Broadcasting the Bards 

9 March 2008 tbs.pm/3234

Not only does Wales have a rich – and ancient – literary and poetic heritage: Welsh-language poetry has a long and distinguished broadcast history too, did but the English know it. Nigel Stapley explains.

UPDATED JULY 2013

A wise man once said that the word ‘poetry’ could disperse an English crowd faster than a fire hose.

An unfair generalisation perhaps, but certainly one which chimes with the stereotypical English view that poetry is ‘intellectual’ and ‘highbrow’ and must therefore be regarded as risible in a culture which generally mistrusts the arts and its practitioners, suspecting them of being loose in words, deeds and morals.

It’s not the same everywhere however, and right next door to England is a culture in which poetry has long been prized as a cornerstone of communal and national identity.

The earliest extant poetry in Welsh dates from somewhere between the seventh and ninth centuries AD. Y Gododdin was composed in commemoration of a great battle at Catraeth – what is now Catterick – in about 600 AD in which an army of three hundred or so marched from the Edinburgh area to meet the forces of the Angles of Deira and Bernicia. The legend states that only one man returned home – who then composed a long poem about it (as you do).

(As an aside, one of my happiest memories of University was being a protagonist in a seminar debating the dating of this work. I produced evidence for the earlier date and my opponent – the future Plaid Cymru MP Simon Thomas – argued for the later one. It ended in a score-draw).

The Welsh language (or early forms of it) had been spoken across most of what is now northern England and southern and central Scotland. The old kingdom of Elfed is commemorated by the district of Elmet in west Yorkshire, and place names such as Ecclefechan (Yr Eglwys Fechan – “The Little Church”) in southern Scotland and the method of counting sheep in the Lake District and the Pennines (“Yan, tan, tethera”, etc.) all stand as testament to the geographical extent of the culture in earlier times.

After the language was pushed back into what is now Wales, poetry continued to be the primary expression of the culture. Eisteddfodau (poetry and music competitions) were held at the courts of the princes and nobles, and the works of poets from the eleventh to the fifteenth centuries still survive as exemplars for those who followed. Poets were esteemed as the entertainers and remembrancers of their day: they buttressed the established order, but were also able to get away with guying it; they spoke (‘spoke’ because this was an oral tradition) of nature and of love (the verse of Dafydd ap Gwilym is pretty saucy for its time; the nearest English comparison would be Chaucer, who was a near-contemporary. Dafydd’s poem Merched Llanbadarn tells of how he only went to church in order to ogle the young women of the parish); they spoke of this life and the next; they spoke praise to their lords and benefactors.

With the decline of the Welsh nobility – or rather, with their unseemly haste to join Henry Tudor in London – so also fell the bardic life, and it wasn’t until the eighteenth century that the eisteddfod was revived, initially in a very informal way, but culminating in the establishment of the National Eisteddfod in 1861.

The broadcasting (and I bet you were wondering how long it would be before I got to the point) of Welsh poetry tended to be as piecemeal as the rest of the BBC’s provision for the language – slotted in in dribs and drabs, often at obscure hours, and only in response either to public pressure or threat or the beyond-the-call-of-duty work of pioneers of broadcasting in Wales such as Sam Jones. And here’s where the story really starts.

The concept of a contest between teams of poets (often representing particular towns or villages) was, by then, an old and established one. These ymrysonau had long been popular up and down Welsh-speaking Wales, so it was an obvious idea to try making a radio programme out of them. In the 1940s and 50s, Sam Jones chaired the first broadcasts of Ymryson Y Beirdd, which were adjudicated by a number of established poets, most significantly the journalist Robert John Rowlands (who went by his bardic name of ‘Meuryn‘). The programme proved popular, but the pressures on broadcasting hours on the old Welsh Home Service were such that it appeared only fitfully.

It wasn’t until the coming of Radio Cymru in 1977 as an all-Wales service with its dedicated FM frequencies that thoughts turned once more to reviving the ymryson as a programme, and Talwrn Y Beirdd (“The Poets’ Cockpit” – ‘cockpit’ in its original sense as an arena of combat) duly began as soon as the new station was able to extend its hours of transmission. In the same way that Sam Jones had both produced and chaired the previous incarnation, so too now did Gwyn Williams, who continued in this dual role until his retirement in the mid-1980s.

