Obituary: Cliff Bere

Meic Stephens
Sunday 21 September 1997 23:02

Clifford Ifan Bere, political activist: born Burnley, Lancashire 1915; married 1949 Eluned Rhys Evans (four sons); died Barry, Glamorgan 16 September 1997.

Cliff Bere was a Welsh Republican, one of a small group of militants, mostly ex-servicemen and intellectuals, who enlivened the political scene in Wales during the 1950s in a coalition of left-wingers whose natural homes should otherwise have been in the Labour Party or Plaid Cymru. Prominent among them were the poet Harri Webb and the Labour peer Gwilym Prys Davies.

The movement - it was not a party though it put up a candidate at Ogmore in the general election of 1950 - was hostile to the Labour Party because of its broken promises on self-government for Wales, critical of Plaid Cymru on account of its pacifism and recognition of the Crown, and utterly opposed to the Tories on just about every other count.

Besides heckling speakers from the main parties, at which they were adept, the Republicans went in for painting slogans and burning Union Jacks in public places, and holding open-air meetings up and down the industrial valleys of South Wales which sometimes ended in fisticuffs. They also excelled at making scurrilous attacks on prominent Welsh politicians of the day, including Jim Griffiths, later the first Secretary of State for Wales, and Aneurin Bevan, whom they considered to be a lost leader of his class and people.

Cliff Bere was, by common assent, the most single-minded of the Republicans, and the most hard-working. It was he who wrote the movement's manifesto, published in 1948, and held the group together for the eight years of its existence. As a public orator, he was no firebrand but would speak at street-corners with a conviction which never failed to impress his audience. Whenever he spoke in public, he addressed his audience as "Welsh men and women . . ." rather than as "Ladies and gentlemen".

He seemed to take particular pleasure in "the simple ceremony of burning the English flag" and hearing his record read out by policemen in court. It was his ambition to go to prison and refuse to wear uniform, as a political prisoner, but the nearest he got was when, in the 1970s, he was involved in a series of clandestine acts carried out on the fringe of the nationalist movement; he was very disappointed to be let off by a judge who had not fully understood the part he had played.

The main work of the Republican movement after 1954 was the publication and distribution of a bimonthly newspaper, the Welsh Republican. It had a circulation of a few hundred copies, many of which were sold in the street by the indefatigable Bere. The paper was remarkable for its coverage of Welsh current affairs, especially matters relating to the economy of South Wales such as the future of the coal and steel industries and the plight of the Cardiff docks. It also provided a vitriolic commentary on the Labour Party's attitude towards the question of Welsh self-government at a time when no such critique existed.

Many of its articles were written, mostly anonymously, by Bere. They were sceptical towards the Parliament for Wales Campaign of 1951-55 because it fell short of the republic on which the movement had set its sights. They also deplored the appointment of David Maxwell- Fyfe ("Dai Bananas") as part-time Tory Minister of State for Welsh Affairs and spoke out against military conscription in Wales, though arguing in favour of a Welsh army. Prior to the Coronation of 1953, the paper expressed staunchly anti-royalist views.

Cliff Bere was born of Welsh parents in Burnley, Lancashire, and had learned to speak Welsh as an adult. He studied law at the University College, Swansea, and at London University, but his studies were interrupted by the Second World War, during which he served in North Africa. It was there he resolved to fight for Wales after the conflict was over. A talented graphic artist, he was employed for 10 years at the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff.

He was also an able writer and polemicist. Besides a novel, I Was a King, he wrote a memoir of the Welsh Republican Movement, The Young Republicans (1996), which is a valuable source of information about politics in Wales during the post-war period, though it is mainly concerned to show the movement in the best possible light and makes no attempt to assess its legacy among the various groupuscules which have since laid claim to be its heirs. The truth is that in most of their initiatives the Republicans were unsuccessful and the fire of republicanism which they hoped would did not materialise. Even the bookshop which Cliff Bere and Harri Webb opened at Bargoed in 1951 did not last the year.

With the movement's demise in 1957, some members went back into the Labour Party. Gwilym Prys Davies, for instance, stood as the Labour candidate in the Carmarthen by-election of July 1966 at which Gwynfor Evans won the seat for Plaid Cymru; he later became an opposition spokesman on Northern Ireland. Others withdrew from active politics, while one or two left Wales altogether to pursue distinguished careers overseas. But Cliff Bere threw in his lot with Plaid Cymru, becoming one of its most devoted members with a commitment which few have been able to match.

His private manner was quiet, courteous and rather shy. I never heard him raise his voice and, in conversation, he was reluctant to talk about himself, but his political zeal was always to the fore and his gentleness of spirit disappointed, then impressed many younger people who went to him for guidance and inspiration.

His unusual surname (pronounced as two syllables) was taken from that of the small castle near Cader Idris in Merioneth which had been built by order of Llywelyn Fawr in the early 13th century and reinforced by his grandson Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, the last prince of independent Wales. Its significance for him was that Bere was a Welsh castle, built for the defence of Wales rather than for its subjugation, and therefore a worthy name for a Welsh patriot.

He would have been pleased by the result of the referendum announced in the small hours of Friday, while at the same time arguing that the assembly which Wales is now to have is only "a half-way house" on the road to full self- government. It is fitting that, at his funeral today, his coffin will be draped with Y Ddraig Goch, the Red Dragon, the national flag of Wales, a country to which he devoted his life.

- Meic Stephens

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