Dylan Wyn Williams
S4C has well and truly shone these surreal times. With the all important #ArhoswchGartref and #YmaiChi message embedding the corner of our screens, and cabin fever at work, viewing figures have shot up.
In an interview with the Welsh language weekly Golwg, the channel’s Chief Exec Owen Evans proudly proclaimed that Newyddion, a BBC production recently moved from 9pm to a new 7.30pm slot as part of a spring revamp, is quenching viewers’ thirst for news. 28% more of us are tuning in (from 14,400 to 23,000 nightly) to receive the latest facts and figures from our own nation.
The Wales-focused news bulletin is providing us with something that is sorely missing from network news where England’s CMO speaks to all of us, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon gets daily airtime and Fiona Bruce is spouting Downing Street’s propaganda like North Korea’s Ri Chun-hee.
Newyddion brings us daily reports about the beleageured Health Minister Vaughan Gething, the plight of dairy farmers losing vital markets since the closure of hotels and cafes, and a heartbreaking interview with the son of a 59 year old Crymych woman who died of Covid-19.
There’s more news via Y Byd ar Bedwar, ITV Cymru’s evergreen current affairs strand since 1982, who interviewed a blatant Englishwoman based in Normandy, renting her Conwy Valley cottage to a young couple seeking self-isolation from Oxford 185 miles away.
Another regular teatime favourite, Heno (“Tonight”, 1990-) is also drawing 23% more viewers. Broadcast live from Llanelli, it offers a cosy mixture of 2 metres-apart sofa chats, birthday greetings for social distancing loved ones, interviews with big names like Bryn Terfel and Geraint Thomas from their echoey lounges, and skype sessions with musicians old and new, including a singer from Denbigh accompanied by a pianist live from the States.
I’m not normally a fan of the fluffy magazine format wickedly spoofed by comedians Tudur Owen and Siân Harries in the review of the year show O’r Diwedd but I’ve come to appreciate anew its role as a national papur bro, when print versions have come a halt.
Any form of escapism from the constant ‘c’ word is welcomed, and Sunday nights on S4C provides just that. BAFTA Cymru award-winning Priodas Pum Mil, which challenges the popular duo Emma Walford and Trystan Ellis-Morris to arrange a wedding for less than £5,000, has finished its fourth series. A perfect feel good telly, this was one of S4C’s ratings winner last year with 76,000 viewers.
The replacement is Iaith ar Daith (Welsh on Tour), following five celebs such as actress Ruth Jones, ex-Olympian Colin Jackson and Birmingham’s finest Adrian Chiles, and their Welsh-speaking mentors, travelling the length and breadth of the country to learn more about the language. Another sure fire hit, it *should spark new interest in Cymraeg well beyond Offa’s Dyke thanks carefully selected UK household names.
More entertainment shows are expected in the near future, as monies allocated to the big outside broadcasts events now cancelled – from Euro 2020 to Pro14 rugby, the Royal Welsh Show and Eisteddfodau galore – are diverted into last minute commissions. Losing these live shows is a blow, with Sgorio Rhyngwladol attracting a whopping 237,000 for the Wales v Denmark match last year, but new opportunites worth £6m arises for our creative industries suddenly faced with filling the summer schedules.
The world of drama also helps us to switch off. With filming currently on hold at Porth y Rhath studios Cardiff Bay, and nothing but empty crisps packets on the streets of Cwmderi, Pobol y Cwm has gone from five to two episodes a week. Maybe this change of pace is no bad thing, with less repetitive (drugs) storylines and more time to concentrate on quality filming time like Rownd and Rownd with its fantastic Welsh rock and pop soundtrack.
And quality is assured on Sunday nights, with the fifth series of the hit murder mystery drama sold to New Zealand and the US. 35 Diwrnod, penned by Fflur Dafydd, opens with a white veiled body in the sea as the nervous groom awaits in the church, before rewinding thirty five days earlier to meet the myriads of potential suspects. As S4C’s Director of Content Amanda Rees said: “The ‘35’ brand has been very successful for S4C and is now one of the channel’s most iconic series”.
Another new commission is Cyswllt (Mewn Covid) (Connect during Covid) a three-part play reflecting on people’s hopes and loneliness under lockdown – from the makers of Un Bore Mercher and filmed mainly at actors’ homes on laptops and mobile phones, with additional camera material.
Not bad for a ‘minority’ language channel with an annual budget of around £84m, compared to £113m (€130m) for the Basque Country’s ETB1 and a whopping £261m (€300m) for Catalunya’s TV3.
35 Diwrnod returns tomorrow, Sunday 26th April, 9pm on S4C