Select Committee on Welsh Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the BBC


  The main part of this memorandum will concentrate on the role of BBC Wales as the focus for programmes for and about Wales within the BBC. It is the national broadcaster for Wales, being the only broadcaster addressing the nation in both its languages and across radio, television and online. Its success rests on a thorough cultural understanding of its diverse audiences, which gives it an unique platform to project that culture to the rest of the world.

  The BBC World Service is also a key channel of communication about Wales to the wider world. Broadcasting in 43 languages, and reaching an audience of 151 million, it has a claim to be the world's most successful international broadcaster. It is funded through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office by a Parliamentary Grant in Aid. One of its main objectives is to promote interest in modern, contemporary Britain: promoting Wales clearly falls within its scope.


  In August 1999, BBC Wales launched its Online News service in the English language. This is a rolling news service staffed from 0600 until 2200 each weekday and for eight hours a day at weekends, seven days a week. It provides the top Welsh news stories with text and images, together with real video and real audio versions of the stories. This was the first daily rolling internet news service for Wales, and for the first time, this made BBC Wales's news programmes available outside the BBC Wales transmitter area, and opened up Welsh news to a new worldwide audience. This service has proved very successful, producing steadily increasing numbers of page impressions. The average figures have more than doubled since the launch in August 1999. During the petrol crisis of September 2000, the service registered its biggest number of page impressions in a single week—more than 300,000, and on November 14, 1999, the service registered its biggest number of page impressions in a single day so far—123,000. Usage figures are growing steadily. The service attracts many visitors from overseas, not only Welsh expatriates, but also those taking an interest in Welsh affairs. These include a large overseas audience for BBC Wales Online's Welsh learners' series Catchphrase. Many of these users send e-mails with queries and comments, and we are increasingly using this bank of e-mail addresses for direct news and sport services. The web address (URL) for the service is

  On St David's Day 2000, BBC Wales launched BBC Cymru'r Byd, its Welsh-language internet service. As the name (it translates roughly as "BBC Wales across the World") suggests, the aim of this service is to present a regular snapshot of Wales through the medium of the Welsh language. The core is a rolling news service with the same staffing levels and hours of cover as the English service, the only difference being that it presents world and UK news as well as Welsh news. In addition, the site comprises a magazine section with a discussion forum, feature articles, columnists, games and interactive features. Again, it features Welsh-language news material in real audio and real video format, as well as a live stream of the entire Radio Cymru service. Some of its users are from overseas, and some—who have learned the language but who have never heard it spoken—have testified to having heard Welsh for the first time ever via this service. Welsh speakers living overseas are able to listen live to Welsh radio programmes, listen to the latest news bulletins, and watch extracts from Welsh television—and can consequently participate in Welsh life and Welsh affairs to a degree hitherto impossible. Listeners have sent in live e-mails to programmes from the USA, and have phoned in from as far afield as Pakistan into live radio programmes. The status this service has brought Wales might be gauged by the fact that, on the front page of the BBC's News Online service for the whole world, news is offered in five other world languages : Arabic, Chinese, Russian, Spanish —and Welsh. The Cymru'r Byd site, produced by a team of around six core staff, has exceeded all expectations of its usage figures and currently attracts over 30,000 page impressions a week, and has provided the only daily Welsh-language news service on the internet, and what is undoubtedly the most comprehensive Welsh-language internet site in existence. It also contains, for instance, a specially commissioned history of Wales written by Dr John Davies, which is the first history of Wales in Welsh on the internet. Eurolang, the EU's news service about minority languages, have assured us there is nothing like BBC Cymru'r Byd in any other minority European language. It represents for minority languages on the Internet what S4C represented for minority languages on television—an agenda-setting, standard-setting service whose success and expertise Wales can hold up as an example to other cultures. The address is

  These services are produced to the highest standards of the BBC's award-winning News Online service, although they are funded from within Wales, and are completely editorially independent of London. Taken together, they provide a constantly-updated service of news about Wales, in Welsh and English, as well as a range of other material, to audiences not just in Wales, but overseas.

  Building on the success of Cymru'r Byd is one of the objectives set by the Broadcasting Council for Wales for BBC Wales in 2000-01.



  BBC Wales is a major employer of artistic talent in Wales, and plays a vital role in projecting that talent beyond Wales through its contributions to network radio and television in the UK.

Recent production which have achieved network exposure include:

    —  comedy dramas Dirty Work and Border Café;

    —  popular valleys-based drama Belonging, shortly returning to the screens for a much anticipated second run;

    —  a compendium of rural life in This Land, which has just been recommissioned;

    —  documentary account of the unearthing of the splendid Lost Gardens of Aberglasney;

    —  magical family drama The Magician's House (winner of an International Emmy Award);

    —  major musical events such as Cardiff Singer of the World as described in the section on music below.

