Robin Jones 

3 June 2006 tbs.pm/2303

When Robin Jones began his first day as a primary school teacher at the brand new Ysgol Penmorfa, Prestatyn, in the Autumn of 1960, he had no idea that one day he would become a professional broadcaster, and be present at the establishment of many milestones in both Welsh- and English-language broadcasting history.

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Indeed, he joined the school on its inaugural day and it represented the first day of his working life. Teaching was a source of great pleasure for Robin and he had no intention of leaving the profession or changing his career.

It was purely by chance that the Headmaster in Robin’s school, Mr. Wyn Spencer, had seen an advertisement for a job in the new commercial television channel that was about to be launched in Cardiff, broadcasting to West and North Wales.

The new channel, to be known as Teledu Cymru, needed a bilingual announcer and newsreader and Mr Spencer thought that his lively and well-educated new teacher was the man for the job. At first Robin had no interest in this new venture, but thought it better to apply. A letter duly arrived inviting Robin to an interview in Cardiff. It occurred to him that even if he were to be unsuccessful, he would be in South Wales and thus finely placed for a free trip to Llanelli, where the 1962 National Eisteddfod was to be held.

Thursday August 2nd, 1962 was the date that sealed Robin’s fate as a broadcaster, when he attended that interview, at the Wales Television Centre on Western Avenue, Cardiff – at the time reputed to be the most modern television centre in Europe. By coincidence, the man who had offered Robin his first teaching job, Dr. B Haydn Williams, Director of Education for Flintshire, was also the chairman of this new company, to be known in English as WWN. The interview and screen test seemed to go well, despite the fact that Mr B Haydn Williams was absent.

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By an amazing twist of fate, it was the final question that may have swayed the interviewing panel into thinking that Robin was the man for the job. Nathan Hughes, General Manager of WWN, asked Robin which, of all the presenters and announcers he had heard, he admired and respected most. Without hesitation, he replied that he had huge respect for a young Irish presenter who was working for Granada at the time. His name? Gay Byrne. Robin insists today that he had no idea that Gay Byrne, icon of RTE’s Late Late Show, was the brother of Ernest Byrne, executive producer at Teledu Cymru!

Robin was offered the job and was asked whether he could start on September the 1st, two weeks before the launch date. His face fell when he realised that, as a teacher, he would be unable to start on that date because Flintshire County Council required three months notice. This revelation led Nathan Hughes to leave the room, where he telephoned his colleague Mr B Haydn Williams, of WWN – and Flintshire County Council! Robin’s notice to his former employers was duly waived and he was free to begin this new exciting venture.

From being a teacher in a predominantly rural area, Robin moved to the Welsh capital to begin a new life in a comparatively new medium. However, he found himself in a heady atmosphere, mixing and working with men he had hitherto admired from the worlds of Welsh politics and literature. Gwynfor Evans, later to win the first parliamentary seat for Plaid Cymru and become its leader; and Sir T H Parry Williams (a poet whose works delighted Robin) commanded huge respect in Welsh public circles in their respective fields. It would be true to say, in fact, that Robin found himself working with his heroes.

Robin was duly sent to Southern Television’s headquarters in Southampton to study their programme and presentation techniques for ten days, and found them to be a friendly but professional company. No doubt the strained relationship between TWW and WWN, both competing for the title of National ITV company for Wales, prevented Robin from being sent on the 5-minute walk across Llandaf fields to train at Pontcanna, home of the station’s rival.

The excitement of launch night is still fresh in Robin’s mind but in some ways, although he was the first announcer on the night, his limelight was stolen by Huw Thomas of ITN. Thomas was in Cardiff to present the early evening news from the studios of Teledu Cymru. In an operation as small as WWN, autocue was not a priority; however it was transported down to Cardiff for the launch night in order that Thomas would not have to remember his words or look down to read them. To the amusement of the Teledu Cymru staff, pushed to one side by the ITN entourage, the autocue failed as they went on air and, like any other WWN presenter, Mr Thomas was reduced to looking down at his script to read the evening’s bulletin.

Robin was immediately a hit, with female viewers especially, as the letters pages of newspapers and magazines testify. One strange aspect of the Teledu Cymru franchise meant that although a familiar face in West and North Wales, Robin remained relatively unknown in Cardiff, where he lived. Although broadcast from Cardiff, WWN programmes could not be, and were not intended to be, picked up in the city, which remained very much a TWW area. Initially Teledu Cymru was seen as a success, and ratings were good in the West Wales area where no other channels were available. In a head-to-head fight with the BBC, WWN was winning – even when Welsh language programmes were broadcast.

