Rhys Jones came to national attention in the early 1980s for his work in the BBC television comedy sketch shows Not the Nine O'Clock News and Alas Smith and Jones alongside Mel Smith. With Smith, he founded television production company Talkback Productions, now part of RTL Group and later in 2005, he started the production company Modern Television.
He went on to develop a career as a television presenter and writer, as well as continuing with acting work. As of September 2016, he presented the television bloopers show It'll Be Alright on the Night for ITV, having replaced Denis Norden in 2008. Rhys Jones has fronted a number of documentary series for both the BBC and ITV including Mountain in 2007, Greatest Cities of the World between 2008 and 2010 and A Great Welsh Adventure in 2014.
Griffith Rhys Jones was born in Cardiff, the son of Gwynneth Margaret (née Jones) and Elwyn Rhys Jones, a medical doctor.
The family moved because of his father's occupation to West Sussex when he was 6 months old.
He attended Conifers Primary School in Midhurst, West Sussex, junior school in Epping, Essex, and Brentwood School, also in Essex. While the family was resident in Essex, his father had a boat in West Mersea, which they would sail around the Suffolk coast and into The Broads.
While at Brentwood School he met Charlie Bean (later Executive Director of the Bank of England) and Douglas Adams (who would later write The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy). In 1967, he appeared in Macbeth as the First Witch, alongside Douglas Adams who played Young Siward and "A Sargeant". The producer, Wiliam Barron, remarked in the programme concerning the roles of the witches: "To deprive young boy actors of any opportunity of expressing devilish glee would be to take away half the fun of playing such parts: yet it is agreed that they must not be allowed to "'hee-hee, ho-ho' at each new temptation and crime." He was part of a group whose antics led to their being referred to as "The Clique" by the school's headmaster.
After a short spell working as a petrol-pump attendant, Rhys Jones gained a gap year job on the P&O ship Uganda, working for a company organising school trips. In his autobiography, Semi-Detached (see below), he describes how he was charged with helping to look after 600 Canadian schoolgirls, followed by a similar number of younger Scottish schoolchildren, and refers to the experience as being like "St Trinians at sea". He wrote to eight of the Canadians afterwards.
Rhys Jones followed Bean and Adams to Cambridge, reading history and English at Emmanuel College, graduating with a 2:1. While at university, Rhys Jones joined Cambridge Footlights Club (of which he became Vice-President in 1976) and was also president of the ADC during his time at Cambridge. At this time, his ambitions were focused on the theatre, particularly directing.
He then joined BBC Radio Light Entertainment as a trainee producer, with his output including the satirical show Week Ending and Brain of Britain.
An evening planned to spend watching his hero Frankie Howerd at the invitation of friends Clive Anderson and Rory McGrath, who were writing the show at the time, resulted in Rhys Jones replacing the show's producer, who had suffered from a stress-related illness from dealing with the comedian. He later produced Rowan Atkinson's show The Atkinson People for the BBC and has appeared twice on Whose Line Is It Anyway?
Rhys Jones filled in several minor roles in the first series of Not the Nine O'Clock News, and was brought in as a regular cast member from the second series onwards, replacing Chris Langham. Rhys Jones says that the reason he got the part was not due to his appearance in the initial shows, or his talent, but because producer John Lloyd was going out with his sister at the time. Rhys Jones became a regular from the commissioned second series.
Rhys Jones was awarded the Laurence Olivier Theatre Award in 1984 (1983 season) for Best Comedy Performance in Charley's Aunt and in 1994 (1993 season) for Best Comedy Performance for his performance in An Absolute Turkey. He also played Toad in The Wind in the Willows at the National Theatre in 1990, as well as a number of other theatre roles. He provided the voices on the series of short cartoons Funnybones, for which he also sang the theme tune.
Rhys Jones has continued his acting career, having roles in Casualty and Agatha Christie's Marple as well as starring in Russell T Davies' drama series Mine All Mine on ITV. It'll Be Alright on the Night returned with Rhys Jones as the new presenter, taking over from Denis Norden. The first programme starring Rhys Jones aired in 2008.
In January 2012, Rhys Jones returned to sketch comedy at the BBC alongside "some of the biggest names in TV", including Hugh Bonneville, Tom Hollander and Larry Lamb, for one of a three-episode series in which comedy legends take to the stage for a mix of stand-up and sketches. It also featured a special guest appearance by former comedy partner Mel Smith in a new Head to Head sketch, referring many times to it having been 16 years since their last.
