Griff Rhys Jones

Griff Rhys Jones

Areas of Interest


Honorary Award

Doctor of Letters, 2004


Born in Cardiff in 1953, Griff Rhys Jones is an actor, writer, producer, television presenter, and one of Britain's best-loved comedians. After reading English at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, Griff joined the BBC, first coming to the public's attention alongside Mel Smith in the groundbreaking television series Not the Nine O'clock News. The partnership with Mel saw further success with Alas Smith and Jones and the launch of TalkBack Productions. In 1989 Griff moved into films, with Wilt (1989) and The Testimony of Taliesin Jones (2000). More recently he has become associated with television documentaries, most notably for the much-acclaimed Restoration and Mountain and Griff is now the president of Civic Voice and has written several books. He has continued television work producing and presenting through a company based in Cardiff called Modern Television which makes drama, documentaries and arts programming including, last year, Hidden Killers, A Poet in New York and National Treasures of Wales. He has been resident in East Anglia for over 20 years.

In 2004 Griff Rhys Jones was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Letters in recognition of his outstanding contributions to television and film comedy, the theatre, and to the cause of national heritage and restoration.


"The Senate of APU has great pleasure in conferring on Griff Rhys Jones the honorary degree of Doctor of Letters of this University in recognition of his outstanding contributions to television and film comedy, the theatre and to the cause of national heritage and restoration.

When the history of British comedy theatre and broadcasting in the late twentieth and early twenty first centuries are written, it is quite predictable that the name of Griff Rhys Jones will be very prominent. Born in Cardiff in 1953, the son of a hospital chest physician, he spent his early childhood in Aberdeen, then Midhurst, before his family eventually settled in Harlow and Epping. He won an exhibition to Emmanuel College, Cambridge in 1971 originally to study history, but his heavy involvement in university thespian activities led him to change to English and related drama studies, a decision which British theatre and broadcasting would certainly endorse in retrospect. His Cambridge theatrical exploits were immensely formative influences over his subsequent career. He was President of the Amateur Dramatic Club; and of the celebrated Mummers; was Vice President of the Footlights, and developed not only his acting skills, but his competencies in production and direction, alongside such contemporary luminaries as Clive Anderson, Rory McGrath, Douglas Adams and Nick Hytner.

After a mercifully brief post university career as a security guard, he joined BBC Radio Light Entertainment in 1976, where he initially cut his teeth producing shows for Frankie Howerd, David Jason and Rowan Atkinson.

However, these were merely preludes to his production of, and appearance in some of the landmark shows of the day, such as Not the Nine O'Clock News, Alas Smith and Jones (not as is popularly thought, 'Alias Smith and Jones'), and, of course, Bookworm. On the radio he created the Griff Rhys Jones Show and the Award Winning 'Do Go On' for Radio 4. He has appeared in films ranging from 'Wilt', which was set in Cambridge to 'As you Like It' which was set in the East End of London. 'Wilt', incidentally was written by Tom Sharp, a former member of staff of the Cambridge College of Art and Technology, a constituent of APU. A new comedy drama of his for ITV entitled 'Mine all Mine' will be transmitted in November 2004.

Parallel with his broadcasting career in the 80s and 90s, he began to develop an equally illustrious career in the West End, with major successes such as 'Charley's Aunt' and 'Trumpets and Raspberries'. He has directed for the Royal Shakespeare Company and developed fruitful partnerships with Peter Hall, Alan Ayckbourne and Sam Mendes. For his many definitive productions and acting, in theatre, broadcasting and films, he has picked up three British Comedy Awards, an Emmy, two Olivier Awards, and a Sony Award. In 1981 he set up a production company, Talkback Productions responsible in its time for television programmes as diverse as 'Grand Designs', 'How Clean Is Your House', 'They Think It's All Over', 'Alan Partridge' and 'Chris Morris'.

As if this massive theatrical and dramatic legacy were not enough, Griff Rhys Jones has recently emerged as the public face of British restoration. From his own personal endeavours restoring and renovating a seventeenth century Suffolk farmhouse and barn, he led the Hackney Empire Appeal Campaign which raised £15 million, and led to a major programme of development and the restoration of its original features. This year he has organised a debate on conservation issues at the Royal Society of Art. However, most significantly, we are very familiar with the BBC series 'Restoration', a highly acclaimed and extraordinarily popular series which has synthesised several strands of British life: our fascination with social, economic and political history; period architecture and its restoration; industrial archaeology; inter-regional competitiveness; giving to good causes; and of course the thrill of the knock-out! With his now renowned accomplices, Ptolemy and Marianne, he has enthralled the nation - and saved a goodly number of national treasures in the process. One might describe their endeavours as a sort of 20th Century restoration comedy.

He has not been idle in the writing department either, having written over 100 radio and television shows. He recently published 'To the Baltic with Bob', an account of his sailing journey to Russia. He is currently engaged in crafting his autobiography, to which the dramatic and restoration world looks forward with bated breath.

Within Griff Rhys Jones therefore, we see three quite distinct, but interrelated careers (acting, production and restoration) which have not been planned, but have emerged excitingly and in serendipitous fashion. However, he does feel something of a plan coming on for his remaining years, which we all hope will be many. Having sold his company a few years ago, he wants to continue as an actor but also produce some high quality books, which one suspects will have a fair element of both restoration and the subtle charming comedy which we all greatly love and admire. In these endeavours, we wish him well, and thus, Vice Chancellor, may I invite you to confer on Griff Rhys Jones the honorary degree of Doctor of Letters of this University."