Welsh rugby writer John Billot has died

Rugby writer John Billot, the former sports editor of the Western Mail, died on Sunday, just days before his 80th birthday.

Billot started his career as an office junior in the Western Mail‘s Cardiff offices in the 1940s. In a career that spanned six decades, including several books on the history of rugby in Wales and biographies of some of Billot’s favourite players, he became the newspaper’s sports editor in 1982, succeeding JBG Thomas in the role.

His History of Welsh International Rugby, published in 1970, was the first full record of every game played by Wales since their opening match in 1881.

In 1970, he also became production editor of a new Welsh rugby annual and kept the position until the final edition three years ago.

Billot retired in 1989 but continued reporting on rugby for several years.

A tribute to Billot in the South Wales Argus gave an indication of the influence he possessed when writing for the Western Mail… “at a time when journalists in that position on that paper were regarded almost as the sixth selector in the time of the Big Five selection panel”.

Not that such responsibility did not go without some down sides, as Robin Davey highlighted with one anecdote in his tribute:

“I will always remember the day in the North British Hotel in Edinburgh after a Scotland-Wales international (the hotel long since refurbished and renamed the Balmoral) way back in the late 1970s when a huge row broke out between John and Jeff Squire, the former Pontypool and Wales No8.

“Jeff was very animated about something John had written about him and collared him in a hotel reception room just off the main entrance. Indeed, it got so heated that quite a crowd gathered to witness the ‘discussion’ and it has to be said that the player probably got the better of it with a captive audience.

“But John came up with the delicious comment once it was all over – ‘Well, Jeff Squire had his say on the floor of the North British Hotel today, I’ll have mine on the back page of the Western Mail on Monday morning’.”

The sport also paid tribute. “John’s contribution to documenting the history of Welsh rugby through his various publications provided an invaluable service to our game,” Dennis Gethin, the WelshRU president, said. “The Western Mail built its great rugby reputation on the back of John and JBG’s words.”

Billot was married for more than 50 years and is survived by his wife Sheila, three children and four grandchildren.

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