Historian, Academic and Author
Tell us a little about coming to study at Swansea and your career following that.
A new chapter in my life opened in September 1964 when I travelled in a Crosville bus from Aberystwyth to Swansea to register as a rather innocent fresher at the University College of Wales, Swansea (as it was then known). Being the product of the working-class village of Penparcau, near Aberystwyth, I wanted to study history, especially the history of Wales, at the feet of Professor Glanmor Williams and the brilliant group of historians appointed by him. It was an exciting eye-opener for me and I graduated in history three years later. According to my parents, my grandmother was still clapping her hands long after I left the Brangwyn stage!
I went on to study for a doctorate, working under the direction of Glanmor Williams on literature and religion between the Reformation and Methodism. I remember one unfortunate incident at the Glamorgan Record Office in Cardiff, when I opened a cupboard that was full of dusty and tattered old Welsh books, and they all fell to the floor. I had to pick them all up myself! Then, completely unexpectedly, Glanmor Williams told me that the position of lecturer through the medium of Welsh in the Department of Welsh History in Aberystwyth was being advertised and that I should apply for it. I was reluctant to send an application but was persuaded to do it. I was appointed and I was, in turn, lecturer, senior lecturer, reader, teacher and head of department over the following twenty-five years. Don't tell anyone, but one of my students in 1969 was King Charles III, a sobering experience for a staunch republican like me! In 1993, I was appointed Director of the University of Wales Center for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies, a unique research institution in Aberystwyth where I had the opportunity to lead exciting research projects such as the Social History of the Welsh Language, the Visual Culture of Wales and the Romanticism of Iolo Morganwg. And there I was until I retired in early 2008.
Tell us a little about your time at the University and your favourite memories.
I was lucky enough to spend three years living in Clyne Castle and Gilbertson Hall, Blackpill, where there was a library and excellent food. We were expected to wear gowns at the dinner table and on the first night one of the older students asked where I was from. 'Aberystwyth', I said. 'Oh!', he said, 'my grandmother taught me never to trust anyone north of Brecon.' I realised then that I was among young boys who questioned everything and spoke their opinion bluntly. It was in Swansea that I learned about Karl Marx and Che Guevara! And by attending the GymGym (Welsh society) meetings I learned to sing Dafydd Iwan's exciting songs.
I gained a place in the college football team, and we would play on the Fairwood fields where the Swans practice today.
I particularly remember one Wednesday afternoon when we played against Swansea's second team. A talented and mischievous young Italian named Giorgio Chinaglia led Swansea's attackers. By playing every trick in the book and losing the ball in the process, it tested the patience of the manager, Trevor Morris. He got rid of the rascal, but Giorgio went on to win caps for Italy and play with Pele and Beckenbauer in the New York Cosmos team!
I was a student in Swansea during the 'Swinging Sixties' and groups like the Moody Blues, the Tremeloes and the Who would entertain us at Fulton House at the weekend. My favourites were Julie Driscoll and the Brian Auger Trinity. Listening to them perform 'Wheels on Fire' was a thrilling experience. You can still hear them on You-Tube!
Lest you think I had not much work ethic I should admit that I was a very diligent student. Unfortunately, I broke a bone in my elbow playing football during my degree year. I had no choice but to learn how to write with my left hand! And when the Aberfan disaster happened in October 1966 it was not possible for me to travel there with many of my friends in Clyne to try to save some of the victims.
What were your favourite things about Swansea when you were here?
- The red double decker buses that took you to interesting places like Limeslade and Cwmrhydyceirw!
- The Vetch football pitch where the incomparable Ivor Allchurch showed that football is a game for artists.
- The fantastic fish and chip cafe in Blackpill on the way to Mumbles.
- The spectacular old campus by the sea (not to mention the attractions of the new campus).
- The pitch at St Helen’s where I saw the best cricketers in the world shine, among them Majid Khan, Viv Richards, Wes Hall, Bobby Simpson and Don Shepherd.
What would you say to someone who is considering coming to study at Swansea University?
Based on my personal experiences, I would definitely encourage prospective students of all ages to choose Swansea as an ideal place to study and enjoy life. Two of my daughters have studied at Swansea and another is a member of staff at the University. Why not take advantage of the excellent provision and experiences that Swansea University has to offer?