer of Borat with Sacha Baron Cohen. The rubber-faced ex-Merchant seaman from Canton got his big break advertising Pot Noodle, the culinary crime concocted in Crumlin for students who are able to boil a kettle.
BINKIE BEAUMONT (1908-1973)
For 40 years Binkie Beaumont dominated London’s West End theatre. In his heyday he had no fewer than 14 productions running simultaneously. His HM Tennent empire, built when only in his 20s, set English theatre’s cultural agenda with glittering, star-laden, middle-brow productions for decade after decade. Never forgetting a slight, or a favour, scabrously witty, puckishly charming and utterly self-assured, Binkie Beaumont was the very definition of the theatrical impresario. Quite simply, you didn’t work in the West End if you fell out with Binkie. Among his many talents, Binkie was good at keeping secrets, cultivating a man-of-mystery persona and deviously laying false trails about an exotic past. The humdrum truth he was so desperate to hide was that he was born Hughes Griffiths Morgan, second son of a solidly Welsh, solidly Baptist, solidly respectable family of 12 Cathedral Road. His father was a barrister, his mother the daughter of a wealthy civil engineer. After his parents divorced, he took his step-father’s surname. His nickname was a Cardiff docks slang-word for ‘black’ once sarcastically said about blond baby Hughes when in his pram one Sunday afternoon in Sophia Gardens. It was only by happenstance that Binkie was introduced to the theatre. The Davies family living opposite at number 11 had a grown-up son better known to the world as Ivor Novello (see below). Ivor had everything young Binkie coveted – wealth, success, glamour – but had no clue how to get until being taken under the wing of the manager of the Playhouse in St Mary Street in 1923 after an introduction from Ivor’s mam. The bright-as-a-button teenager who soaked up knowledge like a sponge never looked back. By 1925 he had left Cardiff, never to return. Nowadays, Cardiffians are proud to proclaim their identity; but Binkie came from those generations of haute-bourgeoisie for whom Cardiff epitomised provincialism and crudeness and thus had to be erased from the CV if they were to hold their own in oh-so-refined English circles.
JOHN BELLE (1932-)
Pontcanna’s Belle sailed west to the States in 1959 and founded a leading firm of architects specialising in restoring New York’s historic buildings. His distinguished career climaxed in 2007 with his first Welsh commission, a tropical glasshouse for the National Botanic Garden at Llanarthne.
BILLY BOSTON (1934-)
A product of the Butetown melting-pot, Billy Boston is perhaps the best-known rugby league player of all time. He played union for Neath before Wigan lured him to the 13-man game in 1953. Those were the days of shamateurism and young Billy was in no position to reject the professional game’s pay-packet. Welsh rugby’s loss was Wigan’s gain. The winger’s strength, speed and hand-off brought him an astonishing 478 tries during 15 seasons in the Cherry & White hoops. After retirement he ran the Griffin pub close by Wigan’s Central Park ground, and his amiable, easy-going nature turned it into a rugby league shrine.
JEREMY BOWEN (1960-)
Senior BBC journalist and presenter, currently Middle East Editor. He survived Cardiff High School for Boys, so should be be able to cope if ever taken hostage and facing an imminent beheading.
DONALD BOX (1917–1993)
Educated at Llandaf Cathedral School, then as now a bastion of privilege, Box was a rightwing Tory MP for Cardiff North between 1959 and 1966. After losing the seat to Labour he turned to stockbroking and in the 1980s became a key adviser to the Thatcher government on the privatisation of public utilities and assets. Today all are owned by foreign conglomerates, corporate shareholders and offshore hedge funds – a far cry from Box’s vision of a “share-owning democracy”.
LEONORA BRITO (1954-)
Skilled chronicler of the black Cardiffian experience in her 1995 short story collection Dat’s Love. It wasn’t all harmony and integration on the Llanrumney estate in the 1960s.
DAVID BROOME (1940-)
David Broome grew up amid the horsey squirearchy in Fairwater, then a quaint hamlet in open countryside, to become the consummate horseman. Too tall to be a jockey, he instead went into Show Jumping, that strange sport of toy-town brick walls, hanging baskets, and nags named after Taiwanese electrical goods. After three European championships he was crowned World champion in 1970, and is still the only UK winner of the individual title.
SEAN BURKE (1961-)
Another serious writer who has picked over the entrails of old Tiger Bay (we all miss it so much). His nasty 2002 thriller Deadwater added to the growing literary exploration of Butetown.
JIM BURNS (1948-)
Award-winning fantasy artist and illustrator of hyper-real book and game covers, usually featuring gun-toting, semi-naked women with infeasible breasts in weird alien galaxy-scapes.
DUNCAN BUSH (1946-)
Primarily a poet of fastidious intelligence, but also a novelist, playwright and translator of French and Italian poetry into English. His 1993 novel Glass Shot originated a genre of Welsh noir.
PERCY BUSH (1879-1955)
The only rugby union player in this list, unorthodox, intelligent fly-half Bush from Romilly Road was Cardiff captain for three seasons and a key figure in Wales’ historic 1905 victory over the All Blacks. Known as ‘Will o’ the Wisp’ for his elusive running, he later had a career as a diplomat in France.
CAROLE CADWALLADR (1966-)
Journalist and columnist on London broadsheets who damaged her reputation in 2008 with a travel piece in The Observer about Wales. Displaying spectacular ignorance about her native land (she grew up in Peterstone-Super-Ely), as well as the phonetics of her own surname, she mocked Welsh as a “vowelless” language. Stwpyd.
WYN CALVIN (1925-)
Although from Narberth, “the Clown Prince of Wales” counts as a Cardiffian having been raised in Canton. The doyenne of pantomime dames, warmly witty Wyn is at the heart of mainstream British showbiz.
JOHN COATES CARTER (1859-1927)
One of a number of local architects influenced by William Burges (1827-1881), underrated Carter blended the arts & crafts look with technological advances to superb effect, most notably at Caldey Island Monastery in Pembrokeshire, his own house in Victoria Road Penarth and St Paul’s church in Paget Street Grangetown.
CHARLOTTE CHURCH (1986-)
She smokes, she drinks, she pukes in the back of taxis, she called George W Bush a “twat”, she made mincemeat of Murdoch and News International, and she’s leading the fightback against Tory ‘austerity’ – the girl’s practically perfect! In the public eye since age 12, when the lite-classic warblings of her debut album Voice of an Angel topped the charts, she shook off the shackles of her mother, barnstormed through a puberty of stormy relationships and wild benders, got her big house in the Vale, the heart’s desire of every middle-class Cardiff girl, made babies with Welsh rugby’s spray-tanned man-child Gavin Henson, ditched him with aplomb, and matured into today’s voluptuous, adorable, funny Welsh angel.
GILLIAN CLARKE (1937-)
A pivotal figure on the Welsh literary scene, Clarke is President of the Tŷ Newydd Writers Centre in Gwynedd, runs creative writing classes for schoolchildren and adults, and writes delicate, moving poetry – plaintive pleas for the feminine essence of Wales, translated into 10 languages and studied in schools across the UK. She has tackled Cardiff in poems like The Animal Wall (1999) and in prose pieces which recall her Cyncoed childhood in “the first house on the meadow,” where from her bed she “heard the steelworks thump in the dark and trains going east, and a colony of tawny owls in the woods and fields that would become the Llanedeyrn estate.” Clarke was appointed Wales’ National Poet in 2007.
MARTIN COLES (1956-)
As boss of global coffee chain Starbucks Coles presided over the tax-avoiding US corporation’s predatory growth, clustering new branches around existing local coffee-shops, undercutting them and closing them down. The Cardiff High School product was appointed a ‘Champion for Wales’ by First Minister Rhodri Morgan in 2007 – an illustration of just how far the Welsh Labour Party has sunk into the double-mocha-decaf-skinny-latté depths.
