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He grew up and still lives in Gwynedd, Wales.
He is an historian specialising in modern and contemporary Welsh history, and has made several TV documentaries. His special interest is the history of the process of devolution (the establishing and development of the National Assembly for Wales) in Wales. His books and articles include the book The North Wales Quarrymen for which he was awarded the Welsh Arts Council prize for literature. This book provides an analysis of the economic importance of slate extraction to North Wales and also of the rise of trades unionism in the area (and covers the industrial dispute at Penrhyn Quarry of 1900-03). He regularly broadcasts on the BBC and S4C.
He graduated at the University of Sussex and the University of Warwick. He lectured at the University of Wales, Swansea and was a lecturer, head of department and dean at the University of Liverpool. He then joined the University of Wales, Bangor in 1990 as a senior lecturer in history. He became head of the School of Welsh History there in 1993 and was appointed to the Chair in Welsh History in 1994. He then served as Dean of Arts and Social Sciences for two years before being appointed Pro-Vice Chancellor in 1998.
In 2000, he presented a 13 part television series for S4C, entitled Cymru 2000. This was a history of 20th century Wales, which featured over 200 interviews with notable figures from Wales' recent history. He was also responsible for writing the book of the same name that accompanied the series. Cymru 2000 received a BAFTA Cymru award in 2000 for "outstanding contribution to history on television". This was followed by several other television series, including 'Y Streic Fawr', 'Llafur Gwlad' and 'I'r Gad!'. On 1 January 2003 he was appointed to the Board of Governors of the BBC as BBC National Governor for Wales. He will hold that position until the end of 2006.
Following his role as acting vice-chancellor in 2003, his appointment as the sixth vice-chancellor of the University of Wales, Bangor was announced on 4 June 2004 and came into effect on 1 August 2004. He has overseen many big changes in his position at Bangor including in September 2007 the change from a University of Wales College, to a University in its own right, being renamed Bangor University. In his capacity as Vice-Chancellor, he was the Welsh Supernumerary Fellow of Jesus College, Oxford in the academic year 2004–05.
During late 2009, he announced his intention to retire as Vice Chancellor of Bangor University in an e-mail to staff. He said that he would be stepping down in late 2010, and thanked staff for their support during his tenure as Vice Chancellor.
He was also a member of the nominations committee established to appoint the new Director General of the BBC. According to Greg Dyke (BBC director-general), Jones was one of the governors responsible for his departure after the Hutton report 'exonerated' Tony Blair and Alastair Campbell from 'sexing up', exaggerating, the threat of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction [ref: Greg Dyke, Inside Story, p. 318]
In June 2013, Jones stood down as Chair of Betsi Cadwaladr Health Trust after a damning audit report highlighted severe failures in governance.
- "Bangor University Vice-Chancellor to retire". Bangor University. 14 December 2009. Retrieved 2010-02-17.
- "Search for Dyke successor begins". BBC. 27 February 2004. Retrieved 2010-02-17.
- The London Gazette: . 11 June 2011.
- "Main list of the 2011 Queen's birthday honours recipients" (PDF). BBC News UK. Retrieved 11 June 2011.
- About the BBC Governors: Professor Merfyn Jones (includes a biography and register of interests)