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Made in Wales, but not about Wales – TV struggling to depict Wales on screen, industry conference hears

16 Jun 2022 4 minutes Read
Tin­tern bridge over Riv­er Wye as seen in Sex Ed­u­ca­tion, which is filmed in Wales

Wales is among the biggest television production hubs in the UK – but is still struggling to show contemporary Welsh life on screen, according to speakers at the Wales Screen Summit.

Acclaimed Drama Director Mark Evans pointed out that Wales is third in line behind South East and North West England in terms of British creative communities – but asked: “Why aren’t we seen as much on screen?”

Ben Irving, the BBC’s Acting Head of Drama, pointed to a “stark gap” between high-end Welsh productions like Doctor Who and His Dark Materials and “incredible Welsh pieces made on low budgets that go on to do well on iPlayer and get great acclaim”.

He is looking to close that gap with pieces such as The Pact, the upcoming Wolf, and Lost Boys and the Fairies, the first bilingual English/Welsh language drama for primetime BBC1, which the BBC announced today.

“It feels like a real shift into filling that space,” he said.

“Daf James [the writer of Lost Boys and the Fairies] was part of the BBC Writers room Welsh Voices development group, which singled out writers with real potential who hadn’t necessarily written on screen. He was then part of the Writers room TV Drama Writers’ Programme, where he was partnered with [Leeds production company] Duck Soup and the script was ultimately greenlit. That created the first network BBC1-blended English/Welsh language drama.”

Channel 4 Drama Commissioning Editor Gwawr Lloyd stressed the importance of telling regional stories and making them universal.

“I’m frustrated that we’re not working enough with writers from Wales, but that is going to change because there are a lot of great projects on the slate,” she said.

‘Rooted’

The move away from linear commissioning and audiences’ increasing acceptance of subtitles are encouraging signs for the future.

Lloyd highlighted the success of BBC Wales drama Keeping Faith. “It wasn’t commissioned for BBC Network, but it became an iPlayer sensation,” she said. “The people had spoken: they wanted to see this really authentic story set in Wales.”

As the BBC continues to move towards making iPlayer the primary destination for viewers, Irving said it will “democratise the content in the way the linear schedule cannot always do.”

Severn Screen Chief Executive Ed Talfan pointed out the commission of Welsh-language drama Hinterland a decade ago depended on delivering an English language version for international roll-out; six years later, global distributors sold a bilingual version of drama Hidden.

S4C drama commissioner Gwenllian Gravelle pointed out that recent S4C drama The Museum was sold in the Welsh language to Britbox, and to Japan’s Mystery Channel in Japan.

She said Welsh-language drama can stand out as “local exotic” in a saturated market: drama that is “very rooted in Wales, with Welsh voices, the diversity of modern Wales but feels a bit exotic to the rest of the world.”

‘Neutral’

On a separate panel, BBC Daytime and Early Peak Commissioning Editor Julie Shaw was surprised to learn that Creative Wales-funded Netflix show Sex Education was filmed in Newport as it consciously strives to make its setting neutral.

“The precious thing we can do as content-makers in the UK, by tapping into the nations, is to give them [dramas] a sense of place – not make them Nowheresville.”

Some unscripted shows continue to be filmed “back-to-back” in the English and Welsh language to produce two separate versions commissioned by different broadcasting co-producers.

Channel 4/S4C co-production The Great House Giveaway is one such show. C4 daytime and features commissioning editor Kate Thomas said she had 14 commissions coming out of Wales.

“I’m actively looking for other projects I can commission back-to-back with S4C at the moment,” she said. She urged producers: “Come to us with a really bold idea – don’t just think about Wales-based ideas. Think about formats, think about relatable, scalable series. Everything’s in place for us to keep growing on that.”


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David Harking
David Harking
12 days ago

The only thing that’s Welsh about Dr.Who is the fact that it’s filmed here. Why is this awful British Sci-fi dumped on Wales, it’s an embarrassment, send the daleks back to Westminster!

CJPh
CJPh
12 days ago

“Neutral” = England

Notttabottt
Notttabottt
12 days ago

Doesn’t help that when they use our folklore or Welsh stories, they plop in an actor with a south English accent. Half the world thinks our stories are English/British.

Jack
Jack
11 days ago
Reply to  Notttabottt

Any examples of this?

Llinos
Llinos
11 days ago
Reply to  Jack

Well King Arthur is certainly the biggie.

Stephen Owen
Stephen Owen
11 days ago
Reply to  Jack

King Arthur

Stephen Owen
Stephen Owen
11 days ago

There is nothing “Neutral” about setting programmes in England, it just continues to promote the idea that England, as well as Englishness, is the norm and that it is the only country in the UK

Last edited 11 days ago by Stephen Owen

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