Thursday, 16 August 2018

Studio apartment now available through Airbnb

This is slightly off-topic, but if you know anybody who might be looking for accommodation (one or two guests) at short notice in the Newport area, please ask him/her to check out our new entry on the Airbnb web site.

Really cosy for one or two people, with wood stove, new TV, wi-fi and most mod cons.  (No dishwasher or washing machine -- just not enough space.)  Many months of hard work have gone into the refurbishment of the old guest flat, but now we are happy with it, and it is up and running, with the first guests already booked in.

Now we just need to start recouping our investment!

Sunday, 12 August 2018

New edition of "On Angel Mountain" on the way

Novel number one of the series has been out of print for some weeks, and I have taken the opportunity to so some redesign for a new printing.  This is the TENTH printing, so something to celebrate......

The front cover remains the same, but the text pages have been redesigned to give wider margins at the spine, to make for easier reading. I have also gone for a less bulky paper, so the volume is slimmer than we have seen in past print-runs.

All being well, the new edition will be available next Friday, 17th August.

Sunday, 5 August 2018

Welsh tourism spend down 17% while Scotland and Ireland roar ahead

This is a main BBC Wales story today -- bemoaning the fact that there was a 17% drop in tourism spend in Wales between 2016 and 2017.  I would not mind betting that the figure will be down again for 2018.

One doesn't like to say "I told you so" -- but for several years now many people have bemoaned the fact that there seems to be no clear narrative or marketing strategy being sold for Wales, apart from the message:  "Come to Wales.  It's great!  In fact, it's greater than anywhere else!"  Well yes, but....... there is little if any uniqueness in the message.  What is the USP?  Is there one?

We think the Welsh narrative needs to be expressed much more specifically and clearly, but nobody in the Welsh Government seems to be very interested in defining what it is.  Some of the Welsh tourism marketing initiatives are great, but they can be defined as battleground tactics.  What is the strategy?

And while we are about it, why is there no support from the Minister or from AMs for a much more clearly expressed requirement to be placed on the makers of TV programmes and films in Wales to TELL THE WELSH STORY?  If the Welsh story is not told, Wales will not be sold effectively to a global audience.

And while we are about it, why is it that I am frustrated at every turn when I seek to garner support for a big landmark costume drama set in Wales, which will tell the Welsh story for a global audience?  At the official level, there seems to be a policy that no one project should be favoured or supported above any other -- so the impression is inevitable that there is a complacency and a timidity in Wales about anything ambitious.  People back off, lie low, and pass the buck when, in another cultural context, there would be a project team working hard and trying to make something happen. Angel Mountain has the narrative, and the heroic characters, to guarantee the success of a 32-part costume drama series --with the right screenwriters, director, and actors.  But the project needs advocacy and endorsements, in a Welsh environment where the word "success" seems like a dirty word.  Poor little Wales, located somewhere beyond England.........

Gripe over.

Here is the text of the article:

Despite a multimillion pound campaign to boost tourism, Wales is "standing still" in attracting foreign tourists, an expert has said.

Simon Calder added it was "really concerning" visitor spending dropped by 17% at a time when the pound is weak.

A record 39.2m visitors came to the UK in 2017 - but headed mainly to London and Scotland, new figures show.

The Welsh Government said its tourism barometer survey was "overwhelmingly positive" overall.

Numbers of foreign tourists rose by 0.5% but their spend dropped by 17% in the 12 months £5m was spent on the Year of Legends campaign, which aimed to give visitors legendary experiences.

Mr Calder said the lack of flights from major countries meant Wales was regarded as "an add on" to a trip to England rather than a destination in its own right.

"These figures are really concerning for the Wales tourism industry," he said.

"Scotland in particular has done very well while Wales is effectively standing still."

The tourism analysis published by the Welsh Government describes UK-wide increases being driven by visitors from north America and non-European countries.

Overall, 20m headed for London (up 4% on 2016) and 3.2m for Scotland (up 17%).  In comparison, there were 1.1m visitors to Wales (up 0.5%).

However, while these visitors' spending increased by 14% in London to £13,546m and by 23% in Scotland to £2,276m, the figure dropped in Wales by 17% to £369m.

Mr Calder added: "The spend is really troubling because the pound is pretty pathetic and you would expect it to go up.

"This could be down to the length of time people can be persuaded to stay if they are using Wales as an add on to a trip to England."

He said tourists' imaginations had been captured through the Wild Atlantic Way in Ireland and North Coast 500 in Scotland.

However, even with "fantastic movie set locations", people needed to get to Wales.

"There has a been a huge increase in flights between Edinburgh and north America, that will explain a lot of the increase," Mr Calder said.

"Wales will be hoping the new Qatar link does the same."

While he said it was too early to know if it would be a success, it made Wales one stop from large cities such as Shanghai.