The staff of WWN, however, though aware that the station could be doing better financially, had no idea that the stark realities of commercial television meant that the station was probably doomed from the start. There were simply not enough viewers who could receive only WWN. That, coupled with the late arrival of the North Wales transmitters and a general lack of business acumen in Teledu Cymru management, ultimately made the situation untenable. As happens so much in the media, it was a newspaper report, first read by Robin’s wife, Eirlys, that revealed the depth of the financial problems at WWN. Those problems grew on a daily basis and it became apparent to everyone that WWN could not continue in its original form. In May 1963 it was announced that all local production would cease. This was regarded as a temporary measure, and continuity and the WWN identity remained as strong as ever, though with no local programming. However, Robin saw the writing on the wall and reluctantly made plans to go back to North Wales and his old teaching job. One advantage of his WWN appointment by Dr. B. Haydn Williams was that Robin had been assured of getting his old teaching job back in the event that WWN should fail.

Optimism and hope at WWN had been replaced by pessimism and despair at the dying company, and in August 1963, as Robin prepared to leave Cardiff, he decided to go and join his colleagues for a farewell drink at the TWW club. There he met, amongst others, a sound engineer called Chalky White, who had a message for Robin. He had been asked by Morfudd Mason Lewis, head of presentation at the BBC in Wales, to ask Robin to telephone her at the BBC. Realising he had nothing to lose, he phoned her from a coinbox at TWW and was asked to see her immediately. Robin met her, and was promptly offered a job in BBC Wales as an announcer!

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BBC Wales began on February 9th 1964, and Robin was once again on duty on launch night, the first time the BBC had broadcast an all-Wales television service. He had many happy years as a BBC Wales announcer and remembers the occasional visits from heads of continuity in London who would visit the ‘Regions’ in order to confirm that the BBC’s standards of presentation and pronunciation were being maintained.

After several years Robin was again invited to change his job in 1969, when he became main anchor of the nightly Welsh language news magazine, Heddiw (Today). He relished the challenge of introducing such a well-respected programme and enjoyed his time there immensely. He returned to announcing duties two years later and was one of many distinguished voices to be heard on BBC Wales continuity during the 1970s. Working with him were names such as Iwan Thomas (who had also worked at WWN), Geraint Jones and Nia Rhosier. It was a golden age for Welsh continuity and BBC Wales announcers maintained an air of friendly, but authoritative voices, all in an almost melodic Welsh accent.

In those days television announcers at BBC Wales were also required to work on radio – and yet again Robin managed another first! His was the first voice heard on the new Welsh-language VHF station Radio Cymru! Indeed it wasn’t long before Robin was given his own requests programme called ‘Llatai’ (messenger of love!) and it proved to be very popular.

It was thus no surprise to anyone, except perhaps himself, that Robin was the man chosen to lead S4C’s team of announcers. Owen Edwards, Controller of S4C, wanted a friendly and homely image for the long-awaited new channel and Robin fitted the bill perfectly. The channel was a political solution to a problem that had plagued Welsh language broadcasts since the creation of all-Wales services by BBC Wales and TWW. Welsh speakers demanded more and better programmes in their own language, whilst the monoglot majority found the Welsh language programmes a major irritation – especially when they displaced English language offerings from the network.

On November 1st 1982 it was Robin who sat in the announcer’s chair and guided viewers through the first evening’s programmes. Although initially S4C announcers sat on chairs, these were soon to be replaced by comfortable sofas, much lampooned by television satirists.

S4C continuity

S4C was a friendly, but totally professional station and a very pleasurable place to work. It was a personal sadness for Robin when, in the early nineties, S4C went the way of all other major broadcasters and ceased to show their announcers in-vision, with the exception of children’s programmes, which by then had their own presenters.

Robin continued out-of-vision and finally left S4C a few years ago, but still works freelance as a voice-over artist. One organisation that has benefited from Robin’s experienced voice is the Welsh Joint Education Committee….whose headquarters are at the old Teledu Cymru studios in Western Avenue, Cardiff! Voiceovers for educational videos are recorded in the old WWN continuity studios and take Robin back to those days when the black steel and glass building housed a fledgling ITV company that never made it to adulthood.

Talking to Robin these days it becomes obvious that he has enjoyed every minute of his career, which spans four decades and the launch of four major milestones in Welsh broadcasting – Teledu Cymru, BBC Wales, Radio Cymru and S4C – three of which survive to this day. This is a record to be proud of, and a tribute to Robin’s professional but unassuming approach throughout a long and distinguished career.

You Say

1 response to this article

margo hughes 17 May 2013 at 10:25 pm

Robin was Avery special and talented person.I’m so proud to have known him and will ways treasure his friendship.

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