Radio highlights include

    —  sessions for Radio 1 in Cardiff acknowledging the burgeoning youth culture of Wales;

    —  producing for Radio 2 the thrilling competition to find the Voice of Musical Theatre 2000—a successful pilot for future festivals of musical theatre;

    —  long running strands such as Composer of the Week for Radio 3 together with relays from Welsh National Opera and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, documentaries and performance programmes;

    —  drama on Radio 4 ranging from adaptations of Welsh classics (Shadow of the Sickle and The Owl Service) to star-studded comedies on contemporary themes (Only a Matter of Time and Time Added On for Injuries)

  Digital technology makes Radio Wales's broadcasts available via the Astra satellite across Western Europe.


  The post of Business Development Manager within BBC Wales was created 18 months ago—the first time the function of co-production had been devolved from the BBC in London. BBC Wales still works closely with BBC Worldwide (Europe's largest programme exporter) but now we attend the international trade fairs and visit customers abroad independently. The way forward is not in selling programmes (there is oversupply and average prices in the marketplace have fallen for the last 2 years) but in joint ventures and co-productions. These do not always deal with Welsh themes, but enhance the reputation of BBC Wales's programme makers in the industry in a way which ultimately encourages inward investment.

  We would note that as BBC Worldwide is not an organisation with its headquarters in Wales it is excluded from most export initiatives or schemes.

  This year BBC Wales delivers its first factual co-productions to Discovery. Discovery Communications Inc, is the world's largest commissioner and broadcaster of documentaries. The programmes are Castles of Horror (20 x half hour) and Underworld—the pilot for a series which takes a revealing look at a well-known location (in this case underground London).

Castles of Horror features Welsh and European locations, hosted by Lionel Fanthorpe. It will be shown on The Travel Channel in the US, People & Arts in Latin America, and offered to other customers around the globe by BBC Worldwide—we already have interest from Canada. It will also be shown on UK Horizons and on BBC Wales. A slate of new programmes is currently being prepared for next year in partnership with DCI: details of these are commercially sensitive and cannot yet be disclosed.

  Among the BBC Wales programmes currently being offered overseas by BBC Worldwide are zany sketch show Lucky Bag; family fantasy The Magician's House; hard-hitting drama Care featuring the harrowing issue of child abuse; coverage of Sir John Eliot Gardiner's Pilgrimage to Bach; and the premiere of Karl Jenkins's millennium commission for the BBC National Orchestra of Wales Dewi Sant.

  Examples can be cited of multiple sales to foreign territories. Cardiff Singer of the World has been sold to thirteen countries; costume drama Drovers' Gold to ten; contemporary drama Jack of Hearts to six; and our account of the history of rugby, The Union Game, to fifteen. Other programmes not yet broadcast but intended for international markets include innovative format Classic Challenge which sees a composer commissioned to produce a work within a week; a heartwarming comedy drama about football, Score!; and further episodes of daredevilry in Extreme Lives.

  BBC Wales is also making a programme for the Timewatch strand—recreating a Roman boot camp to bring history alive. Timewatch is shown on A&E network in the US, and again BBC Worldwide distribute in the rest of the world.

  In partnership with S4C, BBC Wales has also contributed in the past year to the development of animated literary classics , including the Oscar nominated The Canterbury Tales, Beowulf, Don Quixote and Moby Dick. An animated version of the Mabinogi is currently in production.

  Along with other Welsh broadcasters, BBC Wales supports Sgrin, the media agency for Wales, which is responsible for the promotion of film in Wales and beyond.


  Music deserves a heading of its own. BBC Wales is a designated centre of excellence for music production within the BBC, in recognition of both the strong history of high-quality programme making from Wales and the cultural vibrancy of the musical scene nation-wide. BBC Wales's music department is internationally recognised for its strengths, covering the whole range of music from classical to pop.

  A highlight of the BBC's music calendar is Cardiff Singer of the World, the world's foremost operatic singing competition, about to enter its twentieth year, with broadcasts on BBC2, BBC Knowledge, Radio 3 and its own website. The international profile of contestants is matched by extensive international coverage of the event. The Leeds Piano Competition is also produced by BBC Wales, as is the popular UK Choir of the Year, extending the reputation of Welsh television production teams.

  In 1999 Voices of a Nation celebrated the inauguration of the Welsh Assembly with a stunning array of Welsh performing talent, broadcast on BBC Choice, BBC1 and BBC2. In October 2000 BBC Wales was responsible in partnership with Radio 2 for a new vocal competition, Voice of Music Theatre 2000. Building on the success of the event, the BBC will host an International Festival of Music Theatre in 2002, making Cardiff a must-visit location for lovers of musicals and cabaret singing.

  The BBC National Orchestra of Wales and its Chorus functions as both a BBC broadcasting orchestra and as the national symphony orchestra of Wales. Its funding position is unique, with a combination of grants and revenue from broadcasters (BBC 75 per cent, S4C 3 per cent), the Arts Council of Wales (12 per cent) and the private sector (10 per cent).

