1 Sep 2001 0 comments. tbs.pm/2280
Iris Jones looks very fondly upon her first venture into the comparatively new world of television in the Manchester studios of Granada in 1960.
Her first job was to join the well-established team of presenters on the weekly magazine series, ‘Dewch I Mewn’, which she describes as a miscellany of various items, including a round-up of the news, which she read, and a selection of films dubbed into Welsh.
The programme could be described as a forerunner to ‘This Morning’ because its content ranged from cookery items to fashion parades in the studio.
Sadly, the telerecordings that exist of this programme do not contain Iris’ work, but it gave her experience in many aspects of television presentation that were to prove useful in years to come.
Granada was justifiably proud of its Welsh programmes, reflected in the ‘Croeso’ (‘Welcome’) banner that used to hang it the studio canteen. The arrival of Teledu Cymru/WWN in September 1962 however sounded the death knell for ‘Dewch I Mewn’. Granada had decided that it would, from the start of Teledu Cymru, cease all Welsh language productions, making both the presenters and production teams of their Welsh-language output redundant. Welsh programmes on Granada, however, continued right up until the first day of transmissions on WWN.
Iris took the news philosophically, for she had also been an actress, and was therefore used to the uncertainty of employment that profession offered.
A voice was calling her to Cardiff but Iris was not always ready to follow her instincts and headed instead for London and the bright lights of the West End.
Whilst staying with friends, Iris was alerted to the fact that there was an audition at the Royal Court and charmed her way into an interesting audition. Unable to sing a note, by her own admission, Iris was horrified to find that unbeknownst to her, she had auditioned for, and won a part in a musical!
Her rendition of ‘Take me Home, Kathleen’ and her own made-up version of ‘Ar Hyd y Nos’ had indeed won her the part. In fact she turned down the role and headed back to Wales, aware that the company that robbed her of her first television job were about to start broadcasting and would need a team of continuity announcers.
There were three jobs to be filled and the search to fill them attracted lots of publicity. Iris wrote to Teledu Cymru in Western Avenue, Cardiff, in the hope that she could be part of the announcing team of the new ITV station for North and West Wales.
Her hopes were dashed when the new company eventually appointed the team of Robin Jones, Meurig Williams (two former teachers) and Gwenda Pritchard Jones, a former airhostess.
Iris admits she was very disappointed by not getting one of these jobs but a voice told her that she was meant to be in Cardiff and she left her home in Pwllheli for the Welsh capital at the beginning of the infamously cold winter of 1962/3.
She recalls that this journey to Cardiff was actually made by getting a lift to South Wales from a lorry driver, as she had no money to travel by train.
On reaching Cardiff, Iris also found herself homeless and took refuge in the Catholic Hostel on Cathedral Road, not far from either TWW or Teledu Cymru.
She was staying there when she received a phonecall from an ex-colleague at Granada, Rhydwen Williams, who informed her that someone he knew was looking for a live-in nanny for his children at his home in Cardiff.
Iris took the job and spent some very happy times with the family, though her heart was set on a television presenting career. She had hoped to land a job either announcing or presenting with TWW, and had applied for an announcer’s post, but to no avail.
Her only TWW appearance to date had been in the quiz show ‘Taro Deg’ (Try for Ten), and only then because a contestant had failed to appear due to bad weather.
One day in March 1963, a letter arrived out of the blue and it bore exciting news for Iris. It was from John Treharne, Head of Presentation at Teledu Cymru, informing her that Gwenda Pritchard Jones was leaving her job at Teledu Cymru to get married and inviting Iris for a second interview.
This time Iris was successful and she was happy and proud to be part of the new venture. Iris’ face lights up when she recalls her days at Teledu Cymru, the excitement of the rousing start-up music and the proud dragon of the WWN logo.
Part of the uniqueness of this new ITV franchise was that most announcements were bilingual and great emphasis was placed on that aspect of presentation. Iris was brought up to speak Welsh as her first language and was able to switch from one language to the other with great ease.
The famous red phone of the ITV network centre in London kept Iris and teams of transmission engineers on their toes as last minute changes were made to the schedule, and this was the way all ITV stations were kept informed in those days.
Preparation was a key word in presentation as breakdowns were more frequent in the early sixties that they are now.
Armed with copies of both Teledu Cymru programme guides Iris would study the night’s viewing and be able to give, at a moment’s notice, a relevant anecdote or point of interest from any programme and in either language.
One point about the art of filling during breakdowns or between programmes was that the gaps between programmes tended to be longer during the summer months, due to the fact that telecine machines played faster in the summer and left more time to fill!
