Sunday, 31 March 2019

Monday, 25 March 2019

Martha and her Mountain

Love this pic -- one of a series taken by Ken Bird with his drone, with Anna Monro playing the part of  Martha.

The relationship between Martha and her mountain is crucial for an understanding of her  and indeed the while narrative.  A sense of place is important in all novels -- but as readers will know, Carningli is, for Martha, not just a place to be protected but a place embedded in her soul -- sanctuary and even cathedral......

Thursday, 14 March 2019

The deadly game of Cnapan

As readers will know, the game of Cnapan features large in the Angel Mountain stories -- and indeed they are associated with the greatest tragedy in Martha's life, since her husband David is killed during the annual Cnapan contest on  Berry Sands (Traeth Mawr) in February 1805.  

These wonderful illustrations by HM Brock were first published in an article by AG Bradley, called "A Welsh game of the Tudor period" in The Badminton Magazine, Jan- June 1898, pp 512-524.

Here is an extract from Ch 10 of "Martha Morgan's Little World."


The ancient game of Cnapan, which features over and again in the pages of the Saga, has fascinated local historians, and students of the history of sport, for many generations. It has a strong claim to being the real precursor of rugby union football, although in some respects it seems to have been more akin to modern American football. George Owen, whose delightful description of Cnapan is justly famous, believed the game to have been invented by the Trojans or ancient Britons. This speculation is not as unreliable as we might think. Indeed, it is known that the Romans played a ball game called "Harpastum" which involved both carrying and scrummaging, and they also invented a game called "Soule" which survived in Brittany until 1870. It is therefore not beyond the bounds of possibility that the origins of Cnapan go back 2,000 years or more.

Where did the name come from? In north Pembrokeshire Welsh dialect the word "cnap" meant a lump. In the 1800's the word "cnappan" was used in south Cardiganshire as a verb meaning "to knock" or "to hammer away at" a person; and in Cilgerran a small section of the cliff on the edge of the Teifi gorge is known locally to this day as Gardd-y-Cnappan. Cnapan was the word given to the ball used in the game; it was made of solid wood, and was somwhat larger than a cricket ball. And just to make things interesting, it was boiled in tallow in order to make it slippery and difficult to hold! The object of the game was to smuggle or throw the cnapan, by one means or another, to the opposition “goal”. In the cross-country games this goal might be the porch of the parish church, and in games on the beach it might be a wooden pose stuck in to the sand. The labourers played on foot, and the gentry used horses; and that must have created many extremely dangerous situations. The foot players were allowed no implements or weapons, but the gentry were allowed to use cudgels or sticks, no doubt intended for striking the ball but actually used for striking opponents instead! On the great “Cnapan Days” there might be a thousand players on each side.

Clearly the game was both popular and widely played in Elizabethan North Pembrokeshire, and it was a famous spectator sport as well. The main matches were occasions for huge gatherings of local people and for merchants pedlars, and traders from far and wide who would assemble to sell food, drink and other wares. They were also social occasions for the local gentry, who would turn up both to see and be seen. There was a lot of gambling. And just as modern football managers share in the glory of their successful teams, the local gentry who acted as matchmakers saw Cnapan games as important occasions for enhancing both their sporting reputations and their social status.

By the late eighteenth century the game of Cnapan was being played in a somewhat debased form. There were worries about the increasing violence of the game and the lack of respect among players for its written or unwritten rules. The use of staves and cudgels and the involvement of horsemen among the foot-players must have led to frequent injuries. And the sight of broken limbs and bloodied bodies on "Cnapan days" must have caused considerable concern. Henry Vlll had attempted to ban the game in Tudor times, and now the clamour for it to be declared unlawful increased. But it was none too easy to prohibit traditional games in the remote rural districts, especially those which were played on the great holiday or feast days. After all, those who worked on the land had only six or seven days during the year on which they could really enjoy themselves. So the decline and fall of Cnapan was probably related not so much to new legislation or safetyu concerns as to changing farming practices. Over a long period of time the ancient north Pembrokeshire landscape of open farmed fields and extensive common lands was transformed by the process of enclosure. Landowners built hedges, walls and fences in order to demarcate their territory, to provide shelter and to contain their stock. As pointed out in Chapter 7, many of the common lands were illegally gobbled up in the process, and the losers were the smallholders and peasant farmers who had depended on these lands for grazing their animals. Another loser was the game of Cnapan. Whereas it had previously been played across miles of open countryside, the game could now only take place on sandy beaches such as Traeth Mawr, Newport, or on smaller open spaces owned by members of the gentry who had sporting inclinations. Under this inexorable pressure, the game was eventually killed off in north Pembrokeshire. With the aid of a few colleagues I tried to restart the game (without the horsemen and the cudgels!) in 1985 with an annual contest between Newport and Nevern. We had a lot of fun for ten years, but then we had to abandon the game because we could not obtain insurance cover.

In each team there were three sorts of players: “Of the first part there shall be sturdy gamesmen who shall remain in the throng or main body of the game. Of the second part there shall be scouts or fore-runners who shall be exceeding fleet of foot and who shall always strive to keep before the cnapan. Of the third part there shall be borderers who shall remain at the edges of the play. These borderers shall seek by surreptition to snatch the cnapan from the contary party, and shall hinder those who break from the body of the game and who would transport the cnapan towards the cnapan post. It is said that the gamesmen of the main throng shall be men of strength in disputing, boldness in assaulting, and stoutness in resisting; the scouts or forerunners shall be lusty hurlers of the cnapan and also men of agility and good footmanship, able to fly swift as an arrow and be able to show skilful deliverance of the cnapan to those that be with them; and the borderers shall with wondrous invention prevent those who run against them, leaping upon them without fear to take them out of the game.”