The Wales Tourism Alliance described the figures as "disappointing".  Domestic UK overnight visitors to Wales fell in 2017.  There was a 3% decrease to 9m who spent £1,628m (a 3.6% drop) while UK-wide there was a 1% increase to 120.68m, who spent £23,683m (a 2.6% increase).  A Welsh Government spokeswoman said its tourism survey showed 80% of businesses reported a greater or similar level of business compared to 2016.

"There is no doubt that tourism is a hugely competitive global sector and we will continue to work with the industry to further improve what we have to offer in Wales and maximise opportunities to introduce new audiences and grow both overseas and domestic visitors so we can look to build on the 10 million overnight visitors we welcomed in 2017," she added.

The spokeswoman said themed years have been "very well received" and the £5m invested in the Year of Legends marketing campaign helped generate an additional £365m for the Welsh economy.

In 2018 so far, more than 100 cruise ships have visited Wales, bringing 51,000 passengers from countries such as the USA, Canada and France.

This represents a 15% increase on 2017, with the 54 stopping at Anglesey, 30% more than last year.

More from the Assembly on Welsh film and TV

It appears that the Assembly's Culture Committee has still not reported on its deliberations on Welsh film and TV -- but in the meantime there is this short report from one of the civil servants.  It's rather bland, but it does summarise some of the issues........

Friday, 20 July 2018

A jolly TV interview

Not long ago I did an interview for Showboat TV (based in Pembroke Dock) — with author Judith Barrow as interviewer.
Go to the main page for the TV station:
And click on “Booksmart - Brian John” to watch the interview.  Quite wide-ranging — and it was nice, for a change, not to be restricted to a couple of minutes........

Saturday, 7 July 2018

About Martha

..........for better or for worse, Martha is a nineteenth-century version of super-woman. From the beginning she is very beautiful and very sexy, and as she blossoms into womanhood she gains a reputation as the most beautiful woman in Wales. Little wonder that many readers said, when they first encountered her, that Catherine Zeta Jones had to play her when the film came to be made! She is well educated, and has a very inquiring mind. She is a competent musician and a moderately talented artist. She speaks English, Welsh, French and Dimetian Welsh fluently. She reads widely, and is attracted to “subversive” or radical literature. Her liberal views frequently lead her into trouble, and it is quite natural that she should be concerned about the plight of slaves and convicts and all those who might be oppressed or victimized by the crown, the government, and impersonal institutions. She has concerns about voting reform and womens’ rights, and she sympathises with the Chartists -- at least until they start to split apart and lose control of extremist elements. She is immediately drawn to the Rebecca Rioters since she understands what their grievances are and sees (better than most of her peers) what happens to families struggling against poverty and disease. She is not particularly religious, but goes through the motions of being a worthy member of the established church and goes through life trying to be a “better person.” She flirts with Methodism for a while, and finds the devotion and kindness of the Non-conformists appealing. But at the same time she is irritated by their evangelical zeal and their unshakeable conviction that they are saved while others are condemned to hellfire and damnation. She is, as she admits now and then in the pages of her diaries, not averse to a little jolly sin now and then. She is also perfectly happy to shelter criminals, to drink smuggled gin, to tell lies, and to withhold her tithe payments in protest against the arrogance and insensitivity of the Church.

But Martha has a host of virtues too. She is brave, loyal to her husband and her family, and fiercely protective of those in her care once she is widowed and responsible for the safety of the Plas Ingli estate. She has enormous generosity of spirit, and makes spontaneous gestures of support when others might back off. Think about the welcome she gives to Patty the prostitute, or to Will the petty criminal, or to Zeke Tomos, who goes on to betray her. She often acts impulsively and on the basis of intuition and instinct. She makes huge self-sacrifices for the good of others. She puts herself in danger over and again, often because she is seeking to help those who do not necessarily deserve her assistance or her loyalty. For example, she plunges into the task of helping the sick and the dying during the cholera epidemic of 1797 without any thought for her own wellbeing. She goes to Ireland to help the starving during the Irish Potato Famine, and becomes seriously ill in the process. She sees beauty all around her, and takes an almost child-like pleasure in simple things -- such as standing on the mountain-top in the wind with her hair streaming behind her and her arms stretched out wide. She loves her children and her grand-children, and welcomes back Daisy, the black sheep of the family, when she returns after years of loose living in London. She fights to keep her family together when stresses and strains occur because of grief, or bankruptcy or other disasters. On those occasions she is a diplomat as well as a matriarch. In some ways she is also naive, and has a tendency to think well of others when suspicion might be more appropriate. But she trusts her family and her servants to look after her when she makes misjudgments, and indeed they do just that. She is a prudent and wise estate manager, and she knows how to inspire loyalty, give responsibility to others, and reward enterprise. She never stops learning, and wants others to learn and to better themselves -- to the extent that she becomes a great benefactor of the Circulating Schools. She is generous to a fault, and one of the ironies of the Saga is that having protected her precious treasure and left it in the ground as a “family insurance” for more than fifty years, she finally digs it up and gives most of it away.

