The life story of the renowned sportsman, scholar and politician from Cefneithin, who was a complex and deeply private man. Narrated by Philip Madoc.
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That's better. Close on him.
'Carwyn James was arguably
'the greatest coach the Welsh team never had.'
Every single one of you think about it,
think about it, think about it.
It's a thinking game.
For Carwyn, rugby was a form of art.
We play to win.
But secondly, the manner of winning matters a great deal.
He was an aesthetic man, a sensitive man,
a liberal-minded man.
And when you have those qualities,
as well as the knowledge and intelligence about the game,
It seems so stupid to waste it.
As a sportsman, scholar and politician,
Carwyn lived his life in the public gaze.
He could see very far and he wanted to go far.
And he did go far.
Yet, a quarter of a century after his death,
he remains an enigma.
Carwyn James was born in 1929 in the Gwendraeth Valley,
on the western edge of the South Wales Coalfield.
RECORDING OF CARWYN JAMES: I was born and brought up
in this industrial village, Cefneithin,
located literally under the shadow of the coal tips.
The black pyramids are part of the scenery,
a symbol of economic wealth.
It is sobering to think how much mineral wealth has left this valley.
Carwyn's father, Michael James, was a miner at Cross Hands Colliery.
He and his wife, Anne, had four children,
of whom Carwyn was the youngest.
Carwyn's sister, Gwen,
played an important role in his life from the start.
Well, I had to look after him when he was a small baby
because my other brother had diphtheria.
My mother looked after him and I looked after Carwyn.
I suppose we started - from a very early age -
being great friends.
One of Carwyn's earliest memories was as a three-year-old,
pleading with his father to take him to see a rugby game
in the field behind their house.
VOICE OF CARWYN JAMES I'm afraid to watch on my own
and I don't like to hear the people shouting.
Their voices, coarse and primitive, frighten me.
I hold my father's large, warm, collier's hand
and I feel safe.
It wasn't long before Carwyn took to the field himself.
He enjoyed football, cricket and rugby
and showed a natural gift for all.
They were extremely happy days
but there were certain fears, inevitably.
The fear of seeing an ambulance, for instance, coming round the corner.
When a number of us used to play soccer or cricket
our eyes would then be, riveted on this ambulance
hoping that it would not stop outside one's own house.
If Carwyn needed an escape
from the harsh realities of life in a mining village,
he found it here.
To arrive in a little village in South Cardiganshire,
where my mother was born,
is like entering the promised land.
I know I belong, that my roots are here,
far away from the realities of life.
The school, the black pyramids, the dread of the ambulance
and the disturbing siren.
Back in Cefneithin,
Carwyn was making his mark at Gwendraeth Grammar School
where he was Head Prefect and captain of the school rugby team,
under the guidance of Sports master, Gwynfil Rees.
He had one weakness, he didn't like to tackle at all.
Carwyn's idea of a good tackle was to let the boy go past him
and then he'd nip behind him, ankle-tap him
and the boy was down and Carwyn was quite happy about it.
But we decided that perhaps he should tackle properly.
So I took the school hooker out -
and he's vice-captain by the way, Dilwyn Roberts -
and we made Carwyn tackle him.
We gave him the ball, he rushed at Carwyn time and time again
and Carwyn had to tackle him.
The other great influence in Carwyn's life
was Welsh mistress Miss Dora Williams.
She introduced Carwyn to the poems of Gwenallt
and arranged for him and other pupils
to listen to the first radio broadcasts by the poet, T H Parry-Williams.
Soon, Carwyn wanted to follow in the footsteps of these literary giants.
He intended going up to Aberystwyth
to do Welsh under Parry-Williams and Gwenallt and others
and he found out that I had also done Welsh with them up there.
Very often, on rugby trips, it was quite amusing really.
Whereas before, we'd go on a trip and he'd sit next to me -
he was my captain so he'd sit next to me -
we'd have a chat about what we were going to do,
tactics for the game and what the team was like.