The adjudicator from the outset was the poet Gerallt Lloyd Owen, who had already won one National Eisteddfod chair and who would go on to win another. Owen, then in his early thirties, was a somewhat controversial figure for his uncompromising and provocative poems on the subject of the nation and its relationship with the British power structure – royalty in particular. His most notorious work Fy Ngwlad (“My Country”) divided the audience when it was part of the collection which won him the chair at the national eisteddfod of the Welsh youth organisation Urdd Gobaith Cymru in 1969 (Investiture year, remember). Lines like:

Wylit, wylit, Lywelyn,

Wylit waed pe gwelit hyn.

Ein calon gan estron ŵr,

Ein coron gan goncwerwr,

A gwerin o ffafrgarwyr

Llariaidd eu gwên lle’r oedd gwŷr.

(“You would weep, you would weep, Llywelyn,

Weep blood were you to see this.

Our heart held by a foreigner,

Our crown held by a conqueror,

And a favour-currying,

Meekly-smiling folk where once were men.”)

were always likely to be incendiary at that time, and there was nearly a riot as the older, establishment-minded section of the audience booed and were in turn howled down by the younger, more radical elements. However, the broadcasting establishment at least seems to have been willing to overlook this, and their choice of Owen proved to be inspired. He was one of a number of younger poets whose work from the mid-1960s onwards had revitalised a poetic tradition which had become stale and clad about with the stench of mouldering old chapels and musty schoolrooms.

The format which was set at the start has continued with few substantial changes to the present day. The two teams (or three, depending on how many have entered that year) are set a number of tasks by the adjudicator. They are asked, for example, to compose a limerick on a particular subject (or to complete one where the first line has been given to them); or to construct a song (‘song’ in the poetic sense rather than the musical), usually on a light-hearted subject or one which could be given a comic treatment.

The real meat of the dish, however, is to be found in the rounds where the poets are required to produce a verse in one of the traditional ‘strict-metre’ forms, complete with ‘cynghanedd‘.

At this point, I fear that another digression becomes necessary. Cynghanedd (it can be translated as ‘harmony’ or ‘chiming’) has been central to Welsh poetry since the thirteenth century, and has informed poetry in English from time to time, most notably in the work of Gerard Manley Hopkins. It is a complex system of stress, alliteration, rhyme and scansion: the rules are fairly straightforward but are very firmly adhered to. Just to give a couple of brief examples from the verse I quoted earlier (with the relevant elements in bold):

“Ein calon gan estron ŵr”

Llariaidd eu gwên lle’r oedd gwŷr”

OK, enough theory: it takes years to master. The point is that the most common verse-forms in which cynghanedd appears today, the ‘englyn‘ (of four lines) and the ‘cywydd‘ (notionally without limit, but on Talwrn Y Beirdd usually limited to twelve lines), have been the centrepieces of the competition from the beginning. This has resulted in a quite remarkable renaissance, as I shall describe later.

Once the entries for a given task have been read to the audience by the author (or if he or she is absent by another member of the team), Gerallt Lloyd Owen then gives his opinion as to both the artistic and technical merits of the work, and awards marks. Originally these were awarded out of a maximum of five, but this was changed to ten during the mid-1980s. His comments on the works presented to him are always constructive: he has always been quick to spot faults, especially in cynghanedd, but he has never been in any way harsh in his criticisms, even when the poetry has only barely been up to standard. Never in the last twenty years has he given any work less than seven out of ten: if anything, he has been criticised for handing out nine-and-a-halfs and tens too easily. He is aware of this, and always starts a new series with the determination not to be so generous. It doesn’t last however, largely because such severity does not come naturally to him, considering encouragement to be a more effective spur than asperity.

It should be borne in mind that only a tiny proportion of the poets taking part down the years have been people who earned their living through writing: many of them are teachers, farmers, lawyers, housewives and retired people. That they should be able to produce work which is both deeply expressed and technically adroit, the very best of which bears comparison with the greats of the past, is evidence of the truly remarkable nature of the tradition. It’s not done for the money, either: the poets get only a basic fee and travelling expenses. It is done partly for the prestige of representing their community, but mostly from the sheer delight of composing poetry and putting it out there for public entertainment. Nor is there anything either stuffy or cut-throat about it: the rivalries are eager but never fierce, even in ‘local derbies’ between teams from neighbouring areas. This despite the inclusion for three or four years of the programme’s existence of the rhyfelgri or ‘battle-cry’ as the opening task of a contest, in which each team would issue a tongue-in-cheek challenge – a sort of sedentary haka – to its opponents. The world of Welsh poetry is after all a small one, and everyone knows more or less everyone else.