There were great scrummages involving the “sturdy gamesmen” or forwards, and if the game was stopped for any reason it was restarted by throwing the ball high into the air so that it could be caught by a man leaping high. No kicking of the ball was possible, so this game was not like the primitive “street football” contests that occurred in many parts of the British Isles. But there were so many similarities with modern rugby football that Newport in Pembrokeshire lays a good claim (better than Rugby School, at any rate) to be the place where rugby really began.

In the Saga I have based my descriptions of the game, and of what went on around the edges of it, quite closely on George Owen’s old account. I knew right from the beginning that David’s violent death would have to take place on Traeth Mawr, at the water’s edge, at a time when Martha, and the reader, might least expect such a tragedy.

Saturday, 9 March 2019

Kindle free book promotion this weekend

In celebration of World Book Day, International Women's Day, and our sales milestone of 100,000, we're doing a big Kindle promo for the 8 best-selling Angel Mountain novels - featuring the incorrigible Martha Morgan. All free, just for this weekend! Get them, enjoy, and please share....

If you have an Amazon account and a Kindle reader, you can find all the books in one place, here:

Sorry about the inaccurate (and outdated) information on this Amazon page -- it is apparently impossible for me, as the author and publisher, to put it right......

Wednesday, 6 March 2019

The chorus of angry voices....

Here is an update on some of the recent articles dealing with the portrayal of Wales (or lack of it) by the TV production companies and the broadcasters like the BBC, ITV and Netflix.…/11/bbcs-portrayal-wales-welsh/…/the-pitching-in-disaster-shows-that…/…/……/we-must-fight-back-against-a-popula…/……/raymond-williams-question-w……

Angela Graham on the BBC portrayal of Wales

There are rumours that the Assembly Culture Committee will soon be publishing its report on Film and High-end TV production in Wales.   That's great -- but it has taken a very long time.........

I discovered this article from Angela Graham -- speaking on behalf of the Institute of Welsh Affairs -- in which she makes the same complaints as everybody else about the very inadequate portrayal of Wales by the BBC -- and she takes some pretty feisty digs at the men in charge -- Tony Hall and Rhodri Talfan Davies.

In the two years or so since this article was published, nothing much has changed.  Let's see if the Culture Committee picks up on some of Angela\s points.

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.


The BBC’s portrayal of Wales and the Welsh

On November 2nd 2016 the Assembly’s Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee scrutinised the Director General of the BBC. Angela Graham singles out the issue of portrayal.
November 21, 2016

His State
Is Kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er Land and Ocean without rest…….

This month the Director General of the BBC appeared before the Assembly’s Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee. The night before, the University of South Wales described his BBC role in terms so imperial that Milton’s deity came to mind. At this conferral of an honorary doctorate on Lord Tony Hall we were reminded of the Corporation’s magnitude and complexity. To be at its head must require an uncommon set of talents underpinned with relentless determination.

Was this, then, why, at the next day’s scrutiny session with the AMs, I had the impression of repeated collisions as the progress of the BBC ship was impeded by reefs of objections in Welsh waters? Lord Hall ‘gets’ Welsh concerns, he so frequently reassures us, that it may irritate him to find that dissatisfactions and concerns remain. Surely by now we should all have got happily on board?

No. The AMs are right to press him hard on the implications for Wales of the BBC’s decisions on funding, governance and portrayal. Precisely because the BBC enterprise is so complex Wales must help the DG see through its eyes. What can seem crystal clear from afar may look murky at home. Portrayal – how Wales and its people appear and are depicted in BBC media − is a case in point.
Lord Hall referred to quarterly meetings, begun a few months ago, between Charlotte Moore, Director of BBC Content, and the Directors of the Nations and Regions at which the BBC’s ‘portrayal objectives’ are analysed. He promised a report and data which would allow an examination of the justification for, and effectiveness of, one element or another. The portrayal objectives are not public knowledge. Their existence is a welcome sign of how far up the agenda portrayal has moved but why keep them away from scrutiny?

And how frank will the report be? Lord Hall appeared to give with one hand and take away with the other. Yes, there will be information but ‘we need to find it in a way that makes sense for us and sense for you too…’

Rhodri Talfan Davies, Director, BBC Cymru Wales added, ‘And just to be clear on that, in terms of our reporting, the key thing is to tell you about the programmes and the series that are being delivered. It’s not so much the data – the real test is what’s on screen. I think what we can do routinely is to actually publish what it is that is portraying Wales on screen – rather than the metrics on volumes and hours…’

‘We might…’ Bethan Jenkins responded drily, ‘be interested in both.’

Lee Waters immediately pushed further on criteria for portrayal and its relation to production by noting Lord Hall’s citation of the BBC One series Ordinary Lies as an example of portrayal of Wales. Claiming that the series ‘could be set anywhere’, Lee Waters asserted that Belfast-set, Belfast-made series, The Fall is ‘not about Northern Ireland. So how are we going to get that portrayal – rather than just the production, which is very welcome − how are we going to make sure that portrayal happens?’

Lord Hall agreed The Fall is not about Northern Ireland but ‘it goes down very well’ there. Hardly a sophisticated response.
Comparisons between Wales and Northern Ireland require some scrutiny because Northern Ireland has had a great deal of attention from tv drama focused on its political conflict, so material that stresses that it has problems common to the rest of the UK is not unwelcome. Wales is in a different position. It has seen so little drama originating from its own specific circumstances that it must be very cautious about scripts – and a drama slate taken as a whole − which portray it as just like anywhere else, and nothing more.
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.

