Saturday, 25 February 2017

BBC promotion of its own activities

We have probably all noticed the adverts on BBC Wales in recent months, telling all of us what a wonderful job they are doing in promoting Wales and keeping  us all happy.  I thought the BBC was not supposed to carry advertising?  Ah well, let that pass........ 

Actually, I reckon the BBC Wales does a pretty good job -- its sports coverage is great, and it makes some excellent documentaries and reportage programmes.  It obviously feels rather sensitive about the criticism of its lack of a proper portrayal of Wales, made by the Assembly Culture Committee and by bodies such as the IWA.  So it is responding.  New drama announcements following soon, hard on the heels of news that an extra £8.5 million will be made available for programming in Wales.

Although the BBC has attracted a lot of high-end drama productions to the Roath Studies in Cardiff, rumour has it that its commissions in Wales are so "tight" that the production companies who are commissioned to deliver the goods find it almost impossible to complete projects within budget and to make any money.  If that is true, that is not a good scenario......

That press release was dated October 2016 -- let's wait and see whether the promised changes actually do materialise.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

BBC Wales announces new plans

A big new announcement from BBC Wales today, taking everybody by surprise -- the announcement was expected in March.  Rhodri Talfan Davies spoke to the media and there was a considerable piece on the BBC web site:

So the BBC has at last responded to the demands for better and more extensive Welsh content in English-language broadcasting -- but instead of the £30 million asked for by the IWA and the Assembly's Culture Committee, the extra amount allocated from BBC's London HQ is only £8.5 million.  Rhodri Talfan Davies says this will mean a doubling of the spend on drama and documentaries in Wales -- but these days you cannot do much with £8.5 million, unless, that is, BBC Wales makes such brilliant programmes that they can be widely sold and can turn a profit.

We shall see.  Apparently there will be two brand new Welsh dramas commissioned by BBC Wales -- and a new Head of Drama as well.  There will be a further announcement within the next few days......

There is another welcome development.  In response to the pressure from the Culture Committee the BBC now says it will introduce a number of steps to improve the "portrayal" of Wales on its network channels.  These include the appointment of a television drama commissioner for Wales; the introduction of a BBC Writersroom team; the introduction of a £2m portrayal fund; on-screen portrayal objectives across production teams; a commitment to produce at least 5% of network programming from Wales; and a commitment to work in partnership with the Welsh Government’s proposed Creative Wales body.

Monday, 20 February 2017

The BBC portrayal of Wales

A very interesting article by Angela Graham, with the title: 

The BBC’s Portrayal of Wales and the Welsh

In the article she covers the Welsh Assembly's Culture Committee meeting in November 2016, to which Lord Hall and Rhodri Talfan Davies of the BBC were asked to give evidence.

There are many good points in the article, and this is a key paragraph:

"Although seeing Welsh characters portrayed, hearing Welsh voices and seeing Welsh locations are legitimate and welcome types of portrayal there should be, alongside these, an attempt to share the experiences and viewpoints of people in Wales, emerging from the country’s experience of itself. Lee Waters is right to be worried that the BBC may opt for material produced in and set in Wales but not about Wales in the deeper sense. That would be to treat the country as little more than a set or location-shooting opportunity with novelty value. We have yet to reach a stage at which seeing Wales portrayed, incidentally or directly, in drama and other genres is unremarkable."

Welsh TV support mechanisms -- why is there no requirement to promote Wales?

The Welsh Assembly's Culture Committee has been investigating broadcasting in Wales, and has issued its Report entitled The Big Picture".

In the Report, the Committee ponders on this question:  why is it that "the Welsh narrative" is not effectively told on TV and in film?  It refers to the need for a "portrayal objective" to be taken on board by BBC Wales, and asks the BBC to commit an extra £30 million per year "for English language drama and broadcasting about Wales."  It is not alone in wanting to see the BBC and the film industry doing more to reflect and portray Welsh society and perspectives, and indeed to sell Wales to the world.

