Griff Rhys JonesWriter, actor and presenter
Griff Rhys Jones was born in 1953 in Cardiff. Educated at Brentwood School in Essex, he won an exhibition to Emmanuel College, Cambridge to read History, transferring later to English. After a varied gap year including a job looking after a plethora of Canadian schoolgirls on the P&O ship Uganda he took up his place at Cambridge. He joined the Footlights Club (becoming its vice president in 1976), and was president of the Mummers and the ADC, appearing in and directing various productions.
After University (and after a short stint as a bodyguard to visiting Arabs) he joined the BBC as a trainee radio producer. Having played a selection of minor roles in the first series of Not The Nine O’Clock News, he was brought in as a regular member of the cast alongside Rowan Atkinson, Pamela Stephenson and Mel Smith after Chris Langham’s departure.
When Not The Nine O’Clock News finished he continued working with Mel Smith, and in a bid to stave off unemployment they founded Talkback Productions to produce their own shows and those of other performers. The company has gone on to produce and manage some of the major British comedy performers of the last twenty years. His writing and performing partnership with Mel Smith took off in 1984 with Alas Smith and Jones, one of the most successful and long running double acts on TV, running until the late 90s. He and Mel Smith sold the company in 2000 and it has continued to produce major hits for both BBC and commercial television.
Griff also continued working in the theatre, primarily in comedy and farce, winning Olivier awards for best comedy performance in Charley’s Aunt (1984) and An Absolute Turkey (1994), and appearing at the National Theatre as Toad in The Wind in the Willows. He has also undertaken some more serious acting roles for television, including A View of Harry Clarke in which he starred alongside Elaine Paige, and Russell T Davies’s Mine All Mine, set in Swansea. In December 2009 he returned to live theatre as Fagin in Oliver! at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.
Recently he has become best known as a TV presenter, firstly of Bookworm and latterly of Restoration, which ran for three series. He has also written and presented documentaries on Arthur Ransome, Rudyard Kipling, John Betjeman, Thomas Hardy and The Wind in the Willows, as well as several Three Men in a Boat films with Dara O’Briain and Rory McGrath, and an award winning programme on West African soldiers in Burma in WWII. Griff also took over as presenter of It’ll Be Alright on the Night in 2008. He has made many documentary series, including Mountain, which won a Scottish BAFTA in 2007, Greatest Cities (2008), Rivers (2009), Hidden Treasures (2011), Britain’s Lost Routes (2012) and a Great Welsh Adventure (2014). All but the first of these were made by his own Cardiff based production company, Modern Television, which has also made many other programmes including Hidden Killers and a forthcoming drama, A Poet in New York, about the death of Dylan Thomas.
He has written or co-written many of the shows in which he appears, together with a number of books associated with them, and in 2002 wrote his first “proper” book To the Baltic With Bob, an account of a haphazard journey by boat to St Petersburg. In 2006 his early autobiography Semi-Detached was featured as one of the recommended reads on Richard and Judy’s Book Club, and Mountain, the book accompanying his television series, was published in 2007 and Rivers, in 2009. His most recent book is Insufficiently Welsh, published this year.
He was the driving force behind the restoration of Hackney Empire theatre in London, and has undertaken several projects of his own, notably the restoration of a Pembrokeshire farm, which was filmed for the BBC and was inspired by his own interest in architecture and conservation.
Griff holds honorary degrees from University of East Anglia, APU, Bangor University and University of Glamorgan and is a Fellow of the Welsh College of Music and Drama, Emmanuel College, Cambridge and the Royal Society of Arts. He gives a lot of time to charitable causes, from Comic Relief to the Lucie Blackman Trust. In 2007 he became Vice-President of the River Stour Trust, and in 2008 President of the Civic Trust; since its demise in 2009 he has been the President of its replacement, Civic Voice.
Griff has been married for over 30 years to designer Jo, and they have a grown-up son and daughter. An enthusiastic sailor, he owns a classic sailing yacht, Argyll.