Television in Wales: A Quick Tour Through Time

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Happy 100th birthday BBC!

The Beginning

BBC broadcasting started in Wales in 1923, with the construction of a Cardiff station. The year after, a second station opened in Swansea.

Early television programmes in Wales featured nearly all English programmes with Welsh appearing very rarely, broadcast during closed periods to replace the test card. Paradoxically, Welsh language broadcasting was mainly handled by Granada – a Manchester based company.

In 1964, BBC Wales was launched. It was promoted using a short animated film which told viewers in South Wales to adjust their sets because mountains may interfere with the signal

Broadcasting house in Cardiff was built 2 years later, followed by the arrival of colour broadcasting in 1970. It shut its doors in 2020 and the BBC base became the New Broadcasting House in Central Square.

In their 1979 election pledge, Margaret Thatcher’s government promised to provide a Welsh language TV series. The next year the MP for Carmarthen, Gwynfor Evans, threatened to go on hunger strike if this pledge was not honoured. In response, the Welsh language channel S4C (Sianel Pedwar Cymru) was launched. Documents released in 2010, reveal that Mr Evans’ threat was a large factor in the decision to found the channel.

Modern TV

In the 1990s there was a lot happening in the TV landscape: the number of channels increased, the commercial television sector boomed, the internet grew and devolution meant more funding for BBC Wales. Here, websites for television were launched in preparation for entry into the digital world.

Probably the biggest boost to the Welsh TV landscape however, was Doctor Who. After Julie Gardner, BBC Wales’ Head of Drama at the time, decided to base production of the revived series in Cardiff, the Welsh TV and Film industry blossomed. First class dramas such as Sherlock and His Dark Materials have been produced in Wales since and bilingual programmes such as Keeping Faith have gained international acclaim. Scenes from the drama were filmed in both English and Welsh and aired both on S4C and BBC One Wales.

Today, BBC Roath Lock, Bad Wolf Studios and Dragon Studios are just three of many film studios operating in Wales. With the arrival of even more drama under Bad Wolf Studios, Wales’ success isn’t stopping soon.

Related Information

For more on Welsh language appreciation, check out Welsh Language Music Day.

For a more detailed history of BBC Wales, check out the BBC’s own guide.

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