WALES

As a small but culturally and linguistically distinct nation within the United Kingdom, Wales offers an enlightening case study of the role of television in constructing cultural identity. Broadcasting in Wales has played a crucial role in ensuring the survival of the Welsh language, one of the oldest languages spoken on a daily basis in Europe. Coupled with recent education policies which include Welsh language instruction as either a core or secondary subject in all Welsh schools and European-wide recognition of the cultural and linguistic rights of indigenous speakers, the nation has seen a slight increase in the percentage of Welsh-speakers. Welsh television is currently comprised of BBC-1 Wales and BBC-2 Wales, the independent television (ITV) commercial franchise holder, Harlech Television (HTV Wales), and Sianel Pedwar Cymru ([S4C] Channel Four Wales), the Welsh equivalent of Britain's commercial Channel Four. BBC-1 Wales, BBC-2 Wales, and HTV Wales broadcast entirely in English whereas S4C's schedules contain a mix of locally-produced Welsh-language and English-language Channel 4 United Kingdom programs. Welsh-language television is the progeny of battles over the national and cultural rights of a linguistic minority who, from the outset of television in Britain, lobbied hard for Welsh language programming. Of the 2.7 million population of Wales, 20% speak Welsh, and since 1 November 1982, the bilingual minority have been able to view Welsh-language programs on S4C during the lunch and prime time periods, seven days a week.

From the outset of television in Wales, the mountainous topography of the country presented broadcasters with transmission problems; despite the construction of new and more powerful transmitters, there were gaps in service as late as the 1980s. At the time of the opening of the first transmitter in Wales, 36,236 households had a combined radio and television license, a number that more than doubled to 82,324 by September 1953, in anticipation of the televising of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. By 1959, 50% of Welsh households had a television set (450,720 licenses); 70% of these viewers received their broadcasts from the Welsh transmitter (Wenvoe) which also reached an identical viewing base in South-west England. However, 10% of the Welsh population could still not receive television and 20% received their programs from transmitters located in England.

A key player in early Welsh-language television was Alun Oldfield-Davies (senior regional BBC controller from 1957 to 1967) who persuaded the BBC in 1952 to allow Welsh language programs to be occasionally transmitted from the Welsh transmitter outside network hours. Oldfield-Davies went on to become an inveterate campaigner for Welsh-language television and stepped up his lobbying with the introduction of commercial television in Wales in 1956. The first television program broadcast entirely in Welsh was transmitted on St. David's Day (Wales' Patron Saint day) on 1 March 1953 and featured a religious service from Cardiff's Tabernacle Baptist Chapel. The first Welsh language feature program was a portrait of the Welsh bibliophile Bob Owen; despite replacing only the test card, the program antagonized English viewers who complained about the incomprehensible language. This reaction was to intensify in later years when English programs were substituted by Welsh-language productions.

The Broadcast Council for Wales (BCW) was established as an advisory body in 1955, although its presence had little impact on the tardy appearance of full production facilities in Cardiff, the last regional center in the United Kingdom to be adequately equipped for production in 1959. (The BBC expanded the Broadway Methodist Chapel in Cardiff, a site that had functioned as a drive-in studio since 1954). The first program filmed before a live audience in Wales took place in 1953, while the first televised rugby match and Welsh-language play, Cap Wil Tomos (Wil Tomos's Cap) were both transmitted in January 1955. (The first televised English-language play produced in Wales, Wind of Heaven, was broadcast in June 1956). However, despite these important breakthroughs in Welsh television, the number of programs locally produced for both bilingual and English-speaking audiences remained small; for example, in 1954, only 2 hours and 40 minutes of English programming and 1 hour and 25 minutes of Welsh-language programming were broadcast each week. The first regular Welsh-language program, Cefndir (Background) aired in February 1957; introduced by Wyn Roberts, the program adopted a magazine format featuring topical items.