Lord Hall did move on to offer a ‘serious answer’, asserting that the BBC has done so well for Wales on hours and money that ‘we’ve even overshot the target’. Not pausing to explain that, he endorsed Rhodri Talfan Davies’s look-at-the-screen approach and added, ‘then I suspect we’ll have disputes about – or proper arguments, rather, debates about – whether Ordinary Lies is really about Wales or is about anywhere else or whatever.’

This was not a helpful answer to Lee Waters’s reasonable point and seems to put cart before horse.

Lord Hall’s ‘whatever’ is revealing. Is it tiresome that Wales wants to be seen as being distinguishable from the rest of the UK? Many circumstances are indeed common to, and therefore filmable in, any British city, any village. It is easier to produce network drama that makes use of the commonalities among the nations and regions of the UK than to work from the local and specific outwards towards the universal. The easier path can mean a tokenistic inclusion of a few regional identifiers and the loss of a distinctive lens through which universal circumstances are seen. The plots work but the depth of focus is shallow. We’ve all encountered drama which has been bled of local complexity, leaving it eminently digestible but insipid and ersatz. Hovering around Lord Hall is the ghost of the infamous, perhaps apocryphal, London commissioner’s response − ascribed to Alan Yentob − to a Nineties BBC Wales drama proposal, ‘It won’t be too Welsh, will it?’

The politicians must also be wary of any tendency to regard portrayal as something that applies only to drama. Portrayal happens across genres, as Lord Hall pointed out: ‘Every network genre now has a portrayal objective.’ That is certainly something to keep an eye on and – pace those metrics – to quantify too. The BBC knows the value of the measurable and we are all capable of dealing with assessments of both quantity and quality. We would like both.

Angela Graham is Chair of the IWA's Media Policy Group.

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Cholera cemetery

Some places really have atmosphere........ what a sad place!  Found it on Facebook -- a cholera cemetery on the moors above the Rhymney Valley.

I wonder if they buried the victims of the Newport cholera (or was it typhoid?) epidemic up on the wide open spaces of Carningli Common?

That's the one that Martha and Joseph had to deal with in "On Angel Mountain"..........

Monday, 4 March 2019

Top Welsh authors 2011

This is a rather interesting article from 2011 -- I am not sure that The Bookseller has done another analysis since then.  Some rather interesting things in there -- did you know that Carol Vorderman,  Roald Dahl,  Dawn French and Sarah Waters were all Welsh?  Or sort of?  Some big sellers in there .. although Iris Gower is out of the top ten.  So is Catrin Collier -- but that may be because she publishes under a number of different names.

Note that these figures are based on EPOS figures collected by Nielsen from big bookstores across the UK.  Within Wales, very few bookshops have these electronic systems, so it's difficult to collect data.

But one thing stands out -- not one of these big authors (or big titles) was published in Wales.   The big London publishers are the only ones that feature.  So that does make me rather happy in the knowledge that I have sold around 85,000 paperback copies, mostly within Wales, with no subsidies and no big teams of marketing and publicity people working for me.......


Welsh publishing: the charts

Published October 4, 2011 by Tom Tivnan
The Bookseller

Nielsen BookScan breaks down book sales throughout the UK roughly along the lines of the old television regions. Welsh sales, therefore, are part of Wales and the West—the West meaning Bristol and parts of Somerset, Dorset, Wiltshire and Gloucestershire.

Though we cannot strip out Wales, it makes up the majority of the region’s population (around 3.1 million out of five million people), and the figures can be a broad guideline for Welsh book buying patterns. Wales and the West makes up about 8% of the UK population; it accounts for slightly less of the entire country’s sales through BookScan—around 7% by value in each of the past five years. Just over £117.5m was spent through the tills in Wales and the West in 2010 out of £1.722bn throughout Great Britain.

The UK as a whole has experienced a 9.6% drop in value sales through BookScan since the trade’s high-water mark in 2007. Wales and the West has bucked that trend—but only marginally: the market has dropped by 9.3% since 2007 in the region.

The bestsellers thus far this year in Wales and the West more or less correspond to BookScan’s overall UK charts. A couple of authors do seem to be a bit more popular out west. Maeve Binchy’s Minding Frankie (Orion) is the 10th bestselling title book in Wales and the West thus far this year, shifting 14,666 copies; it is the 21st ranked bestseller UK-wide. Meanwhile, Philippa Gregory’s The Red Queen (Simon & Schuster) is 20th in Wales and the West, 28th across Britain.

The list of bestselling Welsh authors throughout the UK since records began in 1998 provides some surprises—mostly of the “I didn’t know he/she was Welsh" variety. Carol Vorderman at number two? The former “Countdown" queen was born in Bedfordshire, but her Welsh mother took her back to Wales when she was three weeks old, and she grew up in Rhyl. Most of her £16.4m-worth of sales comes from her range of Su Doku books.

Ken Follett was born in Cardiff, and lived in the city until moving to London at age 10.
Martin Amis? Born in Swansea and educated in part at Swansea Grammar School. Sarah Waters? She comes from Pembrokeshire. Dawn French, the pride of Holyhead, has achieved her massive sales on the back of just two books, her memoir Dear Fatty (Random House) and her novel A Tiny Bit Marvellous (Penguin). Most of Carmarthen native Allison Pearson’s sales (£2.7m out of £2.9m) are from I Don’t Know How She Does It, helped by the current film.