I've done some checking to see the extent to which the Welsh Government itself is promoting those objectives through its grant aid / subsidy programme for the broadcasting and film industries.  The answer is "Hardly at all......"  I was a bit surprised by that!  We all know that Wales is now a fantastic location for shooting cinema films and TV series:

The marketing approach of Screen Cymru is that Wales is a great place for telling other people's stories -- magnificent locations, easy proximity to London, favourable financial arrangements, top notch studios, expert crews, supportive and cooperative local authorities and property owners, etc.  That's wonderful, and the full "package" has brought £138.6m into the local economy since 2012.

But when you look at the TV and film support mechanisms in detail, there is virtually nothing about a requirement to "reflect and portray Welsh society and perspectives, and to sell Wales to the world".  For example, the Welsh Government Media Investment Budget, with links to Pinewood and Sky Vision, is available to film and TV productions without any requirement -- or even encouragement -- to portray and promote Wales.

High-end TV drama -- tax relief

Welsh Govt Media Investment Budget (£30 million)

Pinewood  --

Sky Vision
The only body that actually does encourage a real involvement with the story of Wales is Ffilm Cymru, 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."  So -- thumbs up for Ffilm Cymru!
Ffilm Cymru
Although the boundaries between film and TV are now a bit blurred, Ffilm Cymru has traditionally concentrated on cinema rather than TV films -- and this means that as far as TV is concerned, there is nothing in any guidance notes or in any eligibility or selection criteria to encourage producers, directors and screenwriters to think that Wales has a story to tell and that the big wide world might be interested in it......

Parts of the Welsh budget are being disbursed here -- why cannot we have the words

"We are keen to encourage projects which tell the Welsh story, reflect and portray Welsh society and perspectives, and promote Wales to the world."  

That would not in any way discourage the making of global blockbusters, but it would at least give some encouragement to local Welsh talent in the creative industries!

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Carningli Lodge slipping away......

Carningli Lodge, on the side of Carningli, is of course the inspiration for Plas Ingli, the house of angels as featured in the stories of Martha Morgan.  Over the years I have visited this spot hundreds of times, and have watched the old ruin gradually deteriorate.  Bit by bit, the walls crumble and a thick blanket of grass and moss spreads up and over the ruins.  A century ago, a family lived here -- this is where our neighbour Watkin Lewis was born.  This is what it looks like today.  How many more years will it be before it is entirely removed from view, as nature reasserts itself?  Quite reassuring, in a way........

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Writers' Bursaries 2011-2016

I came across this interesting list of writers who have collected bursaries from Literature Wales over the last few years.  The scale of subsidies is gradually dropping, but it is still £70,000 per year.  How well spent is all this taxpayers' money?  Good question -- the only way to answer that is to have another column with authenticated book sales in it -- but I don't suppose anybody is very interested in supplying that sort of information...... 

WRITING is the thing -- it is so sordid to think about sales, public demand and all that sort of thing, don't you think?

Interestingly enough, none of this free money is available to self-published writers, on the basis that they are presumably not serious enough or skilled enough to satisfy Literature Wales.

Literary Tourism -- SW Wales

It's interesting that Literature Wales now labels itself as "the national literary tourism agency of Wales" -- and yet, in this 2017 material placed on the Welsh Government web site, it appears to be blissfully unaware of my Angel Mountain saga, of Martha Morgan country, or of Iris Gower and Catrin Collier, whose books have sold by the million, and who have brought SW Wales to the attention of readers worldwide.  And do we really need to know that George Eliot, Dylan Thomas, Beatrix Potter, Roald Dahl, David Jones, Laurie Lee, Horatio Nelson and Augustus John once upon a time came on holiday to Tenby?  Hmmm.......


Literary Itineraries for Visit Wales

Prepared  by Literature Wales

Literature Wales is the National Company for literature and acts as the national literary tourism agency of Wales.