Monday, 2 July 2018

The sad story of “The Lan”

Some years ago a number of well-known politicians (including Carwyn Jones, Tony Benn, Jane Hutt, Dafydd Wigley and Rhodri Morgan) endorsed and supported an ambitious project designed to bring the Gwaelod y Garth mining disaster of 1875 to the screen.  The story of the disaster was told in a book called “The House of Abraham Phillips” by Norma Procter, and it looks as if she also provided the screenplay for the project.  Initially (in 2014) the director was going to be Gabriel Beristain, but in the final push to get the film made (in 2016) David Ball was listed as director.  David, a film industry professional with particular expertise in film finance, seems to have been the most vociferous proponent of the project.  There was lots of coverage in the press, and it was flagged up that Catherine Zeta Jones and Rhys Ifans had been offered roles.  It was never reported that they had actually accepted.....

In the most recent press release (February 2016) it sounded as if the filming was ready to start, with some finance already offered and some still be to found.

 However, in spite of the involvement of the politicians and the obvious social and cultural importance of the project, the film was never made.  There was a financial shortfall, and by all accounts Pinewood (which then effectively controlled the purse strings) refused to put Welsh funding in on the grounds that the film was not “commercial enough.”    Maybe it was too “political” or too preoccupied with the eternal struggle between the capitalists and the workers — or maybe there were fundamental defects in the business plan or in the screenplay.  Maybe we will never know the full truth.

David Ball says that he still hopes that the film will be made one day — but the signs do not look good, with two attempts already having failed.....

Here is some of the enthusiastic Western Mail coverage:


Friday, 29 June 2018

Great book jacket disasters -- another for the list

Over many years of publishing, I have had my fair share of great book jacket disasters.  Not mentioning any titles here in public, however......

Anyway, it's good to know that I am not alone.  That august publishing house called University of Wales Press has just issued a classic, with what appears to be a baggy pair of Y-fronts shown in all its glory.  Oh dear......

Thursday, 28 June 2018

TV and the portrayal of Wales

Ffilm Cymru is, as far as I can see, the only part of the film and TV industry in Wales which actively encourages those who seek grant aid or other forms of funding to portray or represent WALES. It emphasises the need for more films telling the story of Wales, with the following words: "Ffilm Cymru Wales aims to identify and nurture Welsh filmmakers – particularly producers, writers and directors - by supporting and encouraging the development of their work and ambitions. We are also keen to encourage films with Welsh cultural content, reflecting Wales and Welsh life, as part of our portfolio." 

But within the past five years there has been a chorus of voices demanding more Welsh content in film and TV.

Professor Steve Blandford, in evidence to the Culture Committee, 2018:  “ I am among those who think that the establishment of a major TV production centre at Roath Lock has been a major boost not only for the Welsh television industry but for Welsh life. It creates the kind of confidence that has an impact well beyond the creative industries. However, it is undeniable that it has not, as yet, managed to also offer the space for the creation of Welsh-originated stories that explore life in contemporary Wales.

First Minister Carwyn Jones said in 2015 that BBC Wales should be given an extra £30m to make TV programmes that properly reflect the people of Wales.

BBC Wales Director Rhodri Talfan Davies said in evidence to the Welsh Affairs Committee in Westminster in February 2016: “In a sense what’s happened over the last seven or eight years spectacularly in Wales is production has been decentralised and we’ve built a real centre of excellence, particularly in drama and factual. I think the challenge in this charter is to make sure that economic and creative story also delivers a cultural dividend and that we see Welsh stories, our stories, reflected on screen not just in Wales but right across the UK.

Christine Chapman AM, then the Chair of the Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee , said: “The significant decline in the BBC’s investment in English-language programming over the last ten years has resulted in fewer hours of Wales-specific programming and a schedule that has failed to capture and explore adequately the lives and experiences of Welsh communities, as well as the changing political landscape post-devolution........ It is about a greater diversity of programmes. We feel at the moment it could be rather narrow."

Angela Graham, chair of the IWA Media Policy Group, in the context of a submission on the future of the BBC in general and in Wales in particular, has also commented on the extent of London-based control and the problems faced by BBC Wales in delivering programming appropriate to the cultural needs and aspirations of Wales.

Some other quotes: “We will need to think hard about how we can strengthen our support for national and regional self-expression.” Rhodri Talfan Davies, Director, BBC Wales

A national broadcaster should have something to say, not just something to make. And if that nation is bilingual, then the stories it tells must be too. " Ruth McElroy

“Creative Industries is one of our fastest-growing priority sectors. We want to establish Wales as an international centre of excellence for high-end TV drama production worldwide and this investment is part of our plan to create a long-term, sustainable TV industry in Wales." Edwina Hart, then Minister for Economy. (This was a strictly economic vision — nothing in there about culture or national identity......)