The bestselling Welsh author since records began is Roald Dahl. Born in Llandaff in 1916, Dahl’s books have shifted a whopping £39.2m through BookScan since records began, helped by clever management by the Dahl estate and Puffin, a few series refreshes, and film adaptations—including the recent “The Fantastic Mr Fox" and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory". Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is the Dahl leader, having sold almost 742,000 copies for £3.8m in its many editions. With all those sales you might think there would be money spare to buy a writer’s shed.

Just missing out on the Welsh author Top 10 are saga queen Iris Gower (£1.4m), Cardiff’s Jon Ronson (£1.6m), Swansea-born Ian Hislop (£1.4m—most from Private Eye annuals) and Manchester United legend and committed family man Ryan Giggs (£1.1m). Wales’ most famous literary son, Dylan Thomas, has sold just over £600,000 worth of books since 1998.

Giggs does make our Top 10 Welsh-themed chart, his autobiography selling almost 103,000 copies since publication in 2006. Peter Ho Davies—English-born US resident of Welsh and Chinese parentage—tops the chart with his 2008 Richard & Judy Book Club- boosted The Welsh Girl. Like The Welsh Girl, two other titles broadly deal with the Second World War: Nina Bawden’s Carrie’s War (child evacuees to Wales) and Owen Sheer’s Resistance (the plucky Welsh defend home and hearth from a Nazi invasion). The Welsh-themed king is Englishman Malcolm Pryce, whose alternate reality Aberystwyth noir books take four places on our list, with the entire series generating £1.5m in sales.

Alexander Cordell -- a literary giant whose books sold by the million

Alexander Cordell shortly before his death in 1997

I discovered this interesting article from Carolyn Hitt about one of my literary heroes -- Alexander Cordell.  I knew that his books had sold in their millions, but I had not realised that the literary establishment in Wales had shunned him -- just as it has attempted to ignore other Welsh best-selling authors including Iris Gower and Catrin Collier.

Yes, his writing style was rather peculiar.  We might call it rough and even muscular, but it had great vitality and appeal.  His characters were rough and ready too, and not at all multi-dimentional.  But he knew how to spin a good yarn and how to grab the reader's attention.  One reason maybe why "the establishment" never warmed to him was his very strong socialist message and his portrayal of the class struggle.  He did have a tendency to portray the working class as heroes and the gentry as evil bastards -- and life is generally a bit more nuanced than that.  Maybe that is why his books have never been adapted for the small or large screen whereas Poldark has -- more than once.

Anyway, as far as I am concerned, having read all of his Welsh books more than once, I think he deserves a place among the Welsh literary greats........


Carolyn Hitt, 17 October 2014
Wales Online / Western Mail

An email arrived this week which underlined how Wales – like Patagonia – has the perfect cultural landscape to walk in the footsteps of writers or trace a path through our heritage. The email was from Chris Barber, the literary agent responsible for the works of Alexander Cordell. And arguably nowhere more than Cordell Country are the hills alive with historical fact and fiction.

Chris was expressing his disappointment that Cordell’s centenary year has been more or less forgotten. But just as Gwyn Thomas languished in the shadow of R S Thomas last year on their respective centenaries, so no-one else is going to get a literary look-in while Dylan Thomas is omnipresent through 2014.

Cordell, of course, will never attract the critical kudos that Dylan Thomas enjoys. But it is sheer snobbery to ignore the spectacular popularity and success his work achieved. As Chris points out, Rape of the Fair Country – part of Cordell’s trilogy about life in early industrial Wales – is “probably just as famous as Under Milk Wood.”

It sold a staggering two million copies when first published in 1959 and was translated into 17 languages. Yet the response of the literary establishment was summed up crisply by Meic Stephens in the opening line of the obituary he wrote following Cordell’s death in 1997.

“Alexander Cordell was a popular writer whose novels were read by people who do not usually read novels,” wrote Stephens.

He goes on to explain how Cordell’s populism protected him from academic detractors.

“He wrote 28 of them, mainly historical romances which came perilously close, in the view of some critics, to bodice-rippers but which, for his many admirers, were exciting and well-researched yarns with a good deal of contemporary social significance. Opinion divides sharply over their literary merit, a consideration to which the author always declared himself deeply indifferent, preferring to point to their large sales in both Britain and the United States and the esteem in which he was held by that most genial section of the book-buying public, the common reader.”

If Cordell catered for the “common reader” he was also perhaps the Welsh working class’ most unlikely champion. Here was a man raised in a starchy military family in colonial Ceylon portraying the struggles of life for marginalised men and women in the old iron towns of Blaenavon, Ebbw Vale and Tredegar.

His passion for the landscape that formed the cradle of the Industrial Revolution in Wales developed when he settled in Abergavenny in 1950 to work as a quantity surveyor in the western valleys of Monmouthshire.

Cordell’s historical novels reflect the radical politics of the Chartist movement, the hardship of the workers and their families and the spirit that bonded Welsh industrial communities in times of adversity. Though his fiction was layered with romantic colour and dialogue that could grate on the Welsh idiom front, his factual research relied on impressive primary source information.

Conducting interviews with local Blaenavon residents in the 1950s, he talked to people who had been born in the 1870s and were thus able to relate the iron-making stories of their forefathers. As their narratives unfolded in conversations in The Rolling Mill pub, Cordell’s imagination took flight. In his introduction to Rape of the Fair Country, he describes how the “old people’s tales of Blaenavon breathed life” into the book.

“I wrote the book at white heat, scarcely altering a chapter,” he explains. “In between spells of writing I studied at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth and befriended every available librarian. I suddenly discovered that hand in hand with the tale of the mountain town went the last bloody revolution in Britain, the Chartist Rebellion, when men like John Frost a hundred years before their time, fought and suffered for the Six Point Charter – five of which we enjoy today in freedom.”