From the early years, the programme has been recorded in village halls, hotels, pubs and – yes – chapel vestries the length and breadth of Wales, although mostly in the areas where the language remains strong. The teams have come from all parts as well, although the teams with the longest pedigree tend to come from the west, the north-west and – more recently – from the increasing Welsh-speaking population around the centres of media and political power in Cardiff. In a spirit of wanton whimsicality, one team from Ynys Môn (Anglesey) has made it almost a point of honour that they change their name annually. The number of teams taking part has varied from year to year, but is usually in the 30 – 35 range, with an average membership of four poets per team.

Inevitably, the programme has changed since I first started listening to it in 1983. Not long after that Gwyn Williams retired from the BBC, and the dual role of producer/chairman ended with him. Trystan Iorwerth took over behind the scenes, and Williams’ place on the stage was taken by Dic Jones, perhaps the greatest Welsh poet of the last fifty years.

Dic – a Cardiganshire farmer who at the time of writing has just been appointed as Archdruid, the presiding officer of the National Eisteddfod itself – had had experience of competing on the programme, and his down-to-earth and convivial style coupled with a deep knowledge and appreciation of poetry made him another ideal choice. There was also a female scorer for many years, but this role was dispensed with in a round of cost-cutting in 1998 (along with the replacement of the original theme – Strauss’ Perpetuum Mobile – with a specially commissioned piece by the duo Rheinallt H. Rowlands). The following year the role of chairman was also abolished, leaving Gerallt Lloyd Owen to carry the show on his own, with Dic Jones returning to the role of competitor with his local team, Crannog.

Some of the tasks demanded of the poets have changed, too. Some of the more complex strict-metre forms have been phased out of the programme, and the late nineties saw the introduction of two quick-fire rounds, one where the teams are given the subject for an englyn just half an hour before the start of recording; and another where they are given a seven-syllable line of cynghanedd and are given one minute to respond with a matching line. Owen refers to this as his favourite round, as it puts the competitors on their mettle and means that he has a chance to recount one of his many anecdotes.

The age range of the teams has also changed quite markedly since the mid-80s. When I started listening to it, nearly all of the team members seemed to be middle aged or older. This was particularly true of the composers of strict-metre poetry. Then something quite remarkable happened. A new generation of young poets began to arise – Twm Morys (son of the writer Jan Morris), Meirion McIntyre Huws, Tudur Dylan, Llion Jones – who wrote in cynghanedd and brought a new vigour, earthiness and modernity to the old forms. Cynghanedd was no longer seen to be something that only the older poets did, and where they led others have followed, many of them to the pinnacle of the National Chair itself. It is quite possible to argue that the world of strict-metre poetry is livelier and stronger today than it has ever been.

The programmes are usually recorded two at a time a couple of weeks in advance of transmission, which still enables a certain degree of topicality in the subject matter. The main exception to this rule is the final itself. For many years this was recorded in one of the usual types of venue, but since 1991 it has taken place in the ‘Pabell Lên‘ (Literature Tent) of the National Eisteddfod on its opening Saturday afternoon and transmitted on the evening of the following Sunday in its normal slot (with its equally customary repeat on Tuesday lunchtime).

In The Observer in August 1994 (in one of the London press’ extremely rare excursions into Welsh culture), the poet and artist Jeff Nuttall had this to say of observing that year’s final at the National Eisteddfod in Glyn Neath:

“…Dic Jones and Gerallt Lloyd Owen conduct Talwrn Y Beirdd, which is a spoken verse competition usually run as a game on Welsh radio.

“As each competitor delivers his piece, Jones and Owen improvise a link-commentary of such wit and erudition the audience is kept in a state of astonished mirth. Jones has a face like an undertaker’s shovel. Owen has a complexion like school blotting paper under a snowy mane.”

Owen has dined out on Nuttall’s comments ever since, because if the programme sounds worthy and staid from my description of it (or from the prejudice I referred to at the opening of this piece) then I have done it a grave injustice. I once stopped Dic Jones on his slow progress across the maes of the 1991 National Eisteddfod in Mold (slow because he was awaiting a hip replacement at the time) to thank him for the programme. He remarked that the most important thing about the programme was Gerallt Lloyd Owen’s stewardship of it, and the fact that none of those taking part took themselves too seriously. The humorous verse can reduce the audience to near-incontinence and the ‘serious’ material is quite often of such a standard that it can produce that most meaningful of silences between the end of the recitation and the audience applauding. Owen often refers to ‘yr ias‘ – that tingle-up-the-spine moment when a poem has really hit home.