Written evidence submitted by the Institute of Welsh Affairs (BIW 17). Quote:
Portrayal. Point 6.5. "The decentralisation of production has, however, created disappointment in one important regard. Even the BBC would have to admit that it has not led, as hoped, to a step change in the visibility of Wales on network television, particularly not in the field of drama. Series such as Dr Who and Sherlock have been great international successes, and have brought economic benefit to Wales, but they have not contributed to ‘representing Wales to the rest of the UK’. Their success has also obscured the decline in domestic provision specifically for the audience in Wales."

In the summer of 2014 Ruth McElroy of the University of Glamorgan re-ignited the debate about the manner in which the national identity of Wales is projected through the media -- and in particular through television programming. While acknowledging the great success of BBC Wales dramas like Dr Who, Torchwood, Sherlock, Merlin and Casualty (and recently Hinterland) she said: ".........the challenge now is to transform this network success into making a new BBC Wales that has something imaginative and entertaining to say to and about Wales and not just from Wales. Because whilst network successes like Doctor Who and Casualty can provide jobs in Wales (for my students included) what they have not really done is tell us very much about ourselves.

In December 2016 Ken Skates, the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure, produced ‘A Vision for Culture in Wales’. On television, the document said: “Looking ahead, we should press for more and better content and programming made for Wales, in Wales and about all aspects of Welsh life, including our culture and heritage.”

Film maker David Ball, in 2018 evidence to the Assembly's Culture Committee: "Wales will not nurture a domestic  (film and TV) industry and will not have the opportunity to inform the world of its history until the culture of money making is succeeded by the need to maintain its cultural identity."

In spite of all these fine words, my attempts to get a solid commitment to “telling the Welsh story for Wales and the world” into the guidance notes for TV support mechanisms has been resisted. I have written to the Culture Minister several times about this, and the issue has been sidestepped each time. So what did Ken Skates actually mean when he made the statement in the paragraph above? How exactly does he intend to “press” the programme makers and the producers of TV? Through quiet words over a cup of tea, listened to but then completely ignored?

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Percentages more important than sales?

This is a weird article from Literature Wales, flagging up the wonderful impact of the “Book of the Year” award on book sales. It’s in response to a critical article on the BBC Wales web site.

In the BBC feature, mention is made of the fact that one of the shortlisted books (“Bad Ideas -Chemicals”) had sales listed by Nielsen of only 20 copies, while others had recorded sales of less than 100 copies. “Light switches are my kryptonite” by Crystal Jeans sold 49 copies; “All that is Wales” sold 34 copies; and a Welsh-languages title by Hefin Wyn sold 43 copies. On the other hand the best-selling book on the shortlist — a biography of David Jones — sold around 4000 copies, which is a respectable figure by any measure.

Y Lolfa put out a statement to the effect that all of its titles on the shortlist had actually sold more than 600 copies, declaring itself well pleased with these figures. This confirms in my mind the weird assumption that anything that sells 700 copies is considered a best-seller. (Speaking for myself, if any of my books was to sell less than 1000 copies I would consider it a miserable failure, and would
certainly not want to let the world know about it......)

I fully agree with Literature Wales and other commentators that the EPOS sales figures released by Nielsen only tell part of the story, since many small bookselling outlets in Wales do not belong to the
EPOS system. Nonetheless, BBC Wales has done a valuable service in bringing these figures to public attention, and we should all be appalled. Books that’s have EPOS sales figures as low as these should probably never have been published — and would certainly NOT have been published were it
not for the extraordinary subsidy system which keeps Welsh publishers and writers afloat, and protects them all from commercial reality.

The Literature Wales defence of the shortlist and of the value of the competition makes matters worse by flagging up the percentage increases in sales that have occurred as a result of the publicity associated with the competition. A 400% increase in the sales of a book that had previously sold only 20 copies still looks pretty miserable to me! And this has to be the most wonderful mathematical calculation of the year: “Pigeon went from selling three copies before the announcement in November to 46, representing a 1,433% boost week on week.” Ah, the enmdless beauty of statistics..........

Thus far I have been a lone voice — on this blog — in raising the issues of heavy subsidies and pathetically low sales figures in Wales. Now that the BBC has homed in on it, let’s hope that somebody pays attention and accepts that the myth of a vibrant Welsh publishing industry is not worth the paper it is written on. And while we are about it, might we suggest that the worth of a book is not measured by the prizes it wins, or the promotional activity of Literature Wales or Welsh Books Council, but by its sales figures?

