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.
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