And he was thriving then,
he seemed to know more about the opposing school teams than I did.
We'd discuss it, but after that, very often we'd talk about poetry.
About Sir T H Parry-Williams, what was Gwenallt like as a lecturer
and things like that.
In 1948, Carwyn got a place studying Welsh at Aberystwyth University.
By the time he left Cefneithin,
he'd won six schoolboy caps for Wales
and had played for Llanelli
I was the unfortunate Outside Half of the college at the time, you see
so I'd been back from the Navy for two years at that time
and been the Outside Half in the side
and here was this genius coming up from Gwendraeth
and I'd really thought, "Well, this is the end of my time."
But unfortunately for Carwyn, of course,
I was then the captain that year
and the captain in Aberystwyth is always the chairman of selectors
and poor old Carwyn didn't have a hope for the first year.
Carwyn initially contented himself with playing for the second team
and for Aberystwyth Town.
But he also found time to engage in Nationalist Politics,
becoming president of the college branch of Plaid Cymru in 1951.
This particular aura, as a rugby figure,
drew people to the party meetings
that would never come there otherwise.
So they were very well attended with the usual crowd
plus the rugby element that came in tow with Carwyn.
I remember once, when he was due to play for us on a Saturday,
he blithly said on the Friday, "I can't come tomorrow,
"I'm lying on the railway line in Tregaron."
It was the time when British Rail
were threatening to close the Carmarthen - Aberystwyth line
and Carwyn felt very strongly about this.
And for Carwyn to give up a game of rugby
the principle must have been strong indeed.
NAVY OFFICER Number Ten! You'll never get anywhere acting like that!
Come on, Rear Rank...
'On leaving Aberystwyth in 1952,
'Carwyn was called up for National Service.
'The Royal Navy was on the look out
'for promising young players for its rugby team.
'It was arranged that Carwyn be posted to Portsmouth.'
With Britain engaged in the Cold War,
Leading Coder James, DMX918946,
was required to learn Russian.
VOICE OF CARWYN JONES: I hated the whole idea of being in a military establishment.
I resented having to do National Service
and having taking an Honours Degree,
I found five hours of Russian per day,
plus an inordinate amount of preparation in the evening very tiresom.
During his time in Portsmouth,
Carwyn played for both the Royal Navy and the London Welsh,
whom he led to victory in the 1954 seven-a-side tournament at Twickenham.
After leaving the Navy, Carwyn became a teacher.
First in Carmarthen,
and then at Llandovery college, where he taught Welsh.
At Llandovery, the 40 cigarettes Carwyn smoked a day
earned him the nickname "Kipper".
'Ten past nine or so maybe, we'd go and wake him up.'
"Coffee's ready, Mr James," and all that.
And he would then come in, in his dressing gown,
drink his black coffee - no sugar, no milk .
Then he'd read his correspondence.
If there were interesting letters he'd read them out to us.
Read the West Mail, JBG Thomas' article in particular.
Erm... And then it was simply time to end the lesson.
Llandovery College had a fine reputation for rugby
and Carwyn learned a great deal as Assistant Coach
to legendary Sports master, T P Williams.
Carwyn was still playing regularly for Llanelli
and in 1958, he won his first full cap for Wales, against Australia.
Shoving the Australians now.
Gwyn Evans to Carwyn James, a drop at goal.
And a very good try!
And it's over!
The game created quite a stir in Cefneithin.
A little village like this? 800 odd people? He was the king, the hero.
He was everything rolled into one.
For all of us, as I said, we were a lot of boys in the village, sport was the big thing,
Liverpool, Manchester United and the rest of it.
But rugby was...it was big.
To get one of the blokes in the village, can you imagine? Playing for Wales. Unheard of.
Fantastic. Not only that, he went on his first game, he dropped the goal.
He had Christmas, everything, rolled into one on the same day.
My hero at that time was Carwyn James.
Simply because he had this magical quality of being able to side-step.