Master Control at Teledu Cymru was an exciting place to be and Iris trusted the engineers there with her life. She looked upon them as her friends and as part of an inter-dependent team that put the station on the air. Teledu Cymru was as intensely proud station and preferred its viewers to think that all programmes all came from its studios in Cardiff (as did TWW!), and there is anecdotal evidence to suggest that this was true.
Part of this process was that all programmes not made by Teledu Cymru or another ITV company were branded ‘A Teledu Cymru Presentation’. However, WWN took this one stage further and would occasionally ‘lose’ the idents of other ITV companies as well!
An example of this, as Iris recalls, would be ATV’s Sunday Night at the London Palladium, where viewers to Teledu Cymru would join the programme during the starburst of the opening titles, having deliberately missed the majestic zoom of the ATV London ident. Master control was also responsible for the in-vision weather forecast that Iris and others presented.
They also presented the daily Birthday Club, where thousands of Welsh children had their birthdays marked by greetings, a feature that continued to the end of the channel.
The demise of Teledu Cymru is well documented and it must be said that although the GPO, the harsh winter of 1963, and the lack of WWN-only homes played their part in its downfall, on reflection it is plain that the studios were more lavish than a company the size of WWN could afford.
Ashtrays costing more than £25 each in 1962 were a luxury the company could ill afford and sadly, in May 1963, all local production ceased.
It was hoped from the outset that Teledu Cymru could revert to local origination in its programming but sadly the financial situation of the company worsened and it faced liquidation, eventually to be taken over by TWW, its neighbour and rival across Llandaff Fields at Pontcanna.
Although the studios were mothballed (and eventually closed), Master Control at Teledu Cymru continued for many months after this and Iris and the team of announcers and engineers kept the doomed station on the air until temporary arrangements could be made to transmit a service for Wales from TWW.
The Master Control was eventually closed in January 1964 and with it died the dream of Wales having its own ITV station.
During this period Iris remained as popular as ever and remembers her plight on the night of the of the assassination of JFK, whereas most companies could rely on help and knowledge from their newsroom, Iris was left high and dry because the Teledu Cymru newsroom had closed months previously and there was nobody to offer any help as she steered the station through that memorable evening.
It was a sad period for the station as many had left companies such as Anglia to join Teledu Cymru, and they lost their jobs. In January 1964 Iris became one of those casualties as Teledu Cymru was wound up completely and its continuity transferred to a small production studio at TWW. For the second time Iris found herself without employment but by this time had a real taste and flair for her job.
TWW had earlier turned Iris down to be a continuity announcer but, unknown to her, she had been spotted by Tom Carpenter, Head of Presentation at TWW and was duly invited to the London offices and offered a three month contract to work on both TWW and the new service that it was about to be created for Wales.
Finding a new name for the service proved a problem for Wyn Roberts, the controller of TWW, and he turned to Iris for her opinion, and she was not slow to realise that they already owned an original and powerful brand name. ‘Why not call it Teledu Cymru?’ she said and so was launched ‘Teledu Cymru – the TWW service for Wales’ .
Tom Carpenter was so impressed by Iris that she was not only working for TWW’s Welsh Service, she also worked on the General Service on Channel 10 and she remembers that the continuity studio for the latter service was indeed almost as small as a telephone kiosk.
The TWW centre in Pontcanna was built around a converted farmhouse and when a strange smell tainted the tiny studio it was no surprise that it had come from a dead rat, lodged beneath the floorboards. As I said, the new TWW service for Wales was initially run from a small interview studio (still used as such during the day) until a new master control was built and opened in 1965.
This coincided with the opening of the all-Wales television service facilitated by the opening of a Welsh service from St. Hilary on Channel 7.
TWW were justifiably proud of their new dual transmission suite which meant twin announcing booths for Wales and the West at their Pontcanna centre.
The opening of the new master control at Pontcanna even attracted the attention of the UK press, and Iris Jones, Maureen Staffer and Christine Godwin were pictured in the most modern transmission suite of its time.
Modern or not, TWW in the mid sixties was as susceptible as any other company to breakdowns and Iris remembers one fateful Sunday afternoon when the telecine machine used to transmit the afternoon film broke down.
Despite brave attempts to revive it, the machine refused to work and Iris soon realised that the problem was serious.
On that particular day TWW had only one standby item, a VT of Rolf Harris singing’ Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport’ and this was used time after time, interspersed with Iris, looking forward to forthcoming programmes on TWW and even sharing cookery recipes with the viewers! I think many viewers must have enjoyed Iris more than the film she replaced.
In those days the announcing team of TWW was household names and recognised all over Wales and the West. Personalities such as Ivor Roberts, Vincent Daniels, Linda Lee, Maureen Staffer, John Mead, Guy Thomas and Christine Godwin were called upon frequently to open fetes, carnivals and the like, and Iris was no exception in this respect.
