Retelling Welsh history on TV

Twenty-five years after the landmark series The Dragon Has Two Tongues was broadcast, the BBC is planning a major new series on the history of Wales. But how should that story be told for today’s television audience? Historians, media academics and broadcasters met at the University of Glamorgan’s Atrium in Cardiff to discuss the options.

In the age of the internet there was an interesting discussion about the opportunities for involving the audience and for extending the programmes’ impact beyond the traditional broadcasts. In the 1980s, the team behind The Dragon Has Two Tongues produced detailed study packs for discussion groups across Britain, allowing them to see the original documentary sources debated on the programmes. With ‘web 2.0’ the possibilities are exciting.

Who should present such a series? Several of the historians present felt that only someone professionally qualified would have the credibility to act as the audience’s go-between. One warned of the dangers of newsreaders fronting such programmes (as both Huw Edwards and John Humphries have done on aspects of Welsh history). Does an audience who see them reporting ‘the facts’ on the news assume that they are doing the same for history? In Wales this is very much a contested history (as The Dragon Has Two Tongues showed).

BBC Wales will shortly choose two bids from independent production companies to be developed over the summer, before commissioning the £1 million series later in the year. The University of Glamorgan’s Centre for the Study of Media & Culture in Small Nations will shortly publish on the web a fuller account of the recent discussion.

About James Stewart

Senior Lecturer in Radio Journalism.
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