Televising Wales and the West 

14 January 2018

When TWW started broadcasting to South Wales and the West of England in January 1958, it was only the second of the medium-sized regional companies to launch.

As with Scottish Television, TWW was on the air for seven days out of seven. Transmitting for the whole week enabled a more intensive identification with the area served than was possible when sharing a region on a five/two split as was the case with the four network companies in England.

The original TWW region was unusual in covering parts of two separate countries with very contrasting characteristics. The geographical constraints on the transmitting authority and the limited frequencies authorised by the General Post Office for television at the time presented the company with a culturally hybrid transmission area.

It was necessary to offer the area a notional unity while still acknowledging that South Wales and the West of England each had unique requirements.

The company could not appear too Welsh for fear of offending the citizens of Bristol, Bath and the vast Somerset and Gloucester hinterland. Too much domination by programme makers from London and Bristol would in turn alienate the viewers of Cardiff, Swansea and the valleys. It was lucky that the company launched during a post-war period noted for the strength of its united Britishness, as well as broadcasting to an area not then noted for Welsh nationalistic fervour.

It was no doubt with some relief that in seeking theme music, the company was able to avoid a quagmire of Welsh and Western folk tunes by selecting a rather bland non-regionalised march from that doyenne of broadcast signature tunes, the legendary Eric Coates.

He revived his existing “Seven Seas” piece and agreed to a renaming exercise whereby the work would be given the rather cumbersome title of “South Wales and the West Television March” – reflecting as it did the original consortium name “SWW” – dropped when a regional potential for later geographical expansion was spotted.

The march used the now customary pattern of basic theme followed by build up to climactic last verse, over which the company symbol would form and the clock appear. Though similar in style to the more classic “Sound and Vision” piece that Coates had written for ATV in 1955, the work did not achieve the same status within the industry that Coates had managed for the Midland weekday and London weekend contractor. Unusually for a station theme, it was released on an HMV single and achieved remarkable sales in its own transmission area.

The grand climax of the slow last verse lent weight to the accompanying symbol and clock and the gravitas of the TWW announcing team gave the impression that this was a broadcasting company to be reckoned with. The final bars of the march were normally used for daytime closedowns after programmes for schools ended each afternoon.

As with the other television companies of the time, the underlying message of the music was territorial. This piece was in effect an anthem for a new hybrid geographical region and its very grandeur was successful in creating an illusion of cultural unity between the very disparate halves of the transmission area.

You Say

6 responses to this article

Nigel Stapley 16 January 2018 at 7:56 pm

I’ve never been convinced by the ‘technical difficulties’ rationale which was put forward as the reason for creating such a strange hybrid coverage area. If there were such difficulties, then they were with the Valleys, as – even with the more line-of-sight coverage provided by Band III VHF – a relay for each main valley would be needed (although St. Hilary’s location gave it reach up a number of them already).

This was far less the case with other parts of Wales, as was later seen when the rest of the country would be covered by three main stations and a handful of relays.

There was already a broadcasting precedent for seeking to glue South Wales to Bristol in the form of the old ‘West Region’ of BBC Radio, which was justified by one Corporation panjandrum at the time as ‘re-creating the ‘Kingdom of Arthur”, a notion so trumpery and fatuous that it was derided by the politican and playwright Saunders Lewis amongst many others.

No, I’m afraid that to many at the time – and to many of us since – this was just a refusal on the part of the London broadcasting and political Establishment to treat Wales as a nation. If the will had been there to treat it thus, then the ‘technical difficulties’ would have been overcome with little real difficulty; as, indeed, they were later, but by which time the un-natural yoking together had become a ‘given’ which had been accepted – albeit grudgingly.

Kif Bowden-Smith 16 January 2018 at 10:00 pm

Fair points and I agree with all of them. Note that the article does not claim otherwise but treats the arrangement used as a given. I didn’t feel that I wanted to get too heavily into the geopolitics as they would inevitably be disputed as mere theory … though I think you are right. The piece is about TWW and what it was given to work with.
My remark about The Post Office only allowing very limited frequencies to the ITA at that point is germane however. Only Channels 8,9 & 10 were initially licenced to the ITA and in 1957 when the St Hilary mast was built, two free channels for that area did not exist without co channel interference being likely. Eventually the ITA was given channel 11, then later channels 6 to 13 inclusive but that took a couple more years to develop. There is some circumstantial evidence of a GPO rearguard action – about the development of ITA services – as they were reluctant to authorise the number of channels the network would ideally require. There is hidden deep politics in this, from the fifties, and no doubt from cabinet level via The Postmaster General. Did the establishment in 1956-7 begin regret what it had created legally in 54-5? Did the toffs think the ITA vulgar?

Nigel Stapley 17 January 2018 at 6:55 pm

Oh, no base motives imputed at all, Kif (said he, trying to keep on his editor’s good side!). It’s just interesting as to how the same rationale was trotted out more than once.

Now of course, given that the whole of the broadcasting system in Wales is owned/controlled from outside, the whole thing would be moot were it to arise today.

Harold Ramsbottom 17 January 2018 at 9:02 pm

“given that the whole of the broadcasting system in Wales is owned/controlled from outside”

True for the Channel 3 service, but not true for another part of the broadcasting system in Wales — S4C.

Nigel Stapley 18 January 2018 at 7:30 pm

S4C is now effectively a subsidiary of the BBC:

Mike Harris 26 January 2018 at 1:17 pm

Lumping together South Wales (and later the whole of Wales) and the West also gave the programme company a much more financially viable franchise. I suspect this was also a major consideration following the early financial issues in ITV.

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