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
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special
tv
News
Claudia Winkleman and co-host Tess Daly at the Strictly Come Dancing final
people
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice finalists Mark Wright and Bianca Miller
tvBut who should win The Apprentice?
News
news
Extras
indybest
News
Elton John and David Furnish will marry on 21 December 2014
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
Sport
Brendan Rodgers looks on from the touchline
SPORT
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: National Account Manager / Key Account Sales

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Analyst - Bristol

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An IT Support Analyst is required to join the ...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick