Cartoonist who 'defined' Wales
Saturday 06 January 2007
Grenfell Jones ("Gren"), cartoonist: born Hengoed, Glamorgan 13 June 1934; MBE 1989; married (two sons); died Cardiff 3 January 2007.
For the past 40 years if you wanted a slice of Welsh life you simply had to read a Gren cartoon - or buy a calendar, a book or one of his sheep. A collier's son from Hengoed, Grenfell Jones summed up Welsh life almost seven days a week with his prolific workload as a cartoonist for the South Wales Echo, Western Mail and Wales on Sunday.
He started drawing pocket cartoons at the age of eight, in the style of Ronald Niebour, the London-born and South Wales-raised cartoonist who worked as a football cartoonist for the Barry Dock News and the Cardiff Evening Express before graduating to the Daily Mail. Gren acknowledged that "Neb was responsible for my first interest in cartoons". He had his first cartoon published in Spick & Span. His first news-related cartoon was sold to the Birmingham Mail in the early 1960s. Gren received help in his early work from another great Welsh cartoonist, the Daily Mail's "Jon" and was a great admirer of the North Walian. Of his own work he said:
I was always drawing. There aren't really courses for news-related cartoons. It is a thing that you have. A natural talent in the drawing but you have to work on the humour and gradually they meet.
He spent five years working as an engineering designer before launching a freelance career as a cartoonist in the 1960s, a time when he was also close to the satirical pop group the Barron Knights. One of the founder members of the band - which formed in Leighton Buzzard in 1960 - was Tony Osmond ("The Barron"), who had been in the RAF with Gren. Pete Langford, another member, recalls him as "a great friend of the band".
Gren's big break came when he joined the Western Mail and South Wales Echo in Cardiff in 1968. It was the dawn of the "golden era" of Welsh rugby and a time when the papers had big circulations. "Before I became Editor of the South Wales Echo Gren's work was being used as a single column," said Geoff Rich, who worked alongside the cartoonist for 19 years:
On my first day in charge I splashed him across five columns. He was simply that good and became increasingly important to the paper. He was an incredible observer of the ordinary man and he was the sheer epitome of South Wales. Even people who had never met him felt they knew him so well through his work.
Every day he would come into the office with half-a-dozen offerings for that day's paper. He was never short of ideas and he never missed a deadline with his finished artwork ready by 9.50am each day. It wasn't so much that he reflected or reported the character of Wales - he was the character of Wales.
Gren's lifelong love affair with rugby came to the fore in the 1970s when he created the village of "Aberflyarff in Scrumcap Valley on the River Efflew". He brought new characters to life through his weekly "Ponty an' Pop" strips, including the local barmaid Bromide Lil and rugby players Arnold Nutstrampler and Attila Groinstomper. As the greatest Welsh rugby player of the 1970s, Gareth Edwards, put it: "He defined our character and he never failed to raise a smile." Four times in the 1980s Gren was voted the Provincial Cartoonist of the Year by the Cartoonists' Club of Great Britain.
He retired from the South Wales Echo newsroom in 1999, yet still provided the paper with a daily cartoon from his home nearby in Llandaff. He even worked from his hospital bed and had his last cartoon published on the day of his death. It lampooned the New Year diet fad and had a newspaper seller asking an old lady: "Which newspaper d'you want - the lose a stone a month one or the detox for the over-fifties - or regain your schoolgirl figure with free workout DVD?" In the background, as ever, was a sheep with some writing on. "Ronaldo and Rooney for City?" it asked.
Gren created great characters out of sheep after driving some friends through the village of Pontlottyn. As one calmly crossed the road in front of him he slowed down to let it pass, to the surprise of his passengers:
They were amazed that I should be treating a sheep like one of the community which, of course, they are in the valleys. Out of that grew the idea to have Neville and Nigel as characters in the cartoons.
Those sheep, with their various sayings, are now sold and Gren merchandise, including calendars and diaries, have become must-have items at Christmas and birthdays. Among his 25 books are Welsh and Proud of It (1991), 101 Really Useful Things to Do with a Welsh Hat (1992) and We'll Keep a Welcome: a guide to Wales for the visitor and the Welsh (1994).
He also received a gold disc from EMI for his work with Max Boyce for his cover design for the album We All Had Doctors' Papers (1975).
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