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Top Welsh TV shows

This is interesting:  a list of the 50 top Welsh TV shows, assembled by the Western Mail newspaper.  Not everybody will agree with the content of the list, or with the order in which the shows are placed.  But it is a timely reminder that a lot of good and popular programmes have come out of Wales — even if many of the shows say nothing about our country other than that there are good studios and film-makers based here....

Welsh Govt evidence on support for film and TV drama

This is a long and important document, demonstrating plenty of activity across the board and very high expenditure.  Naturally enough, the emphasis is on the wisdom of all the decisions made and the good sense of all of the support mechanisms put in place.  Governments always have to demonstrate “value for money” when they are scrutinised.......

But it’s interesting, if you read the document, that the emphasis is on developing Wales as a great productive hub and on the strategies put in place in order to achieve this.  There is virtually nothing on the need to “tell the Welsh story” and to sell Wales to the world through film and TV.  Some of the respondents to the consultation exercise have raised this, but I’m not sure that the Assembly’s culture committee has been taking it very seriously either.

Here is a comment from TAC (the association of independent producers in Wales):

April 2018

From TAC evidence to the Culture Committee:

20. In December 2016 the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure produced ‘A Vision for Culture in Wales’. On television, the document said: “Looking ahead, we should press for more and better content and programming made for Wales, in Wales and about all aspects of Welsh life, including our culture and heritage.”[11]

21. TAC has been working hard to achieve this aim, by encouraging UK television broadcasting networks to spend more time in Wales, getting to know the production sector, and specifically the unique stories, ideas, talent, locations and perspectives it has to offer. In this, we have received some support from the UK Wales Office. TAC is also discussing with the UK Wales Office and UK Department for International Trade how they can further support the sector in Wales.

The Pinewood deal: money down the drain?

There has been more (rather bad) press coverage of the dealings between the Welsh Government and Pinewood Studios, following a Wales Audit Office probe and some other probing from the Assembly’s Culture Committee.  Minister Ken Skates gave evidence to the committee on 20th June, and grumbled at the negativity of the press coverage — but I sympathise with the press, since it’s one of their functions to scrutinize, and to hold government to account when there is evidence of foolish or misplaced expenditures of public funds.  I listened to some of the committee deliberations, and I could not see any great benefits flowing from the Pinewood deal apart from the association of the Welsh creative industries with a “strong global brand.”  Some of the Welsh Government’s own advisors — including Ron Jones of Tinopolis — seem to have advised against the deal, and there have been endless complaints from the Welsh production companies about the slow release of funds through Pinewood, and the conditions imposed by the company for diverting post-production work from other small indigenous companies within Wales into its own studios.

One might be forgiven for thinking that Pinewood got a rather smart deal and did very well out of it (and still does), whereas the benefits to Wales were marginal at best.........  And money still pours down the drain......

Welsh Government admits Pinewood studios deal ‘not good value’

By:  Vivienne Russell, 14 Jun 2018

The Welsh Government has admitted that a relationship it entered into with Pinewood film studios did not provide value for money, according to a Wales Audit Office probe.

Cardiff struck a collaboration agreement with Pinewood in 2014 in order to promote TV and film production in Wales.

The government purchased a site at Wentloog in Newport for £6.3m, which it then spent £3.1m transforming into a film and TV studio. This was rebranded as Pinewood Studio Wales.

The facility was then leased to Pinewood for a 15-year term, with the first two years offered rent free. Pinewood was also funded to promote the studio and charged with developing proposals for a share of a £30m media investment budget set up by the Welsh Government to support TV and film production.

However, by 2016, the panel established to scrutinise Pinewood’s investment proposals raised concerns about the fund’s performance.

The WAO found almost half (£13.8m) of the £30m fund had been spent on 14 film and TV projects in Wales, yet these had only recouped £4.3m of the Welsh Government’s investment.

According to Pinewood, demand for the Wentloog studio was undermined by the opening of a rival production facility in Cardiff called Bad Wolf Studios, which had also received government funding. However, Bad Wolf’s owners and the Welsh Government dispute that the Cardiff studio affected occupancy at Pinewood, the WAO noted.

Pinewood’s new owners, who took over in January 2017, also had concerns about the size of the studio, which was not tall enough to accommodate the aerial camera angles required on higher budget film productions, limiting its appeal to the industry.

In October 2017, Welsh ministers decided the Wentloog lease and collaboration arrangement should be terminated. The media investment budget was put on hold.

A fresh three-year arrangement began in November 2017, costing the Welsh Government £392,000 per year plus an additional annual management fee payable to Pinewood. The size of this management fee was not disclosed due to commercial sensitivities.

“The Welsh Government has recognised that these financial projections don’t represent good value for money,” the WAO said.

“However, they considered that the new management services agreement with Pinewood, with the potential to generate commercial revenue streams for the Welsh Government, was better than the costs that the Welsh Government would otherwise incurred by leaving the site empty while looking for a new tenant.”