Swansea and South West Wales Tour

Day 1

Visit Dylan Thomas’ childhood city of Swansea, including his family home at Cwmdonkin Drive, his school, park and favourite pubs. Enjoy the finest Welsh cuisine in the company of one of Dylan’s childhood friends whilst gazing across Swansea Bay, before a guided tour around the newly refurbished exhibition at The Dylan Thomas Centre.

Day 2

Travel to rural Pembrokeshire, exploring the rugged hills, cliffs and hidden beaches of Wales’ ancient myths and legends. Follow the hoofs of legendary queen Rhiannon from the Mabinogion in stunning Newport, and the holy centres of Nevern and Cwm yr Eglwys, before tracing the alignments of ceremonial prehistoric stones which have inspired generations of artists, from Iolo Morganwg to John Ormond, Niall Griffiths and Gillian Clarke. Dine and stay overnight at one of the many boutique hotels of the area.

Day 3

Tread the streets of picturesque seaside Tenby: a favourite holiday destination for 19th and early 20th century writers such as George Eliot, Dylan Thomas, Beatrix Potter, Roald Dahl, David Jones and Laurie Lee, as well as Horatio Nelson and Augustus John. Includes a boat ride to the monastic Caldey Island, home to some of the earliest known writing in Wales (ogham script). Enjoy a pub meal and overnight stay at Manorbier Castle.

Day 4

Indulge in the literary centre of Laugharne, including the castle, the newly refurbished Browns Hotel and the boat house; where Dylan Thomas lived in the last few years of his life and where he wrote much of Under Milk Wood. Then drift across the Taf Estuary until you reach the remote villages of Llanybri and Llansteffan. Search for cockles in the sands as you uncover the remarkable lives of several of Wales’ other 20th century writers who made their homes here, including Lynette Roberts, Glyn Jones and Raymond Garlick. Travel back to Swansea to enjoy dinner and a show at the Taliesin Arts Centre.

Day 5

Explore the urban literary grit of contemporary Swansea with cult writer Joe Dunthorne (author of the novel and feature film Submarine). From the satirical caricatures of Martin Amis, to the dark haiku of Nigel Jenkins, to the fantastical worlds of Russell T. Davies, “this ugly, lovely town” has nurtured many of Wales’ strongest postmodern writers.

Friday, 10 February 2017

The Year of Legends -- the folk tale compendium

I went to a very interesting "tourism summit" the other day -- concentrating on the Year of Legends.  Plenty happening!  A number of people have asked me for the links to the folk tale compendium that we have now (with the help of Pembs CC) put onto the web -- free for anybody to use.  Here are the 4 links:

Pembrokeshire Folk Tales
The Last Dragon
Fireside Tales from Pembrokeshire
More Pembrokeshire Folk Tales

Monday, 6 February 2017


I have been doing some research.  Below, I cite a very big economic impact study and then some recent case studies.  There is no doubt at all that a high-end "Angel Mountain" drama series will have a major impact on the local economy, if managed properly.......

 Detailed Economic Impact Study
Economic Contribution of the UK’s Film, High-End TV, Video Game, and Animation Programming Sectors (2015)
Assessed:  direct economic impacts (employment, wages etc), multiplier effects (Indirect: procurement of supplies and services) (induced effects: additional spending in the local economy because of additional earned income circulating); spillover effects (tourism -- attractions, accommodation, restaurants, tours and franchises).

Some points:
Up to 4% of all inward visits to tourism "locations" are stimulated by film, TV or literature.
Tourism spending in Scotland associated with the films Braveheart and Rob Roy is around 8 times the UK box office takings for the film. 
For each pound of High-End Television Tax Relief (HETR) granted,  £8.31 of added value was created through direct and multiplier effects.

Case Studies

1.  Game of Thrones (Netflix)
Quote:  In the last five years, "Game of Thrones" alone has brought in approximately £110 million (~$170 million) to the Northern Ireland economy.The HBO show is responsible for creating around 900 full-time jobs and 5,700 part-time jobs in the area, which includes catering, hospitality, and other accommodation services in addition to the film crews, production assistants, and other local artisans that work directly on the show.  That's not a bad return on investment, considering the £12.45 million (~$19 million) spent in subsidies and incentives to bring the show there in the first place. (The producers had originally planned to film in Scotland, where they shot the pilot episode.)

