Journalist Tells His Own Story

Welsh Books Council

Journalist Tells His Own Story - 03 December 2008
Journalist Tells His Own Story

David Sulwyn Jones Thomas was born in Priory Road Hospital Carmarthen on the thirty-first of June 1943. This happened to be over the Whitsun holiday, and this provided Sulwyn with his unique name - which means Whitsun in Welsh!  Apart from a short period in Llanllwni as a child, and an even shorter period as a young jobbing journalist in Cardiff, Carmarthen has been central to Sulwyn Thomas’ life and career, and in his autobiography he shares not only his life story but also his passion for the area:  "For me, Carmathenshire is the best county in the world - and the prettiest of them all!"

As with all autobiographies, Sulwyn Thomas’ story also depicts an era, and readers will learn of his childhood in the fifties as he remembers playing conkers, listening to the  ‘Home Service’,  sitting the ‘eleven plus’, and his good – and bad! – experiences at the Queen Elizabeth Grammar School for Boys.

The big turning point in Sulwyn Thomas’ life came as he read a guide on different vocations for young people.  Straight away, he was entranced by the page which read  ‘How to be a reporter’,  and after that nothing else would do.  Although he reluctantly returned to school to study his A Levels, by the end of summer 1961 he was standing in front of Mr Froom Tyler, editor of the South Wales Evening Post, and starting his career as a journalist.  Sulwyn said, "Some very talented people had climbed the stairs to the newsroom of the  South Wales Evening Post  before me.  One of them was probably the most famous poet ever to come from Wales - Dylan Thomas.  Imagine old ‘Sul’ stepping into that room and finding himself in the midst of the great poet’s colleagues!"

Having served his apprenticeship as a journalist on a local newspaper, an unexpected opportunity to step into the world of television came in 1964 when he became a researcher on  Y Dydd  (The Day), a new daily magazine programme produced by TWW (Television Wales and the West) and based in Cardiff.  Very soon, however, the producer Owen Roberts realised that life in the city didn’t agree with Sulwyn, and that he would be more useful out West looking for stories - and that’s what happened.

"When I started on  Y Dydd,  everything was so groundbreaking, so new, so exciting.  I was starting out in TV when it was still a relatively new media.  You were treated like a superstar when you visited some villages, and everyone would turn out to see what was going on!  But the most important thing for me was that I was able to get amongst people - that’s how I got hold of the best stories!"

In the book, Sulwyn refers to many of the ‘big stories’ that came to his patch during his career as a journalist - from the threat of flooding Llangyndeyrn in the Gwendraeth Valley to Emyr Llewelyn’s court case for the explosion at Tryweryn, and from the dramatic result of the 1966 by-election to the famous defeat of the All Blacks by the Scarlets in ’72:

 "The fact is, I’ve been very lucky in that so many historical events occurred on my patch, and that I happened to be a correspondent in West Wales at the time.  I remember certain locations, certain stories very clearly...I’ve been astonished how I’ve been able to remember things so well, because I don’t have what you’d call a ‘conventional’ memory, but from the minute I began my career as a journalist and later as a broadcaster, I’ve kept newspaper cuttings.  And there was a huge pile in this house!  Of course, they were very useful when it came to writing this book."

Another change of direction came in 1977 when Sulwyn left HTV and  Y Dydd  to join the BBC and their rival magazine programme Heddiw, and then two years later when he was given the opportunity to host his own show on Radio Cymru.  The show,  Stondin Sulwyn,  was to become part of daily Welsh life - and Sulwyn’s own life - for the next twenty-one years.

"I didn’t want to front a ‘heavy’ programme - I’m not Jeremy Paxman or John Humphreys, by any means - but I decided to do the programme in a way I was comfortable with," explains the author.  "And there would be no point either in launching a programme which followed the format of existing radio programmes.  We needed to do something that fitted in with our style, and mix the lighthearted with the serious issues.  What we were doing was groundbreaking at the time - letting people take ownership of the media by phoning in.  It’s a format that’s still popular today."

Arwel Ellis Owen, who was a colleague of Sulwyn’s in the days of  Heddiw,  added, "Sulwyn was a ‘natural’ on the radio, and his unique selling point was that he loved broadcasting live.  As a journalist, he also had a long list of contacts who could depend upon him to never reveal his sources."

Whilst Sulwyn Thomas’ infectious enthusiasm for his vocation is apparent throughout the autobiography, it is also the personal story of a husband, a father and a grandfather; a man who does so much for his community and who loves his square mile.  And, of course, the last word has to go to him:

"I’m very conscious that I haven’t been on drugs or married ten times, and I’m also conscious that that’s the kind of thing that people like to read about these days. What I’ve attempted to do in my autobiography is to tell my story as honestly and genuinely as I could, even if I’m no great author!  I just hope that people enjoy my little story, that’s all."

The launch will take place next Monday, 8th December in St. Peter's Hall, Carmarthen at 7.30pm in the company of the author, Peter Hughes Griffiths, Lyn T. Jones, Wynne Melville Jones, Richard Rees and Mansel Thomas.  Meinir Lloyd will also be singing.  All are welcome. 

Sulwyn is also doing an extensive book signing tour, calling at:

Elfair, Rhuthun - December 5th 2008, 11-12pm

Awen Meirion, Y Bala - December 5th 2008, 1-2pm

Siop y Pentan, Carmarthen - December 6 2008, 11-12pm

T-Hwnt, Carmarthen - December 6 2008, 1-2pm

Siop y Smotyn Du, Lampeter - December 9th 2008 10.30-12.30pm

Awen Teifi, Cardigan - December 9th 2008 6-9pm

Inc, Aberystwyth - December 13th 2008 1-2pm

Siop Pendref, Bangor - December 15th 2008 12.30-1.30pm

Siop Lyfrau Lewis, Llandudno - December 15th 2008 2.30-3.30pm

Llên Llyn, Pwllheli - December 16th 2008 - 11-12pm

Siop Eifionydd, Porthmadog - December 16th 2008 - 2-3pm

Palas Print, Caernarfon - December 17th 2008 - 11-1pm (Coffee Morning)

Llyfrau'r Ddraig, Llanelli - December 20th 2008 - 10.30-11.30am

Ty Tawe, Swansea - December 20th 2008 - 1-2pm

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