Not a day I will ever forget. Nor with any pleasure. The day we finally sold our pathetically diminished Solicitors Souls by having to sign the LSC criminal contract. To be fair there was no choice. Without Chancery Lane being prepared to fight notwithstanding the possibility of being fined under the Competition Act, we were all over a barrel.
We can only hope that one of several court actions, or a radical u-turn by Bottler Brown and his pals, can save the day and hundreds of jobs and businesses.
But also the day that Wales lost its most wonderful living legend.
I was in a pretty depressed mood at about midnight. I had received about ten phone calls from depressed advocates, and although I am now only a semi-retired part-time hack, the feeling of doom was well upon me. Furthermore, the construction of the pergola had taken a decided turn for the worse. (This is my new hobby - constructing wooden features at the ancestral home. I have to admit, I am not very good at it. But Boy! Am I determined. Sadly the back garden resembles a Caribbean shanty more than anything else.)
As the next day was a “Cardiff Mags” day, necessitating a 5-o’clock start, I turned in for the night. At exactly 5.45 am, whilst driving through the misty Crosshands roundabout, I received a phone call from Radio Wales. Had I heard the sad news?
Now I am usually pretty good in the morning, but I was a bit miffed to have a call at the time that I normally suck in sponge-like the Classic FM offering, whilst I plod along in the slow lane, Rather more snappily than usual I said “NO”.
“Grav died last night”.
I pulled onto the hard shoulder, and I was totally bereft. This was a man who I had worked with for over ten years on “Street life” and various other Radio Wales programmes, He had even got me to do a Rugby commentary! (Those unfortunate enough to have heard it will know that it was appalling, but Gray thought it was hysterically funny)
“Would you like to give a short comment?”
I said that he was the Greatest Ever Welshman.
Since then I have had a lot of stick for that comment. But today, having been at Stradey Park for his funeral, I think I was right.
OK, Owain Glyndwr (Ray’s hero) might have been the legendary warrior. David Lloyd-George (whose statue was unveiled only days before in Parliament Square) the greatest ever politician, Dylan Thomas, or RS Thomas, our greatest poet, and Augustus John or Cefyn Williams, our greatest Artist. And indeed the recently lost Sir Tasker Watkins would have to be a candidate for greatest lawyer.
And you can argue that there were greater players than the “Man From The Mountain”.
But I will bet my last pound, that no-one will ever receive the acclamation on his death that Ray has. 10,000 souls at “Sospan”. MILLIONS listening and watching on radio and TV, the First Minister and Gerald Davies paying homage. He was loved everywhere.
My first encounter with Grav was at a BBC party. As he did with everyone he met, he wanted to know all about my family and where I was from. He made anyone he met feel important and valued.
At that time I had just started as Frank Hennessy’s (another fantastic man)”Legal Eagle”, on Streetlife, a morning programme of light entertainment, with bits of advice on cookery, gardening and, bizarrely, law. I took over from Jeff Cohen, who had perfomed that role with Frank on Red Dragon Radio (”Hark, Hark the Lark, at Cardiff Arms Park”). Jeff decided that spouting law to a couple of million, rather than a couple of thousand was a bad idea, and he had suggested me. A similarly bad idea.
Anyway, as soon as Ray realised that I was a Narberth boy and that he had cleaned my Mam’s car, that was it. “West was best”, and I should be with him. It was the same with Swansea chef, Colin Presdee, and the rest of the contributors.
It was a very cheap transfer. And Frank got a much more interesting doctor. The first time I arrived in Llandaff to provide “The Erudition”, I realised that this was not the unbeatable “God” of rugby that I had watched for the Scarlets, Wales or the Lions (Ieusau he was good!), but a down to earth, decent guy, who had no ego, no arrogance (and he more than deserved to think he was great), he did his practice intro, and looked at me and said “Mumf, do you think I am any bloody good at this?” He honestly did not realise how really good he was nor how popular.
And he was genuinely fascinated about law. Just before the programme was cut, Colin had cooked some fish for Ray, and he got a bone stuck in his throat. He departed the studio leaving me to run the show. I just about managed to play an Eagles track and to introduce the weatherman, not terribly smoothly, when he returned.
“And here’s Ray” I said with great relief and sweaty palms “All yours mate!”
