Dr J.J.E.Biggs – the first man in Wales to forget the microphone was still switched on.

It’s an unusual accolade to award someone but it tickles me. When Lord Mayor J.J.E. Biggs made his speech at the opening of the BBC in Cardiff in February 1923 he forgot the name and, forgetting the microphone was still switched on, turned to the person next to him and asked ‘What’s the name of this organisation again?’ In the same speech however he remarkably prophesised the advent of television.

I shouldn’t belittle him.  He achieved an awful lot.  He was part of the Biggs rugby playing family.  His brother Norman was the youngest person to play for Wales at 18, a record he held for 120 years.  Another brother, Selwyn Biggs, was another Welsh international.  John James Egerton Biggs himself almost joined his brothers as Welsh internationals.  In fact he was picked to play on one occasion against England but was unfortunately ill so had to pull out of the game.  All six Biggs brothers played rugby for Cardiff over the years.

J.J.E. Biggs was a doctor. He trained at Guys Hospital, and on returning to Cardiff became a surgeon, presumably at the Infirmary.

He had a distinguished medical career in WWI, promoted to Major, mentioned in dispatches and awarded an OBE.

In 1908 he became a Conservative Councillor for Roath with a record vote.  In 1911 he was re-elated councillor and became Head of Education.  In 1914 as Councillor and Chair of Education Committee his name appears on the foundation stone at Cardiff Technical College – now the Bute Building of Cardiff University. 

WWI had interrupted his involvement in politics.  In 1922 he became Lord Mayor of Cardiff which is why it fell upon him to speak at the opening of the BBC in Cardiff, 100 years ago, on 13 February 1923.

Dr J.J.E.Biggs, Lord Mayor of Cardiff 1922-23 and wife  Louisa Biggs

Opening of the BBC in Wales

On Tuesday 13th Feb 1923 the BBC started broadcasting radio from a tiny studio above the Castle Picture Theatre on the corner of Castle Street and Womandy Street in Cardiff.  In his speech, the Lord Mayor of Cardiff Alderman J.J.E.Biggs forecast that broadcasting would raise the standard of intellectual life, giving the poor the ‘same opportunity as the people of Mayfair to hear Paderewski and the voice of Melba.’ With great foresight he also prophesised that ‘one day vibrations of light would be projected in the same way allowing people to see the scenery, the architecture and the paintings of Italy, Greece and Egypt’.  The only hiccup of his speech came when he whispered to an aside heard by thousands ‘what’s the name of the organisation again?’

There’s no picture I can find of Dr Biggs at the BBC opening. This one is of a number of the entertainers with John Reath on the right.

Later Life

In 1926 he was present at the opening of Tredegar Hall – Roath Conservative Club by Lord Tredegar on Broadway, a building still there today. By 1939 he had moved from Cardiff and was living in Russell House, Gloucester, as a medical practitioner.  He died in aged 73 in Cheltenham.

John James Egerton Biggs timeline

1867: Born 9th July Montgomery Terrace (presumably Street), Roath (or at least that’s where they were when he was baptised on 3rd Aug 1867).

1871: Living in St Andrew’s Place (aged 3)

1881: Living as a boarder in Cardiff Preparatory School, Dunfries Place (aged 13), even though his parents lived around the corner.

Then educated at University College Cardiff then Guy’s Medical School

Played rugby for Cardiff 18 times between 1886 and 1893 as a three-quarter and forward,  but also for other clubs including Guy’s Hospital, Richmond and Surrey

1891: Selected to pay for Wales against England at Newport in 1891 but was unable to play – reported to have been ill.

1891: Won the 120 yards sprint race at the Civil Service sports.

1891: Missing from census

1893. Qualifies as a doctor at Guy’s Hospital.

Worked at East London Hospital for Children.

Worked at Mineral Water Hospital, Bath

1895: Returns to Cardiff

1898: Marries Louisa Frances Maude Wilson (JJE Biggs is living at 147 Newport Road at the time). She was the second daughter of John Heron Wilson, a Cardiff ship owner and coal exporter

1899: Birth of son John Heron Biggs

1901: Living at 147 Newport Road, working as a Medical Practitioner, surgeon.

1906: Elected as member of Cardiff Naturalists Society

1907: Birth of son Alwyn Biggs

1908: Becomes a Conservative Councillor for Roath with a record vote

1909: Birth of son Norman Wilson Biggs

1911: Living at 175 Newport Road

1911: Re-elated councillor and becomes Head of Education

1914: Councillor and Chair of Education Committee – name on foundation stone at Cardiff Technical College – now the Bute Building of Cardiff University

1914: Joins Army. In the 2/7 Welch Regiment and promoted to Captain.

1915 Transfers to Royal Army Medical Corps, goes to Gallipoli, invalided to Egypt, recovered and went through the Sinai and Palestine campaigns.

1917. Promoted to Major, mentioned in dispatches, awarded OBE.

1920: Living at 44 Oakfield Street

1921 Census: 44 Oakfield Street, Roath.  J.J.E. Biggs –  Employment – Medical Practitioner, based at home. Living with wife Louisa and two sons, John Heron (22) mining engineering student and Alwyn (14)

1922: Become Lord Mayor of Cardiff (1922-23)

1926: at opening of Tredegar Hall – Roath Conservative Club by Lord Tredegar on Broadway

1932: Still living in Oakfield Street

1939: Living in Russell House, Gloucester, as a medical practitioner

1940: Dies aged 73 in Cheltenham