Last Exit 

1 January 2002 tbs.pm/1733

Unlike the television pictures during most of the sixties, the question of whether TWW deserved to lose its licence is far from black and white – with the grey areas remaining greyer than ever.

There had been no hint that TWW’s license was in danger and Peter Bartholomew, joint Managing Director, stated that TWW been given a glowing report the year before. To prove the point, the press was shown film of the ITA Officer for Wales praising TWW at a lunch given to mark the opening of a new control room. Lord Derby, the chairman of TWW, was shocked and bewildered at Lord Hill’s decision. He told the BBC that it was “an absolute disgrace. No one has ever told us why we were dismissed”.

TWW Reports

TWW had begun serving Wales and the West of England in January 1958. Taking their obligations as a public service broadcaster seriously, most notably in producing Welsh-language programmes in far greater numbers than the BBC, they were the first company to run a daily news bulletin in Welsh and to provide quiz shows in Welsh. They also provided the Welsh-language networked entertainment programme in the Sunday closed period, ‘Gwlad y Gan’ or ‘Land of Song’, that ran until 1964.

TWW pioneered and experimented in other fields whilst maintaining a solid service to their area. Documentaries such as ‘Nye!’, about Aneurin Bevan, were show nationally, and the John Betjeman films of the early sixties were later repeated on Channel 4. The TWW films of Gwyn Thomas reflected Wales in a more true, if starker, way than the sentimentality of Harlech’s Wynford Vaughan Thomas. Whilst many of their Welsh-language programmes were innovative – ‘O Fyd yr Opera’ combined satire with classical music – there was resentment in some quarters that they never embarked on expensive projects like a soap opera – in either language. They actually produced very little Welsh-language drama – very different from the situation at BBC Wales or today on S4C.

TWW had swept the 1966 Western Mail Television Awards, and that 12 months was to prove their best. They consolidated their acquisition of Teledu Cymru, the doomed ITV contractor for west and northern Wales, and set about spending considerable sums on a studio and master control suite to provide extra programmes for their new area. The terms under which they had bailed out Teledu Cymru’s parent company WWN were generous to say the least. The ITA’s Robert Fraser was given cause to remark to Lord Hill that if the WWN board did not accept the TWW takeover “trainloads of psychiatrists should be dispatched to Cardiff and points west and north!”

TWW had realised that Wales really needed a national commercial television station but the economics of the ITV system dictated that Cardiff and Bristol should share an ITV station, despite the fact that these two cities were as different as chalk and cheese and represented two nations and two cultures. TWW managed, however, to provide a service for the whole of Wales, retaining the Teledu Cymru brand and expanding it with the new St. Hilary Channel 7. By taking on extra staff to deal with the expanded programming, it also maintained the General Service on Channel 10.

One of the accusations later levelled at TWW was that they were a London company, and this was offered to Derby as a reason for the company’s demise. Perhaps it was a legitimate reason to admonish the company, but was it reason enough for their dismissal from television? The main reason given for their failure to move their HQ was TWW’s eagerness to be seen to be impartial and not to favour any city in their franchise area. Given the unique nature of their service area, you can sympathise with their point of view.

TWW appeared forward-looking in their technical side, and had already placed an order for colour cameras to be ready to start broadcasting in colour. Harlech, for their part, added very little to the Pontcanna Studios when they took over and the changeover to colour was slow and patchy. HTV had claimed that the Bristol studios of TWW were good but the Pontcanna Studios were not. Nevertheless, no new studios were built until 1984 and then only for fulfilling the contract with S4C.

The Welsh language paper ‘Y Faner’ wrote in an editorial at the end of 1968 that, apart from its beautiful new logo, Harlech seemed to have very little to offer. It seems a glowing tribute to TWW that many programmes were carried over. ‘Y Dydd’ continued on Harlech and ‘TWW Reports’ became ‘Report’. Another programme which reappeared on Harlech was ‘Sion a Sian’, for many years the sole Welsh-language light entertainment series.

Report

Other formulae were revamped, so ‘Caban Pren’ – ‘The Wood Cabin’ – became ‘Sgubor Lawen’, ‘The Jolly Barn’. Any criticism of this tendency to ape TWW could be considered harsh in the light of Thames’s reincarnation of ABC’s ‘Opportunity Knocks’ and other programmes, but Harlech were supposed to offer something different and failed.

Contrary to implied promises from HTV, the much-vaunted talents of Burton and Taylor were nowhere to be seen until 1972 in the turgid ‘Divorce His, Divorce Hers’. A promise of more drama in the Welsh language was also left unfulfilled and Welsh plays were rarely seen other than on 1st March. A feature of the Harlech application was the intention to build a studio complex in Cardiff, but it was 1984 before Culverhouse Cross came into operation and they were able to leave the cramped conditions of the converted farmhouse at Pontcanna.

Given this, TWW may have accomplished all that HTV did and more – if it had been forewarned that its future was in danger. It was known at the time that at a company would go in the 1967 shake-up and it was thought the victim was to be STV, which had had warnings in relation to programme quality. Lord Hill and the ITA set out to prove a point, whatever the consequences, to show they had teeth, and so they did.

Y Dydd

The ITA maintained that if performance were always to win over promise, each company would last forever, but in doing so fell hook, line and sinker for empty promises from Harlech. The ITA’s official history says HTV, after a shaky start, became a ‘sound and workmanlike company’, and you cannot disagree with this. However, TWW would not have made a worse job than HTV and, in certain areas, they may have been better.

The power to disenfranchise is a powerful one on which careers and lives are dependent and if the ITA felt that TWW could have done a better job, they had a duty to say so. Instead, they gave TWW the impression that their service was largely beyond reproach. If they felt a company was below par, they owed them a chance to improve. That they did not meant the ITA was wrong to sacrifice TWW in favour of Harlech.

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