Cordell wrote 30 books in all, finding inspiration in other rich seams of Welsh history – The Fire People explores the Merthyr Rising and the martyrdom of Dic Penderyn while the Tonypandy Riots form the backdrop for The Sweet And Bitter Earth.

Cordell met a lonely and initially mysterious death.

Eight days after being reported missing in November 1997, his body was found on the Horseshoe Pass outside Llangollen. Suffering from depression after the passing of his second wife Donnie, he had gone to this bleak spot carrying a half-consumed bottle of Napoleon brandy, sleeping pills and a photograph of each of his late wives.

Yet while suicide was at first assumed, it emerged that Cordell had actually died of a heart attack. He is buried in Llanfoist, at the core of the industrial landscape he loved so much.

Chris Barber, who knew Cordell personally and helped him research some of his books, is keen to keep his legacy alive, particularly in this, his centenary year.

“He was one of the most influential writers of his generation and his books helped put the Industrial Revolution into a context that ordinary people could understand,” says Chris. “He undoubtedly deserves widespread recognition for his literary achievements.”
Hodder &  Stoughton have celebrated Cordell’s centenary by publishing all 30 of his novels in ebook format while Matt Addis, a Blaenavon-born actor currently appearing in War Horse, is releasing audio books of Cordell’s first trilogy plus This Proud and Savage Land.

In September, Chris hosted a Cordell tribute night in Abergavenny attended by the late novelist’s daughter Georgina Korhonen and her family, who flew over from their home in Finland. Georgina later opened a Cordell Exhibition at Pontypool Museum which will run for the next five months while there are also plans for Usk’s Gallery In The Square to host a display of Cordell-inspired artwork next month.

For Chris, however, the ultimate tribute would be a screen adaptation of Rape of the Fair Country.

“This dramatic and moving novel has all the ingredients to make a very exciting film or television series and I am pleased to say that some progress has been made towards making this happen,” he says.

Jane Tranter argues for more TV money -- but will it be spent on telling Welsh stories?

It's  great to see that Jane Tranter from Bad Wolf has recently delivered a keynote lecture in Cardiff, arguing forcefully for greater Welsh Government support for the making of films and TV productions in Wales:

More power to her elbow!  Let's hope that the Welsh Government is listening carefully -- given the fact that a bigger and better industry can only raise the "creative industries" profile of Wales, and attract more top talent and top productions.  The potential income flow into Wales is enormous --  many millions of pounds. (Against that, £9 million will have been grant-aided to Bad Wolf alone, by 2017, and quite large sums to other projects and companies as well.  A £30 million media fund has been set up -- less than half has so far been expended.).

BUT -- and this is a big "but" -- there has been nothing in the media coverage of the lecture to suggest that Jane mentioned anything at all about the story of Wales and its inadequate representation in the lexicon of top films and TV serials.  One might sense that there is no commitment  from Bad Wolf to tell Welsh stories for Wales and the World.  Is the strategy really simply to expand the use of Wales as a place for telling other people's stories?  I hope not -- that would be seriously depressing for all those who have recently gone on the record to complain about the marginalisation and exploitation of Wales and the characterisation of Welsh people via stereotypes and caricatures.  Look at how the latest series called "Pitching in" has been slammed.....

It's high time that the Welsh Government stepped in and started to provide a strategic steer -- it has a clear responsibility to promote Wales to the world, and an obvious vehicle, via film and TV, for carrying that duty forward.



From Auditor General's Report into the Pinewood Affair, June 2018:

(This confirms that a grant of £9 million will have been paid over to Bad Wolf if it remains in Wales and meets certain performance indicators in the period 2017 - 2027)

Bad Wolf Studios Ltd has benefited from a £9 million funding package from the Welsh Government. The funding is structured based on an initial repayable loan of £4.5 million, which can be converted into a grant as soon as performance milestones are achieved within a 10-year period. These milestones relate to both the profitability of the company and the amount of production spend that is generated within the Welsh economy as a result. The remaining balance of £4.5 million is payable as a grant, subject to achievement of additional production spend targets. In addition, the Welsh Government leases to Bad Wolf Studios Ltd, on commercial terms, the Wolf Studios Wales facility in Cardiff Bay.

TAC take on the portrayal of Wales

TAC represents most of the smaller Welsh TV and film production companies that contribute to the S4C broadcasting output. So there is a strong Welsh element in the membership, and perhaps a unique appreciation of "the Welsh brand" and the importance of portraying Wales effectively to the world. I have rediscovered this document from 2014, and reproduce it in full below. There are many excellent points in it. Some quotes:

".........whilst generic support is available for TV producers to promote themselves overseas, no real advantage is taken of the potential boost from a Welsh ‘brand’ or help given to the Welsh creative as a specific sector."

"At the moment Wales is all but invisible. It is left to Welsh companies to promote Wales, and whilst the financial aid from the Welsh Assembly Government is welcome there is much more that Welsh and UK Governments could do."

"......more needs to be done in terms of promoting Wales as a brand and providing wider support to the whole sector on obtaining routes to market."

"There appears to be no one clear brand that embraces all agencies in the context of promotion. This means that Wales has to be ‘explained’ each time in any new venture."

"........ in the field of its creative industries at least, the Welsh ‘brand’ receives little marketing. Whilst Welsh culture has made impacts across the UK in terms of music and TV amongst other things, this has not translated into the international sphere."

"Outside of limited content promotion by S4C, there is no visible Welsh presence in the international TV marketplace. There is no branding or culturally identifiable marketing that specifically promotes Wales, Welsh content, Welsh culture or Wales as a potential place to do business."

