John Billot: Journalist with the 'Western Mail' for 43 years

No man could possibly have written more words on Welsh rugby than John Billot, the former sports editor of the Western Mail newspaper in Cardiff. During a 43-year career at the paper, he rose to become the chief rugby correspondent and sports editor.

Starting as a fresh-faced 16-year-old in the library, he became a copy boy on the newsroom floor and was bitten by the journalistic bug. That was in 1946; 18 months later, he was writing match reports for the Cardiff Times and South Wales Echo as he began to climb the ladder. He struck up an immediate rapport with J.B.G. Thomas, rugby doyen of the Western Mail, and they developed into the most powerful and influential rugby-writing double act in the country.

While Thomas was the front-of-house man, travelling the world with the Lions and Wales, Billot was happy to hold the fort in Cardiff and ensure that the Western Mail's coverage of local events was as comprehensive and powerful as those further afield. They helped steer circulation through the 100,000 barrier and Billot built his reputation despite working in Thomas's considerable shadow. He was often the man who uncovered the next tier of rugby stars and introduced the future faces of the national team through his coverage of the Welsh Schools and Wales Youth teams.

His influence on the Welsh rugby scene grew through his administration of the Western Mail's "Unofficial Welsh Championship", which involved the top 18 teams. There were often battles over which games should be included, but Billot's fairness and accuracy made it a title that teams coveted.

Cricket was another passion and Billot travelled thousands of miles covering Glamorgan. The vast distances he covered were due not only to the years he wrote on the Welsh county, but also because he hated being away from his family. He thought nothing of driving up and back to his home in Rhiwbina, Cardiff, on a daily basis from Hove, Taunton, Birmingham, London and even Yorkshire.

Wherever he travelled, however, it was never without his AA membership and the key to their breakdown telephone boxes. Billot knew where almost every phone was situated on the major roads because he used to use them to file his copy. His was an age in newspapers devoid of mobile phones and email, but dominated by immaculate and rapid shorthand, copy takers and portable typewriters.

His attention to detail was his stock-in-trade and the service he provided to Welsh rugby over and above his work at the Western Mail became legendary. In 1969, he launched the Rugby Annual for Wales. Over the next four decades he was managing editor and helped it to 37 editions without a break. On top of that, he is credited with writing the definitive guide to Welsh international rugby, the twice updated History of Welsh International Rugby that was first produced in 1970.

Billot cut his teeth in publishing when typing the manuscript for Thomas' first book, On Tour, which covered the 1955 Lions tour in South Africa. A year later, he ghosted the autobiography of the great Cardiff, Wales and Lions centre Bleddyn Williams. He also wrote two more invaluable historical books, The All Blacks in Wales and The Springboks in Wales, and was a contributor on Welsh rugby for 28 years to the Rothmans Rugby Union Yearbook. He was also secretary of the Welsh Rugby Writers' Association from its inception in 1972 until 1991 and chairman in 1993-94.

In 1982, Billot stepped into the shoes of Thomas as the Western Mail's chief rugby correspondent and sports editor. He oversaw the introduction of a successful sports supplement and played a major role in influencing the careers of three of today's leading rugby writers, Chris Jones (Evening Standard), Steve Bale (Daily Express) and Paul Rees (The Guardian).

His love of sport was matched by his love of comics and cigarette cards and many a player picked up a novel nickname. Clive Burgess, the Ebbw Vale and Wales back-row forward, was known as "The Steel Claw", the Aberavon captain Adrian Owen was better known as "Mule Train" and the Ebbw Vale prop Peter Morgan was "Buffalo".

Rob Cole

John Billot, sports journalist: born Cardiff 2 October 1929; married 1955 Sheila (one son, two daughters); died Cardiff 28 September 2009.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own