The BBC’s Story of Wales

Damn, damn, damn!  I had a fine piece written and ready to lob into the blogosphere about the recently concluded, big budget, BBC Wales six-part series The Story of Wales.  It was one of my better tirades, ripping the piss out of the bloodless, plinkety-plonkety, event-to-event, linear narrative; heaping scorn on the never-ending swooping heli-cam shots, so clichéd I thought I was watching a Meat Marketing Board ad for lamb; ridiculing the saccharine, string-soaked, join-the-dots score; mocking presenter Huw Edwards’ rotating wardrobe of smart-casual Marks&Sparks leisure wear; witheringly pointing out the vital ommissions, the pulled punches and the look-away-now whitewashes; and lambasting Auntie’s archetypal, eggshell-treading reluctance to add together 2 plus 2, make 4 and draw the only conclusion that all credible histories of Wales ultimately must yell: Cymru Rhydd!

But then two things happened to change my mind.  First, I watched the follow-up televised debate and found that Peter Stead didn’t have a good word to say about the programme.  The Gowerton git can always be relied on to influence my opinion: whatever he thinks, I think the opposite.  Like so many on the fossilized British Old Left (cf: Glenys Kinnock, Kim Howells etc) he has a convenient blind spot where Wales is concerned, backing national liberation struggles to the hilt so long as they take place on faraway continents while advising Taffy not to get hung up on national actualisation but instead wait for the coming proletarian paradise when there will be no nation states.  He thinks he makes a devastating point when he declares that the Welsh working class has more in common with the English working class than with the Welsh ruling class – oblivious to the fact that the same could be said about any other nation’s peoples – and he gets into a terrible tangle when his Cymruphobia so outweighs his ‘leftwing’ principles that he ends up a keener advocate of the centralised British State than the far right.  I decided to watch the whole thing again on the iPlayer, figuring that if Peter Stead is foaming white spittle from the corners of his mouth, The Story of Wales can’t be all bad…

Then a few days later a pal and I were yapping around my kitchen table when he spontaneously brought up The Story of Wales and sang its praises, saying it had been a revelation, that he hadn’t realised what had been done to Wales by England/Britain, that he had been unaware what an amazing people we Welsh are, and that the programme made him immensely proud to count himself as a Welshman.  He’s a person I listen to very carefully: an “uneducated” but naturally intelligent and open-minded, instinctive Welsh patriot.  I realised that my years devouring Welsh history, and indeed writing some myself, had made me very untypical.  Just because I’m intimately familiar with everything from the Red Lady of Paviland to the Red Flag of Merthyr doesn’t mean everybody else is too.  Welsh history is not taught as a coherent discipline in schools, has no place among the countless British histories that form the UK’s cultural framework, has never been mass popularised by Hollywoodisation, and has mouldered for too long in the farthest, darkest recesses of academia, the sole preserve of bumptious professors like Stead and provocative bums like me.  Incredibly, before The Story of Wales, there hadn’t been any sort of television history of Wales since HTV’s The Dragon has Two Tongues way back in 1985.  It was long, long overdue – and when you’re starving it’s foolish to turn your nose up at a crust – no matter how stale.

So I have come to accept that, for all its faults, The Story of Wales is that most unusual thing: an important BBC Wales service to Wales.  Congratulations are due to series producers Phil George and John Geraint for bringing the project to fruition. Moreover, its high audience ratings, unprecedented for a programme about Wales, show an appetite for Welsh-specific content that might encourage broadcasters not to wait another quarter-century before they grant us a few more crumbs.  I deleted that scathing blog and replaced it with the muted appreciation you are reading now and which is just reaching its last line.  However, I’m not backing down on the issue of Huw’s cagoules.