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Saturday, 3 March 2012

The Story of Wales -- a great opportunity missed



The big BBC Wales TV series (made with the cooperation of the OU, Uncle Tom Cobbley et al) has shown two programmes out of the six so far -- and it's proving to be a grave disappointment.  The BBC calls it one of the most ambitious series ever produced in Wales.  Hmmm.   It's full of technical wizardry -- history and archaeology programmes these days clearly have to have computer generated reconstructions of absolutely everything, so as Huw Edwards paddles around in a little rowing boat on Llangorse Lake, a leafy island is miraculously transformed into a busy crannog.  You know the sort of thing.....

I think this series is closely modelled on a series last year about the History of Scotland (wasn't the OU also involved, and wasn't Neil Oliver the front man on that one?)  Well, this is very much in the Neil Oliver mould -- but this time there's far too much Huw Edwards and far too little of everything else, as Huw struts manfully on top of beetling cliffs, wanders across mountainsides and through verdant pastures, holding forth about this and that.  You know the sort of thing......  the trouble is that it's all very shallow and actually rather boring,  and I'm beginning to long for just a little humour -- and maybe even a little scepticism and discussion of some issues where there may actually be a little disagreement.    Come back, Neil -- all is forgiven!!  The commentary (who wrote it, I wonder?) is so terribly sincere and EARNEST.........

There are so many pious platitudes and portentious pronouncements that I am already tearing my hair out, just after two episodes.  You know the sort of thing:  "This was now the beginning of the end for the world as they knew it....."  -- "Nothing would ever be the same again...." -- "For the first time in the history of Wales, something new had happened...."  --  "and so the ancient order was swept away..."  -- "the old world was disappearing, to be replaced by the new..."  ---  "This great new leader stirred the soul of the nation as never before..."  and so on, and so on, ad infinitum.  Seldom can so many cliches have been fitted into a single hour of TV time.  I'm actually quite impressed -- is there a BAFTA for cliche density?

No expense has been spared in this series.  Every now and then, so that we can get a few seconds without Huw on the screen, there are a few flashing images of hairy fellows dressed up as warriors, or monks, or priests, or Roman legionnaires, with mighty sounds of battle, flames, screams, and flashing weapons.  I'm sure I've seen the same faces twenty times already in different guises .....  by the end of the series we'll all be very familiar with them.    The other technique is to have some sturdy fellow (they all seem to be men) in fancy dress gazing manfully into the camera lens as it zooms in on him........  It might be Hywel Dda, or Llewelyn the Great, or Owain Glyndwr..... but these fellows do look very fierce and very imposing.   Sometimes they look pensive, or even enigmatic, with furrowed brows and a grim set to the jaw.   Did any of them ever smile, I wonder, when they were alive?

Lighten up, chaps!  History should be fun!!

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Freedom for Wales and the English suppressors of knowledge via the BBC.

The tribe 'Yaki da boyo' is a live and well couch potatoeing in a cave near you!

A.N.Other

BRIAN JOHN said...

As a Welshman myself, I might even accuse the Welsh themselves of doing the suppressing. The series is designed to reinforce national pride and a sense of identity -- that's the current mood in Wales, and fair enough. Don't want to be left too far behind by the Scots......

But the bland portrayal of history as if everything is sorted and universally accepted is a travesty -- and this series would have been much more stimulating if it had homed in on controversies and included some decent discussions on competing interpretations.

chris johnson said...

Sounds horrible. I don't see how to compress Welsh history into 6 episodes, but even if you were to try then Hywel Dda should have one of them to himself.

I wonder how the rest goes and how other topics are dealt with - the often brutal attempts to suppress welshness and the language over hundreds of years, for example. This cannot be a bland tale.

I wonder how they covered the role of the Welsh Church in the "dark ages", and the earlier impact of Celts and Romans - surely there are different stories to tell and alternative views.

Tony H said...

Sounds like you were longing for, for instance, a female actor of some quality, such as Sian Phillips, to appear on screen and contribute some depth of character to an historical figure. Am I being cynical, but could it be that many of these BBC productions are made to a predictable "bells and whistles" format, and with one eye on the bigger, rather naive, North American market?

Tony H said...

Wondering how you feel about Professor John Koch's imprint on the 2 episodes you have viewed in Wales so far? Did he have much involvement with Episode 2's production? He certainly seems to have the credentials to contribute a great deal, being involved in the 'Ancient Britain & The Atlantic Zone Project' from the Centre for Advanced Welsh & Celtic Studies, Aberystwyth. 'A little less Hugh Edwards, a little more Substance please?' - to echo the words of the immortal Elvis Preselli?

Tony H said...

Perhaps a Breakaway Broadcasting Group should be formed in Wales. Alistair McGowan, the impressionist, to my eyes always had Hugh Edwards to a T. Then there's bound to be precious archival recordings of Harry Secombe singing "If I Ruled The World", if you're advocating a smile or two to break up the sobriety.

Anonymous said...

I've just heard that Alistair McGowan IS available to stand in as a replacement 'Huw The News' Edwards in the Alternative Version mooted above. And, what's more, he's cheap.

Michael Grade