".........activity promoting Welsh culture overseas is piecemeal. There is a strong relationship between the FCO and ACW and other cultural organisations, but the agenda is British and the lack of a strong Wales core brand is a problem."

"Wales is still identified by the old industrial ethos and the values and images that are associated with this. This runs counter to the modernity of Welsh cultural efforts and the individuals who are known on the world stage."

"TAC would argue that Wales needs to have a national conversation about its ‘brand’. "

These quotes are now five years old, and nothing has changed......


How TAC describes itself:

Teledwyr Annibynnol Cymru (TAC)
TAC is the voice of the independent TV production sector in Wales.

Our members produce television, audio and online content for a wide range of broadcasters and other organisations in Wales, across the UK and internationally.

They make a major contribution to the Welsh economy, and are an important part of the UK’s world-leading creative sectors.

Welsh production companies are also responsible for all of the independently produced content on S4C, portraying the people of Wales, their stories and perspectives to each other and to the rest of the UK and beyond.


TAC Submission to the Welsh Affairs Select Committee inquiry on International Representation and Promotion of Wales by UK Bodies (2014)


1. TAC represents around 40 independent TV production companies in Wales. These companies provide a range of TV and related content to Welsh and UK broadcasters, but also are increasingly looking to work with overseas broadcasters, selling programmes, ideas and formats.

2. TAC therefore welcomes the committee’s inquiry and will in particular focus on our members’ experiences and perspectives pertaining to two of the committee’s key areas of interest:

Whether Wales has an identifiable ‘brand’ overseas

How successful UK bodies, including the UK Government, the Welsh Government and UK Trade and Investment, have been in promoting Wales as a place to do business and invest, and promoting Welsh products overseas

How effectively is Welsh culture promoted overseas by UK Government bodies, such as the British Council and the FCO

3. In summary TAC’s members have expressed the concern that whilst generic support is available for TV producers to promote themselves overseas, no real advantage is taken of the potential boost from a Welsh ‘brand’ or help given to the Welsh creative as a specific sector.

4. At the moment Wales is all but invisible. It is left to Welsh companies to promote Wales, and whilst the financial aid from the Welsh Assembly Government is welcome there is much more that Welsh and UK Governments could do.

5. Whilst Welsh TV production is a specific sector and would benefit per se from any strengthening of the Welsh ‘brand’ and / or help with specific stands at trade fairs, it must be remembered that TV is a very powerful medium for promoting a region or country. Tourism can therefore boosted if greater efforts can be made to promote Welsh productions.

Welsh Production Companies

6. TAC members have sought to maximise opportunities for international deals. They have managed to do this to a significant extent, but it has been done through individual company efforts rather than as part of an overall strategy and it means that only the biggest companies are able to invest on the kind of market presence that international sales normally require.

7. For example, Caernarfon-based Cwmni Da has been pro-active in the international television market place for several years, successfully negotiating co-production and distribution deals with multiple partners in many territories including Europe, North America and China.

8. Recent successes include selling (via distributor Nordic World) factual entertainment format Farm Factor (S4C) to China and Denmark, and securing distribution deal with Content West for Helicopter Rescue (BBC).

9. Another example company is Rondo, which produces successful programmes such as the award-winning Indian Doctor and Welsh soap Rownd-a-Rownd.

10. Rondo’s My Tattoo Addiction was originally commissioned by Channel 4 as a one off documentary in 2012, with a follow up three-part series in 2013. The commission was facilitated by a small investment from C4’s Alpha Fund, supported by the Welsh Assembly Government. All four documentaries were critical and commercial successes, achieving above slot-average audience figures and selling well internationally (via BBC Worldwide). This is one of the first examples of a fully funded factual series for Channel 4 produced by an indigenous Welsh production company, and part of that broadcaster’s current emphasis on increasing commissions from the Nations.

11. Similarly Welsh indie Avanti has also benefitted from Channel 4’s Alpha fund and WAG investment to make programmes for UK network television, allowing it to break through to a UK-wide audience, which in itself is a major stepping-stone to promote its programmes internationally.

12. Avanti is also currently producing a Factual Entertainment Pilot for Sony’s ‘format farm’ in partnership with S4C. This timely initiative will open the door on high volume returnable sales in a global market. In the global market place also Avanti will be launching in this October’s Mipcom a breaking science series for 7-9 year-olds, Wonderworld, in partnership with Zodiac (a specialist in internationalchildren’s programme distribution). Avanti’s Development unit is this year considering three ‘first- look’ deals from one major UK Independent distributor and two global Distribution companies that would see real returnable value and global sales.

13. Boom Pictures’ stable of companies has managed to have some success abroad, again mainly due to building on support from S4C, the Welsh Government and the C4 Alpha Fund: Boomerang has produced the successful “Posh Pawn” format for C4 which is selling well internationally; Indus Films’ critically acclaimed factual programmes sell across the World, examples including Bruce Parry’s Arctic and Amazon, Kate Humble: Shepherdess and World’s Greatest Markets; Cloth Cat Animation reinforces Wales’s strong reputation for creating world class animation, with series such as Toot the Tiny Tugboat and Boj (both supported by S4C and the Welsh Government), selling around the world.

14. S4C’s commitment to children’s programming makes it one of the biggest commissioners of Kids TV. This has helped Boom Pictures become one of the largest providers of children’s content in the UK, and now Ludus, a spin-off of an S4C format has recently been produced for CBBC and is now being sold on the international market.

15. All this shows that Welsh TV production companies are creating compelling content that when the correct resources are applied, can generate further income and promote Wales as a country, both as a provider of expertly produced TV and animation and often also as a tourist destination. But more needs to be done in terms of promoting Wales as a brand and providing wider support to the whole sector on obtaining routes to market.