HUGH CUDLIPP (1913-1998)
PERCY CUDLIPP (1905-1962)
REGINALD CUDLIPP (1910-2005)
By 1953, the Cudlipp brothers were editing three newspapers which together were read by half the UK population. Percy at the Daily Herald (today’s Sun), Reg at the News of the World and Hugh at the Sunday Pictorial (today’s Sunday Mirror) had climbed to the top of the greasiest pole of all. Their upwardly-mobile parents moved from the backstreets of north Butetown, firstly to Arabella Street in Roath where Percy and Reg first saw the light of day, then to slightly posher Lisvane Street in Maendy where Hugh was born, but it was always a struggle to make ends meet. Cerebral Percy, urbane Reg and mercurial Hugh all gave up on their native city early in their careers, lured by the glamour and excitement of Fleet Street, but the close-knit Cardiff of their youth deeply influenced their progressive, social-reforming politics. Hugh, in particular, became a giant of 20th century popular journalism. He and Reg lived long enough to see the transformation of their papers into shrill, manipulative rags, apologists for the powerful and persecutors of the weak.
ROALD DAHL (1916-1990)
Brilliant children’s author who lived in Llandaf until he was nine, attending the Cathedral School. Quite late in his eventful life he wrote a string of best-sellers, tapping into a child’s delight in the gruesome, the hilarious and the comeuppance of adults, many of which were made into successful films. Dahl was an unpleasant, misogynistic, anti-semitic bully; but there is no law that says creative geniuses must also be nice people. He never identified as Welsh: he was very much a posh Anglo/American-Norwegian, and Cardiff as a location barely figured in his work. The museum dedicated to him is in Great Missenden, England, where he lived most of his life. It was thus a surprise when the redeveloped Oval Basin at the heart of the Bay was renamed Roald Dahl Plass. Other capital cities celebrate national heroes when they name their important public spaces; Cardiff humiliatingly scratches around for anyone well known who happened to spend a bit of time here.
EDGEWORTH DAVID (1858-1934)
Once a household name, particularly in Australia where he settled from 1882, David was a geologist, teacher, Antarctic pioneer and public figure. In 1907 he led the first ascent of Mt Erebus, Antarctica’s only active volcano. Two years later, after an epic four-month journey, he led the first team to reach the magnetic South Pole. He completed a monumental geology of Australia in 1932 and when he died thousands thronged the streets of Sydney for his state funeral, far from the St Fagans rectory where he had spent his first 12 years.
ANDREW DAVIES (1936-)
When TV executives want some Kulture in their schedules, they speed-dial Rhiwbina’s Andrew Davies, king of the literary adaptation. From Bleak House to Doctor Zhivago, there’s scarcely a classic text which hasn’t received the trademark Davies treatment. This involves clever soapy précis combined with absurdly anachronistic ‘sexing-up’ for today’s jaded viewer. Think Mr Darcy’s wet shirt in Pride and Prejudice, concocted lesbian scenes in Moll Flanders, or his soft-porn take on The Way We Live Now.
CLARE DENIZ (1911-2002)
A pioneering black woman musician from Grangetown who excelled as a pianist. With her husband Frank and brother-in-law Joe (see below) she was at the heart of London’s jazz scene between the 1930s and the 1950s.
FRANK DENIZ (1912-2005)
JOE DENIZ (1913-1994)
The Deniz brothers from Christina Street in Butetown, the sons of a Welsh mother and a seaman father from the Cape Verde Islands, grew up listening to traditional Portugese music, Caribbean and African airs, sea shanties and Welsh folk songs in an era just before jazz came to Europe. When barely into their teens both boys went to sea from a Cardiff port then at its zenith, and on their ocean wanderings they honed their guitar skills and picked up further influences from south America to China. In the 1930s, back on dry land, their musical careers took off as guitarists in the orchestra of Ken ‘Snakehips’ Johnson (1914-1941) which broadcast hugely popular live radio performances from London’s Café de Paris. This pioneering swing band of black musicians cleared the way for the post-war explosion of black music in the UK. Inseparable Frank and Joe survived being torpedoed three times in WW2 and then thrived as specialist guitarists right through to the late 1950s, when modern jazz and rock swept away demand for their intricate rhythmic styles.
PAUL DICKSON (1920-2011)
The son of a Llandaf tobacconist had a long, successful career as a director in film, TV and advertising. He saw himself as a journeyman director so never really built on the startling early talent he displayed in his 1951 Welsh documentary David.
DAN DONOVAN (1901-1986)
From North Clive Street in Grangetown, smooth crooner Dan was lead vocalist with the Henry Hall (1898-1989) dance band in the 1930s. Grandfather of Dave Burns of The Hennessys (see below).
JIM DRISCOLL (1880-1925)
When ‘Peerless’ Jim Driscoll died of tuberculosis in 1925, Cardiff held its biggest ever funeral. Over 100,000 lined the streets as the cortege wound its way from St Paul’s Catholic church on Tyndall Street, through Newtown, the ‘Little Ireland’ of overcrowded terraces where Jim spent his whole life, up North Road, past the Nazareth House orphanage that he tirelessly supported, and on to Cathays Cemetery. The featherweight champion had touched the hearts of the people, having battled his way through his father’s death in a goods yard accident when he was just seven months old, grinding poverty, perpetual ill-health and bare-knuckle bouts in fairground booths and pub back-rooms to become the supreme boxer of his generation. His skilled, technical style, devastating piston of a straight left punch and defensive genius meant he was nigh impossible to hurt. It was hard-bitten American boxing reporters who dubbed him ‘Peerless’ after he comprehensively out-boxed World champion Abe Atell (1883-1970) in New York in 1910. Only the ‘no decision’ rule then common in the US denied Driscoll the official World title, and he turned down a quick rematch with the title at stake because he had to get his ship home to fulfil a promise to box in Nazareth House’s annual charity show! Driscoll was still boxing at the highest level at 40, unwilling to disappoint his devoted fans, and by then he was also running the Duke of Edinburgh pub in Ellen Street. His philanthropy was in no way comparable to the self-promoting tax fiddle of the modern celeb ‘doing a lot of work for charidee’: he was part of the very community he helped; he suffered with them; he lived, and died, as they did. In 1966 the class warriors of Cardiff Council used compulsory purchase orders to have the entire Newtown area flattened, the better to boost rateable income and clear the central city of undesirable proles: all Jim Driscoll had fought for was destroyed by the mediocrities who always seem to hold power in Cardiff. A bronze statue of him by Philip Blacker was belatedly erected on Bute Terrace in 1997, put into storage for years when the area became a building site and then incompatibly placed under the preening tower of the 4-Star Radison Blu hotel. A more evocative memorial can be found at the Royal Oak pub in Roath, run for years by Driscoll’s cousin Jim Burns (1899-1971). Downstairs the ornate bar is full of Driscoll memorabilia, and upstairs is the Driscoll Gym, the last pub boxing-ring in Cardiff, neglected for years but rejuvenated and reopened by boxer Gareth Piper in 2010.
MAURICE EDELMAN (1911-1975)
Sophisticated, smooth-talking Edelman was a lynch-pin political fixer in the 1960s during the years when Harold Wilson’s government hung on with tiny majorities. From the same Cardiff Jewish community as the Abses and Maurice Orbach (1902-1979), another Labour MP of the era, Edelman never tasted electoral defeat as MP for Coventry for 30 years. He was also a war reporter, linguist, historian, playwright, and author of 11 well-received novels, including the Cardiff-set Who Goes Home (1953), worth tracking down today.