“No Mumf, I’m going to be the lawyer today!” And, do you know, just like his encyclopaedic knowledge of Welsh History, he had picked up a fair bit!
I loved my time with him. We shared a room when we did a “Roadshow” in North Wales (and he really was as impossible as Clive Woodward and his other room-mates say), we had extraordinary phone-calls at very odd times of the night. He paid me the greatest compliment I was ever paid, when he was asked to do “Phillipino Dreamgirls” and later the film” Damage” with Jeremy Irons, because he insisted that I present his programme.
He told the producer that he knew I wouldn’t try to take it off him. As if. Of course it could have been a back-handed compliment, He might have thought I was so useless that I would fail. But he wasn’t like that. When I got my own programme, Grav having gone to commentary, he was the first to ring, and one of my first, and most ebullient, guests.
And one of those calls came from Heathrow Airport at 4.30am. He had forgotten to make a will! He made me get out of bed, go to the office, type a bog standard will leaving everything to “Auntie” (he was single then), fax it to the hotel so he could travel with an easy mind. And I, like everyone else who ever did him a favour, was delighted to do it. He was so grateful.
I stand by my comment. No other Welshman in history was as popular, accessible, inclusive, available or passionate. A world class athlete, a brilliant broadcaster, a mighty fine actor. He really had Genius. Not bad for a bloke who didn’t think he was “much cop”, who on his debut for Wales in Paris, called all the other players “Sir”.
A man who bound all the differing, often squabbling, parts of Wales together. The proudest Welshman, but no xenophobe.
Compassionate and tolerant, and so brave. I wouldn’t have had the nerve to call Vincent Kane “Vincy Baby” on air!
I so wanted him to visit my house with his “Scarlets” leg. If I could sculpt a statue for him I would. Perhaps I will. Put it up in front of the Assembly maybe. God Bless You Grav. And all my love to Mari and the girls.
And you know its funny. As I stood outside the home of Welsh rugby (”West IS Best”) I thought that maybe, if we had as a profession actually held the belief that Ray had in his country, the pride that he had in what he thought important, like carrying the Sword of Peace, we might have beaten this appalling, systematic dismantling of the Justice System.
So, what next? Well I have done plenty of doom and gloom, so I shall be positive.
The Confederation has a new direction. At the EGM we changed the structure. We now have a constitution that will be all inclusive (Ray would have thoroughly approved) a system that allows all those involved in the practice of the law and the provision of the services that make lawyers tick, to be involved. A Deputy Vice President in Frances Williams, who is a Legal Executive. Student members. Para-Legals. Barristers and in-house lawyers. An open house. And a pledge to provide for our members the help and support they want. It may be cheaper stationery or specific training. Perhaps advocacy in disciplinary matters. Even help with moving to new areas of law, or new careers outside the law.A chance to move forward, to expand the area of operation so that we in South and hopefully East and West Wales, to become a powerful voice for the Profession.
I have had so many messages complaining that the National body is doing nothing. Here is YOUR opportunity. If we can become a really powerful voice, and we can remember that we are now a separate legal entity. That since the Assembly has, and increasingly will, enact laws that will be essentially Welsh, and that the Union will be influenced by those decisions, that by being a strong voice, we will survive. We must represent our members as they want, without worrying that we might incur the wrath of the Government or its agencies.
When you look at the number of legal headlines, of the number of miscarriages of Justice, of made-up crime statistics, surely eventually Justice will become more important than I-Pods. Only this week the work of lawyers in the Stefan Cisco case, the Jill Dando murder, and many more have been highlighted.
My much lamented Auntie Moll always said “The world will always need farmers, butchers and lawyers”. Let’s hope there are still some of all three types in a few years.
Since this is the last edition before the festive season is upon us (and it already is - I saw a guy in Ponturdullais putting up his outdoor lights on October 24th! Madness!) let me take the opportunity to wish you all a wonderful Yule, and a happy and prosperous 2008. May all your wishes come true, save those that want Man Utd to win the league! C’mon City.
On the subject of Manchester City (still 3rd in the table as I write) I was at Portsmouth last week. 0-0 but a good game. The City wags have a new song, sung to the tune of “Lord of the Dance” which goes:
“Sven, Sven, Wherever you may be,
You are the King of Man City.
You can snog my wife
On my settee
If you win us the cup at Wemberlee”
Funny. And Mr Eriksson laughed as well!
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