Does Wales has an identifiable ‘brand’, and how successful have UK bodies been in promoting Wales as a place to do business and invest, and promoting Welsh products overseas?

16. There appears to be no one clear brand that embraces all agencies in the context of promotion. This means that Wales has to be ‘explained’ each time in any new venture. However, the recent Visit Wales promotion (produced by a Welsh team) successfully created a tourism brand and this may be something which could be expanded upon to help market industries such as TV.

17. It is felt that in general, in the field of its creative industries at least, the Welsh ‘brand’ receives little marketing. Whilst Welsh culture has made impacts across the UK in terms of music and TV amongst other things, this has not translated into the international sphere.

18. To this extent TAC feels that those responsible for marketing UK content are missing a trick in terms of demonstrating that the UK is not all about London or even England but has member nations with their own cultures, perspectives and talents. The more Welsh culture, locations and language are visible internationally, this would without doubt have a significant positive knock-on effect for Welsh tourism.

19. Outside of limited content promotion by S4C, there is no visible Welsh presence in the international TV marketplace. There is no branding or culturally identifiable marketing that specifically promotes Wales, Welsh content, Welsh culture or Wales as a potential place to do business. Welsh producers are instead represented on the British UK Indies stand or, as in the case of Welsh indie Cwmni Da, are represented independently by company directors and development staff.

20. As a case study: Cwmni Da has regularly attended the main European markets for television content, Mip TV (held in April) and Mip Com (held in October) for over a decade. In that time the company has been represented independently and also been part of the UK Indies Stand, part funded by PACT and UK Trade and Investment. The company has also received financial assistance by the WAG to help pay for travel, accommodation and delegate fees. But Cwmni Da content is represented by three main international distributors, Nordic World, Content West and Zodiak Rights. There is no Welsh distributor and other companies’ content is represented by a wide variety of international distributors.

21. Both Mip TV and Mipcom attract in excess of 10,000 delegates, and are by far the biggest and most important European marketplaces for content. But despite the huge opportunity presented by these markets, the only identifiable Welsh branding that has been visible has been Welsh content on the S4C International stand. This was at its strongest in the 1980s but has since disappeared completely.

22. A contrast can be made here in terms of the Republic of Ireland. Ireland has a strong presence in the form of a joint stand between the Irish Film Board and Irish Producers representation. They host a drinks reception for buyers, sellers and potential business partners.

23. The importance and visibility afforded to buyers and sellers in these two markets cannot be underestimated. Distributors, broadcasters, production companies are all at these markets and it is a golden opportunity to promote both business, culture and opportunities that mark out Wales as a special place to do business.

24. Many companies cannot afford to go to market and do not know how the system works. Having some sort of representation with year round backing would grow companies understanding and confidence of the marketplace and boost business opportunities. TAC would like to see UKTI establish a partnership with Welsh producers – with TAC / S4C to represent Welsh content and production talent.

How effectively is Welsh culture promoted overseas?
25. TAC’s current impression is that activity promoting Welsh culture overseas is piecemeal. There is a strong relationship between the FCO and ACW and other cultural organisations, but the agenda is British and the lack of a strong Wales core brand is a problem.

26. Wales is still identified by the old industrial ethos and the values and images that are associated with this. This runs counter to the modernity of Welsh cultural efforts and the individuals who are known on the world stage.

27. TAC would argue that Wales needs to have a national conversation about its ‘brand’. Out of that conversation we may be able to drill down to the core elements of 21st century Wales. This process would inspire the creative industries to work together with clarity in promoting Wales.


See also:

Written evidence submitted to the Welsh Assembly Welsh Language, Culture and Communications Committee

Film and major television production in Wales April 2018

Quote:  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.”
(‘Light Springs through the Dark: A Vision for Culture in Wales’, Ken Skates AM - Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure, December 2016,)

Sunday, 3 March 2019

The portrayal of Wales - a litany of concerns

Mixed metaphors and scrambled messages?

Here are some of the articles to which I have referred during recent months.  They don't stop coming.......... and it appears that many people are seriously concerned that when it comes to the film and TV portrayal of Wales and the Welsh, our nation is punching well below its weight.  The BBC carries some responsibility, but far more of it rests with the Welsh Government and the Assembly, both of which appear to be frightened by the prospect of doing anything proactive............

BBC slammed yet again for turning Wales into a caricature

It's difficult to keep track at the moment of the "protest pieces" appearing in the media -- partly about the misrepresentation of Wales in the film and TV industries; partly about the failure of the Welsh Government to push the broadcasters and the programme makers into telling good, authentic Welsh stories; and partly about the BBC in Wales for a lack of commitment and for putting its money into all the wrong things. (On rugby, of course, they get it spectacularly right.....)

Of course the reality is complex, but why are all these people from vastly different backgrounds (politicians, academics, journalists, film producers) bringing up the same issues?  The BBC may of course have made mistakes, but it has problems too, partly related by the refusal by HQ in London to provide adequate programme-making funding to Wales.  There is the issue of "how Wales sells itself" and the issue of the country's ongoing lack of self-confidence.  Eluned Morgan and her "junior minister" Lord Dafydd Elis Thomas have a problem on their hands, and I hope they have the courage to fix it.


The Pitching In disaster shows that you need to ‘make in Wales’ not just ‘set in Wales’

19th February 2019

by Delyth Jewell AM,
Plaid Cymru Shadow Minister for International Affairs and Culture

I like Larry Lamb. He’s an eminently warm and likeable thespian. Lamb by name, lamb by nature.