DAVE EDMUNDS (1944-)
Like so many of that first wave of teenagers exasperated and bored by the monochrome conformity of post-war Cardiff, Dave Edmunds looked for his freedom in the intoxicating American dream. Chuck Berry, Elvis (1935-1977) and Buddy Holly (1936-1959) inspired the Teddy Boy from Orbit Street to teach himself guitar. He paid his dues in local blues bands before a breakthrough hit in 1968 with psychedelic trio Love Sculpture: a dazzlingly dexterous seven-minute reworking of Sabre Dance by Khachaturian (1903-1978). Going solo, he got to Number 1 in 1970 with another cover, a gripping version of the Smiley Lewis (1913-1966) classic I Hear You Knocking. This was the first hit of many for the Rockfield Studios, which Edmunds was helping brothers Charles and Kingsley Ward to build deep in the Gwent countryside. Hanging out there in the hippy heyday, Edmunds learnt to meticulously recreate the sounds of the records he loved and became an in-demand producer. His gritty, stripped-down sound launched the Pub Rock movement of the early 1970s, while his ability to pastiche styles kept the hits coming, whether as a solo performer or in his collaborations with Nick Lowe for Rockpile. As Prog gave way to Glam gave way to Punk gave way to New Romantics, Edmunds ignored the vagaries of fashion and stayed true to himself, his cool, sharp attitude keeping rock’n’roll popular long after other 1950s tastes were dead and buried. His solo career eventually stalled in the 1980s so he concentrated on production, working with big mainstream names and becoming exceedingly wealthy. Now semi-retired, living in Los Angeles, for Dave the dream came true. Whenever he embarks on his increasingly infrequent tours, he makes sure he plays in Wales; most recently, in 2004, he ended his sell-out Coal Exchange gig with virtuoso performances of Cwm Rhondda, Men of Harlech and Ar Hyd y Nos. You know what they say; you can take the boy out of Cardiff…
WILLIAM ERBERY (1604-1654)
The vicar of St Mary’s was a prominent figure in the early annals of Welsh Nonconformism. In 1638 Archbishop of Canterbury Laud (1573-1645), persecuting the tiniest unorthodoxy, evicted unyielding Erbery from St Mary’s. Undaunted, he tramped the neighbourhood as an itinerant preacher, championing the cause of the poor and oppressed.
MARC EVANS (1963-)
Film director nicknamed ‘Dark Marc’ for his output in the horror genre. He built his reputation making arty dramas for Welsh TV before his first feature film House of America, a stark allegory of post-industrial Wales set in a crushed mining town, brought him to wider attention in 1997. Evans has since pushed further at the boundaries of creepiness with movies like Resurrection Man, My Little Eye, Trauma and Snowcake. Comfortable working in English or Welsh, and therefore unencumbered by a monoglot’s anglocentricity, he has also directed in France and Italy.
ANDY FAIRWEATHER-LOW (1948-)
Cardiff may not have produced a pivotal rock band (yet), nevertheless it has been a fertile breeding ground for rock musicians, especially guitarists. Across a 40-year career Andy Fairweather-Low has made himself the guitarist’s guitarist. Equally proficient on lead, rhythm or bass, he has long been the go-to sideman for rock’s aristocracy – names like Eric Clapton, BB King (1925-2015), Roger Waters, Pete Townshend, Bill Wyman, George Harrison (1943-2001), David Crosby, John Mayall and Van Morrison. Revered by his peers for the sheer breadth of his stylistic range – whether it’s soul, country, gospel, rockabilly, jazz or blues, Andy can play it – he’s pretty useful on vocals too, retaining the powerful high voice that made his name in the first place. All the more remarkable then that he is entirely self-taught, and that he began as the baby-faced pin-up singer with the quintessential Mod group Amen Corner. Growing up in Dulverton Avenue, Llanrumney, the only music in the house was his dad’s Jimmy Shand (1908-2000) waxings and a bit of skiffle, but Andy was a teenager at precisely the right time – just as the creative explosion of the 1960s was getting going and when any lad with a bit of imagination and rebelliousness in him was bitten by the music bug. Amen Corner formed in Cardiff in 1966, arrived in London in 1967 and, after a string of hits, became the first Welsh band to have a UK Number 1 with (If Paradise Is) Half As Nice in 1969. Their brassy, good-time R&B, featuring Fairweather-Low’s distinctive husky falsetto, still sounds great today. After the band split he had a successful solo career throughout the 1970s before turning to the session work in the 1980s. In 2006 he released his first solo album for 26 years, Sweet Soulful Music, and toured with his own band. A genuinely nice man with his feet on the ground, Andy has lived in the same house in Rhiwbina since 1971. “Why do you still live in Cardiff when you could be in California?” I asked him, crassly. “I live in Cardiff because it’s me,” was his pitch-perfect answer.
PETER FINCH (1947-)
Poet, author, editor, anthologist and writer of the excellent Real Cardiff series (What’s he on? I want some of it).
KEN FOLLETT (1949-)
Snotty critics tend to dismiss the works of this prolific writer of hefty espionage and historical thrillers as corny pulp, gratuitously plotted, bereft of plausible characters, stuffed with linguistic anachronisms and aimed at bored people in airport lounges who move their lips when they read. But wait: I know how difficult it is to write in English without making fundamental errors like ending a sentence with the word ‘of’. So I’m going to declare Canton Ken the cream of Kairdiff. Can his millions of world-wide readers be wrong?
PETE FOWLER (1969-)
Now running a mini-industry of weird monster toys and comics, the artist from Rumney made his name with psychedelic, Japanese-influenced cartoons for Super Furry Animals’ album covers.
DAVID FREEMAN (1928-2015)
Freeman, the go-getting son of a secular Jewish Butetown tailor, built his solicitor’s practice into one of London’s leading law firms. He was involved in many high-profile cases, most memorably in 1967 when conducting Prime Minister Harold Wilson’s (1916-1995) libel action against pop band The Move for their Flowers in the Rain promotional material. Freeman won (he usually did), the offending cartoon of Wilson in bed with his secretary Marcia Williams has never been seen since, and all royalties from the first record ever played on Radio One still go to the Wilson Estate’s nominated charities.
KATHLEEN FREEMAN (1897-1959)
A classical scholar, lecturer in Greek at Cardiff University, Cantonian Freeman brought that intellectual rigour to a series of literate detective novels written under the pseudonym Mary Fitt.
GREEN GARTSIDE (1955-)
Born Paul Strohmeyer in Cardiff, then raised in Cwmbrân following his father’s death and mother’s remarriage, pretentious young Paul changed his name to Green in honour of his verdant Gwent surroundings, headed off to art college to doss around on a fat grant cheque (these were the days before student loans), boned up on a lot of philosophical twaddle about deconstructionism and situationism, then single-handedly invented ‘post-punk’ with his band Scritti Politti. By 1980 Green’s ravaged health forced him to return to Wales and recuperate for a few years. Scritti Politti re-emerged as his personal vehicle. He discovered melody, polished his honeyed falsetto voice, wrote the heckling rhapsody The Sweetest Girl and forged the landmark album Cupid & Psyche 85, an influential showcase of sliced beats and inventive use of studio technology. Now bearded and bespectacled and living in east London, he reappeared in 2006 as a performer of shimmering harmonies on a loose, primitive backing.
MICKEY GEE (1943-2009)
Virtuoso finger-pickin’ master of the Fender Telecaster, a key figure in the careers of Tom Jones, Dave Edmunds and Shakin’ Stevens. Mickey stayed rooted, wielding that axe in countless Cardiff pubs and clubs for nigh on 50 years.
RYAN GIGGS (1973-)
With his thrilling runs, effortless balance and control, smooth acceleration and devilish crossing, Ryan Giggs ranks with the greatest wingers football has ever produced. He is Manchester United’s most successful player ever, with 22 major honours, as well as holder of the club appearance record. His tally of 13 championship medals is the all-time record in the 125-year history of the English League. But even Giggsy, who had left Ely for Manchester at age seven, could not help Wales qualify for a World Cup (football being an 11-man game) and he retired from international football in 2007 to wind down his career at Old Trafford, spend more time with his super-injunction lawyers and undermine Welsh football autonomy by captaining the ‘GB’ team at the London Olympics. In 2014 he became United’s assistant manager.
PETER GILL (1939-)
A superlative playwright and theatre director of over 80 productions, Gill is a trenchant critic of the cash-based populism and sanctimonious high-mindedness crippling modern British theatre. He left Cardiff at age 17, but many of his best works revolve around the city’s poor, Catholic, working-class communities. His 1997 play, Cardiff East, drawing on the old Illtydian’s knowledge of Adamsdown, Splott and Tremorfa, asked the pertinent question “Why don’t the Welsh reach for the Armalite?” I have a tentative answer: because they’re not stocked at Poundland?
CHERYL GILLAN (1952-)
The millionaire’s daughter from Llandaf proceeded via Cheltenham Ladies College and a non-job in ‘marketing’ to a safe seat as Tory MP for Chesham & Amersham in 1992. Her two otherwise forgettable years as the ConDem’s Secretary of State for Wales were redeemed by the Yes victory in the 2011 referendum on further devolution. ‘Dave’ reshuffled her out in 2012.
NIXON GREY (1880-1952)
Music hall vaudevillian who wrote the lyrics to Up The Wooden Hill To Bedfordshire, the twee appeal to generations of children to please let their knackered parents have some quality time.