An electrifying thing, to see it happen, so cleverly done,
so easily, it seems to me, to outwit the opponents.
I loved watching that.
Of course, that, I would say, did have some influence on the way I played later on.
But Carwyn only ever played twice for Wales.
His career as a player was doomed to be overshadowed by that of another outstanding outside half.
Here goes Cliff Morgan.
A superb try that makes it 14-3!
I always thought, "Why did I play for Wales more times than Carwyn?"
Because I was stronger.
My old gamesmaster used to say, "You've got to have strength."
He wrote on my school report, "Cliff Morgan, not very good in class,
"his biggest asset is his buttocks."
He believed you had to have big buttocks to be able to ride tackles.
Carwyn was naturally slim and elegant and I was squat and rather nasty in that sense.
I loved playing against him, he always had a smile, he was a cheeky little thing.
He used to always do that, show you the ball.
Close on him, Gareth.
Eyes on the ball, John.
It was off the field that Carwyn found his true niche.
In the late 60s, he was chosen to coach the team closest to his heart.
Just bend the knees.
Then just straighten your knees. You'll get that forward thrust then.
Bend it slightly, we'll watch it this time. Down you go.
Carwyn brought his skills as a teacher to the rugby field.
He was never the heavy handed, brutal coach.
He was always the guy who dragged it out of young people.
-Coaxed it out of them.
He could appeal to the really rough, tough guys, the big men.
The toughest men. People like Norman Gale, Stuart Gallacher.
And he also had this appeal to the more creative, artistic players.
JJ Williams and Phil Bennett.
We know what we're setting out to do.
The important thing is, we want a fluid, fluid sort of game.
We want to move this ball around as much as we possibly can.
He made you feel important, that you were that little bit special.
I think that's one of the great secrets of his success.
That he made players, sometimes, something they weren't.
I want to see you get a good tackle in in the first minute or two. Right down, down on that ball.
Hit the man hard.
Then you can play your creative stuff.
You can make players feel better, and they're better players if you convince them that they are.
Think about it, that's the important thing.
Every single one of you, think about it, think about it, think about it.
It's a thinking game.
I feel, let the boys have the chance to develop on any ideas that they have.
And in this way, I think that they're just as creative as I am.
And they are contributing, they know they're contributing and they're enjoying the process.
-And this is the right way, I would have thought...
-Directing a play.
-Directing a play!
Two often you get producers who say, "This is the way to say the line. Copy me."
This is bad producing, I think.
Carwyn moved freely between the worlds of sport, the arts and politics.
In the 1970 general election,
he stood as Plaid Cymru's candidate in Llanelli.
The sense of Welshness that had been fostered in him during his childhood in Cefneithin,
was central to his political beliefs.
The spirit of Wales is born in the farmhouse.
In the cottage by the brook.
In the coal miners' home.
And if it be not fostered, the Welsh nation will become nearly derivative and second rate.
Man has a pride. He needs work.
HE SPEAKS WELSH
And he needs work, not in Durham or in the Midlands,
but here in Wales where his roots are.
A fortnight before the election, Carwyn was called to the East India club in London.
He'd applied for the job of coach on the next British Lions tour of New Zealand.
The Lions' selection committee enquired about his political ambitions.
I made two points. That I was competing with all my might to win the seat,
even though the Labour majority was well over 20,000.
And, that in the current issue of the Llanelli Star
the odds quoted against the Plaid Cymru candidate were 10,000/1 against.
So I politely offered to take the committee's pounds back home
in the hope that they would all make a quick 10,000.
No offers were forthcoming.
When he came back from London, he said,
"I will not get that job, because, it's my politics."
So I said to him, "If you've told them the truth
"you'll probably get it, because they'll have some belief in you."
Carwyn lost the election, but was awarded the job of coaching the Lions
on their 1971 tour of New Zealand.
The Lions had never before won a test series anywhere.
And it was my enjoyable task to try and combine the skills and the different styles
of the four home countries into a team which could play as a British unit,
but at the same time, take full advantage of the individual flair of the players on that tour.
