“Merthyr? From Maidenhead to Merthyr? You must be bleedin’ mad!” – the stark response of the Cardiff estate agent to my enquiry about houses in Merthyr Tydfil in 1971.

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, I told this Cockney upstart who had challenged my career defining move from his idyllic Thames to the industrial Taff.

Fifty years ago this week I was appointed financial controller of Hoover Ltd at its Merthyr washing machines factory, employing 5,000 people.

We then lived in Thames Valley suburbia. Elinor had her harp career with leading London orchestras. I was chief cost accountant of Mars Ltd, at Slough.

We were determined that our newly born son, Alun – and any further siblings – should be brought up in a real community in Wales.

So I was shocked to be told subsequently by a senior London-based Hoover executive, “Management don’t live in Merthyr; they live in Radyr, or Abergavenny or Monmouth!”

With due respect to those fine locations, we wanted to live in a real Welsh working community. Fortuitously, we were able to buy a lovely house close to the Merthyr town centre – opening a new chapter for our family.


My first evening in Merthyr underlined how I had indeed, moved into a different world. I called in the Pontmorlais newsagents to buy a local paper.

“Who are you, then?” asked the proprietor – holding tightly onto the paper. I gave him my name.

“What you doin ‘ere, then?” he demanded.

“Working with Hoover”, I responded tentatively.

“‘Oovers!” he responded, correcting my vernacular. “What you doin there, then?”

I answered simply, “I’m on the administrative side”, reaching for my paper.

“Oh!” he responded “Nobody told me!”

So this was Merthyr Tydfil!

A few months later veteran MP S. O. Davies died. I helped organise the historic byelection, when Plaid Cymru’s Emrys Roberts came close to defeating Labour’s Ted Rowlands.

Within weeks, I was elected Plaid’s only councillor on Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council. Hoover was rocked to find a senior manager engrossed in local politics – but learnt to harness this in formulating an expansion project, to create 3,000 new jobs.

Elinor and I helped organise the campaign to secure Merthyr’s first Welsh medium primary school.

We secured vital support from Ted Rowlands’ wife, the late Janice Rowlands. Some criticised me for crossing party divides; but it’s the next battle, not the last, on which we should always focus.

Over the next three years we made many friends who shared with us our joy as our second son Geraint was born; and our heart-wrenching agony on discovering that he and Alun had terminal genetic conditions.

We moved from Merthyr on my election as MP for Caernarfon in 1974; but we left part of hearts in that vibrant valley community.

We took with us a better understanding of Welsh identity and an enhanced awareness of the social and economic battles which must be won if we are to build a new Wales worthy of our history and fit for future generations.

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