TANNI GREY-THOMPSON (1969-)
She overcame spina bifida to win 11 Golds at four Paralympics and six London Marathons. Laden with awards, Tanni never puts the handbrake on: she’s heavily involved in sports-quangoland, a regular on Welsh TV and was made a peer in 2010.
JOHN GRIFFITH (1918-2010)
During a 47-year academic life at the London School of Economics, Griffith was the leading public law scholar of his generation and the last link with the LSE’s radical socialist tradition.
IOAN GRUFFUDD (1973-)
The bilingual actor from Whitchurch began as a child star on the soap Pobol y Cwm before making his international breakthrough in 1997 in Titanic. After impressing as the lead in films like Solomon a Gaenor (Oscar-nominated as best foreign film) and the touching Very Annie Mary, he built a swooning female fan club in the TV miniseries Hornblower. Gruffudd moved to LA in 2002, and the Yanks duly fell for his mellifluous intonation – a heady mix of RADA and Radyr. Success as the stretchy one in the Fantastic Four blockbusters elevated him to the Hollywood A-list, and he hasn’t had to play down his Welshness or pretend to be English as previous generations of Welsh thespians were obliged to do.
DAN LLYWELYN HALL (1980-)
Artist born in Cardiff but raised in Barry who hit the headlines in 2013 when he became the 133rd, and youngest, to paint Elizabeth II, commissioned by the ever-genuflecting Welsh Rugby Union to mark the 60th anniversary of her coronation. The critics had a field day, likening the portrait to “a drag impersonator”, “a hideous cartoon” and “a Spitting Image puppet”. Hmm…this means Dan captured her perfectly!
RALPH HANCOCK (1893-1950)
From Keppoch Street in Roath, Hancock got bored working in marine insurance in James Street, took up horticulture and never looked back after inventing the concept of the ‘sky garden’. His most famed works were the 1936 Derry & Toms Roof Garden in Kensington (still there, on what is now a hotel) and the 1933 ‘Gardens of the Nations’ on top of the Rockefeller Center in New York (largely dismantled in WW2).
GUTO HARRI (1966-)
It’s not true that being a Welsh speaker automatically radicalises you; there are plenty of Cymru Conservatives, like ex-BBC man Harri from Whitchurch who, after a stint as spin doctor for buffoonish London Mayor Boris Johnson, now acts as apologist, sorry Director of Communications, for News International.
FRANK HENNESSY (1947-)
“I’m Cardiff born and Cardiff bred, and when I dies I’ll be Cardiff dead.” Rumney’s Frank wrote the city’s nonchalant, secular anthem. His bilingual traditional folk group the Hennessys, formed in 1966 with Dave Burns and Paul Powell (1946-2007), are mainstays of the Celtic/Roots circuit in Wales, Brittany, Ireland and Scotland.
JOHN HUMPHRYS (1943-)
The Inquisitor General and longest-serving presenter on Radio 4’s Today programme is the master of adversarial debate. The chippy lad from Pearl Street entered journalism after leaving Cardiff High School for Boys at age 15 to become a cub reporter on the Penarth Times, and is one among countless ex-pupils who look back with hatred at the place for its sadism, snobbery and conservatism. Today’s child protection laws would see most of those scary masters sacked but, in a roundabout way, it is they we have to thank for the suspicion of authority which is Humphrys’ best attribute. Lately he has built a reputation as a commentator in his own right, producing a stream of curmudgeonly books on contemporary woes. He’s railed against modern art, agri-business, mangled English and dumbed-down TV. Brother Bob Humphrys (1952-2008), the bland, bluff face of sport on BBC Wales for 19 years, couldn’t have been more different.
BERT ISAAC (1923-2006)
Artist and teacher who studied with Ceri Richards (1903-1971) during wartime at Cardiff College of Art, was a pillar of the Glamorgan summer school for over 40 years, and drove himself through 60 years of vibrant creativity without faltering. Even near death in Abergavenny with advanced Parkinson’s disease, Bert had his brushes in hand.
COLIN JACKSON (1967-)
Colin Jackson dominated sprint hurdling, a highly technical, explosive athletics discipline. His 110m Hurdle world record, set in Stuttgart in 1993, was eventually bettered only in 2006, and he still holds the 60m Hurdle world indoor record, set as long ago as 1994. Since retirement the laid-back Llanedeyrn lad has shifted easily into the banal burbling of TV punditry.
BILL JAMES (1929-)
The ‘Harpur & Isles’ stories of this workaholic author of exhilarating crime fiction from Grangetown are published all over the world. Their surreal style, gallows humour and savage violence mark James out as a rare original in the otherwise pretty stale genre of police procedurals.
JOHN JAMES (1939-)
The St Illtyd’s old boy escaped into Cambridge academia and challenging avant-garde poetics. His complex, experimental works, shot through with lyrical insights, have gradually garnered critical acclaim.
MARK JAMES (1969-)
Graphic designer from Canton able to wind up the rightwing tabloids with pungent cultural ephemera like a football hooligan doll, or a limited-edition poster for each UK soldier killed in Iraq featuring an Action Man in a coffin.
GREVILLE JANNER (1928-2015)
Another Cardiff Jew who climbed Labour’s greasy pole, Janner was a Leicester MP for 27 years before becoming a member of the House of Lords. Long prominent in the hunt for holocaust-deniers and surviving Nazis, Janner’s reputation was destroyed in 2015 when the Crown Prosecution Service announced they would not be prosecuting him for 22 counts of child sexual abuse in Leicestershire between 1969 and 1988 because he was unfit to stand trial due to dementia – a sick-note defence that only works when you have friends in high places.
GERAINT JARMAN (1950-)
Denbigh born but Cardiff bred, Geraint Jarman embarked on a musical voyage of discovery after witnessing newly-electrified Bob Dylan silence folk-purist hecklers during a gig at the Capitol cinema in 1966. With Meic Stevens of Solfach, the Godfather of Welsh music, and Heather Jones (see below) he formed irreverent, experimental folk group Bara Menyn in 1969, opening the floodgates for a Welsh music revival which continues unabated to this day. In the 1970s the dynamic, inventive Jarman pulled together some of the best musicians across Wales to form Geraint Jarman a’r Cynganeddwyr (The Poets), ramshackle, lo-fi, new wave adventurers who covered every style imaginable and kickstarted the modern age for Welsh music. The stunningly eclectic innovator has subsequently evolved into the king of Welsh dub and reggae.
WILLIAM GOSCOMBE JOHN (1860-1952)
The works of Wales’s foremost sculptor are all over Cardiff, particularly around the civic centre in Cathays Park where his brilliantly-executed bronzes sit splendidly in the monumental spaciousness. John’s dramatic 1917 statue of St David in the City Hall gallery of Welsh heroes is perhaps his finest work. His sculptures of kings, princes, lords and viscounts, often aboard a horse, can be found in many large UK cities, but his Welsh works resonate most. His father from Union Street (now Gray Street), Canton, was principal wood-carver for the 3rd Marquis of Bute’s (1847-1900) transformation of Cardiff Castle. Young William couldn’t have had a better training; as a teenager he worked under his father on the Private Apartments and soaked up the atmosphere of polymath learning.
BOBI JONES (1929-2017)
It is no exaggeration to describe Robert Maynard Jones from Cyfarthfa Street in Roath as one of the key writers in the entire 1,500-year history of Welsh literature. His vast output of poetry, novels, short stories and criticism makes him the most prolific Welsh writer of all time. In many ways Bobi Jones is to Wales what WB Yeats (1865-1939) is to Ireland – the poet whose work defines his country. Deliciously unbothered with English recognition, Jones’s broad cultural perspectives, Christian (Calvinist) nationalism and versatile mastery of the “salty tang” of Welsh elevate him out of parochial Britain into the ranks of the European greats. His masterwork was Hunllef Arthur (1986), a 21,000-line ‘anti-epic’ poem exploring the Welsh psyche with astonishing historical sweep and daring surrealism. Jones was also vital as a campaigner for the perennially endangered Welsh language, recognising early the need to win over non-Welsh speakers. In 1982 he founded CYD (Cymdeithas y Dysgwyr – The Learners’ Society) which subsequently helped thousands of adults learn Welsh. Jones himself was living proof of what a learner can achieve. His mother and father did not speak the language, having lost it in the previous generation, and Bobi only began learning in 1940 at Cathays High School, the family having moved to nearby Gelligaer Street. From those beginnings he rose to become Professor of Welsh at Aberystwyth. Mind you, he had his work cut out with a student by the name of Charles Windsor in 1969. The unemployed 21 year-old needed to be crammed with Welsh in readiness for a mock-medieval shindig he was due to attend in Caernarfon – but his speech impediment and learning difficulties were impossible to overcome.
