Teledu comes of age

By Richard Jones

February 13, 1962 saw a milestone in broadcasting and nothing short of a revolution in Wales.

The Welsh Home Service's Annual Lecture was given by Welsh literary figure Saunders Lewis in his speech entitled ‘Tynged yr Iaith' (The Fate of the Language).

In this speech he foresaw that, unless checked, the Welsh Language would die by the beginning of the next century and revolutionary methods were needed to save it.

He did however warn against violence to people but saw that the only way forward was a campaign of law breaking to force the issue. This Lecture lead almost directly to the forming of the Welsh Language Society who in 1963 began a long and sustained campaign to give Welsh the status it deserved. Its effect on broadcasting in Wales has been immeasurable.

The carving up of the early ITV system meant that a national service for Wales was a non-starter. The profitable area of the southeast had already been hived off by TWW and the northeast was considered part of Granadaland - especially by Granada themselves.

The remaining area of west and north Wales was low in population and, more importantly, low in wealth. However the ITA and the Post Office deemed it important enough to warrant the creation of a new ITV company, and thus Teledu Cymru was born in September 1962.

Although TWW had paid due respect to the Welsh Language, they could hardly be expected to broadcast programmes in Welsh in peak time to people on the English side of the Bristol Channel.

Until the launch of Teledu Cymru, Welsh language programmes had been broadcast on TWW at around 4:20pm. Obviously the main difference between TWW and Teledu Cymru was that the latter would have to show Welsh language programmes in peak viewing, and provide them in abundance.

Teledu Cymru was doomed to fail from the start, the ambitions for a company so small were too great. The Post Office in its wisdom, expected that WWN, a company smaller than Ulster Television, should produce double the amount of programmes made by UTV.

In reality, the demise of WWN saw a huge improvement for Wales, for it lead to the creation of an all Wales service by TWW in February 1965, which meant that Welsh speakers all over Wales were able to see some Welsh during peak viewing and elsewhere.

This, coupled with the creation of BBC Wales, should have meant the end of the battle between the two languages, but it was just the beginning.

The Welsh Language Society (WLS) had heralded a new dawn in Welsh awareness of the language and its plight. The fight for status for the language was a vigorous one and encompassed all facets of public life.

The potency of these times is mirrored by worldwide events such as the student riots of Paris in 1968, protest songs of the late sixties, and all struggles to gain political and social parity.

The WLS turned its attention to television, deploring the lack of programming in Welsh and calling for an improvement in quality. The campaign for bilingual road signs had included spraying the old ones with paint and tearing them down and the broadcasting campaign was no less powerful.

Studios in Wales and elsewhere (notably Granada and Broadcasting House) were invaded and transmitters were climbed in an effort to publicise the society's message. Many people went to prison for their cause.

However not everyone wanted more programmes in Welsh and the coming of UHF and colour highlighted this. English speakers avoided Welsh programmes (and unwittingly English language programmes made for them) by pointing their aerials to the Mendips, Winter Hill and Caradon Hill. This was not a healthy situation for Welsh broadcasting.

The problem was how to increase broadcasts in Welsh without annoying the English-speaking majority. The solution had been mooted since the late sixties - the creation of a Welsh Language channel. It would be a political solution to a problem that was creating division and unrest in Wales.

In 1970, the displacement on the HTV's new colour service of ‘The Human Jungle' for a Welsh language programme brought howls of protest and it had to be reinstated. The old BBC/HTV duopoly was never going to solve this problem and the Annan committee of 1974 recommended the setting up of a fourth channel.

The new Tory government of 1979 promised that this dream would be realised but, when voted to power, reneged on their promise and decided to split the increased Welsh language programming between BBC 2 and the new Fourth channel.

There was uproar in Wales at this U-turn culminating in the decision by Plaid Cymru statesman Gwynfor Evans to fast unto death unless the government kept its promise to concentrate all programmes in Welsh onto the fourth channel. His death could well have resulted in violence to the point of revolution in Wales, and the Tories knew this.

Thus S4C was born, after years of struggle a political solution was found that could calm the growing unrest in Wales. Had Teledu Cymru survived and was broadcasting in 1979 it would have suffered the same pro- and anti-Welsh Language protests that HTV did.

S4C was the political solution to alleviate a deep sociological and linguistic division in Wales. Such was the government's concern at the continuing unrest that they largely funded S4C, which has continued to play an integral role in the renaissance of the language during the past eighteen years.

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Article ©2001 Richard Jones

Compilation ©2001 Transdiffusion Broadcasting System

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