I came to this role from the civil service as a publishing novice, but with degrees in Welsh literature and a love of books. Fortunately, I inherited a small but enthusiastic team of staff already well versed in the field and able to induct me to the mysteries of printing and publishing.

Each Director inherits projects from their predecessor. One of these was publishing theological books by Professor Aubrey Johnson, Baptist minister at Croes-y-Parc in the Vale of Glamorgan, and Professor of Semitic Languages at University College Cardiff. These were sizeable volumes, for a specialised readership, and the only way the Press could publish them was for Professor Johnson himself to cover the costs of printing – the kind of ‘self-publishing’ that has become much commoner since then. The last of these – a 467-page volume entitled The Cultic Prophet and Israel’s Psalmody – was published in 1979. In those days, the final typescript of any volume was immensely valuable, as no other clean copy would be available. Professor Johnson arrived at the University Press office in Gwennyth Street, Cathays, on a windy day in 1978, carrying the typescript in a box. Unfortunately, the cover of the box blew off and the pages began to fly across the street, with the poor professor chasing them down. He managed to save them all and reach the office safely, where I greeted him by quoting Psalm 126, “Well, Aubrey, here you are bringing your sheaves with you” (Psalm 126.6, AV). I was pleased to find on the Press website that the volume is still available, so it was worth saving the sheaves! Facilitating publication in this way was, in those pre-internet days, an important service provided by the Press to scholarship by publishing work that would otherwise never have seen the light of day.

Another inherited commitment was Huw Thomas’ Latin-Welsh Dictionary. In this case – due to the small circulation expected – the final typescript itself was copied, bound and printed on demand by the National Library of Wales. The custodian of this manuscript was my son, Gethin, as Mr Thomas was his Latin teacher at Ysgol Gyfun Rhydfelen, and he carried successive drafts of the typescript to and from school on their way between author, Press and typist. Only recently did I discover that Gethin accidentally left the final typescript, including Mr Thomas’ last minute corrections, in the school cloakroom one evening in 1978. He had to phone the school and ask Ifan Wyn Williams, the Headteacher, to rescue them. On this occasion also there was a happy ending and the Dictionary was published in 1979. It is still available from the Press at the bargain price of £7.95.

As well as inheriting work, each Director faces changing circumstances that mean taking new directions. The economic situation was already difficult when I arrived, but when Sir Keith Joseph was appointed Secretary of State for Education in 1981, he initiated a period of cuts in all universities’ spending, with the deepest cuts in humanities and social sciences, major publishing areas for the University of Wales Press. With all my family involved in education, Sir Keith’s name was mud in our house! Protecting the Press budget as the University of Wales sought to balance its books, on the one hand, and seeking new sources of income for it, on the other, was an on-going task.

One step taken in that direction, with the help of our innovative Marketing Officer Richard Houdmont, was publishing paperback English language books that had a wider readership than our traditional academic volumes, under the imprint of GPC Books. These were inspired by series such as Oxford University Press’s ‘Past Masters’, introductions of around 100 pages to famous philosophers written by academic experts. We knew that these books sold well to university and A level students and to ordinary readers. Having decided on the best subject area, we began publishing ‘Political Portraits’ under the editorship of Professor Kenneth O. Morgan. The volumes were slightly larger in size and length than ‘Past Masters’, but the idea was the same, to introduce the subject succinctly to the reader. Of course, Professor Morgan himself wrote a volume about Lloyd George, and over the next few years volumes were added about many 19th and 20th century British Prime Ministers, Welsh politicians such as Aneurin Bevan, and a few other notable statesmen, such as Owen Dudley Edwards’s book about Eamon de Valera. It is good to see that these volumes are still in demand in the second-hand market.

Like each Director in turn I had the privilege of publishing a number of sections of the University of Wales Dictionary of the Welsh Language on behalf of the Board of Celtic Studies. I inherited something of a hiatus in publication, which had left the dictionary stranded on the word ‘haint’, until two and a half years into my term in January 1979 we were able to publish part 28 (beginning with ‘hair‘). With the arrival of new methods of printing which speeded up production, I then saw publication up to part 41, taking the words as far as ‘Obo‘, before retiring in 1990. It was a great privilege to publish the second full volume (g – llyys) in 1987. The piecemeal publication of the paperback sections was an important part of Welsh language life, with great excitement in literary circles as each part was published and sent to subscribers, and even reviews in the press. Immediately after retiring I volunteered to go to Aberystwyth for a while and help with the slips, which may have helped speed up the process a little! It is good that the web has now greatly facilitated publishing the Dictionary.

My 14 years directing the Press was a happy period, and I would like to thank all my fellow staff at the time for their kindness and their willingness to undertake a wide range of responsibilities. I wish the Press well for its next century!

John Rhys
Cardiff, April 2022

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