GETHIN JONES (1978-)
Now on breakfast telly duties, Jones was a presenter on children’s TV institution Blue Peter from 2005 to 2008 after serving his apprenticeship on S4C. He personifies a definite 21st century Cardiff type: the nice-but-dim bilingual rugby boy with a silly haircut. That sentence is one I made earlier.
GRIFF RHYS JONES (1953-)
Having left Cardiff as a child and acquired a very English cut-glass accent, Jones took the well-worn middle-class path via Cambridge and the Footlights Club to the BBC and sketch comedy. He set up a lucrative production company with comedy partner Mel Smith (1952-2013) and eventually turned into today’s panting autocue-reader linking bloopers clips, presenting middle-brow documentaries, fronting anodyne travelogues and hosting telethon whip-rounds. Nice work if you can get it.
HEATHER JONES (1950-)
Heather Jones learnt Welsh as a second language in Cathays High School when the language was at its lowest ebb in Cardiff. She was therefore well positioned to be in at the beginning of the revival of Welsh folk music in the late 1960s. Her pure, warm voice gave flower-child idealism to the pioneering trio Bara Menyn, the breakthrough success for the Sain record label now revered by music buffs globally for its eclecticism and independence. Still in Whitchurch, Jones singing continues to captivate audiences throughout the Celtic world.
BRIAN JOSEPHSON (1940-)
The probing intellectual climate of east Cardiff’s Jewish community in the 20th century can chalk up another high-flier in Brian Josephson, winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1973. His formidable cerebrum discovered tunnelling between superconductors at Trinity College, Cambridge – a phenomenon now named after him as ‘The Josephson Effect’. Having hit his creative peak early in life, the Professor subsequently became a follower of the Maharishi Maresh Yogi (the giggling guru with a $3billion business empire and a fleet of pink Rolls Royces), making it quite difficult to take him seriously again.
ANNA KASHFI (1934-)
Sexy Joan O’Callaghan was born in India, where her father worked as a supervisor on the railways, and grew up in Maendy after the family relocated to Cardiff. She went to Hollywood, reinvented herself as an ‘Indian princess’, landed a few bit parts, hooked voracious womaniser Marlon Brando (1924-2004), got dumped when he found out the truth, had a 13-year losing custody battle over screwed-up son Christian (1958-2008), and ended up broke and alone in a trailer park. There, but for the grace of God…
JUSTIN KERRIGAN (1974-)
Director Kerrigan’s 1999 film Human Traffic followed Jip, Lulu, Koop and Moff over a weekend of ecstasy-fuelled Cardiff clubbing and gave the Rave generation their Quadrophenia. His return to directing in 2008 after years of absence, the subtle and moving I Know You Know, was well worth the long wait.
BERNARD KNIGHT (1931-)
Wales’ best-known crime writer in English shifts truck-loads of his ‘Crowner John’ medieval whodunits, set in a meticulously-researched and authentically stinking 12th century Exeter, but he is even better known as the pre-eminent forensic pathologist of his generation. Until retirement he was Professor of Forensic Pathology at the College of Medicine in Cardiff, he wrote the standard texts on forensics, recognised world-wide as the bibles of the autopsy room, and he was the man called in by the Home Office whenever shocking murders required his expertise and his scalpel. Knight, born in Paget Street Grangetown, is still a resident of his home town in Lisvane and increasingly seeks to emphasise his Welsh identity with works like Brennan (2003), set in a violent post-apocalypse Cardiff – and I don’t mean St Mary Street on a Saturday night.
DONNA LEWIS (1973-)
The singer-songwriter’s 1996 hit I Love You Always Forever was the most-played single ever on US radio up to that point. Classically trained at the Welsh College of Music & Drama, she has stretched out into electronica, house, trance and production.
GWYNETH LEWIS (1959-)
In the past decade Gwyneth Lewis has soared to prominence to lead the new generation of Welsh poets. She was inaugurated as the first National Poet of Wales in 2005, her 15ft high words (Creu Gwir fel Gwydr o Ffwrnais Awen; In these Stones Horizons Sing) adorn the front of the Wales Millennium Centre, and with the help of a £75,000 fellowship she has embarked on a tour of the world-wide network of ports which made Cardiff so cosmopolitan. Lewis is from a Welsh-speaking home in Whitchurch and her humane, wise, often sad poems are best read in her first language; however, she also writes in English with authority and invention, including prose on her struggle with clinical depression and her rocky marriage.
MONTY LEWIS (1907-1997)
Painter, muralist and designer who emigrated to the US with his mother as a teenager. He was a beneficiary of the ‘New Deal’ Federal Arts Project in the 1930s, an enlightened and progressive response to poverty and inequality quite inconceivable today in Trump’s America. He became a respected artist and educator in New York and later California.
ALUN LLYWELYN-WILLIAMS (1913-1988)
Thoughtful, humanist poet and critic who wrote in Welsh as an act of will, English being his first language, and fused the urban Cardiff experience with the Welsh tradition.
RONALD LOCKLEY (1903-2000)
The world-renowned field-naturalist R M Lockley developed his love of nature as a sensitive, solitary child in Whitchurch, then a picturesque, rural village surrounded by small farms. Blackberrying up the Wenallt, building island dens on the Glamorganshire Canal, bird-watching in the abundant woods, Lockley passionately engaged with the natural world. After Cardiff High School he took on a small poultry farm at Began in the lush lower reaches of the Rhymni valley in 1922. There he created a wild-life haven, decades before the Green movement, before leaving in 1927 to take a 21-year lease on Skokholm, a storm-lashed 250 acre island off the western tip of Pembrokeshire inhabited only by rabbits and sea birds. On Skokholm, Lockley’s dedicated collecting of scientific data, particularly on puffins, Manx shearwaters and storm petrels, went into the annals of ornithology. He developed a major career as a writer of unsentimental yet lyrical observational and autobiographical books. The first, Dream Island, was published in 1930; the 55th and last, Dear Islandman, in 1996 when Lockley was 93! In 1950 he moved to Orielton near Milford Haven where he set up a nature reserve, in use today as an educational centre, was instrumental in the founding of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, devised the route of the coastal footpath, forerunner of today’s All Wales Coast Path, and wrote what was to be his most influential work, The Private Life of the Rabbit (1964). This study of rabbits’ unique social order would later turn out to be the inspiration for Richard Adams’ anthropomorphic bunny-weepy Watership Down. In 1977, Ronald Lockley emigrated to New Zealand, in despair at the destruction of nature in the UK. For over a decade he had unsuccessfully led the battle against the coming of the oil industry to the supposedly protected Milford Haven waterway. As more and more refineries, pipelines, tankers and oil-slicks desecrated the area, he settled in the Bay of Plenty on the other side of the world, there to live to a grand old age.
CHRISTOPHER LOVE (1618-1651)
Inspired by a William Erbery sermon, Love became an ultra-Presbyterian. He had a turbulent career as a minister in London before being executed on Tower Hill for his involvement in what was known as ‘Love’s Plot’, one of the many religious/political intrigues against Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658).
RICHARD MARQUAND (1938-1987)
Film director who was building a glossy Hollywood career with movies like Return Of The Jedi and Jagged Edge before his early death from a stroke. The son of Hilary Marquand (1901-1972), Labour MP for Cardiff East 1945-1950, and brother of David Marquand, Labour grandee, academic and writer.
