The fall of Teledu Cymru 

12 August 2020 tbs.pm/70693

Altered WWN logo

Wales and the West of England

Excerpted from the Independent Television Authority’s annual report for 1963-4

Reference has been made to the fact that Wales was treated as an exception to the decision of the Authority to continue the existing pattern of contract areas during the interim phase beginning in 1964. As was indicated in last year’s Report, the programme company Wales (West and North) Television had come under severe financial strain (the company began providing programmes in Pembrokeshire, Caernarvonshire and Flintshire in September 1962). It proved financially impossible for the company to continue to operate as an independent unit and in January 1964 it became, with the consent of the Authority, a subsidiary of TWW, the large company operating in South Wales and the West of England, with headquarters in Cardiff.

This experience showed that two programme companies could not be expected to operate successfully in Wales. The Authority therefore decided, during the new contractual period, to treat the two areas as one. Wales is thus for the first time in Independent Television to be regarded as a single unit. Because of technical requirements a single ITA Band III station in South Wales so far had to serve also an extensive and well-populated area to the south of the Bristol Channel, with the programme disadvantage that the South Wales station has to attempt to cater for the differing tastes and interests of viewers on both sides of the Channel. The solution, it seemed to the Authority, was to open a second VHF station in South Wales which would enable both Welsh and English viewers to be provided with their own “edition” of the Independent Television service. This solution was rendered practicable by the grant of a second frequency, Channel 7, for use at the Authority’s St. Hilary transmitter near Cardiff. This second channel will come into use around the end of 1964 and the Authority will then be able to regard Wales as a single, exclusive area served by four stations, St. Hilary (Channel 7), Pembrokeshire, Caernarvonshire and Flintshire.

 


 

❛❛Russ J Graham writes: There are several reasons that the ITV company Wales (West and North) Television, known on-air as Teledu Cymru, failed.

Chief amongst them is the General Post Office being petty. That branch of the government, the Independent Television Authority’s regulator, didn’t want a separate company for Wales. When the political cries for it to exist got too loud, they only licensed the ITA to build transmitters in the north and west of Wales, missing out the heavily populated industrial south of the country. Then they did that ‘careful what you wish for’ thing so beloved of government when it is forced to do something it doesn’t want to: the licence was made conditional upon the ITA insisting that the new contractor produce a ridiculous amount of programming in Welsh, scheduled as much as possible in or around prime time. The amount required was onerous and far beyond what a tiny company like WWN could afford to produce.

 

 

The northern half of WWN’s region was already served by good pictures from Granada/ABC at Winter Hill, which had been on air since 1956. It was very difficult to convince people – especially people who only spoke English – to go to the expense of turning an existing aerial or installing a second one.

WWN’s signals were received well in one big city: Liverpool. But the ITA were required to ban them from attempting to sell advertising outside of their region. Even the published maps of the area have the signals from Wales stopping suddenly at the border – whilst Granada and ABC’s continued past – and they were allowed to sell advertising in Wales. This ruined a potential source of income: because popular ITV programmes were often moved for Welsh-language programming, WWN could’ve sold into Merseyside as a ‘timeshift’ service – very useful in the days before home video recorders.

Finally, the one hope that the company had was that Granada produced a useful amount of programming in Welsh. WWN planned to use that material to offset the huge requirement for Welsh-language programming that had been forced upon them. When WWN came on air, Granada promptly dropped the Welsh programmes – probably in a mistake attempt to help WWN by encouraging Welsh-speakers to tune away. Instead it was a crushing blow.

 

 

The moment WWN folded, bought at a very good price for WWN shareholders by TWW, the Post Office suddenly lost all its objections to a Wales television station. In fact, they suddenly found space for a new service using VHF channel 7 from the same mast as TWW’s existing channel 10, giving TWW’s now-second service access to the richer south Wales valleys that WWN would’ve needed if it had any hope of survival.

The General Post Office won that battle. It would be 18 years before Wales finally got a television channel in Welsh in prime time.

 

 

You Say

1 response to this article

Nigel Stapley 27 August 2020 at 8:34 pm

As you say, the pettiness of the GPO was a prime factor in hobbling the company, but this has a political hinterland beyond even that.

TC was set up by Welsh-speaking businessmen, including – although at the periphery somewhat – Gwynfor Evans, the leader of Plaid Cymru. Most of the other founders had the same political inclinations as Evans.

Although this was slightly before the rise of the mildly militant nationalism which characterised the latter part of the decade and beyond, there were rather more than stirrings in the land even as early as 1962. The GPO – probably feeling that they couldn’t get away with completely denying a franchise to those parts of Wales not served by TWW or Granada/ABC by refusing to allocate any frequencies at all for such a service – were clearly set on maximising the damage to any putative service by limiting the area which it could cover (it was only once it became clear that the company was irretrievably doomed that the GPO felt able to sanction the building of the Moel Y Parc and Arfon transmitters).

Given that TWW would be the obvious company to take over the franchise, and that being in the hands of a safe figure like Lord Derby (somehow, the bids for the north and west franchise from consortia headed by three other lords of the realm had lost the original bidding process), then the prising of a whole region out of the hands of people deemed to be ‘renegades’ was a win-win for the British establishment, especially as the failure of WWN also fed into the ‘Wales is too small to run its own affairs’ cliché of subsequent years, and so had a more manifestly political purpose in the long term.

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