YOU don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone or so it seems to go – which is why I was pleased to take the opportunity to interview former ITN and BBC Wales political editor and Brecon resident Glyn Mathias.
The veteran journalist, who has just published his autobiography, is one of quite a few high-profile characters to have lived in Brecon and the surrounding area. I wrote stories about the deaths of both Sir Bernard Ashley, widower of the fashion designer Laura, and Lord Tom Bingham, the former Lord Chief Justice and senior Law Lord, who lived at Boughrood near Brecon for some 40 years until his death. On both occasion I regretted not writing about these people earlier, specifically before they died and were still within easy reach of my office.
Glyn Mathias appears in relatively good health, lives within walking distance of my office and writing his autobiography ‘Raising an Echo’ (Y Lolfa) is newsworthy enough to warrant inclusion in The Brecon & Radnor Express.
How much do you have to achieve in life to write your autobiography? I’m unsure but Glyn’s 30 plus years in journalism, reporting on what was the country’s most watched news programme (News at Ten on ITV in the early 80s rather than Wales Today) and high-profile interviews with the likes of Margaret Thatcher, provide good material.
But what grips you about Glyn’s autobiography is his detailed account of how his father, teacher and poet Roland Mathias, was jailed as a conscientious objector during the Second World War. Roland it appears was strengthened in his convictions by the encouragement of his ‘extreme pacifist’ mother, who as well as offering resolute support to her son took her own stand against the war by refusing to put up evacuees at her home in Brecon.
This created a tension in the family. Unsurprising really as Roland’s dad had only just retired as a non conformist Army Chaplin having signed up in the excitement of World War I.
This is the aspect I have focused on in the interview I’ve written up and which is published in this week’s print edition of the ‘Radnor. I’ve used some additional quotes, mainly about Glyn’s long-standing family links to Brecon, for an online article which you can read here.
Post journalistic retirement Glyn has served as a member of the Electoral Commission and I had asked him about the recent controversy over its shocking failure in allowing a far right party to use the name of murdered soldier Lee Rigby as a slogan on Welsh ballot papers for the upcoming European Elections.
Glyn though wasn’t going to get caught out on this and insisted he couldn’t comment as he didn’t know the ins and outs of the situation. I had been looking for a ‘Mathias calls on Electoral Commission chair to resign/controversially backs under fire chair’ story.
With Glyn not taking the bait however I was fortunate the current Lord Chief Justice, John Thomas – who is from Ystradgynlais in Breconshire, had expressed reservations, when giving evidence to a House of Lords committee, about televising the courts in England and Wales in light of the Oscar Pistorius trial.
As Glyn had played a key role in the battle to televise the Houses of Parliament I thought it would be worth asking him about allowing cameras into the courts. He expressed conditional support for the principle of televising the courts which I was also able to write up for a decent newsy story to accompany the interview.
I also explored Glyn’s attitude towards the government’s proposed statutory regulation of the press, as recommended by the Leveson Inquiry. Again this was another very relevant area as Glyn is also a member of broadcast regulator Ofcom’s Welsh advisory committee.
If I’m being honest I might have expected Glyn to offer support for the press law, or ‘regulation backed by statute’ or whatever its supporters are calling it now, as it seems many broadcast journalists, who already work under a statutory regulator, are a lot more relaxed about the proposals than print journalists are.
I put it to Glyn he had given a definitive explanation in his autobiography of why state regulation of the press should be rejected
“I certainly agree with that, I’m not quite sure where I said it,” was Glyn’s response. I explained his account of how then Prime Minister John Major’s communications ‘advisor’ Tim Bell had applied pressure to ITN over its decision to broadcast from Baghdad during the first Gulf War illustrated the dangers of statutory press regulation. At the time the regulated broadcaster was also being publicly criticised by MPs in the Commons for its ‘unpatriotic’ reporting.
I don’t think Glyn necessarily accepted this point, instead dismissing Bell’s call as the part of the usual ‘indirect pressure’ broadcasters face and also expect.
But Glyn rejects the idea the press should be regulated in a similar way to broadcasters: “I’m very aware of the arguments about regulation and I don’t think that there should be any parallel between the way broadcasting is regulated and the way the press is regulated.
“Broadcasting is regulated in the way it is, partly because of the sparsity of spectrum, but also because it comes in and has a much greater impact on your television and the whole family can see it and so on, so it has to be regulated to ensure that, inappropriate material doesn’t reach the living room. The press is an entirely different case, but I’m very pleased that they are now going to have a self managed form of regulation, that has been lacking. But I don’t think it’s right any element of the state should be involved in it.”
On reflection I should have trusted Glyn’s old school journalism values as detailed in his persistence in asking former Welsh secretary Ron Davies about his sexuality, after his ‘moment of madness’ encounter with a stranger on Clapham Common led to his resignation from government.
Aah well, never judge a book by its cover – or its author by your own pre conceptions based on their previous career.