2.  Poldark (BBC)
Poldark effect: visitor numbers in Cornwall went up by 155% as a direct result of Poldark series on TV.
Visit Cornwall website had 50% more visits because of the series.
26% of all visits to Cornwall in 2015 were triggered by Poldark.
St Aubyn Estates Holidays( Porthgwarra Cove) says that in 2015 it estimated having welcomed almost 100 per cent more visitors at Easter than the same time in 2014.
The “Poldark”effect is cited as helping to generate economic gains worth £17.5 million per year in Bristol alone, from film production spend; and in Cornwall there are reports of a doubling of holiday bookings and visitor spend as a direct consequence of the local filming of the drama.  Similar effects are seen in all areas popularised through TV costume drama series.

3. Hinterland (S4C / BBC Wales)
Research for Ceredigion CC indicated that the first series of Hinterland had generated additional economic activity worth just over £1 million in the county.  Much greater benefits will have accrued since then, and filming will soon start for a fourth series.

4.  Downton Abbey (ITV)
When Downton Abbey became an instant hit, visitor numbers to Highclere Castle (Berks) doubled immediately. Now controlled at 1,500 per day.  Initial £1m repair bill was met, current assets trebled between 2010 and 2015.

Note:  High-end drama is defined as drama costing in excess of £1 million per episode, and qualifying for a 25% tax break from the UK tax authorities.

Thursday, 2 February 2017

More demands for BBC Wales to take Wales more seriously.....

There has been a lot of consideration in the past few months on the matter of broadcasting in Wales.   The same points are coming from everybody now, including the Culture Committee of the Welsh Assembly, which has just issued its report on broadcasting.  Particularly interesting:

1.  Viewers in Wales want to see programmes in which "their own lives are reflected back at them" -- in both drama and documentaries coming from BBC Wales, ITV and S4C.

2.  BBC Wales is ticked off -- yet again -- for not spending enough on programmes about Wales at Roath Lock and elsewhere, and is asked to commit to an extra £30 million per year "for English language drama and broadcasting about Wales."  Does it really have a "portrayal objective"?

3.  Outside Wales, BBC's network spending "should do more to reflect and portray Welsh society and perspectives".

4.  Interesting words:  "An extra £30 million for English language programming would potentially allow for a doubling of the output and for BBC Wales to produce quality programmes that have a better chance of earning a place on the BBC network."  I was a bit worried that the Committee would be preoccupied with the idea of making programmes just for internal consumption in Wales -- but it's good to see that it accepts that new drama and documentary programmes should be good enough to be broadcast on the wider networks and to sell Wales to the world.

5.  On drama portrayal:  "We welcome the BBC’s decision to appoint a drama commissioner for Wales. We welcome in particular Lord Hall’s commitment that the new commissioner will be based in Wales. We look forward to welcoming the commissioner once appointed and inviting them to speak to the Committee about their priorities and approach.............     We note and welcome the work done by the BBC to monitor portrayal in its network productions, and we will ask the BBC to share this data with the Committee. In order for us to effectively assess the volume of Welsh portrayal we would like to see the full data used by the BBC to measure this, rather than simply the names of television and radio shows. We intend to pursue this issue with the BBC."

I noticed that Rhodri Talfan Davies (the head of BBC Wales) wants a Welsh Writer's Room.  He has also committed to extra funding for Welsh drama, and has committed to announce his plans in March.  He promised to “..........focus on talent here in Wales and work closely with BBC Studios and a number of independent companies that are interested in developing talent.”

The Welsh Government  has to respond within six weeks, and it is pretty certain to repeat these points from the Committee.  Let's see where it all leads.........

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Horrible Histories

In celebration f the Year of Legends in Pembrokeshire, I have now placed 12 horrible histories onto a page of the Martha Morgan Country website.  Suitable for children of all ages.  Enjoy!