  One of the main national roles of the Orchestra is to act as a cultural ambassador for Wales through broadcasts and touring. The Orchestra is a regular broadcaster on Radio 3 with a combination of live concert broadcasts, deferred relays, and studio recordings delivering up to seven hours= programming every week. With frequent appearances on the BBC's other radio and television networks, it is in fact the UK's most televised orchestra.

  The Orchestra's record of foreign touring is less successful. Touring a 90-piece orchestra is expensive and, because of the frequency of concerts on tour, programmes must be repeated, so that income from broadcasts is limited. The Orchestra has not therefore toured abroad for five years. Tours are planned for 2001 (English regions) and 2002 (Germany), but some ,120,000 of funding must be raised in partnership with the private sector for these plans to be realised.

  Central government has a decided part to play in this area. In order to exploit cultural tourism on behalf of Wales, central government needs to provide a climate for the expansion and development of cross-sector partnerships (i.e. between Welsh arts production organisations and private sector sponsors) so that both partners benefit from the staging of events which allow major Welsh cultural institutions access to foreign audiences. Powerful messages about Wales's cultural achievements can be transmitted in this way. As a point of information, the Wales Tourist Board has in the past successfully sponsored orchestral tours, but budgetary constraints have meant that the Board has been unable to repeat this partnership in recent years.


  The quality of BBC Wales's creative skills has been frequently recognised by success in international awards. Those won so far this year include:

    —  2 Silver Medals at Promax and BDA Europe Awards in Berlin, March 2000

    —  Best Regional Presenter, Royal Television Society Awards, March 2000

    —  BAFTA for Best Short Animated Film, April 2000

    —  Best Single Documentary at the Broadcasting Guild Press Awards, April 2000;

    —  Best Current Affairs Programme and Best Education Programme at the Celtic Film and Television Awards, April 2000;

    —  Best Regional Documentary at the Royal Television Society Sports Awards, May 2000;

    —  Andrew Cross Award for religious documentary, June 2000;

    —  Two Gold medals at the Promax and BDA USA Awards, June 2000;

    —  Gold award for best radio documentary from the Christian Broadcast Council, September 2000, together with special millennium award for contribution to religious programmes to senior BBC Wales producer Roy Jenkins;

    —  Elgar Medal for Conductor Laureate of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales Tadaaki Otaka, November 2000;

    —  Three Gold, Two Silver, and Two Bronze Medals at the Promax and BCA UK Awards, November 2000; and

    —  An International Emmy for The Magician's House, November 2000

  BBC Wales also achieved notable success in BAFTA Wales=s Awards and the BT Welsh Press Awards.


  Stories about Wales and Welsh people are included on merit in the World Service's daily British News programme. People and Politics has an obligation to cover the wider UK politics post-devolution, including stories about Wales, Welsh MP's and the new Welsh Assembly.

  World Service Sport regularly broadcasts Rugby Union commentary from the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff (including the Wales v South Africa game on Saturday 25th November) and Welsh sportsmen such as Colin Jackson have appeared in programmes.

  Pop Music programmes have included Welsh artists, eg Charlotte Church, Catatonia, Manic Street Preachers, Tom Jones and Super Furry Animals. Classical Music programmes also feature Welsh artists performing, e.g. Sir Andrew Davis and Bryn Terfel.

  Specific examples of programmes that have included a strong Welsh element include:

    —  Lives and Times B a series about British people told through their lives and experiences. Programme two, broadcast in June, visited the Morgans, a hill-farming family from mid-Wales, and talked to them about the future of farming, how their lives have changed and the new Welsh Assembly.

    —  World Service drama productions included Fisher of Men, a verse play by David Constantine, with Welsh actors: Ioan Meredith, John Ogwen and Marged Esli, which was broadcast in May.

  BBC English, the English teaching section of the World Service, have featured Wales in many of their programmes. Examples include:

    —  The ongoing series Britain Now, which looked at devolution and the position of Wales in relation to the rest of the United Kingdom. This series was broadcast on the World Service in English, with versions in Czech and Serbian. A Vietnamese version is planned. Colin Jackson also appeared in Britain Now. This series also features on the World Service's website:

    —  with text and audio clips. Facts about Wales and the Welsh language are contained within this site.

    —  The Net Result, a series on community use of the web, featured an Internet distance learning project in Snowdonia and Anglesey.

    —  The experiences of a Somali refugee in Cardiff appeared in First Sight, Second Thoughts. He now works for the Welsh Refugee Council and talks in the series about getting a job and working in Wales.

    —  The Centre for Alternative Technology, Machynlleth, features in Down to Earth, a series about sustainable agriculture and the environment.


  The BBC fully appreciates that its response to devolution should extend beyond enhanced news and current affairs coverage. Considerable investment has been made in the Nations and Regions to reflect the distinctive identities of not only Wales, but also Scotland and Northern Ireland.

  By attracting co-production funding from BBC networks and other partners, BBC Wales is able to invest ever more heavily in the development of Welsh talent, and give the various communities of Wales a voice in the wider world.

Menna Richards
Controller Wales

28 November 2000

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 27 March 2001