WALTER MARSHALL (1932-1996)
A brainy schoolboy at St Illtyd’s College (then in Courtenay Road, Splott), Walter Marshall from Rumney became a monster: the atomic apostle who promised “power too cheap to meter” in the 1960s; the prime advocate of nuclear proliferation in the 1970s; the hawker of nuclear technology to the Shah of Iran; Thatcher’s henchman in the 1984 Miners’ Strike as head of the Central Electricity Generating Board; greedy gobbler of energy company directorships just as soon as electricity was privatised; a villainous thug who buried his Cardiff accent in a plutonium-enriched growl.
CERYS MATTHEWS (1969-)
Born in Cardiff, but brought up in west Wales, Cerys Matthews was lead singer with indie band Catatonia for 10 years until they dissolved in 2001 in the usual chaos of personality clashes and de-tox clinics. Cerys was ‘Cool Cymru’ personified: her rrichly rrolling in-yer-face pan-Wales accent plus her sassy loucheness spelling out the message that the Welsh inferiority complex was history. Her extraordinary voice, part paint-stripper, part moisturising-milk, made Catatonia’s pop anthems a soundtrack to the 1990s, and gave young Wales the immortal line ‘Everyday when I wake up I thank the Lord I’m Welsh’ on the classic International Velvet album. In 2002 she relocated to Nashville to clear her system of alcohol and heroin, made a country album, married her record producer and had babies. For a while it looked like she would settle in the US, baking corn cookies for Her Man and pluckin’ chicken on a Tennessee verandah, but few exiles can resist the insistent tug of hiraeth calling us home and Cerys was no exception: in 2006 she returned, minus husband, to live in Pembrokeshire. In 2007 she made the mistake of cooing over some Z-lister’s correspondence-course triceps on I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here! – but soon rebuilt her reputation with eclectic and informed radio shows and increasingly idiosyncratic music. Her ecstatic acceptance of an MBE from ‘prince’ Charles in 2014 then completed her absorption into the British establishment and marked the final demise of Cool Cerys. Well, there’s been a vacancy for a Stage Welshwoman ever since Nerys Hughes and Ruth Madoc hung up their shawls.
JEAN McFARLANE (1926-2012)
Raised in Llandaf and educated at Howell’s school, McFarlane was one of nursing’s great pioneers, formulating the processes that are now part of every nurse’s practice.
BILL MEILEN (1932-2006)
Billy Mudd of Butetown roamed far and wide before settling in Canada in 1969 and enjoying a multifaceted career as actor, broadcaster, screenwriter, novelist, poet and dialect expert. But there was only one place he wanted to be buried: back in his beloved Wales in Cathays Cemetery, coffin draped in the Draig Goch.
PAUL MOORCRAFT (1948-)
Defence and security expert who taught at Sandhurst and worked in the propaganda department of the MoD, helping sell Blair’s ‘WMD’ inexactitudes during the invasion of Iraq. He has also been a war correspondent and a Plaid Cymru councillor, founded ‘conflict resolution’ think-tanks, and writes violent, medieval-set thrillers. Just your typical Cantonian then.
DIANA MORGAN (1908-1996)
With husband/collaborator Robert MacDermot (1910-1964) the screenwriter and playwright from Cathedral Road gave the now dead theatrical genre of the “intimate revue” its last hurrah in scores of West End productions in the 1930s and 40s.
ELAINE MORGAN (1960-)
Celtic-folk singer-songwriter whose close ties with Brittany led to her being the French entry in the 1996 Eurovision Song Contest – who needs the Royaume-Uni?
HENRY MORGAN (1635-1688)
An infamous buccaneer who plundered the Spanish Main in a 10-year orgy of drunken violence on behalf of the British Crown. His merciless attacks on ships and settlements across the Caribbean were bloodthirsty hatchet-jobs specialising in rape, torture and killing for fun. His raid on Panama in 1671 netted him the biggest robbery in history up to that point, allowing him to buy up vast tracts of Jamaica to turn into lucrative sugar plantations. Even while he was still alive, his deeds were being mythologised and romanticised – piracy’s sanitising process which continues seamlessly to this day via Treasure Island, Peter Pan, Errol Flynn (1909-1959) and Johnny Depp. Seeking respectability in his later years, Morgan was knighted by Charles II (1630-1685) and made Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica. So eager was he to whitewash his past that he sued a contemporary writer for questioning his upbringing in 1685. He won the case – the first ever recorded example of damages being paid for libel. It’s a case he should have lost, because, far from being the son of gentry as he claimed, he was in fact the son of one of the yeoman farmers at Llanrumney Hall (then part of Lord Tredegar’s estates in Gwent, now a forlorn pub in the east Cardiff suburbs). He died a wealthy, venereal drunkard in Port Royal (today’s Kingston). In 1692 a huge earthquake destroyed Port Royal and all relics of Morgan’s life there, but his name and image live on via the popular alcoholic beverage Captain Morgan Rum. Belch…
RHODRI MORGAN (1939-)
As the second First Minister of Wales between 2000 and 2009 (and AM for Cardiff West 1999-2011), Rhodri Morgan effortlessly showed, with humour, humanity and eccentricity, that Welsh democracy is a very good idea. His patent superiority over his Labour contemporaries in London, Blair and Brown, demolished the notion that Wales is so lucky to be governed by those trustworthy, talented politicians in Westminster. Compare too his accessibility in retirement with that of Blair: Rhodri can be freely approached as he wanders around Riverside Farmers Market buying his stuffed Chalkidiki olives and artisan bread; Tony has to hide away on billionaires’ yachts with an armed guard lest he be citizen-arrested for war crimes.
MICHAEL MORITZ (1954-)
Venture capitalist who backed Google, YouTube, eBay and PayPal to become the world’s 6th richest internet entrepreneur and the world’s wealthiest Welshman. In failing health he is giving buckets of it away (£75million to Oxford University in 2012). I’ve one question for the Howardian High old boy: can you lend us a fiver Mike mate?
ROBERT MORTON NANCE (1873–1959)
Sculptor, illustrator, painter, poet and writer, Nance is best remembered now as an authority on the Cornish language. Both his parents had Cornish roots and he moved there in 1906. His 1938 Cornish dictionary, vital to the preservation of the mortally threatened language, is still in use today.
TERRY NATION (1930-1997)
TV sci-fi screenwriter responsible for many early episodes of Dr Who. Cowering in a Llandaf Anderson shelter as a boy while the Luftwaffe bombed Cardiff gave him the inspiration to create the Daleks, bacofoil megalomaniacs armed with a sink-plunger and a mission to EX-TER-MIN-ATE.
ARTHUR NORTON (1876-1955)
The founder of the most renowned astronomical reference book in the world, Norton’s Star Atlas, was born in Coldstream Terrace, Riverside. It first appeared in 1910 and is now on its 20th edition.
