Let’s face it, there are people out there who seem to take offence at the existence of the Welsh, and the Welsh language.
We know they’re out there. But why draw attention to them, I hear you ask?
Because there’s a clear pattern to these attacks. They’re based on big dollops of arrogance and ignorance, but by understanding what motivates them we can respond to them more effectively in the future.
Most of the cases listed below fall into two categories:
- Insecure Z-list celebrities desperate to stay in the news
- Newspaper columnists keen to say something ‘controversial’ to attract readers
They attack the Welsh, rather than any other group, because they think they can get away with it.
Because the Welsh have been conditioned by centuries of attacks to take it, and because their employers probably secretly agree with them.
There is a more serious category, however, which are the genuine attempts to undermine Welsh nationhood by suggesting that we’re ‘too poor, too small and too stupid’ to run our own affairs.
It’s telling that most of these attacks backfired and ended up uniting the Welsh and strengthening our resolve. Read on to find out how…
- Noel Edmonds
OK, this wasn’t much of an attack. About as threatening as soft old Mr Blobby trying to crush you to death.
In 2014 Noel Edmonds explained that the solution to the BBC’s financial problems was not to spend any money on the UK’s native languages.
“The Welsh language has been declining over 10 years and the BBC spends £48m on that,” he said.
Asked if he himself paid the license fee, he admitted that he did not. Would doing so be a more viable solution, Noel?
The Welsh Language Society responded to his comments: “No deal.”
- Janet Street-Porter
Your standard issue z-list newspaper columnist, Janet Street-Porter regularly attempts (and mostly fails) to court controversy.
There are clearly other issues at work here, however. In her aptly named autobiography, ‘Baggage,’ she tells of a miserable childhood growing up in Llanfairfechan where she felt like an ‘alien’ because of her inability to speak Welsh.
Like many others on this list, Janet Street-Porter wears her ignorance with pride, claiming that the Welsh language is kept alive by “committees inventing new words for modern inventions like the motor car and the television set”.
“There are no words for anything invented after the Black Death,” she added.
She also recalled the day she attended her Welsh-speaking mother’s funeral: “Part of the funeral was in Welsh. As far as I was concerned they could have been reading out the Asda shopping list”.
It’s a shame that no one suggested that the solution to her alienation might have been to, you know, learn Welsh.
In 2004, Janet Street-Porter had this eureka moment (or was short of cash or attention), and decided to appear on S4C’s Cariad@Iaith.
- Anne Robinson
Another wannabe pantomime villain, Anne Robinson made headlines in 2001 when she asked for the Welsh to be banished into Room 101.
“What are they for?” she asked. “They are always so pleased with themselves.”
The comments were condemned as racist by Welsh MPs who argued that if Anne Robinson had attacked any other community, her words would not have been broadcast by the BBC.
Anne Robinson was forced to apologise for the comments and offered to do some work for the Welsh Tourist Board. Er, no thank you, Anne!
- The Guardian
This is a new entry this year. The Guardian’s view of the Welsh language has been mixed at the best of times, with the paper tying itself in a knot as it attempts to support multiculturalism on the one hand while abhorring the UK’s own native cultures on the other.
The article, headlined ‘Welsh-only teaching – a political tool that harms children?’ in print, was so full of errors and misconceptions that it was condemned by several commentators, including the BBC’s Huw Edwards.
The one-sided article was based on a false premise that children in Welsh-language schools weren’t taught English, and quoted out of context a report from Save the Children that wasn’t referring to Wales.
The Guardian subsequently amended the article, but argued that it was ‘honestly reported’.
“I can see how this article has been perceived by some readers as an attack,” said one of the editors. You don’t say!
- Top Gear
Like the minor celebrities already mentioned, the former hosts of Top Gear are often in need of headlines and realise that the Welsh are the one minority group that their employers won’t censure them for attacking.
In 2011, Jeremy Clarkson argued that the Welsh language should be abolished as it was nothing but “a maypole around which a bunch of hotheads can get all nationalistic”.
In 2001 he put a Welsh flag in a microwave and put it on, and in 2002 claimed that Wales’ roads were good for driving fast on because “no-one wants to live there”.
James May got in on the act in 2004 by arguing that bilingual signs in Wales were “baffling and dangerous” and called Welsh-speakers “a bunch of pasty-faced ginger separatists”.
One has to ask whether he can be trusted behind the sight of a few Welsh words can send him into a tailspin…
- The Western Mail
Unfortunately, not all attacks on the Welsh have come from outside our own country. Our own ‘National Newspaper of Wales’ has had a deeply complex relationship with all things Welsh.
The paper began as a conservative mouthpiece for 3rd Marquess of Bute and this was reflected in its early criticism of anything deemed too nationalistic.