I doubt very much as to whether I would have been able to go on the Lions tour
had it not been for Carwyn's influence.
All I know is, and I mean this, if Carwyn had not been the coach in New Zealand,
I doubt very much if I'd gone.
I had a chat with him and I said, "I'm not one of these to do millions of press-ups
"and gallop 28 miles before a game. As long as I can prepare myself."
He didn't say, "No, you'll do as you want, that's wrong."
He'll say, "Don't worry about that."
With the team, he was absolutely superb.
He was their friend, the guider.
He did everything necessary to make the boys feel happy.
And the boys did feel happy with Carwyn as coach.
In 63 years, the Lions had never won a test series in New Zealand.
Carwyn approached the challenge with military rigour.
He compiled a dossier on New Zealand's clubs and players.
He visited Manchester United to learn from their training methods.
He travelled to Wigan to study Rugby League techniques.
They are our enemies, we want to beat them.
And my mind at the moment is on that first test.
We'll work it from there. If we can win that first test, we may well win a series.
Barry John, taking very little time in preparation.
In the first test, things initially looked good for the Lions.
And he's done it!
6 points to 3 now, with the Lions in the lead.
But the All-Blacks responded with a ferocious onslaught
in the second half.
The Lions have got to get this clear now, this pressure by the All-Blacks,
that is tremendous. Cliff Patrick, one yard up.
He's got to be held up.
Brilliant tackle by John Taylor.
One yard short, this is mammoth.
The most exciting few minutes I've ever seen.
The Lions held fast, winning by 9 points to 3.
The Kiwis had been taken by surprise,
and they had no idea what to make of Carwyn.
I don't think they really understood the quiet approach.
Or the fact that there was a coach who was interested in the theatre,
in drama, in literature and what have you.
He's regarded a sissy.
The All-Blacks had their revenge in the second test.
What a try!
They beat the Lions 22-12.
With both teams on an equal pegging,
the stakes were high when they met for a third time.
He's at the end, can he get it to Barry John, and Barry John has scored!
The Lions won the series for the first time in their history.
They were greeted as conquering heroes on their return to Britain.
But Carwyn had a word of warning for the rejoicing crowds.
All I'd like to say is this. When the All-Blacks come here in 72,
they'll be a good side, a hard side to beat.
And I only hope that every side that will play against them
will prepare thoroughly, because they'll have to give it their best
if they're going to beat any New Zealand side that comes on tour here.
When the All Blacks arrived in Britain in 1972,
one of the teams facing them was Carwyn's Scarlets.
This is Philip Bennett, happily recovered from injury.
There is no breeze in the air at all.
Two minutes after the first whistle,
Llanelli were awarded a penalty.
Roy Bergiers is the happy man.
A conversion by Phil Bennett made the score 6-0.
Again, the hard part. To maintain and hold that lead,
to actually beat the All Blacks, was a long way off.
The game had only just started.
And here's Hill.
Llanelli with bated breath.
That's the scoreboard. The historic-looking scoreboard.
Roy Thomas does his stuff, together with Crocker and Llewellyn.
History has been made at Stradey Park.
What a tremendous moment...
I think, after that particular game, Carwyn, fleetingly - be it for a day, a week, a month -
was at peace with himself. He had fulfilled what he believed he could do.
Carwyn scored a second personal triumph that year,
on stage at the Eisteddfod in Haverfordwest.
As president of the day, he made a stirring speech
that appealed to both radical and conservative elements in nationalist politics.
It was the greatest performance, that was.
That was marvellous.
The script was his own, as well, which added to it.
And he knew that he'd performed well that day.
Of course, the applause was tremendous,
and a long applause.
Then, once it was over, he wanted away from there.
That had finished.
As it happened, I was nearby and he said, "Come on, let's go."
And out of the Eisteddfod field straightaway, up the road a few miles to a quiet little pub
where nobody knew him at all, to have a quiet drink there.