Vivienne Russell is managing editor of Public Finance magazine and

Monday, 25 June 2018

Who will tell the Welsh story?

This is such an important submission that I thought it worth reproducing in full.  Since it comes from an industry professional who knows a great deal about film finance, and who has had many dealings with the Welsh Government creative industries team, I hope that the Culture Committee pays due attention to it, and takes on board its key recommendations......

(Note: there are two Dave Balls — one within the creative industries team, and the other who is an independent professional.)


Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru / National Assembly for Wales
Pwyllgor Diwylliant, y Gymraeg a Chyfathrebu / The Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee
Cynyrchiadau Ffilm a Theledu Mawr yng Nghymru / Film and Major TV Production in Wales
Ymateb gan David Ball / Evidence from David Ball


It would appear this sector has no clear line of approach to those media makers seeking co-operation in financing their intended product. There is no clear guideline similar to concise and accurate online applications existing in other parts of the UK. There appear to be far too many small offshoots in the creative sector, a tedious chain of command and a total reluctance to act in timely fashion. The decision making process involves far too many people and takes far too long. This is due to so many staff members being unqualified to operate efficiently. “Qualified” means a total understanding of the requirements of the media production industry. It also requires understanding of what the film maker is trying to achieve. There have been instances where project applications have been rejected as being either too commercial or not commercial enough, benefit to Wales irrelevant, itself a contradiction. The involvement in script assessment is also often undertaken by persons unqualified, which often leads to a negative response rather than a positive one, grossly unfair on the applicant. If the goal is to achieve clarity on policy, the entire departmental staff needs to be reassessed for suitability to the task.
In summary, a clearer line of application is required, together with a measured response in timely fashion by those professionally qualified to respond.

There is an obvious beneficial impact to any region of Wales which welcomes a film or TV company. Certain areas of outstanding natural beauty are often featured in media production and local expenditure increases during this period. Given the localisation of the infrastructure based from Cardiff, generation of jobs is limited to local labour and the use of “supporting background artistes” or film extras. All employment is generally low paid and temporary, hotels and local authorities being the principal beneficiaries. Economic benefit to Wales is lessened by a number of “brass plate” companies supplying facilities through establishments such as Pinewood Studios, the revenues being filtered back to a non Welsh UK base. A similar scenario exists across the globe.

As a senior film maker (fifteen feature films made wholly or partly in Wales) the cultural impact is barely nominal, due to locations being “cheated” in Welsh regions. Being a minority language, it is difficult to foresee any change to this scenario. Even high end TV drama is filmed bi- lingual to achieve other sales in non-Welsh speaking areas (Hinterland). More awareness should be paid to this aspect; it is twenty years since “Solomon & Gaenor” made an impact on the world stage.

Filming in Wales represents true value for money, average production costs in the region of 35% cheaper than London. Obviously, all UK regions are more economically viable than the capital but do not possess the contrasting visuals available within short reach. Varied architecture also allows Wales to “double” for many other places at a fraction of the cost. This has proven a successful lure to foreign producers in the past and should be portrayed as an advantage; more visual awareness should be championed as a solid reason to film in Wales, in tandem with the economic benefit. However, producers are always looking for finance and a clear line of investment (rebate) for filming in Wales could be the added incentive to secure their business.

Without having sight of the Welsh Government’s new Economic Action Plan, it is impossible to judge any affect. Let us hope the true value of benefit is accorded to potential revenues from the media production industry. It has far too often been glossed over in the past. Using the multiplier, my fifteen films, all in the low to low/medium budget range, generated an economic benefit to Wales of over £70M in the decade 1997-2007. Larger productions would easily overtake this figure in a relatively short time.

4). FCW/BFI.
These institutions are difficult to access for the film maker and represent a daunting challenge. Whilst the BFI serves the UK, one has to question the disposal of resources at FCW. Given their overhead, it is hard to imagine their being able to invest significant sums to worthwhile Welsh productions and thereby making a solid contribution. It is known for them to have supported product with limited Welsh content in the past, something to cause arousal locally. Does their work complement that of the Welsh Government? The outsider viewpoint is they are representing them.

It is always hard to develop skills or address skills shortages in this sector, given the often seasonal nature of production creating intermittent demand. Some years ago CYFLE appeared to be helping youngsters train in the media and this worked reasonably well, supported by most Welsh film makers. The increased production by the BBC in Wales in recent years is probably the only means currently of an introduction to the industry. There appears to be a void in opportunity which the Welsh Government would have little chance of filling given the sporadic nature. There are very few areas of skills shortage in Wales and crews are excellent, camera department being the notable area of shortage. Is there sufficient data to map existing skills? Wales has a crew database but this is not promoted; perhaps it should be. There is good reason to maintain an updated CV in the freelance media industry. Incoming film makers currently tend to bring in crews they know rather than shop locally, inadvertently denying jobs to first class local talent. It could be a case of advertising local skills (Welsh spend etc) rather than try to develop them.

