W. R. P. George

Lloyd George's solicitor nephew
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The Independent Online

William Richard Philip George, solicitor and writer: born Criccieth, Caernarvonshire 20 October 1912; Archdruid of Wales 1990-93; CBE 1996; married 1943 Dora Harley (marriage dissolved), 1953 Greta Bogner (one son, three daughters); died Criccieth, Gwynedd 20 November 2006.

The nephew of the prime minister David Lloyd George, W. R. P. George was the son of William George, who from 1890, when his elder brother was elected MP for Caernarfon Boroughs, until his appointment as President of the Board of Trade in 1905, enabled him to follow a political career by staying at home in Criccieth to look after the family firm of solicitors - thus providing him with an income at a time when Members of Parliament received no pay.

If it had not been for William George's selfless generosity in supporting the family, which included his uncle the shoemaker Richard Lloyd, a major influence on the young Liberal, Lloyd George would not have developed so early into the consummate politician he became and, without his brother's wise counsel, might have lost contact with the humble background which inspired him in the early stages of his rise to power.

W. R. P. George, like his father a solicitor with chambers in Porthmadog (even at the age of 94 he was still practising at William George & Son - his father carried on until 101), wrote two valuable accounts of his famous uncle: The Making of Lloyd George (1976) and Lloyd George: backbencher (1983). The first is based on the brothers' letters and diaries and brings vividly to life the social context from which the Liberal leader emerged as the champion of Nonconformist Wales.

Writing with great insight, he describes how the young Lloyd George, at 16 the most Machiavellian of articled clerks, carefully laid his plans with a view to making an impact on the local political scene, and how his brother's ambitions in a similar direction were thwarted by the need for him to maintain the family home and business.

The second book deals with Lloyd George's 15 years as a backbencher and draws on the archive which William George left his son at his death in 1967. It presents a picture of the MP in his slippers, as it were, but also as the angry, ambitious, silver-tongued and frustrated Liberal hungry for power, and attempts to dispel, not altogether convincingly, some of the myths which have accumulated around his private life.

For all his familial piety, W. R. P. George turned his back on the Liberal Party early in his career and became an active member of Plaid Cymru, which he saw as the heir to the radical tradition which his father, uncle and cousin Megan Lloyd George had served in their own ways. He was briefly the Vice-President of Plaid Cymru.

Although never persuaded to stand in the party's name at a general election, he served on the county council, albeit as an Independent among a swarm of Plaid Cymru members, from 1967 to 1996, and was elected Chairman of Gwynedd County Council in 1982. He was one of those who, with the Chief Executive, the late Ioan Bowen Rees, developed the policies designed to maintain Gwynedd as a bastion of the Welsh language.

William Richard Philip George was born at Criccieth in 1912 and received his education at Friars School, Bangor, and at Wrekin College, Wellington, in Shropshire. After articles, he joined the family firm and, from 1948 to 1975, served as Clerk to the Justices at Barmouth and as a deputy circuit judge of the Crown Court from 1975 to 1980.

Keenly devoted to the cultural life of Wales, he also held a number of honorary posts which included chairmanship of the Assembly of Welsh Counties, an important conduit for autonomist feeling in the Thatcher years. He served as solicitor to the National Eisteddfod and, taking the bardic name Llysor, an old word for "solicitor", as Archdruid of Wales from 1990 to 1993.

He could not have held the last-named post if he had not been a poet of some standing. Having come to prominence by winning the Crown at the National Eisteddfod in 1974 with a poem in the free metres, he published five collections of Welsh verse, namely Dwyfor (1948), Cerddi'r Neraig ("Neraig Poems", 1968), Grawn Medi ("September Grapes", 1974), Tân ("Fire", 1979) and Dringo'r Ysgol ("Climbing the Ladder", 1989). His selected poems, Mydylau ("Gleanings"), appeared in 2004.

Among his other literary work, besides plays for radio and television, was Gyfaill Hoff ("Dear Friend", 1972), an edition of the correspondence of Eluned Morgan, the Welsh Patagonian writer who, after falling under the Pietistic influence of the Keswick Movement, gave up her literary pursuits and channelled her gifts as a writer into letters addressed to friends in Wales, including William George.

George never deliberately tried to make capital out of his family connections, despite looking remarkably like its most renowned member. Of the same stocky build - he was fond of quoting his uncle, "In North Wales we measure a man from the chin up" - and in his later years with the same white mane and pugnacious chin, what he lacked in inches he made up in gravitas, putting it to effective use in the neo-druidic ceremonies at the Eisteddfod.

He was also, for many years, the devoted Secretary of the Baptist chapel at Criccieth, the denomination to which his father and uncle had belonged, thus carrying on a family tradition which included total immersion in the waters of the Dwyfor, the small river in which Lloyd George was baptised as a boy and the name of which he took, shortly before his death in 1945, on being elevated to the peerage as Earl Lloyd-George of Dwyfor.

As a public figure, W. R. P. George was highly respected for his shining integrity and fundamentally serious approach as much as for his canny way of getting the best out of individuals and institutions alike. Deeply suspicious of the Welsh Office as an essentially undemocratic body, he found immense satisfaction in the creation of the National Assembly for Wales, seeing in it a vindication of all he had stood for during a long career.

His autobiography, 88 Not Out (2001), is a typically proud but not bombastic study of his celebrated uncle, a rich picture of life in Wales during the greater part of the 20th century and a percipient self-portrait of one of the most important public figures in the Wales of his time.

Meic Stephens

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