Despite his gifts as a teacher and mentor,
Carwyn could be a solitary, enigmatic character.
It was difficult to get very close to Carwyn in that respect.
People would get close to him in different aspects of his life.
But as a complete being, I think it was an impossible task.
Carwyn wasn't a committee man, and this was to deny him the ultimate prize in his profession.
He had been passed over for the job of Welsh coach several times,
and had stood for election as an officer of the Welsh Rugby Union
In 1974, frustrated by these rejections,
Carwyn fired a shot across the bows of the WRU.
He wrote them a letter in which he lay down the conditions
under which he'd accept the job of national coach.
In that letter, he imposed conditions which were totally unacceptable.
Not unacceptable to the committee in general terms,
but, in actual fact, if he'd have been appointed on the terms which he was demanding,
it would have been against the constitution of the Union.
It would have been an unconstitutional appointment because he really wanted to be
the manager, supremo - call it what you will. -
and the committee didn't have the powers to do that.
So his application was immediately ruled out of court.
It was...he himself, really, who caused this so-called rejection.
He made such difficult demands.
For instance, he wanted to be the sole coach and sole selector.
I think that was something that, at that moment in time,
the Welsh Rugby Union could not accept.
And I think that... For the only time in his life, I felt he was slightly too autocratic.
If he'd said to the Welsh Rugby Union, "I'll coach but it doesn't matter who the selectors are"...
In the end, anyway, he'd have been the sole selector. He had that sort of personality.
I think he would have had his way, but he did make too many demands, I think, at that moment of his life.
In writing his letter, Carwyn ensured he would never coach the Welsh side.
He turned, instead, to Italy.
Carwyn spent two seasons coaching Rovigo, leading them to victory in the Italian Championship.
Carwyn immersed himself in Italian culture.
I have to read. What is the command in Italian?
-Legga, per favore.
-Legga, per favore.
Il sole e molto importante.
Carwyn's Italian teacher in Rovigo, Angelo Morello,
later said that Carwyn had been unable to express his true personality in his own country.
That he had suffered from an inability to express his feelings.
Particularly, his feelings of love.
Carwyn's sexuality had been the subject of gossip and speculation for some time.
Homosexuality was still a largely taboo subject in the Wales of the 1970s.
He could not have led the life in Cefneithin that he did lead later in Cardiff
because the constrictions of that small community would have been a great burden on him
as he developed in life later on.
And there were some things that would never have been accepted in his home community
with a family and his friends at home. Things that would have been frowned on.
He should have been a family man. He loved children.
And he should have got married and brought up a family.
That would have given him some incentive in life.
Lots of things in Wales are kept quiet.
Nobody knows anything about them.
Be far better if things are not bottled up.
It would give more people a chance to live their life as they would like to.
Of course, they say life is what you make it.
Not with everybody.
During the '70s, Carwyn used his unique sporting insight
to forge a new career for himself -
in the media.
His appearances on Sports Lineup were required viewing
for anyone with the slightest interest in rugby.
In this game, and in others that I have watched in Europe
during the last couple of years,
their approach against strong opposition is cautious.
Life is extremely serious, the playing of games is serious,
winning for the sake of national prestige is terribly important.
By the 1980s, Carwyn was suffering a number of problems with his health.
He had excruciatingly painful eczema, which affected almost every part of his body.
And a lifetime of 40 cigarettes a day and countless gin and tonics was taking its toll.
At the start of 1983, Carwyn took a holiday alone in Amsterdam.
On the 10th January, he suffered a heart attack.
The top rugby coach Carwyn James has died at the age of 53.
He was found dead in a hotel room in Amsterdam,
where he'd gone for a short holiday.
Carwyn's friend and fellow outside half, Cliff Morgan, said at the time,
"I know he's dead, but I don't have to believe it if I don't want to."
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Life story of the enigmatic rugby legend from Cefneithin. A renowned sportsman, scholar and politician, Carwyn was a complex and deeply private man. Narrated by Philip Madoc.