The committee asks if enough is being done to grow a domestic film industry and encourage film makers to tell stories about Wales.
The simple answer is no, nowhere near  (enough) is being done. The support for local product (outside S4C) is virtually non-existent although there is a need for expansion on the cause of the inertia. It is commonly believed the creative sector doesn’t “think Wales”, moreso of job retention. A case in point is a project entitled “The Lan” developed with the creative sector for two years between 2014 and 2016. This is one of the most historic true life dramas centring on the effects on a community following a fatal mining explosion in 1875 in Gwaelod Y Garth. The following persons gave their written support for the benefits to Wales (historically, culturally and economically):- Carwyn Jones, Rhodri Morgan, Dafydd Wigley, Derrick Morgan, Jane Hutt, Prof. Colin Riordan, Kevin Brennan, David Melding, Tony Benn and Jack McConnell. It became apparent that Pinewood Pictures, holders of the film fund, didn’t deem the project commercial enough. The creative sector followed the Pinewood initiative, unimpressed by its “Welshness” and disregarding the huge body of Welsh support. Frustrated after two years of negativity, a meeting was called and the producer was informed the sector budget had been exhausted, factually translating into “If Pinewood don’t like it we can’t support it”.
There are many examples of unilateral behaviour within the creative sector but important to point out to the committee that films about Wales do not receive anything other than commercial assessment which answers the question succinctly.
Wales will not nurture a domestic industry and will not have the opportunity to inform the world of its history until the culture of money making is succeeded by the need to maintain its cultural identity.
There is so much wrong with the modus operandi of the creative sector and the misdirected course they are forced to follow by the demands of outsiders, it is impossible to even consider the creation of an endemic film industry.

Sent from my iPad

Why stories about Wales are not being told......

This is an extract from Dave Ball’s written submission to the Assembly’s Culture Committee, during its consideration of the TV and film industries in Wales:

The committee asks if enough is being done to grow a domestic film industry and encourage film makers to tell stories about Wales.
The simple answer is no, nowhere near (enough) is being done. The support for local product (outside S4C) is virtually non-existent although there is a need for expansion on the cause of the inertia. It is commonly believed the creative sector doesn’t “think Wales”, (but) more so of job retention.

 A case in point is a project entitled “The Lan” developed with the creative sector for two years between 2014 and 2016. This is one of the most historic true life dramas centring on the effects on a community following a fatal mining explosion in 1875 in Gwaelod Y Garth. The following persons gave their written support for the benefits to Wales (historically, culturally and economically):- Carwyn Jones, Rhodri Morgan, Dafydd Wigley, Derrick Morgan, Jane Hutt, Prof. Colin Riordan, Kevin Brennan, David Melding, Tony Benn and Jack McConnell. It became apparent that Pinewood Pictures, holders of the film fund, didn’t deem the project commercial enough. The creative sector followed the Pinewood initiative, unimpressed by its “Welshness” and disregarding the huge body of Welsh support. Frustrated after two years of negativity, a meeting was called and the producer was informed the sector budget had been exhausted, factually translating into “If Pinewood don’t like it we can’t support it”.

Thursday, 7 June 2018

Assembly consultations on film and TV in Wales

There are some interesting contributions listed here, including some "set piece" submissions saying what you would expect them to say.  But some of the contributors do at least express some opinions......

More rumblings from the Welsh TV and film industry

Here are a number of stories from the BBC web site which suggest deep frustration within the industry about "the Welsh way of doing things" in the film and TV drama field.  Series like "Hinterland", "Keeping Faith" and "Bang" have done well, but they are all made on incredibly low budgets and although they may get network air time, the production companies, directors, actors and scriptwriters all seem to be pointing at big shortcomings in the system.........

Loss-making projects, the scandals associated with Bad Wolf and Pinewood, the convoluted financial support system, and the "exploitation" of Welsh production facilities by production companies that have no interest in telling Welsh stories or doing anything to promote Wales are all big issues.

Pinewood's Welsh TV and film fund frustrating, claim Bang producers

Actors missing out on TV and film roles in Wales, Equity union claims

Julian Lewis Jones calls for more local talent in Wales-made films

Action film flop Take Down received £3m in Welsh loan

Ffilm Cymru: Short films receive funding boost

Some of the info from an FOI request:

Take Down, which was produced by Pinewood, was given a loan of £3.14m.   The production, which was shot in Pinewood Wales as well as Anglesey and the Isle of Man, has so far recouped £941,413.
According to the Internet Movie Database, the film was released on DVD in the UK in August 2016, although it appeared to have a cinema release in the US.