The programme has not been to everyone’s taste, however. In its early years, it came under fire from some of the old guard for allegedly ‘trivialising’ the poetic tradition. From another direction entirely, in the early 1990s Dafydd Elis Thomas, the former Plaid Cymru MP who had just been made a life peer, included Talwrn Y Beirdd in a list of aspects of Welsh-language culture he felt should not be encouraged because they were ‘backward-looking’. As he might have expected, this led to much ribald and pointed verse being aimed at him (this phenomenon is an intriguing link back to the mediaeval and ancient times, when to be satirised or otherwise disrespected by a poet was to suffer serious loss of face).

Elis Thomas has not been the sole target of the bards’ revenge. A number of public figures have come under repeated ridicule down the years. I can think of at least one Labour MP (one who matched Hobbes’ description of the human condition, in that he was “nasty, brutish […] and short”) and two or three prominent rent-a-quote Tories who have featured as regular figures of fun. The nationalists have not been exempt either, even bearing in mind that the party’s current president – the singer Dafydd Iwan – actually takes part in the programme as a member of the Waunfawr team. And in the 2001 Final, the audience was put into a state of shocked hilarity when the teams – having been set the task by a more-than-usually mischievous Owen of composing a line of cynghanedd about the Queen Mother (and this in the week of her birthday!) – came out with:

“Clatsia bant, ‘r hen gant-ac-un!” (“Clear off, old A-Hundred-And-One!”), and

“Twll dîn i’r Fam Frenhines!” (“Arseholes to the Queen Mother!”).

The unchanging element in the programme’s success has been the adjudicator himself. Gerallt Lloyd Owen has been crucial in encouraging the emergence of new poets (not all of them young, either). In an interesting change in the language, Robert John Rowland’s bardic name has become the common noun for the task Owen fulfils. ‘Meuryn‘ is now the common noun for ‘an adjudicator in a poetry contest’, with ‘meurynna‘ being the corresponding verb, these replacing the standard Welsh ‘beirniad‘ and ‘beirniadu‘ which also mean ‘critic’ and ‘criticise’. Such is Owen’s stature and influence that he has become known to all as ‘Y Meuryn‘ (‘The Meuryn’).

As a result of this significance, there is an inevitable question as to what will happen after Gerallt Lloyd Owen. He’s in his mid-sixties now and not in the rudest of health. When he has been unable to be present, his place has been taken by the likes of Twm Morys and Meirion McIntyre Huws who, although top-class poets in their own right and having had some experience of the job in other contexts, cannot as yet be said to have the force of character or depth of experience of ‘Y Meuryn‘. Of the two, Morys is the more likely successor, largely because of an existing high public profile, a more engaging presentational style and his amiable eccentricity. And being one heck of a poet, of course, having won the National Chair in 2003.

The series (renamed simply Y Talwrn from 1998 – this merely reflecting the title by which it had been known informally for years) runs from Autumn of one year (previously early October, but now usually early November) through to the final at the beginning of August the next year. About forty-four forty-minute programmes a year (including the occasional ‘special’). That such a programme should exist at all, let alone have run for four-fifths of the year for nearly thirty years, and all this in a culture which is small both numerically and in terms of its international status, is quite remarkable. Of all the world’s major cultures, I can think of only the Japanese (and possibly the Russians) who could have pulled it off.

So lay off that fire hose!

Epilogue

At the end of July 2011, the National Eisteddfod returned to Wrexham for the first time since 1977 (which had been a time when my grasp of the language was still far too tenuous to make it worth my while attending). Amongst other attractions, this meant that I would be able to attend the final of Y Talwrn in person for the first time.

The final took place on the afternoon of 30th July, the first Saturday of the festival, and I duly walked the four miles from my home to the maes and stood outside the Pabell Lên for the previous event to end, full of anticipation.

What I wasn’t anticipating was the sight of Gerallt Lloyd Owen, the Meuryn himself, approaching on a mobility scooter. It was then that I realised that his health was far more fragile than it had sounded on the radio, and the expression on his face as he sped almost Boudicca-like past the waiting audience suggested that he deeply resented his infirmities. I caught the same look of pity on the faces of my fellow poetry fans as I suspect (and hope) was on my own.