After Not the Nine O'Clock News, Smith and Rhys Jones decided to create and write more material together, and to start a management company. From 1984, Smith and Rhys Jones appeared in the comedy sketch series Alas Smith and Jones (the show's title being a pun on the American TV series Alias Smith and Jones). After the first series, the pair appeared on the big screen in Mike Hodges' sci-fi comedy movie Morons from Outer Space and then in 1989, the LWT production Wilt.
Smith and Rhys Jones were reunited in 2005 for a Comic Relief sketch, which led to a revival of their previous television series in The Smith and Jones Sketchbook, recorded that same year but aired over twelve months later. Their final TV appearance together was a Head To Head routine for the 2012 special The One Griff Rhys-Jones.
When Mel Smith died in the summer of 2013, Rhys Jones wrote a moving piece about his comedy partner in the Radio Times, saying it was "sheer bliss" to perform with Mel.
In 1981, Rhys Jones along with Mel Smith founded Talkback, a production company which produced many of the most popular British comedy series of the past two decades, including Smack the Pony, Da Ali G Show, I'm Alan Partridge and Big Train. They eventually sold the company to Pearson for £62 million.
In 2005 Rhys Jones created his own production company 'Modern Television', which has since made a number of productions with Rhys Jones as presenter and executive producer.
Rhys Jones has developed a career as a television presenter, beginning as the co-host on several Comic Relief programmes. He presented Bookworm from 1994 to 2000, was the presenter of the BBC's Restoration programme and has done a considerable amount of fundraising work for the Hackney Empire theatre conservation project. In 2004, he led a demonstration at the Senate House in Cambridge University for the purpose of saving architecture as a degree in Cambridge.
Since 2006 Rhys Jones has starred in the BBC's Three Men in a Boat series, alongside Dara Ó Briain and Rory McGrath. The series has included the trio rowing the River Thames, as in the 1889 novel, sailing from London to the Isle of Wight for a sailing boat race, borrowing numerous vessels to make their way from Plymouth to the Isles of Scilly. In more recent adventures the three took to the Irish Canals and Rivers on a trip from Dublin to Limerick (Dara's Greyhound Snip Nua also tagged along for the trip), went to Scotland, and sailed along the Balkan coast ending up in Venice for a gondola race. His documentary series Mountain, for which he climbed fifteen British peaks during 2006, was broadcast on BBC One 29 July–26 August 2007.
Rhys Jones fronted Greatest Cities of the World, which saw him visiting a different city each week. The first series, featuring London, New York and Paris, aired on primetime ITV in October 2008. A second series featuring Rome, Sydney and Hong Kong, was broadcast in April and May 2010.
He presented a seasonal documentary, Charles Dickens and the Invention of Christmas, which was broadcast on 23 December 2007 on BBC One.
Rhys Jones has also created and presented programmes about Arthur Ransome, Thomas Hardy, John Betjeman and Rudyard Kipling.
During July–August 2009, Rhys Jones presented the BBC programme Rivers with Griff Rhys Jones. which featured on the cover of Radio Times
In 2010 Rhys Jones presented a programme called The Prince's Welsh Village that featured Prince Charles.
In 2011 he presented the series Hidden Treasures of Art, which examined the art of Australia, India and Africa over the course of three episodes.
Rhys Jones presented Britain's Lost Routes with Griff Rhys Jones on BBC One from 30 May to 20 June 2012. The show looked at lesser well known routes around Great Britain. On 29 April 2012, Rhys Jones guest presented an episode of Perspectives on ITV, his chosen subject being Wind in the Willows.
In 2013, Rhys Jones presented a documentary about his father's service as a medical officer with the Gold Coast Regiment and the war in Burma, Burma, My Father and the Forgotten Army, was broadcast on BBC Two on 7 July.
In 2014, Rhys Jones fronted an eight-part ITV documentary series entitled A Great Welsh Adventure with Griff Rhys Jones.
From 10 April 2015, he introduced a five-part documentary series for ITV, Slow Train Through Africa, taking in life on and off trains from Morocco to South Africa, by way of Algeria, Tunisia, Kenya and Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Namibia.
In December 2015, it was announced that Rhys Jones would present Griff's Great Britain, a new eight-part series for ITV. The show began airing in January 2016.
In 2002, Rhys Jones starred in a series of adaptations of comedic stories by Nikolai Gogol broadcast on BBC Radio 4 (subsequently re-broadcast on BBC Radio 7 and BBC Radio 4 Extra) under the umbrella title of Three Ivans, Two Aunts and an Overcoat.