The BBC's monopoly in British broadcasting was broken with the launch of ITV which could first be received by the inhabitants of North-east Wales (and many in North-west Wales) in 1956, following the launch of Granada television in Manchester. South Wales did not receive ITV until Television Wales West (TWW) was awarded a franchise in 1958 and opened a transmitter in the South which also served the South-west of England. More than a little complacent that the commercial imperatives of ITV would preclude Welsh-language ITV broadcasts, the BBC was stunned when the ITV Granada studios in Manchester launched a series of twice-weekly 60-minute Welsh-language programs, greatly overshadowing the BBC's weekly provision of half an hour. As a result, the political stakes involved in addressing the interests of Welsh-language viewers were raised, although both the BBC and ITV recognized the low ratings generated by such programs, given the minority status of Welsh-language speakers. Gwynfor Evans, who went on to play a pivotal role in the emergence of S4C in the early 1980s, joined the BCW in 1957 and along with Plaid Cymru (the Welsh Nationalist Party), vigorously lobbied for an increase in Welsh-language broadcasting. The issue of Welsh-language programming for children also assumed a greater urgency in the late 1950s. The broadcasting demands of the campaigners were given institutional recognition in 1960 with the publication of the findings of the Pilkington Committee--the first broadcasting inquiry mainly concerned with television--which argued that "the language and culture of Wales would suffer irreparable harm" if Welsh-language production were not increased.

A second ITV franchise, Television Wales West and North (TWWN, known in Wales as Teledu Cymru [Welsh Television]), began broadcasting in Wales in September 1962. Initially transmitting eleven hours of Welsh-language and Welsh-interest programming a week, TWWN obtained half of its programs from TWW. However, TWWN's future as a broadcaster was short lived; facing bankruptcy, it was taken over by TWW in September 1963. At this time, the BBC and ITV reached an agreement over the scheduling of Welsh-language programs, requiring that each broadcasters' schedules be exchanged so as to avoid a clash of Welsh-language programs (leaving non Welsh-speakers no alternative broadcast during this time slot). By and large, the policy worked, although some overlapping did occur.

In 1963, the BBC in Wales broadcast three hours of programming for Welsh viewers per week, and occasionally produced programs exclusively for the network. Heddiw (Today), a long-running Welsh-language weekday news bulletin was broadcast outside network hours from 1:00 to 1:25 P.M., while its English language equivalent, Wales Today, occupied an early evening slot between 6:10 and 6:25 P.M.. TWW also had its own Welsh-language magazine program called Y Dydd (The Day).

BBC Wales was launched in February 1964 when it received its own wavelength for television broadcasting (Channel 13). Oldfield-Davies was central in orchestrating the move and oversaw its implementation (television sets had to be converted in order to receive Channel 13). Up to this point, most Welsh language programs had been transmitted during non-network hours; the introduction of BBC Wales meant that Wales would opt out of the national service for a prescribed number of hours per week--8.9 hours per week in 1964--in order to transmit locally-produced English- and Welsh-language programs. However, the arrival of BBC Wales meant that non-Welsh speaking viewers whose aerials received BBC Wales from Welsh transmitters, had no way of opting out of this system, unless they could also pick up the national BBC service by pointing their aerials towards English transmitters. The inclusion of a small number of Welsh language programs on the television schedules at this time thus incensed some English-speaking Welsh viewers who claimed that they were more poorly served by the BBC than other English-speaking national minorities such as the Scots and resented loosing programs which were replaced by Welsh-language productions. By the fall of 1984, 68% of Welsh people received programs from transmitters offering BBC Wales, a number that increased to 75% by June 1970. BBC-2, the first BBC service transmitted on UHF, was launched in South-east England in 1962, reaching South Wales and South-west England in 1965. By the early 1970s, it was available to 90% of Welsh television homes. The first color program produced by BBC Wales were transmitted on 9 July 1970 and consisted of coverage of the Llangollen Eisteddfod.