This came to a head in 1886 when the newspaper claimed that the Welsh language, quite literally, caused people to go insane.
In their own words: “insanity prevails chiefly amongst the Welsh-speaking population”.
After readers complained, the paper admitted that there was “more flippancy than fairness” in the claim.
Although the paper’s attitude has improved over the years, they caused a social media storm last year by claiming that Wales rugby man Jamie Roberts had managed to go to Cambridge University “despite being taught in Welsh”.
Earlier this year, the paper had to apologise after including pictures of Cymdeithas yr Iaith activists next to an article about criminal damage which they actually had nothing to do with.
And in 2014 the paper was roundly condemned for a front page story attacking the cost of the National Assembly’s translation services.
- The Daily Mail
Unlike the Guardian and Western Mail, the Daily Mail is at least consistent. The paper dislikes all non-English languages and cultures equally.
It was no surprise therefore when journalist Roger Lewis used his book review column to condemn Welsh an “appalling and moribund monkey language”.
He also claimed that the language “hasn’t had a new noun since the Middle Ages”.
This was subsequently disproved as Welsh speakers used quite a few freshly minted nouns to describe Roger Lewis.
- AA Gill
The late restaurant critic AA Gill infamously described the Welsh as “loquacious, dissemblers, immoral liars, stunted, bigoted, dark, ugly, pugnacious little trolls”.
“I yield to nobody in my deep concern for the malingering man of Europe – the gargoyle-visaged Welsh,” he said.
He did however also called the English “lumpen and louty, coarse, unsubtle, beady- eyed, beefy-bummed”.
“A simmering, unfocused lurking anger is the collective cross England bears with ill grace,” he added.
So perhaps the truth was that he just didn’t like people.
- The Times
The UK’s most prominent newspaper, The Times, completely lost the plot with the Welsh in 1866 in spectacular style, and made a historic fool of itself in the process.
It was that year’s National Eisteddfod, ““the most mischievous and selfish pieces of sentimentalism which could possibly be perpetrated,” which set off its tirade.
According to the Times, the Welsh were too hopeless to look after themselves and needed the benign Englishman so that they didn’t soil themselves:
“A rare existence on the most primitive food of a mountainous race is all that the Welsh could enjoy if left to themselves…
“All the progress and civilization of Wales has come from England, and a sensible Welshman would direct all his endeavours towards inducing his countrymen to appreciate their neighbours instead of themselves.”
The newspaper also recycled the old chestnut that being able to speak Welsh stopped the people of Wales from learning English:
“The Welsh language is the curse of Wales. Its prevalence, and the ignorance of English have excluded, and even now exclude, the Welsh people from the civilisation, the improvement, and the material prosperity of their English neighbours…
“For all practical purposes, Welsh is a dead language,” it concluded.
So the next time someone tells you that Welsh is a dead language, point out that people have been saying that for 150 years, but it’s still here!
- The Blue Books
This was the big one. The UK government report into the state of education in 1847 was so stinging in its attack on everything Welsh that it caused a monumental backlash, the effects of which we’re still feeling today.
Wales in the early 19th century was a discontented country as a newly-industrialised people pushed back against the quasi-feudal landlords than reigned over them. The country had just seen a Rebecca Riots and the Chartist uprising a few years later.
It seemed to the authorities that the answer was to improve the education system in Wales, so that the population would learn to behave. But the report went way beyond that and also looked at the morals and behaviour of the Welsh.
The Welsh were roundly condemned as stupid, filthy, lazy and immoral. According to the ‘survival of the fittest’ worldview of the 19th century, they were almost sub-human compared to their more civilised neighbours.
While the standard of education in Wales was poor – as it was across the UK – the report’s findings was skewed by the commissioner’s own biases, and also a tendency to give too much credence to Anglican priests who were keen to bad mouth the mainly nonconformist Welsh.
But, the report concluded, the Welsh were not beyond saving. As long as they abandoned their own language and culture and behaved more like their neighbours, they too could improve themselves.
The language itself was “a vast drawback to the Welsh and a manifold barrier to the moral progress and commercial prosperity of the people. It is not easy to over-estimate its evil effect.”
The report created a stereotype of the Welsh that was difficult to shake off. In truth, all of the above attacks on the Welsh are just a continuation of the pattern set by the Blue Books.
Welsh caused brain damage, and the Welsh are a race of trolls.
On the plus side, it fired up a generation of Welsh political leaders who took the nation’s destiny into their own hands, and gave us our first Welsh-only laws for centuries, a national university, library and museum.
So, without the shock of the Blue Books, Wales would probably not have self-government today. Thanks, guys!