He won Olivier awards for best comedy performance in Charley’s Aunt (1984) and An Absolute Turkey (1994), and appeared at the National Theatre as Toad in The Wind in the Willows in 1990. He starred as Fagin in Cameron Mackintosh's acclaimed production of Oliver! in London's West End from 14 December 2009 until 8 January 2011.
Rhys Jones has written or co-written many of the programmes he has appeared in, and a number of spin-off books. In 2002, he started writing a book called To the Baltic with Bob, describing his adventures on the high seas with his sailing friend Bob, as they make their way to Saint Petersburg, port by port.
Rhys Jones released the book in 2003, saying of the experience: "As a child you go out and play and you lose all track of time and space. It's harder and harder to attain that blissful state of absorption as you get older. I did a six-month sailing trip to St Petersburg with some mates just to get it back."
His early life has been captured in his autobiography, Semi-Detached, published in 2006 by Penguin Books. His book to accompany the BBC One series Mountain was published in July 2007.
During 1999 to 2000, Rhys Jones featured in TV adverts for the Vauxhall range of cars as a "boffin". In April 2001, he was dismissed by Vauxhall, after an embarrassing advert for the Vauxhall VX220. He provided the voice over for Brentwood School's 450th anniversary DVD, reading a script written by fellow Old Brentwoodian Jonathan Ruffle.
Rhys Jones is a Vice President of the Victorian Society and has done much to publicise their Top Ten Endangered Buildings.
Since 2007, he has been a Vice President of the River Stour Trust, a registered charity led by volunteers who are dedicated to the restoration and conservation of the River Stour Navigation for the benefit and enjoyment of the public. Rhys Jones says, "I am a strong supporter of the River Stour Trust and everything to do with it. The riverway is so beautiful and unspoilt, especially with the wildlife and water-lilies and bullrushes, it is just terrific. It is a great example of why rivers should be open to people...I salute the River Stour Trust for opening the locks...it is supposed to be a river that traffic travels on.”
In June 2008, it was announced that Rhys Jones was to become the President of Civic Voice, the nationwide charity that campaigns for better places in the built and green environment.
In May 2014, Rhys Jones was executive producer on his production company's debut BBC drama A Poet in New York starring Tom Hollander as Dylan Thomas.
Rhys Jones met his wife, Jo, a graphic designer, while working at the BBC. He has described their first meeting by saying "The day we met, I was semi-naked and she was throwing water over me." The couple have two children, and live between homes in London (previously in Islington, now in a Grade I listed house in London's Fitzrovia in the West End) and Suffolk. The family had a chocolate-coloured Labrador called Cadbury. Rhys Jones owned Undina, the 45-foot (14 m), 50-year-old wooden sailing yacht which was used in Three Men in Another Boat; he spent £500,000 on her restoration and in 2013 stated she was for sale for £195,000, "probably less".
Around 2011 he bought a 1948 57-foot (17 m) wooden yacht, Argyll, which he races at various regattas, including the Fastnet Race. He and Jo are keen gardeners, and he discussed their extensive garden in an October 2015 episode of BBC Gardeners' World, part of which was filmed there.
A former heavy drinker, Rhys Jones is a teetotaller: "I don't drink so going to a party can become very tedious. By about 11 o'clock, everybody goes to another planet and you're not there with them, so I tend to avoid that sort of thing." He started running as a leisure pursuit in his early forties. In 2008, he presented two programmes called Losing It which were shown on BBC Two, in which he discussed his own problems with anger management.
An active conservationist, Rhys Jones is the president of Civic Voice, the national organisation representing Britain's civic societies. In August 2014, Rhys Jones was one of 200 public figures who were signatories to a letter to The Guardian opposing Scottish independence in the run-up to September's referendum on that issue.
A resident of East Anglia, Rhys Jones was awarded an honorary degree by the University of East Anglia in 2002.
He was awarded honorary degrees by the University of Glamorgan, the University of Essex and an honorary D.Litt from Anglia Ruskin University. He is also a Fellow of the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, the Royal Society of Arts, and an Honorary Fellow of his alma mater, Emmanuel College, Cambridge. In 2009 he was honoured by his father's former university, the University of Wales College of Medicine (now part of Cardiff University).
Rhys Jones returned to his mother's roots in Ferndale, Rhondda Cynon Taff for the purposes of an episode of the BBC One series Who Do You Think You Are?, broadcast on 20 September 2007. In the episode, he detailed early memories and stories of his grandparents' fruit and vegetable shop on the high street and his mother's childhood concert performances at Trerhondda Chapel.