“Cliff Morgan’s death robs us of a true legend”

PHIL BENNETT, the former Wales and British Lions fly-half, who featured so prominently in that piece of commentary from the 1973 Barbarians v All Blacks match in Cardiff, shares his memories of the broadcaster, Cliff Morgan, who died this week

Cliff Morgan:
Cliff Morgan: “a marvellous Welshman”

When I was a small boy, I couldn’t understand why my local Scarlets hero Carwyn James was not in the Wales team.

Then, my father took me to see Cliff Morgan play for Cardiff and I suddenly realised why.

Cliff Morgan was not only a wonderful Welsh -fly-half – full of wit and invention – but a marvellous Welshman. He was proud of his country – capable of expressing the romance of its charms – and, in return, the country was rightly proud of him.

If I had a pound for every time someone has mentioned to me his brilliant TV commentary of that Barbarians try against the All Blacks in 1973, then I would be a millionaire.

His death robs us of another real legend – not long after we lost the great Mervyn Davies.

But we should celebrate his talents and reflect on the great pleasure he brought to so many people, both as a player and a broadcaster.

Cliff was rightly revered for inspiring Cardiff and Wales to beat the All Blacks in 1953, a year after he was part of a Wales team that won the Grand Slam.

But I was made truly aware of his status in the game when I toured South Africa with the Lions in 1974. Everywhere we went, so many locals wanted to talk about Cliff and his influence on the brilliant 1955 Lions who had toured there. They called them “The Great Entertainers” and so many South Africans lauded Cliff as the man who had shown them the game could be played with guile as well as grunt.

Cliff covered that 1970s tour for the BBC and I got to know him well. But it was a mark of the man’s modesty that, whenever I asked him about 1955, he would talk glowingly of others – such as Billy Williams, Bryn Meredith and Courtney Meredith – rather than about himself.

Morgan in his playing days: he is remembered as one of the great fly-halves of all-time
Cliff Morgan in his playing days for Wales, here against England: he is remembered as one of the great fly-halves of all-time

But Cliff was also a charmer and he liked to party. I remember, on the last day of the ’74 tour, that I was invited to a rich South African’s house, along with Gareth Edwards, Cliff and his broadcasting pal Alun Williams. They had a huge swimming pool with a marble table in the centre and, after beers and wine, Cliff said it was shame there was no piano on the table so we could enjoy a real sing-song.

Before we knew it, a crane was lowering a piano into place and the party really began.

Edwards was worried we’d miss our flight home and I remember Cliff saying, only half–jokingly, “Don’t worry, Gareth. Those planes fly out the next day, too.” That was Cliff. He could inspire so much joy and laughter and there was always a twinkle in his eye.

Whenever Wales played at home in the 70s, I used to sit on my balcony in the Angel Hotel and watch the stars waltz in on a Saturday morning –Richard Burton and Liz Taylor, Stanley Baker, Richard Harris.

They’d head for the cocktail bar and look out for Cliff, who would greet them with a smile, a drink and more stories.

Then, I would bump into Cliff on my way to the ground and his advice was always simple, straightforward, never self-centred.

“Just go out and play your own game. That’s why they pick you,” he’d say before wishing me luck.

In his later years, Cliff never lost that generosity of spirit. There were countless times when he travelled from London back to west Wales to speak at some event, simply to help whatever cause.

Welsh rugby has lost a great player, broadcasting has lost a pioneer and the nation has lost a shining light.

  • This was first published in today’s Sunday Mirror, and is reproduced here with permission


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