As pressure for more Welsh-language programs increased, TWW's franchise was successfully challenged in 1968 by John Morgan and Lord Harlech. Commencing in March 1958, HTV pledged to address the "particular needs and wishes of Wales," and a ten-member committee was established to consider a range of topics affecting broadcasting in Wales. These issues were addressed more forcefully in a 1969 booklet published by Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg (the Welsh Language Society) entitled "Broadcasting in Wales: To Enrich or Destroy Our National Life?" Facing a wall of silence from BBC Wales following publication of the document, three members of the society embarked upon a campaign of civil disobedience and in May 1970 interrupted a program broadcast from Bangor in North Wales. The following year a small group of men unlawfully gained entry into the Granada television studios in Manchester and caused limited damage to television equipment; television masts were also climbed, parliament was interrupted, and roads were blocked. In addition to these high-profile disturbances, hundreds of people were prosecuted for not paying their television license fees. In the fall of 1970, the society submitted a document to the Welsh Broadcasting Authority (WBA) which contained the first proposal for a fourth Welsh channel; an interim scheme proposed by the society suggested that the unalloted fourth UHF channel in Wales should transmit 25 hours of Welsh-language programming a week and should be jointly administered by a BBC Wales and HTV committee. Soon after, ITV made a formal submission requesting that the fourth channel be used as a second ITV service broadcasting all HTV's current Welsh language programming and making HTV Wales an all-English channel. The battle for a Welsh fourth channel had begun in earnest.

Against a backdrop of ongoing campaigns by the Welsh Language Society in the early and mid 1970s, the Crawford Committee on Broadcast Coverage examined patterns of rural reception in Wales and explored the possibility of using the fourth channel for Welsh-language programming. Those in favor of retaining the current system of integration argued that a separate Welsh language channel would ghettoize the language and culture (a view supported by the 1977 Annan Report commissioned by the Labor government); they also draw attention to the fact that English-speaking viewers would still be deprived of English programs broadcast on the U.K. fourth channel and questioned whether there was a solid enough economic and cultural base in Wales to maintain a fourth channel. An average of eleven hours a week of Welsh and English-language programs, seven and five hours respectively, were broadcast on BBC Wales between 1964 and 1974, with almost half the time taken up with news and current affairs programs such as Heddiw (Today), Cywain (Gathering), Wales Today, and Week In Week Out.

Welsh-language television up to this point had gained a reputation of being quite high-brow, often consisting of non-fiction programs examining major Welsh institutions and traditions. However, the enormous popularity of sport, especially the national game of rugby, always guaranteed representation and high ratings on the schedules; moreover, the 1974 launch of the hugely successful Welsh-language soap opera entitled Pobol y Cwm (People of the Valley) did even more to shift the balance toward popular programming. Pobol y Cwm's 20-minute episodes are currently broadcast five days a week; the continuing serial is the highest rated program on S4C, attracting an average viewership of 180,000. English subtitles are available on teletext on daily episodes, and the five episodes are repeated on Sunday afternoon with open subtitles.

 

 

Welsh-speaking comedic stars also made their mark in light entertainment during the 1970s; these included Ryan Davies, who enjoyed widespread fame with his partner Ronnie Williams in the 1971 show Ryan a Ronnie, and in the first Welsh sitcom Fo a Fe (Him and Him--derived from North and South Walean dialects for "him") written by Rhydderch Jones. Stand-up comedian Max Boyce also became a household name with his own 1978 one-man series. Religious programming was still popular with audiences (as it had been in radio) and a BBC Sunday half-hour hymn-singing program entitled Dechrau Canu, Dechrau Canmol (Begin Singing, Begin Praising) drew large audiences (it has continued through the 1990s). Two successful English-language programs made for the BBC network in the mid-1970s included a seven hour miniseries on the life of Welsh politician David Lloyd George (1977) and an animated children's cartoon entitled Ivor the Engine (1976). One of the most successful English-language dramas of the 1970s, a program regularly repeated on Welsh television, was Grand Slam (1975), which hilariously documented the exploits of a group of Welsh rugby fans traveling to Paris for an international match.