Once inside, we saw that the Meuryn had parked his conveyance behind the large Radio Cymru sign which stood stage right and was, albeit with some difficulty, helping the programme’s producer place a black cloth over the table at which they would both be sitting, whilst other members of the broadcast crew placed chairs and microphones for the competitors (including a separate mike for the young poet Ifan Pleming of the Aberhafren team, himself disabled and using a scooter, and therefore not able to stand up and declaim his wares like his colleagues and opponents).

The two teams – Aberhafren and Y Taeogion (‘The Serfs‘) came onto the stage unannounced but to warm, spontaneous applause. When this had died down, Gerallt Lloyd Owen welcomed us to the Tent (which isn’t actually a tent, by the way; imagine the premises of a small hardware outlet on a retail park on the outskirts of a medium-sized town, and you’ve more or less got the picture), asked people to make sure that their phones were turned off, and explained what we should do in the event of a fire (“Don’t go through that door there; that’s the one I’ll be heading for!”).

Then we were off. But first there were two presentations, firstly for the best telyneg or lyric poem of the series (won by Ceri Wyn Jones of Y Taeogion – you will be hearing more of him shortly), and then the first ever presentation of the award for the best cywydd in memory of Dic Jones, one time chairman of Y Talwrn and long-time competitor who died in August 2009; the award going to Aron Pritchard of Aberhafren for a poem which had appeared in his team’s quarter-final triumph over their local Cardiff rivals Y Waun Ddyfal.

Then we got down to business with the Final itself, and what became immediately apparent was that – for all his physical fragility – the Meuryn had lost absolutely none of his zest, edge or humour in adjudicating. Here was a man totally in his element, taking delight not only in weighing the material placed before him but in joshing with the competitors in his customary fashion. In short, he presided over the whole event.

Finals of Y Talwrn can sometimes be anti-climactic compared with contests in the semi- or even quarter-finals, but thankfully this was not true of the 2011 event. The poetry was fresh, intense and of high quality, and the end result (if such mere considerations as scorelines are of any value in these things) was a ½-point victory for Aberhafren in their third successive attempt at clinching the crown.

Having left the ‘Tent’, content at having witnessed a final at first hand, I was walking around when I spotted Gerallt (by now back on his scooter) and pondered whether to stop him to thank him in the same way as I had thanked Dic Jones twenty years before. But he was going at some speed and was quite clearly heading for the disabled toilets (sponsored, with unfortunate appositeness, by a wind-power company) so – having no wish to be crushed beneath the wheels in an attempt at ingratiating myself with a cultural giant – I kept a safe and respectful distance.

Three months later, I had cause to wish I had been more pushy. In early November, it was announced that Gerallt Lloyd Owen had stepped down from his position after thirty two years. The news was scarcely surprising in the light of his health and the obvious strain placed upon it by having to travel and adjudicate for nearly seven months every year (the series having been shortened a couple of years previously to run only from January to August), but it marked the definite end of an era not only in broadcasting but in the small-but-intense world of Welsh poetry itself. The tributes were extensive and utterly appropriate for a man who had spent more or less exactly half his life encouraging other poets at the expense of writing more of his own.

Thoughts then turned inevitably to his potential successors. Of the two I named in my original article, Twm Morys had effectively ruled himself out by becoming editor of the poetry magazine Barddas a few weeks before, and Meirion McIntyre Huws may have still been in the frame. But a few weeks after the position fell vacant, the BBC announced that the new Meuryn (if the epithet ever could be transferred, of course) would be Ceri Wyn Jones, the 44-year-old Chaired Bard from Ceredigion (although, by one of those quirks of history similar to the fact that Lloyd George was technically a Mancunian, Jones was born in Welwyn Garden City!). Ceri Wyn had been a friend and protége of the legendary Dic Jones and was – as I indicated earlier – an experienced and successful poet in his own right.

So it was that in January 2012, a new era began. There was the inevitable uncertainty as to whether the new boy could assume a mantle which had been worn with distinction by someone else for so long, and it seemed to me at least that he took a few weeks to hit his stride. But there was little doubt by the end of the series that Ceri Wyn had – as we say – earned his parish, even to the point where the poets were now calling him ‘Meuryn‘. His style of both presentation and interpretation are of course different to his eminent precursor, and such a substantial change needed to be got used to by competitors and listeners alike; this was a change in generation, after all. Owen is a northerner who loves football, Jones a southerner (or, rather, a south-westerner) who dotes on rugby (Llanelli in particular); Owen’s poetic experience has its roots in a different cultural and physical landscape to his successor; and Ceri Wyn’s aesthetic – although maintaining Owen’s mixture of encouragement and firmness – seems to be slightly more abstract, more academic, although this doesn’t mean that it is in any way dry, or that emotion counts for naught – it would scarcely be poetry otherwise.

