Cliff Morgan has died at the age of 83. His career from Rhondda Valley to Broadcasting House and Television Centre has been fully documented elsewhere but I would like to remember the man who my father spoke about with respect and enthusiasm.
As a player he embodied everything that was great in a Welsh outside half; speed, anticipation, courage and above all the flair to do the unexpected and to bring the best out of everyone around him. Never better than when pulling the strings (and conducting the choir) on the Lions tour to South Africa in 1955 to let the talents of others like Tony O’Reilly, Jeff Butterfield and Arthur Smith shine. He played for Cardiff RFC (the club I followed as a boy) whilst studying at Cardiff University, the first of his family to go to university. He won a Grand Slam with Wales in 1952 and played in two teams (Cardiff and Wales) that beat the All Blacks in just over a fortnight in 1953 where his play was described, “…the memory of Cliff Morgan’s darting and swooping across the turf and skimming past every obstacle like a swift at play..” I consider myself lucky to have seen him play once. It was in a charity match at Cardiff Arms Park and must have been in the mid to late 60s nearly a decade after he had “hung his boots up”. What I remember was his reading of the game so that he could contribute the most whilst exerting himself the least.
As a broadcast executive his career says it all, from Sports Organiser with BBC in Cardiff, a spell at This Week with ITV, a producer of Grandstand and Sportsnight and eventually from 1976 to 1987 as head of outside broadcast for BBC TV.
He recovered from a stroke that might have killed lesser men when only 42 and (like my father) had a great relationship with Ireland (including an Irish wife).
On the screen he was one of the team captains on A Question of Sport and on radio my Saturday mornings have never been the same since he stopped presenting Sport on Four. That voice told stories beautifully, held you with its tone and timbre until the very last word. Sadly and with one of life’s dreadful ironies that since his treatment for cancer of the vocal cords he lost his ability to speak.
It was his voice as a commentator that has led him to be remembered most, when Bill McLaren was afflicted by ‘flu and had to withdraw from the coverage of the New Zealand v Barbarians match in 1973 Morgan stepped in. The try that started it, scored by a legend but the coverage was by a legend too. Rest in peace Cliff.