Ray Gravell

Wales and British Lions rugby player who won new admirers as an actor and broadcaster


Raymond William Robert Gravell, rugby player, actor and broadcaster: born Kidwelly, Carmarthenshire 12 September 1951; married 1991 Mari Roberts (two daughters); died 31 October 2007.

Ray Gravell played rugby for Wales on 23 occasions between 1975 and 1982. He was a member of the Welsh team that won the Grand Slam and Triple Crown, and of the British Lions team which toured South Africa in 1980. He was in the Welsh side that beat Australia in 1975 and Fiji in 1985. A powerful centre, he began his career with Llanelli RFC in 1969 and in 1980-82 was the team's captain. He was also in the Scarlets' side that beat the All Blacks in 1972.

As a player he showed great respect for his opponents and made many friendships which continued long after he hung up his boots. His genial personality and exuberant commentaries on radio and television brought him many admirers, though he was more fluent in Welsh than in English. With Huw Llewelyn Davies he broadcast the first Welsh commentary on Welsh-language television in 1982.

His touch-line and half-time observations were witty, knowledgeable and highly partisan, for there was no more patriotic player than Ray Gravell. There was a boyish quality to him that endeared him to thousands. Such was the esteem in which he was held that the road where he lived in the village of Mynydd-y-garreg was renamed "Heol Gravell".

Born in Kidwelly, Carmarthenshire in 1951, the son of a collier, but brought up in Mynydd-y-garreg, Ray Gravell was educated at the Queen Elisabeth Grammar School in Carmarthen, where his talent for rugby was soon noticed. For many years he was a youth officer employed by the Manpower Services Commission.

A straight runner and hard tackler, he played his début game with Lampeter in 1970 and his final appearance was with Llandovery on 26 January 1985. After playing 485 games for Llanelli and scoring 120 tries, he decided to retire and thereafter concentrated on his career in broadcasting.

He took the leading role in Bonner in 1985 on S4C and had a walk-on part in Louis Malle's 1992 film Damage, which starred Jeremy Irons and Juliette Binoche, as well as presenting chat shows on BBC Wales and BBC Cymru. With Frank Hennessy he presented a weekly programme called I'll Show You Mine in which his humour and wealth of anecdote from his rugby days were put to good use.

So wide was his appeal that when he had a small part in the nightly soap Pobol y Cwm, it boosted the programme's ratings overnight. He also played a farmer in Peter O'Toole's production of Dylan Thomas's Rebecca's Daughters (1992).

His catchphrase "Tip top!" (also the name of a programme he compered for BBC Cymru) became the hallmark of his television and radio appearances. Among the memorable moments associated with him was when he tried to teach the words of "Sospan Fach", the Llanelli war-song, to Simon Weston, the Falklands War survivor, on the TV show The Big Welsh Challenge.

In his autobiography, Grav (1986), he described how as a young man he had discovered the body of his father near their home and what effect this suicide had on him. He was nevertheless of a jovial disposition, and even after the amputation of his right leg earlier this year – he suffered from diabetes – he remained cheerful and grateful for the love he had been shown by friends and strangers alike.

Although cast down, he was cheered by messages of support that came in from all over the world. He even appeared on Max Boyce's chat-show on BBC Wales and proudly displayed the artificial limb he had been given. Typically altruistic, he toured Britain giving talks about diabetes and organising fundraising events such as golf tournaments.

His first public appearance after his operation was at the Eisteddfod organised by Urdd Gobaith Cymru (the Welsh League of Youth), whose activities were always near his heart. To thunderous applause he presented the BBC Cymru Talent Award.

The amputation of his leg interrupted his appearance as the Grand Sword Bearer in the ceremonies of the Gorsedd of Bards, a role he undertook with great enthusiasm. When the Archdruid cried "A oes Heddwch?" ("Is there Peace?"), Gravell, or Ray o'r Mynydd as he was known in bardic circles, held the enormous weapon aloft with pride and dignity, and always to tremendous dramatic effect. His place was taken by the formidable figure of Robin McBride, the former Lions and Wales star, at this year's Eisteddfod and at the proclamation of next year's festival to be held in Cardiff, where there will be a gap that is hard to fill.

Meic Stephens

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 1st Line Technical Support Engineer

£19000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT and Telecoms company ar...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Manager - Visitor Fundraising

£23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Visitor Fundraising Team is responsi...

Recruitment Genius: Developer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Sales Account Manager - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing, ambitious, en...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future