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Former regional press photographer and ‘local celebrity’ dies aged 68

Jeff ConnellWelsh rugby legend Phil Bennett has led tributes to a former regional press photographer and “local celebrity” who has died aged 68.

Jeff Connell, left, worked at the Llanelli Star and South Wales Evening Post during the heyday of Welsh rugby in the 1970s.

Described by Bennett as a “great character,”  Jeff is believed to have suffered a heart attack before his death last week.

At the time of his death, he was working as the official photographer of Carmarthenshire County Council.

Evening Post editor Jonathan Roberts, who worked with Jeff at the Star, said: “Jeff was quite simply the finest photographer of his era. His unique character and style immediately put those in front of the camera at ease, and the end result always reflected that. He produced so many incredible images.

“I learned so much from him, not only from a professional perspective – how to best approach a story, or the people we were writing about – but on a personal level, he was, in his own words, ‘genuine’. And I’ve never forgotten the importance he attached to honesty and integrity. It’s what made him so special.

“One of the first things you learned was the need to leave extra time between jobs, because getting around Llanelli with him was a nightmare – Jeff knew everyone, and everyone wanted to stop him to say hello.

“He was every bit a local celebrity – I’m sure more people knew Jeff’s name than some of those running out for the Scarlets. That’s because he was such a special character, always ready with a witty comment or that big smile. And people absolutely loved him for it.”

Another former Star colleague, Suzanne Oakley, said: “Jeff was a true talent. His photographs were incomparable not simply because of his skill as a photographer, but because he understood people. The photographs Jeff took were like the man himself – authentic, creative, brilliant.

“The Jeff I knew was always in a hurry. When we booked him to take a picture of a solar eclipse one year, he asked me ‘Can’t we take the picture earlier?’ He was joking of course, but it summed up how he worked – always keen to do the job, take the photograph, be among the people. I will remember him not just as a excellent photographer, but as an exceptionally kind man.

“Once, while he was covering a game at the Millennium Stadium, the crowd began to chant ‘there’s only one Jeff Connell’. They were right of course. Jeff was unique and we adored him.”

Wales and British Lions star Bennett added:  “Jeff was Llanelli through and through. “He was a great character of Llanelli. He had a humour about him.

“I never turned Jeff down if he wanted a picture at (Llanelli’s former ground) Stradey. Sometimes I would ask him how much I owed him for a picture, and he said ‘don’t be silly, you have done enough for me’.”