IVOR NOVELLO (1893-1951)
Our city leaders deemed Ivor Novello only worth a small blue plaque on the house in Cowbridge Road East where he was born, so it was left to the people of Cardiff to fundraise for 15 years to scrape together the money needed for a long-awaited statue outside the Wales Millennium Centre, unveiled in 2009. In a city that has named whole blocks of streets after every bastard child of any aristocrat who grabbed land here, it seems extraordinary that recognition of the most famous man ever to come out of Cardiff has been so grudging. Now it wouldn’t be because he was gay, would it? That’s a rhetorical question. Even by today’s celebrity-congested standards, Ivor was a superstar. Composer, film and stage actor, playwright, and the idol of millions world-wide for over 35 years, he always seemed to have an unerring nose for what the masses wanted. His musical gifts came via his beloved mam, Clara Novello Davies (1861-1943), director of the Welsh Ladies Choir and celebrated vocal coach. His solidly bourgeois family had moved round the corner to Cathedral Road by the time the boy soprano was packed off to study at Magdalen Choir School, Oxford, and by 1910 his taxman father’s work took them to London. Changing his name from David Davies to Ivor Novello, the better to evoke Italian romance, he took a flat in Aldwych above the Strand Theatre in 1913, a London address he would keep until his death. Narcissistic yet self-effacing, gentle and generous yet industrious and ambitious, his big breakthrough came in 1914 when he wrote Keep the Home Fires Burning, the song that became the wrenchingly optimistic soundtrack to WW1. Ivor’s natural exuberance and guilelessness meant he was gladly gay long before there was any such thing as ‘coming out’. He met his lifelong partner, bit-part actor Bobby Andrews (1895-1976), in 1916. His reputation established early, Novello’s stunning good looks then came into play as he began a 15-year career as a silent screen star in 1919. Legions of female fans swooned at his soulful eyes and pouting self-regard through the 1920s in box-office smashes like The Rat, The Lodger, Downhill, The Vortex and The Constant Nymph. Meanwhile, his parallel career in the theatre was flourishing, and his biggest successes were still to come. His first love was the musical, where he could combine all his talents – romantic lead, songwriter, actor-manager, playwright and tasteful dispenser of high camp to the great unwashed. His extravaganzas at Drury Lane through the 1930s, with their multiple scene changes and huge casts of extras and dancers, broke all West End records. Pure escapist candyfloss, Glamorous Night, Careless Rapture and the rest were the ideal opiate in the ‘low, dishonest decade’ of unemployment and fascism. War came again. Ivor was living with Bobby in their dream home ‘Redroofs’ in Berkshire when he wrote another massive wartime hit, We’ll Gather Lilacs, to capture the fragile hopes of the time. Then it all started to go wrong. Mam died in 1943; the love of his life was gone. In 1944 a notoriously homophobic judge chucked him in Wormwood Scrubs for a month after he was unwittingly talked into a minor breach of petrol-rationing rules by an infatuated fan. Ivor was never quite the same again – one night in the Scrubs would be one too many for the pampered Riverside boy. His popularity didn’t wane after the war as his core audience of middle-aged ladies simply grew old with him, but in 1951, after playing the lead in his delirious operetta King’s Rhapsody, he dropped dead of a heart attack in his flat above the Strand Theatre. After Bobby died Redroofs became a theatre school. In 1955 the Novello Awards were inaugurated and they remain the songwriters’ Oscars to this day. In 2005 the Strand Theatre became the Novello Theatre. And now, at last, the snobs and bigots who control Cardiff have been outmanoeuvred and there is belated appreciation in his home town for the multi-talented renaissance man who transported so many to the ‘Land of Might-Have-Been’.
TESSIE O’SHEA (1913-1995)
Showbiz careers rarely last as long as that of ‘Two Ton’ Tessie O’Shea from Plantagenet Street in Riverside. She was already singing in the pubs and clubs around Cardiff at the age of six, billed as ‘The Wonder of Wales’, turned pro by the time she was 12 and was an established music hall star in her teens. She started piling on the cholesterol in her 20s, but turned it to her advantage by developing as a stand-up comic, buried under layers of daft clothing and essentially relying on the one joke: Fat Woman’s Tribulations. As music hall died, Tessie adapted. She became a star on radio and stage and won squaddies’ hearts touring during the war. In the 1960s she made an unlikely breakthrough in America, US audiences lapping up her gatling-gun delivery, rictus grin and ukulele-thrashing theme-song Two Ton Tessie from Tennessee. She was a regular on the Ed Sullivan Show, played Las Vegas, and made film appearances right up to Bedknobs and Broomsticks in 1971. Settled in the States, she occasionally came home to Wales to peek at her old Cardiff patch. In 1978 she performed in the main pavilion at the National Eisteddfod in Cardiff. Ukulele in hand, resplendent in sequins, Tessie’s infectious sense of fun filled the marquee at Pentwyn.
PINO PALLADINO (1957-)
Custom bass guitars bear Pino Palladino’s name, such is his reputation as master bassist in several ensembles and countless recordings across all genres of popular music. When John “The Ox” Entwistle (1944-2002) left the building, The Who immediately turned to Palladino to replace the irreplaceable.
WILL PAYNTER (1903-1984)
Whitchurch-born Paynter, a miner in Cymmer colliery by age 14, fought the good fight for international socialism throughout his life. In the Great Depression of the 1930s he played a key role in organising the National Unemployed Workers Movement, then he served with the International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War and later the ardent trade union activist became the NUM South Wales Area’s president and general secretary.
JACK PETERSEN (1911-1990)
Adored in Cardiff in his 1930’s pomp, handsome Jack from Whitchurch was the first boxer to hold the British Heavyweight and Light Heavyweight titles simultaneously. Eye problems forced him to retire at the early age of 25 just as he was ready for a crack at the World Heavyweight title. In 2011 a blue plaque in his memory was unveiled at 6-7 St John Street, once the gym where Jack learned to box.
PETER PHILP (1920-2006)
Young Peter learnt his trade in his grandfather’s antiques shop in the Royal Arcade, A.T.Philp & Sons. He became the author of several respected antiques guides, a witty columnist in The Times and presenter of the original TV antiques programme Collectors’ Club.
JOHN PRICHARD (1817-1886)
This outstanding church architect, the son of a vicar choral of Llandaf Cathedral, created scholarly and resourceful neo-gothic buildings, from the Probate Registry in Llandaf to the Bute Mausoleum in Roath, to add High Victorian panache to Cardiff. As diocesan architect Prichard was in charge of the Cathedral’s restoration, but much of his work was destroyed by a landmine in 1941. Fortunately, his magnum opus, the 1869 south-west tower and spire, survived.
MATTHEW PRITCHARD (1973-)
Founder of the Dirty Sanchez extreme stunt crew with his mate Lee Dainton from Pontypŵl. Their MTV show and movies combine laconic disregard for personal safety with infantile interest in bodily excretions in such memorable features as ‘Beer Enema’, ‘Pubic Pizza’ and ‘Spunk Chops’.
ANGHARAD REES (1944-2012)
Theatre, film and TV actor who found fame in the 1970s as earthy servant-girl Demelza in the BBC drama Poldark and as the acne-bursting fantasy object of teenage boys turned on by her blond disarray in various Hammer horrors.
MATTHEW RHYS (1974-)
Friend of Ioan Gruffudd since schooldays at Ysgol Gyfun Glantaf, he too got the acting bug through the Welsh language route of the Urdd youth organisation before landing his first role in House of America in 1996. Matthew broke through in the US in 2006 and film and TV work is flooding in – he could outdo Ioan. No squabbling girls.
JAMES RICHARDS (1983-)
Imaginative conceptual artist who works in video. He was short-listed for the Turner Prize in 2014 for a challenging 13 minute black and white film called Rosebud, featuring censored erotic images from books found in a Tokyo library.
STEVE ROBINSON (1968-)
Robinson surprised pundits by winning the vacant WBO world featherweight title with just two days’ notice in 1993. The gentlemanly Ely boxer then successfully defended it seven times over two years, each time at the now demolished Cardiff Ice Rink, before losing to Naseem Hamed at the Arms Park.
LLOYD ROBSON (1969-)
Performance-poet, workshop tutor, visual artist and publisher from Adamsdown. His first novel, cardiff cut (2001), a seething torrent of disenchantment, written in the dialect and free of any nasty oppressive capital letters, was an avant-garde milestone for the city, while his 2008 work Oh Dad! A Search for Robert Mitchum charted new maps in the comedic hunt for ‘masculinity’.
JON RONSON (1967-)
Documentary filmmaker, journalist and broadcaster from leafy Lisvane. Wearing his Welsh/Jewish origins lightly, he is his own central character, a faux naïf bemused by a crazy world of fools and charlatans.
ROGER ROYLE (1939-)
The son of the vicar of St Saviour’s in Splott joined the Firm and became an Anglican priest himself before hitting the jackpot as a soothing waffler on BBC God Slot programmes.
BERNICE RUBENS (1923-2004)
One of Bernice Rubens’ favourite anecdotes was about her refugee father’s arrival in Cardiff at the start of the 20th century. The Lithuanian Jew was conned by ticket-touts in Hamburg into paying for passage to New York, where his brother was waiting for him, but put on a boat to Cardiff instead. He had been in Cardiff a whole month, searching in vain for his brother, before he was told it wasn’t New York. The tale reveals not only the tragi-comic irony which pervades Rubens’ 25 novels, but also her ambivalent attitude to her home town. Bought up in a poor, tight-knit, orthodox Jewish family in Splott where everybody knew everyone else’s business, Bernice found Cardiff “stifling,” and after Cardiff High School for Girls and English at the University she left the city, never to live here again. However, Wales features prominently in her dark, quirky fiction, as do family tensions and Jewish history. She won the 1970 Booker prize with The Elected Member, settled with ease into north London literary circles, and built a respected body of work, published all over the world, right up to her death. Her brothers, pianist Harold (1918-2010) and violinist Cyril (1926-1996), were both well-known classical musicians.