The stars of Coronation Street and other soaps today command large fees for this aspect of their work. However in the more naive Sixties, Iris and others performed these duties as part of their work at no extra cost to TWW.
In fact Iris remembers opening the Afan Lido in 1966. One may have also assumed that celebrities such as continuity announcers were highly paid for their work, but this was not so.
As late as 1968 Iris received a mere £20 a week, and this was not boosted by any extras like a clothing allowance – even though she was expected to look immaculate on screen.
The only concession was that Iris and other lady announcers were given free hair-does at the famous David Morgan department store in Cardiff city centre.
The continuity girls at TWW had a reputation for being smart but Iris took this one step further. The Teledu Cymru signal had always been strong in the south-east of the Republic of Ireland and viewers there began to send in letters regarding their favourite Teledu Cymru personalities and programmes.
One of Iris’ biggest fans was the crew from the Tuscar Rock lighthouse and in fact she became their pin-up girl! They wrote to her on a regular basis ending their correspondence only a few years ago.
Because of these Irish viewers, Iris thought it would be rather nice to wish them goodnight in their own language. Therefore as well as saying ‘Goodnight’ Iris would end the day’s transmissions by saying ‘Nos Da’ in Welsh and ‘Oiche Mhaith’ in Irish.
She received many letters in appreciation for this from across the Irish Sea, also congratulating her on her excellent pronunciation and wondering whether she might have an Irish boyfriend. In fact she shared a flat with a young lady from Ireland.
As she also points out, if you lose the ‘h’ in ‘Irish’, you are left with ‘Iris’! In 1966 Iris went to Wexford to meet her Irish fans and received a wonderful welcome.
Having been on duty the night of Kennedy’s assassination for Teledu Cymru, Iris was also on duty the day of Churchill’s death, but perhaps the most poignant evening for Iris was in October 1966, the night of the Aberfan disaster.
Programmes ran as usual on TWW that evening, but Iris (that evening working for the Teledu Cymru service) immediately showed her respect by swapping her patterned top for a black sweater.
Closedown that night was her hardest task ever but she left the people of South Wales with words of sympathy and hope for the future.
Asked how she coped with the pressure of live broadcasting Iris replied that she imagined herself talking to one person in his living room and this made it far easier for her.
Sometimes people living on their own would thank Iris for her company, this happened particularly at Christmas time where Iris would say ‘Merry Christmas… and especially to you’.
Viewers wrote to say that they no longer felt alone when they had Iris for company, such was the power of television announcers of the time.
In June 1967 the ITA dropped a bombshell. It announced that TWW was to lose its franchise to the new Harlech consortium, a huge surprise to the press and certainly an even bigger surprise for TWW, whose initial shock soon turned to anger.
Harlech soon announced that although many creative and engineering posts were to be retained by the company, they sought a new on-screen image and a new set of continuity announcers was to be appointed, thus Iris was again to lose her job.
A lady on the cleaning staff of TWW summed up Iris’s feelings when she said philosophically ‘Well there you go, love, nothing stays forever’ and Iris could only agree with her.
The technicians agreed for they were to benefit from redundancy payments plus the security of new staff jobs at Harlech (unlike the staff from Teledu Cymru, few of whom were deployed elsewhere although having left safe jobs with companies such as Anglia).
Ironically, considering their less than confident start, Iris was surprised to learn that Harlech intended their new announcers to have a little more ‘panache’ than the old ones!
Although TWW’s contract was not due to expire until July 1968, it was decided to sell the airtime to Harlech from March 10, which would not be ready to start broadcasting until May 20.
There was therefore an interim period between the loss of TWW and the official start of Harlech, itself to begin ten weeks earlier than planned. The interim service was called the ITSTC (Independent Television Service – Teledu Cymru) for the bilingual service and ITSWW (Independent Television Service for the West and Wales) for the general service.
The service had its own ident and jingle. Iris and other TWW announcers were asked to work on to fill the TWW/Harlech gap and they did, but at a price! They asked that during this interim period their wages should be doubled to £40 a week. Their wishes were granted.
This period in Iris’s life is obviously very dear to her and she remembers it with affection. Having finally left the continuity studios at Pontcanna in May 1968, she continued to work in television and went on to present for Harlech in children’s programmes such as ‘Tins a Lei’, and also their women’s magazine ‘Hamden’ (Leisure).
She also appeared in many television plays and series in Welsh, such as ‘Minafon’ and ‘Stormydd Awst’. Iris is once again enjoying Wales-wide popularity in the long-running Welsh language soap ‘Pobol y Cwm’ where her character, Beryl, is both well established and popular.
Iris Jones is still a firm favourite with Welsh viewers today, just as she was in the sixties.
Pictures from the private collection of Iris Jones and from the Transdiffusion archives.