Glossy BBC Worldwide/Amazon Prime drama The Collection received a loan of £1.15m and a grant of £600,000 - ministers have recouped £119,075 so far

BBC Films' British war comedy Their Finest - which lists Pinewood as a producer - was loaned £2m and has recouped nearly £2.1m for Welsh Government, making a profit so far of £49,985

Horror movie Don't Knock Twice was given a loan of £629,516 and received a grant of £75,000 from the Wales Screen Fund. It has recouped £469,415 for ministers

It also listed a number of projects that have received loans from the scheme that are yet to reach a release:

£1.2m for Show Dogs, a comedy that is being released in the UK next year and was mostly shot at Pinewood Studio Wales
£2m for Chuck Steel: Night of the Trampires, which also received a £673,784 Wales Screen Fund grant
£850,000 for World War 1 drama Journey's End, being previewed in Cardiff on Thursday - £80,000 has been recouped so far
£25,000 each for the development of a film called Lionel The First, TV show Jack Staff, and TV project Minotaur

A total of £317,000 has also been loaned to Tiny Rebel Games, based in Newport, for the game Dr Who Infinity, in partnership with BBC Worldwide.


As one might expect, the BBC and the Welsh Government bat away the criticisms and concerns by stressing the positives (mostly about the economic spinoffs coming from the making of films and TV series in Wales) and ignoring the negatives.    But the Assembly's Culture Committee is currently investigating the film and TV industry in Wales, and it will be interesting to see what they come up with when they make their report.

Friday, 1 June 2018

The ideal Martha?

I found these two photos on Kezia's web site.  She and Rhiannon could easily be sisters! Kezia has a pretty large portfolio, including -- for some unfathomable reason -- various roles in bloodthirsty films about the Vikings.  Does she look like a Scandinavian princess in jeopardy?  Maybe, but she would make a pretty good Welsh Martha too......

Thursday, 31 May 2018

Dream Team 2018

Kezia Burrows as Martha -- a perfect fit for the heroine

Ben McGregor as David -- a man of integrity but also a certain naivety

I have been taking some advice on the "characteristics" of some well-known Welsh actors, and have been having fun imagining myself as a casting director!  So here is my latest attempt at assembling a "dream team" for a long-running TV costume drama series.  Of course, if and when the drama project is taken forward by a production company, the producer and director will have their own strong views on the most suitable actors for each role -- cost and availability comes into the frame too.  Actors are very busy people -- or at least they aspire to be busy, and in constant employment.  In an ideal world, they rush from one big role to another, sometimes working on several projects at the same time, and rushing back and forth between Hollywood and Wales!  In reality life can be pretty tough, even in the clearly defined world of Welsh-language drama.  Acting is a risky old trade, just like writing.......

Sharon Morgan as Grandma Jane, dignified, calm and fiercely intelligent

William Thomas as Grandpa Isaac, wise in the ways of the world and the rock on which both Martha and David stand.  He will have to lose the whiskers.....

Alexandra Roach as Bessie, Lady's maid and best friend.  Much more cheeky and outspoken than she should be....

Gwydion Rhys as Moses, dark and deranged, the disinherited son of the Lloyds of Cwmgloyn, obsessed with Martha and destined to come to a sticky end

Gwenno Dafydd as Blodwen Owen, the fierce housekeeper who takes no nonsense from anybody

Michael Sheen as Joseph Harries the Wizard -- Martha's saviour and mentor.  One of the great heroes of the saga.  He knows too much......

Aneirin Hughes as Squire Alban Watkins.  Thoroughly evil, manipulative and cunning

Mark Lewis Jones as Squire George Howell, Martha's greatest enemy

Ben Cullen as Lord Cawdor, the most powerful man in Pembrokeshire, but somewhat lacking as a military commander

Iwan Rheon as Billy the head man on the estate.  Fiercely loyal but not averse to a bit of mischief on the side

Ifan Huw Dafydd as Squire Benjamin Rice, the third of the trio of evil squires whose great purpose in life is to destroy the Plas Ingli estate

There are many other characters too -- more than 200 in the whole saga.  Work for almost the whole of the Welsh acting community, just as the whole of the British acting community seems to have got caught up in "The Crown" !!

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Cilgwyn and Brynberian 1903

Some of the old "half inch" Bartholomew maps have just been released in digital format.  On the Pembroke sheet there is much of interest...........  note the following:

1.  In 1903 Brynberian did not exist -- there was just a small cluster of houses called "Bancau-bryn."

2.  In Cilgwyn, Penybont is shown as an Inn, and Tyriet farm is called "Cilgwyn".

3.  Note how small the patches of woodland are in the area where we now have the extensive Pentre Ifan and Tycanol Woods.

4.  Note the spelling of "Carn-ingle".......

5.  Cilgwyn Church is shown, but not Caersalem Chapel.

6.  Note the spelling of Waun Mewn instead of Waun Mawn.

I suppose that in 1903 there was a certain informality about place name spellings -- things had not been formalised.