There has also already been a small degree of innovation in the tasks which the competing teams are required to fulfil. The most notable to date has been the ‘Trydargerdd’ or ‘Twitterverse’, which requires the composition of a poem (in either cynghanedd or freer forms) containing no more than 140 characters. The results have been a little hit-and-miss to begin with as the poets get to grips with the concept, but there has been enough promise shown to indicate that a poetic tradition already close on 1500 years old can still adapt and expand into new areas and concepts, something absolutely essential for its survival.

It may seem to some to be a little precipitate to judge after only one series, but the ease with which this particular Bardic Chair has been filled would suggest that, as long as there are poets willing to write at short notice for no reward other than the joy and kudos of it, as long as there is an audience willing to listen to it, and as long as there is the commitment from the BBC to produce and broadcast it, this most unusual cultural phenomenon will continue with its previous vigour unimpaired. And in a world growing ever more generic and generalised, we need as much of that as we can get.

Footnote

The 2013 series of Y Talwrn was due to start in early January of this year. That is did not had nothing to do with a lack of commitment from the Corporation to the programme or from dwindling audience interest. It was, in fact, some of the competitors themselves who prevented the contests from being aired.

In 2007, the Performing Rights Society (PRS) felt that it had made a huge over-calculation in working out how much money Welsh-language musicians were being paid for airplay of their material. In trying to correct this, it cut the payment rate to the artists and publishers from over £7 per minute to an average of 49p per minute.

As many of the musicians and songwriters affected rely upon airplay payments for a large proportion of their living, such a move – which would cost some of them up to eighty-five percent of their income – was never likely to be readily accepted. A new organisation – the Welsh Music Publishers and Composers Alliance (WMPCA or Y Gynghrair) – was set up in 2008 to try to persuade the Society to re-examine the changes it had made.

Long discussions with the PRS proved fruitless, and – after a one-day ‘strike’ in December 2011 in which performers refused to contribute to Radio Cymru’s programmes – in October 2012, members of Y Gynghrair gave formal notice of withdrawal from membership of the Society, instead setting up their own broadcasting rights agency (called ‘Eos‘ – ‘Nightingale’) which would regulate broadcast use of the works of its 297 composers and 34 publishers.

Negotiations between Eos and Sianel Pedwar Cymru (S4C) concluded with a twelve-month ‘blanket licence’ period before the separation from PRS became formal on 1 January 2013. Discussions with the BBC, however, yielded no agreement of any sort, with the BBC offering little more than a payment rate which was – for the sake of comparison – about one quarter of the equivalent rate for airtime on its Asian Network. And so, with effect from the start of this year, the right to broadcast all of the works of Eos members was withdrawn from the BBC.

As Radio Cymru is the primary – in many cases, the sole – broadcasting outlet for many of the performers and composers affected, this had the immediate effect of removing tens of thousands of recordings from its playlists. The BBC’s immediate practical response was to shorten Radio Cymru’s broadcasting time by two hours a day (including halving its ‘C2’ youth programmes in the evenings) and filling any remaining gaps with repeats and music which was not by Eos members (this meant, in effect, mostly English-language performers).

But why should this dispute – which rumbles on even as I write this – affect a programme of poetry? Only because a number of individual members of Eos are also regular contributors to Y Talwrn, and – although perhaps not specifically covered by the new arrangement – those poets withdrew broadcasting rights to their poetry from the Corporation as well. Other Talwrn poets, whilst not members of Eos themselves, withdrew their own consent in solidarity. And so, although one or two contests at the beginning of the year’s series had already been recorded before the end of 2012, the BBC now found itself legally unable to broadcast them.

It appeared that – for the first time since 1978 – there would be no Talwrn, with scarcely four months to go from the time of writing before the proposed final at the National Eisteddfod in Denbigh at the end of July. However an accomodation was reached after all (in this respect at least, if not in the broader dispute), and the 2013 series finally began in late April. A number of emergency changes have been necessary to the established format – three teams per contest rather than two, for example, and a necessary foreshortening in terms of the number of rounds the teams will have to negotiate to get to Denbigh – but it seems that Y Talwrn is back and, from the evidence of the first contest, this remarkable broadcasting phenomenon has suffered few ill-effects from its enforced lay-off.

A Transdiffusion Presentation

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