IAIN SINCLAIR (1943-)
Born in Cardiff and raised in Maesteg, Sinclair settled in London and became a writer who invented his own genre, unpicking London’s past, present and future in books like Downriver (1991) and London Orbital (2002) to meld psychogeography, history and mythology into chilling, unique forms.
HOWARD SPRING (1889-1965)
The first English-language author from Cardiff to make a mark was Howard Spring, from Edward Street (later Albert Street, now demolished) in Canton. In his 1939 autobiographical work Heaven Lies About Us, Spring fondly described his impoverished childhood with eight siblings and a widowed mother who took in washing in a bustling Canton of slaughterhouses, engineering works and market gardens. After starting as a messenger boy on the South Wales Daily News in 1903, Spring was a reporter on the Manchester Guardian and a book reviewer for the Evening Standard until he was able to quit journalism and move to Cornwall in 1938 on the back of his first best-seller O Absalom! His melodramatic, rags-to-riches sagas, usually set in Manchester or Cornwall, sold in huge numbers both in the UK and the US throughout the next 20 years. His most successful book, Fame Is The Spur, the story of a Labour leader selling out, was made into a memorable film in 1947.
ALISON STATTON (1958-)
The dreamy voice of cult post-punk minimalists Young Marble Giants, whose seminal 1980 LP Colossal Youth influenced Kurt Cobain (1967-1994) and spawned a host of imitators, Statton has been involved in many jazz-pop projects since, including the must-hear Cardiffians (1990) with Ian Devine.
JEFFREY STEELE (1931-)
Steele paints intense, rigorous, migraine-inducing shapes and optical illusions that hang in collections around Europe. His ‘systems art’ movement was fashionable in the 1970s and is due for a revival.
STAN STENNETT (1925-2013)
Born in Pencoed, but raised by his grandparents in Cardiff, Stennett started out as a jazz guitarist before getting noticed as a comedian on the influential radio show Welsh Rarebit in the 1950s. After a varied TV career which included a part in the so-bad-it-was-good soap Crossroads, he concentrated on Panto and running his own production company from his home in Rhiwbina.
SHAKIN’ STEVENS (1948-)
More number 1 hits than any other Welsh act, the highest-selling performer of the 1980s, and still playing to sell-out crowds around Europe, here is another Cardiffian with a finger on the public pulse who sussed out how to build, and retain, a broad, adoring fan base. Michael Barratt from Ely paid his dues with his band the Sunsets, gigging continually and becoming an expert rock‘n’roll singer, and was well into his 30s before his big breakthrough hit This Ole House in 1981. He was poppy enough to grab the Smash Hits generation, safely ‘sexy’ enough to capture bored mothers as the wolf who can keep it trousered, and retro enough to bag dads nostalgic for their 1950s seat-slashing salad days. And he washed, so nan could like him too! Shaky, as he is universally known, is now an institution: the Welsh Elvis, minus the barbiturates and bulimia, an entertainer to the tips of his white daps.
HOWARD STRINGER (1942-)
In 2005 Stringer was made the first non-Japanese Chairman and CEO of the mammoth electronics corporation Sony after a high-flying career in the American media. From his Fifth Avenue penthouse the powerful US citizen increasingly ponders his Welsh heritage as he absent-mindedly toys with his miniature model of the old Arms Park.
CLIVE SULLIVAN (1943-1985)
Splott boy Sullivan was a rugby league legend in Hull. The winger played for both the city’s teams in a 20-year career and still holds Hull’s try-scoring record. When he died of cancer, aged only 42, the main road to the Humber Bridge was named after him.
ALEC TEMPLETON (1909-1963)
Blind from birth, Templeton was a St Fagans child prodigy on the piano. He went to the US with a touring band in 1936 and never left, wowing American audiences with his comical jazz parodies of the classics, replete with inventive sound effects.
CRAIG THOMAS (1942-2011)
The son of the doyen of Welsh rugby writers, the Western Mail’s JBG Thomas (1917-1997), is credited with inventing the techno-thriller genre with his 1977 bestselling pot-boiler Firefox. The end of the Cold War rendered his spy yarns redundant – but by then he didn’t care, he was minted.
GERAINT THOMAS (1986-)
Track cycling world champion and Olympic gold medallist for (boo) GB, and road race Commonwealth gold medallist for (hurrah) Wales.
R S THOMAS (1913-2000)
Ronald Stuart Thomas’s father was a captain in the merchant navy, moving from port to port, so it is only by chance that this giant of 20th century English-language poetry was born in Cardiff. His family soon moved to Holyhead, but he did have three years back in Cardiff studying theology at St Michael’s College Llandaf before being ordained a Church in Wales priest in 1936. He roamed Wales until settling as the vicar of Aberdaron on the Llŷn peninsular in 1967 where he found the quiet, the independence and the time to immerse himself in the creative process. His largely incident-free life in an ignored corner of this insignificant country was material enough for him to become one of the finest lyric poets of all time, a figure of international standing and perhaps the greatest ever Welsh poet in the English language – eclipsing even his roaring-boy Swansea namesake. The spare beauty, compelling clarity and ruthless honesty of his poems give them a rare potency. His theme was Wales, its people, its language, its history, its land, its birds, its rocks, its Gods. After he retired from the church in 1978 Thomas became even more political, experimental and metaphysical. He provoked clunkingly predictable outrage in Middle England (where they like their Taffs to be grateful castrati and their cultural struggles to be thousands of miles away) when he publicly approved of the burning of empty holiday homes. As death approached, he deepened his anguished search for a God who was forever absent.
JOHN TOSHACK (1949-)
‘Tosh’ made his Cardiff City debut in 1965 while still a pupil at Canton High School and scored within a minute of coming on as substitute. In the air he was a master of subtle flicks and cushioned control – and he wasn’t bad on the ground either, able to open a defence with clever angled touches. When Bill Shankly (1913-1981) signed him for Liverpool in 1970, thousands of Bluebirds’ fans were inconsolable: on that day a whole generation fell out of love with Cardiff City. Toshack became an Anfield icon, then turned to management at Swansea City, Sporting Lisbon, Real Sociedad and the world’s biggest club, Real Madrid. He also managed in Turkey, France and Italy. After a strange 41-day spell as Wales manager in 1994 he took on the impossible job again in 2004 and had six undistinguished years in charge, quite unable to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.
JOHN MANCHIP WHITE (1924-)
He has lived in the USA since 1967, but this distinguished writer of mysteries, travelogues, memoirs and histories never forgets his Welsh ancestry. The White family had been Cardiff seafarers for centuries, and US citizen John can trace his line back to the Protestant martyr Rawlins White (c1515-1555), burnt at the stake in High Street during the reign of ‘Bloody Mary’ (1516-1558).
GARETH WILLIAMS (1953-2001)
Bassist and keyboardist with intense, proto-punk experimental trio This Heat in the 1970s, Williams rejected the music industry to study dance and religion in India, where he co-wrote the first Rough Guide To India. He was making innovative music again back in the UK when cut down by cancer.
JED WILLIAMS (1952-2003)
Founder of the Welsh Jazz Society, the Brecon Jazz festival and Jazz UK magazine, run from a cubby-hole in the Castle Arcade, this self-effacing, non-materialistic Old Howardian single-handedly transformed the standing of jazz in his beloved Wales.
JOHN WILLIAMS (1961-)
If there is ever going to be a great Cardiff novel, John Williams of Roath could write it. His ‘Cardiff Trilogy’, completed in 2003, examined low-life and criminal sub-cultures down the Bay and raised the unresolved Cardiff issues of guilt and denial.
ERNEST WILLOWS (1886-1926)
Down on the East Moors young Ernest invented steering for dirigibles. He crossed the Severn in his airship, was the first person in the UK to have a pilot’s licence, and in 1910 was the first to cross the English Channel to Paris, circling the Eiffel Tower as a flourish. Rivalry with his great friend and fellow Cardiffian Charles Watkins (1884-1976) spurred Watkins to build the first aeroplane in Wales at Maendy in 1909. Dogged by misfortune, Willows died in a ballooning accident when the basket broke away from the balloon. Flying to the very end.