But it’s Lamb to the slaughter in his new role as Frank Hardcastle in the BBC’s catastrophic new series, Pitching In.

Written by English writers about an English character from an English perspective, it tells the story of how a recent widower finds happiness following the death of his wife by relocating to Anglesey, where the inhabitants for some unfathomable reason seem to have developed Valleys accents.

Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with a good English drama, but in this case we were promised a much needed English-language drama that pertained to the lives of people living in Wales.

When Wales was offered relative crumbs in terms of an extra few million pounds for ‘Set in Wales’ drama when it was announced that Scottish licence-fee payers were getting a whole new channel, BBC Director-General Tony Hall said:

“It’s so important that the BBC captures the real diversity of life and experience in Wales, and this investment is a real statement of intent about our ambition to serve all audiences in Wales.”

As licence-fee payers in Scotland are treated to a new nine o’clock news programme committed to ‘showing the world through Scottish eyes’ on their new channel, Wales is treated to a sub-standard ‘comedy’ showing Wales through English eyes, inaccurate preconceptions about accents included.

I look forward to watching tonight’s episode when Larry Lamb will undoubtedly walk into his local pub, St George’s Pride, and feel aggrieved as the locals switch from Welsh into English, just to annoy him.

“They were speaking English before I walked in!” He will exclaim, psychically.


This form of cultural colonialism does a great disservice to Wales. Not only do licence fee payers have to suffer appalling TV that bears no relation to their lived experience, but our incredibly rich pool of creative talent is being shunned.

According to the BBC Wales’s Head of Commissioning Nick Andrews, “Pitching In is a comedy-drama about family, friendship and community, which will showcase the beauty of north Wales.”

And there you have it – Wales as nothing but a lovely background for someone else’s story.

No self-respecting nation should be satisfied in playing a bit-part like this. We should place ourselves at the centre of our own universe rather than at the periphery of another.

We ourselves are best placed to draw this universe; it is us who should be the authors of our own story.

On every measure, ‘Made in Wales’ beats just ‘Set in Wales’ every time.

From screenwriters to actors, writers to producers, we are lucky to have considerable flair and expertise within the bustling creative sector in Wales.

When given a chance they’ve delivered groundbreakingly successful television, from Y Gwyll/Hinterland and Bang on BBC Wales to Parch and 35 Diwrnod/Awr on S4C.

These are expertly-crafted, popular programmes that accurately reflect life in Wales, except of course for the entertaining but somewhat unrealistic prevalence of murders, conspiracies and hallucination-induced ghosts.

Outsourcing well-paid work when we’ve got the expertise ourselves is not only culturally detrimental, it is also bad economics – can you imagine France outsourcing its wine production or Belgium selling confectionary contracts to another country?


Considered this way, it would now make sense for BBC Wales to vow to attempt to maximise local cultural procurement by adopting a policy of giving contracts to companies and individuals based in Wales, unless this is impossible.

This would achieve three things:

• Guarantee quality creative content for licence fee payers that is authentic and relevant
• Bolster the Welsh creative sector by providing additional much-needed jobs
• Boost the local economy by keeping more money from the licence fee within Wales

As a first step, the Corporation should conduct a review into its internal commissioning processes to try to work out what went wrong in this particular case.

While BBC Wales’ original content is generally of a very high standard, this sorry episode will only contribute to a general sense of disillusionment within Wales that we are not fully in control of our own media.

This problem will only ultimately be resolved by the devolution of broadcasting to the Senedd, and campaigning to secure this will be a priority for me as I undertake my new duties as Plaid Cymru’s Shadow Minister for Culture.

I will also be looking at the issue in a wider sense to consider how improvements can be driven through in National Theatre Wales, which also seems to be employing Pitching In-style commissioning practices, as well as other bodies that receive public funding.

But in the short-term lessons need to be learned to that the Pitching In mentality does not pitch itself in as the standard template for drama commissioning within BBC Wales.

Otherwise, people may begin to wonder if it makes sense to continue to pay a licence fee in the age of on-demand, broadband-delivered television – and that could result in a very unhappy ending indeed.

Saturday, 2 March 2019

"Pitching in" gets slammed

The new "comedy drama" from BBC Wales has, as far as I can see, not had a word of praise from anywhere -- criticised for poor acting, leaden script, slow pace, lack of humour, over-extended scenes in which hardly anything happens, not enough "North Welshness" for something supposedly set on Anglesey, and miscasting.  Plenty more besides.......... and it seems to be going down like a lead balloon.

The press reviews are pretty terrible.  It's clearly been made on the cheap, for Welsh viewers and a primetime slot -- but nobody seems to think it would be of any interest whatsoever to any audiences outside Wales.

A classic piece of misjudgment by the BBC?   Have the drama commissioners lost the plot?  Or are they just so strapped for cash that they cannot afford to make anything of quality any more?  I thought they were supposed to be making programmes about Wales, for Wales, and for selling Wales to the world?   Some pretty scenery, but I'm not sure that this will bring a single extra visitor to our wonderful country.....

Friday, 1 March 2019

Sanditon starts filming

Another romantic drama from the Regency period -- focussing (again!) on a young woman's quest for love and security.....

Construction of a major outdoor film set is underway at PG company affiliate and Bristol's, The Bottle Yard Studios, for the latest high-end TV drama to shoot at the Studios; the upcoming adaptation of the final incomplete novel from Jane Austen, Sanditon. ITV has announced that Rose Williams, Theo James, Anne Reid and Kris Marshall will star in the lavish drama, which has begun filming.   Screenplay is by Andrew Davies.