The Crossroads Option 

1 January 2001 tbs.pm/1670

An English viewer of Teledu Cymru based in the Wirral in the sixties, was not perhaps the best person to judge the qualities of Britain’s first indigenous Welsh TV channel. As a child at the time, my cultural priorities did not exactly chime in with those at whom the service was aimed. But as a person with a Welsh grandfather and a keen interest in the Welsh culture, I watched as an outsider with a stake in the success of a channel.

From 1962 onwards, the main novelty of Teledu Cymru seemed to be that it wasn’t Granada or ABC – I was able to view ITV done in a very different way. Aware of a constant struggle between the two northern contractors during my early childhood, a Welsh seven-day franchise made television look very different. Teledu Cymru had its own internal conflicts, most notably the struggle to balance English- and Welsh-language programming.

1963 ITA Yearbook entry for WWN

The need to include some Welsh programmes at peaktime inevitably elbowed out some of the brightest network fare. Most notable in my memory is Granada’s ‘World in Action’ – 8pm on Mondays in England and southern Wales, but shunted to 11.30pm in northern and western Wales to meet a quota imposed by ITV’s ‘other regulator’, the licensing authority and ‘parent’ of the ITA, the GPO. This was against the better judgement of the ITA itself and inevitably caused resentment amongst non Welsh-speakers. Only the establishment of S4C, sweeping Welsh-language programming into a successful ghetto twenty years later, would finally see the question resolved.

Teledu Cymru ident

From 1962 till 1968 Teledu Cymru experienced three distinct phases. Its ‘amateur’ period, from 1962 to 1964, covered the existence of the original parent company, Wales (West and North) Television, WWN, as an independent entity. Full of enthusiasm but losing money at a terrifying rate, life was lived on the edge. Their studios in Cardiff were the second British example of principal studios being located outside of a contractor’s area.

Teledu Cymru’s second era, “professionalism” came in the wake of threatened insolvency and the takeover by the southern Wales and western England contractor TWW. From 1964 until 1965, TWW allowed a degree of autonomy in the northern Wales operation and lavished resources where previously there had been none. Programmes flowed, languages dove-tailed and an accommodation was reached with the non Welsh-speakers by determined efforts not to displace the popular network ITV offerings.

Children's programmes this afternoon were introduced by Iris Jones

A regional studio in northern Wales eased the Cardiff anomaly, and the influence of Bristol was not allowed to overshadow the ‘Welshness’ of the operation. Inevitably, the cost of this was high and led to a more integrated management in the third period from 1965 until 1968 – ‘integration’.

Teledu Cymru ident after the TWW takeover of WWN

This period marked the downgrading of the autonomy of the Welsh with more integration with the TWW output being encouraged. The duplication of the Welsh service from St Hilary on VHF channel 7 to compliment the traditional TWW channel 10 operation changed the raison d’être of the residual WWN unit, moving it from a being a Welsh regional station into having a Welsh national status. Although the ident was not changed, references to TWW became more common and the name Teledu Cymru was ironically downgraded while the label ‘TWW Network for Wales’ moved more into prominence.

The sense of commercialism, so evident on Granada and ABC, was downplayed in Wales, where the cultural theme of the channel was a defining factor. On Teledu Cymru, commercials were almost an afterthought. And with some breaks undersold, they were occasionally missing altogether. WWN had soon learned to cover their embarrassment with free commercials, while after the takeover, TWW were selling all-Wales packages with some success.

Noelle Gordon in Crossroads from ATV

The duplication of the regional news programmes in Welsh and English each evening continued to elbow out the ‘Crossroads’ option, giving viewers the unintended bonus of afternoon broadcasting. With ‘Crossroads’ at 4.35pm, Teledu Cymru beat most other takers on the network by two hours to the cliff-hangers in the soap.

TWW's sucessor, Harlech (later HTV), offers you an Outside Broadcast

Less English programmes were lost by the clever device of slipping the Welsh programmes into the schedule while the rest of the network was enjoying Hollywood imports. This plan had detractors too but the company knew it couldn’t win with everybody while two languages fought for the same broadcasting space.

These efforts produced a pay-off in the end, but ironically not for TWW. In 1968, when Teledu Cymru gave way to ‘Teledu Harlech’, a strong Welsh ITV presence had been established. Harlech was to benefit for years to come from TWW’s hard work.

A Transdiffusion Presentation

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Kif Bowden-Smith Contact More by me

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