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Williams, Bleddyn Llewellyn (1923–2009) rugby player, journalist, and businessman, was born at 11 Moy Road, Taffs Well, Glamorgan, on 22 February 1923, the third of eight sons and fourth of twelve children of Arthur Loughor Williams, coal tipper, and his wife, Mary Ellen (Nell) née Roberts. He was educated at Taffs Well school, then from 1937 at Rydal school, Colwyn Bay, which he reckoned ‘the finest thing that ever happened to me’ (Richards, Dragons and All Blacks, 89). Wilfred Wooller's recommendation that his old school offer a scholarship was based on rugby talent, a family trait. All eight brothers played for Cardiff, making more than 1500 first-team appearances between them. Lloyd Williams (b. 1933) also played for and captained Wales.

Even in this milieu, Bleddyn's gifts were exceptional. He played for Cardiff Schools in 1935–6 and 1936–7, when they won the national Dewar Shield title, and won a Welsh Schools cap at full-back. He made Rydal's first fifteen at the age of fourteen. Seeing him at sixteen, J. B. G. Thomas reckoned him ‘certain to play for his country’ (Thomas, 160). John Gwilliam, an exact contemporary, recalled that ‘I've never seen anything quite like Bleddyn at 18 or 19. Later he had more experience, but not the zip he had then. He'd got it all—speed off the mark and perfect passing, trickery and sidestepping. He was quite alarming, really’ (Richards, Dragons and All Blacks, 89).

In December 1942 Williams volunteered for the RAF. Within months he was picked at centre for Wales in a service international against England at Gloucester. The nineteen-year-old debutant scored three tries in a 34–7 victory, and winger Alan Edwards half-jokingly complained that ‘centres are supposed to make tries for their wing, not score them’ (Richards, The Red and the White, 112). He played three wartime internationals, scoring another hat-trick against England at Swansea in November 1944, and recalled Wales services teams strengthened by the wartime amnesty for serving rugby league players—banned from playing rugby union in peacetime—as ‘the best rugby sides I ever played for’ (Rugger My Life, 36).

On 9 September 1944 Williams married Violet Joan Harry (1924–2003), daughter of Thomas Edgar Harry, bricklayer and former Welsh cross-country champion, at St Mark's Church, Gabalfa, Cardiff. They had one son, Bleddyn Ashley, and two daughters, Lynne and Lesley. Meanwhile, after training in Arizona as a fighter pilot from October 1943, Williams flew gliders during the invasion of Germany in 1945, once spending a week sleeping in ditches as he returned to his unit through enemy lines after crash-landing.

Discharged as a flight lieutenant in 1946, Williams played for Wales in all six victory internationals and captained them against New Zealand Services, becoming one of the most vividly memorable figures of the first decade of post-war rugby, ‘A hefty thirteen and a half stone packed into 5 feet 10 inches, a face like a well-inflated football, a torso like a tree-trunk and the muscular thighs of a Renaissance sculpture’ (Smith and Williams, 346). He was famed above all for his ‘jink’, a wrecking shift of balance which split defences ‘as if starting to rip a page at the edge, and then tear through it with increasing speed’ (Thomas, 160).

Yet Williams's peacetime Wales career—twenty-two caps and seven tries spread across nine seasons—was rather disconnected. He was baffled by selectorial reluctance to pair him with Cardiff club partner—and lifelong friend—Jack Matthews, in spite of their being first choice for the 1950 British and Irish Lions team in Australia and New Zealand. Williams, the tour vice-captain, played five of the six tests and captained the Lions in the final test against New Zealand. Heir apparent to the Wales captaincy in 1950, he was injured and played only two Five Nations matches in the next three seasons. J. B. G. Thomas argued that ‘it is for Cardiff that he revealed his true genius’ (Thomas, 160). He was the star of a historically strong club team, and unmatched hero of the unprecedented crowds it attracted. While unselfish to a fault, he scored a club record 185 tries in 283 matches.

In 1953 Williams fulfilled ‘my final ambition’ (Rugger, My Life, 144), belatedly becoming captain of Wales and completing a unique double, leading club and country to victory over New Zealand in the space of four weeks. Cardiff's 8–3 win on 21 November, of which he recalled that ‘the last three minutes were the longest of my life’ (Parry-Jones, 191), was its first win against New Zealand. Wales's 13–8 triumph over New Zealand on 19 December remained for the rest of his life its last. He played twice more for Wales, completing a 100 per cent winning record from five matches as captain, before retiring in 1955.

In retirement Williams wrote Rugger, My Life (1956), an early player memoir, reported rugby for thirty-two years for the Sunday People, and, alongside Clem Thomas, was a forensically acute post-match radio analyst of the great Welsh teams of the 1970s. A business career in which he recognized that a famous name ‘gets you through the door’ (Richards, Dragons and All Blacks, 174), saw him work for twenty years for GKN Steel and retire as Welsh marketing manager for George Wimpey. To the end he remained a benign and watchful presence in the back row of the Millennium Stadium press box and an approachable regular in the bar of the Cardiff Athletic Club, invariably accompanied in both places by Jack Matthews.

Williams was honoured by the presidency of the Athletic Club, an MBE in 2005, and the naming of Ffordd Bleddyn (‘Bleddyn's Way’) in Taffs Well. His wife, who resuscitated him after an embolism in 1979, predeceased him. He died on 6 July 2009 at Holme Tower Medical Centre, Bridgeman Road, Penarth, of metastatic sigmoid cancer. His funeral on 17 July 2009 filled Llandaff Cathedral to capacity.

Huw Richards

Sources  

J. B. G. Thomas, Great rugger players (1955) · B. Williams, Rugger, my life (1956) · D. E. Davies, Cardiff rugby club: history and statistics, 1876–1975 (1975) · D. Smith and G. Williams, Fields of praise: the official history of the Welsh Rugby Union, 1881–1981 (1980) · H. Richards, P. Stead, and G. Williams, eds., More heart and soul (1999) · D. Parry-Jones, The Gwilliam seasons (2002) · H. Richards, Dragons and All Blacks (2004) · H. Richards, The red and the white (2009) · Western Mail (7 July 2009) · South Wales Echo (7 July 2009) · The Independent (8 July 2009) · Daily Telegraph (9 July 2009) · The Times (11 July 2009); (14 July 2009) · The Guardian (11 July 2009) · personal knowledge (2013) · private information (2013) · b. cert. · m. cert. · d. cert.

Likenesses  

S&G and Barratts, group portrait, photograph, 1948, PA Images, London · photographs, 1949–2005, Rex Features, London · S&G and Barratts, photograph, 1950, PA Images, London · D. R. Stuart, photograph, 1950, Getty Images, London · D. Wimsett, photographs, 2005, Photoshot, London · C. Young, photographs, 2005, PA Images, London · photographs, 2005, Camera Press, London · obituary photographs

Wealth at death  

£385,487: probate, 16 Oct 2009, CGPLA Eng. & Wales