Meanwhile, political lobbying for a fourth Welsh language channel intensified as the Welsh Language Society organized walking tours, petitions, leaflet distribution, and the public burning of BBC television licenses. Published in November 1975, the government-sponsored Siberry Report recommended that the Welsh fourth channel should broadcast 25 hours a week of Welsh-language programs with the BBC and HTV each responsible for three and a half days a week. Welsh MP's also argued that the seven hours of programming on BBC Wales opened up by the transfer of Welsh-language programs to a fourth channel should be filled with BBC Wales programs in English rather than BBC network material. In their 1979 general election manifestos, both Labor and Conservative Parties pledged support for a fourth Welsh channel; however, facing resistance to the plan from the independent broadcasting authority (IBA) and HTV, Conservative Party Home Secretary William Whitelaw repudiated the Welsh fourth channel in a speech given at Cambridge University in September 1979. Welsh reaction was swift; at Plaid Cymru's annual conference in October, a fund was established into which supporters opposed to Whitelaw's decision could deposit their television license fee (2,000 protesters pledged support and a number received prison sentences the following spring). Noted political and academic figures in Wales also joined the campaign and were arrested for civil disobedience. It was, however, the intervention of Plaid Cymru MP Gwynfor Evans that had the most profound effect on public and political opinion. In May 1980, Evans announced that he would go on hunger strike on 5 October and continue with the protest until the government restored their earlier promise of giving Wales a fourth Welsh-language channel. In the wake of public demonstrations during visits to Wales by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Welsh Secretary Nicholas Edwards, Cledwyn Evans (Labor's ex-Foreign Secretary) led a deputation to Whitelaw's office in London demanding that the decision be reversed. The government finally backed down on 17 September, stating that a Welsh Fourth Channel Authority would be formed (provisions were incorporated into the 1980 Broadcasting bill through a House of Lords amendment.) The BBC would be responsible for providing ten hours per week and HTV and independent companies eight hours per week. S4C had finally arrived.

Funded by the an annual budget from the Treasury which is based on a rate of 3.2% of the Net Advertising Revenue of all terrestrial television in the United Kingdom, S4C is a commissioning broadcaster rather than a program producer with program announcements and promotions the only material produced in-house. By the mid-1990s, S4C was transmitting approximately 1,753 locally-produced hours of programming in Welsh, and 5,041 hours in English per annum; the English-language broadcasts were rescheduled U.K. C4's output. These figures translate into roughly 30 hours of programming a week in Welsh and 93 hours in English. S4C reaches a target share of approximately 20% of Welsh-speaking viewers, although its remit also includes targeting both Welsh learners and English speakers through the use of teletext services that enable participating viewers to call-up English subtitles for most Welsh programs. Some 75% of all local advertisers produce campaigns in both Welsh and English on S4C while a number of multi-national companies, such as McDonald's and Volvo, have also advertised in Welsh.

Of the 30 hours of Welsh-language programming shown on S4C each week, 10 hours comes from BBC Wales; the remaining 20 comes from HTV Wales and independent producers. BBC Wales also produce 10 hours of English-language programming for viewers living in Wales which is broadcast on BBC-1 and BBC-2. The BBC's Royal Charter charges the BBC to provide services reflecting "the cultures, tastes, interests, and languages of that country," and via the BCW, the service is regularly reviewed to ensure that programs meet the requirements set down in the Royal Charter. HTV Wales produced 588 hours of English-language programs for Wales during 1995, a figure that amounted to approximately 25 hours per week.

Since 1 January 1993, S4C has been responsible for selling its own advertising (previously overseen by HTV); this has meant that revenues can now be ploughed directly back into program production. S4C provides a wide range of program genres, including news and current affairs, drama, games and quizzes, and youth and children's programming. The main S4C news service, Newyddion (News) is provided by BBC Wales; S4C also has two investigative news shows Taro Naw (Strike Now) and Yr Byd ar Bedwar (The World on Four ) as well as documentaries exploring the diverse lives of Welsh men and women: Hel Straeon (Gather Stories), Cefn Gwlad (Countryside), and Filltir Sgwar (Square Mile). Recent comedy series have included Nosan Llawen (Folk Evening of Entertainment), Licyris Olsorts (Licorice Allsorts), and the satirical show Pelydr X (X-Ray ). Series examining contemporary issues through the lens of popular drama have ranged from Hafren, a hospital drama, Halen yn y Gwaed (Salt in the Blood) which followed the lives of a ferry crew sailing between Wales and Ireland, A55, a hard-hitting series about juvenile crime, and Pris y Farchnad (Market Price) which examined the lives of a family of auctioneers. Children and teenage viewers are catered to via Sali Mali, Rownd a Rownd (Round and Round), which looks at the exploits of a paper round, and Rap, a magazine program for Welsh-learners.

Non-Welsh speaking viewers receive their local news from BBC Wales' Wales Today and HTV Wales' Wales This Week. Other recent non-fiction programs have included Grass Roots, The Really Helpful Show, The Once and Future Valleys, and The Infirmary, from HTV Wales, and Between Ourselves, All Our Lives, and Homeland produced by BBC Wales.

Thanks to S4C, Wales now has a thriving independent production sector centered in Cardiff (where 46% of the Welsh media industry is located) and Caernarfon. Welsh television's success in the field of children's animation has continued with Wil Cwac Cwac and SuperTed making their first appearance in 1982 (both have appeared on the Disney Channel in the United States), followed by Fireman Sam and Toucan Tecs. By the early 1990s, Cardiff boasted five animation houses, 45 independent production companies, and a pool of approximately 150 professional animators. Animation co-productions from the mid-1990s have included Shakespeare: The Animated Tales, Operavox: The Animated Operas, Testament: The Bible in Animation, The Little Engine that Could, and The Legend of Lochnagar. Over 90 of S4C's programs have been exported to almost a 100 countries worldwide and co-productions have been negotiated with production companies in France, Italy, Germany, Australia, and the United States.

Finally, it is important to point out that the political advocacy which secured the rights of Welsh speakers within a broadcasting system for Wales ultimately benefited both Welsh and English-speakers, since the language campaign fostered the production of more English-language programs for Wales as a whole. The current system of Welsh broadcasting would certainly never have existed had it not been doggedly pursued by Welsh-language activists. Recent audience research into the penetration levels of S4C indicate that in the mid-1990s, between 80 and 85% of Welsh speakers watch S4C some time each week and between 65 and 70% of all viewers (English and Welsh-speaking) tune in to S4C some time each week. The S4C model in Wales has been emulated by several other European linguistic minorities, including in Spain, the Basque channel Euskal Telebista 1 (launched in 1982) and a Catalan Channel which started in 1983.

-Alison Griffiths

FURTHER READING

Annual Reports of the National Broadcasting Council for Wales.

BBC Wales Annual Review 1994/95. Cardiff, Wales: BBC Wales, 1995.

Bevan, David. "The Mobilization of Cultural Minorities." Media, Culture and Society (London), 1984.

Blanchard, Simon, and David Morley, editors. What's This Channel Four? London: Comedia, 1982.

Browne, Donald R. Electronic Media and Indigenous Peoples: A Voice of Our Own? Ames: Iowa University Press, 1996.

Cooke, Philip, and Carmel Gahan. "The Television Industry in Wales." Regional Industrial Research/Igam Ogam Research: S4C, BBC Wales, and WDA, 1988.

Curtis, Tony, editor. Wales: The Imagined Nation. Essays in Cultural and in National Identity. Bridgend, United Kingdom: Poetry Wales Press, 1986.

Davies, John. Broadcasting and the BBC Wales in Wales. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1994.

Griffiths, Alison. "National and Cultural Identity in a Welsh Language Soap Opera." In, Allen, Robert C., editor. To Be Continued: Soap Operas Around the World. London Routledge, 1995.

Howell, W.J. Jr. "Bilingual Broadcasting and the Survival of Authentic Culture in Wales and Ireland." Journal of Communication (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), Autumn 1982.

_______________. "Britain's Fourth Channel and the Welsh Language Controversy." Journal of Broadcasting (Washington, D.C.), Spring 1981.

HTV Annual Report and Accounts 1995. Cardiff, Wales: Westdale Press, 1996.

S4C Annual Report and Accounts. Cardiff, Wales: S4C, 1995.

Williams, Eyrun Ogwen. "The BBC and the Regional Question in Wales." In, Harvey, Sylvia, and Kevin Robbins. The Regions, the Nations and the BBC. London: British Film Institute, 1993.

 

See also First People's Broadcasting in Canada; Language and Television