Thirty Years of Pobol y Cwm

Thirty Years of Pobol y Cwm

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Saturday, 18th October 2014

Above: Producer Bethan Jones toasting the series with Sian Phillips

Ten years ago, in a gala evening on the 17th October, 2004, actress Sian Phillips presented Pobol y Cwm with a certificate, inducting it into the RTS Wales Hall of Fame.

Our Secretary at the time was Mari Griffith:-

"Ah, yes, I remember it well.  The RTS Events Team in London did the paperwork, ticketing and nitty gritty organisation of the event, but the stage-show was devised by the Pobol y Cwm production team.  I took great pleasure in researching and writing the script for the distinguished actress Sian Phillips, who was to present the evening’s entertainment and make the award on behalf of the Wales Centre.  I was also asked to look after her for the duration of her visit to Cardiff as our guest.  Mind you, that was a great privilege - what a lovely lady.  It amused me greatly that she declined all offers of a luxury overnight stay in a five-star hotel in favour of the B&B in Cathedral Road where she has always stayed.  I have all sorts of nice memories.

"It was certainly a glittering occasion.  The audience at the Reardon Smith Lecture Theatre, having been entertained by a nostalgic on-stage celebration of the soap's first thirty years, then moved into the foyer of the Museum for a lavish reception.  I had a chance to photograph Sian raising a glass with the then producer, Bethan Jones, in a toast to wish the series well for the next thirty years [see below].  Ten of those years have already passed and, in its forty-first year, the series still goes from strength to strength.

"We don't often push the boat out to that extent here in Wales, because such events take quite a bit of organising.  But we have held one other Hall of Fame event, and I was involved in that too, having been recruited to help by Dr. Eurfron Gwynne Jones who was Wales Centre Chair at the time.  That was in 1999.  Three well-known Welsh broadcasters were honoured that evening - Caryl Parry-Jones, Nicola Heywood Thomas and Vincent Kane, along with three stellar names in the international firmament who had their roots in Wales.  They were Swansea boy, Sir Harry Secombe, Sir Howard Stringer of the Sony Corporation, who was born in Cardiff and ... wait for it ... Rolf Harris, whose grandfather came from Merthyr Tydfil.  Of course, that couldn't happen now!"

To follow Mari's memories, here is the original report of the event:

On the 17th of October [2004], Wales Centre members joined colleagues and friends from BBC Wales and S4C in the sumptuous surroundings of The National Museum of Wales to celebrate a very special occasion – the 30th anniversary of the longest–running soap on BBC television.  EastEnders?  Doctors?  Neighbours?  No, these are mere whipper-snappers compared with Pobol y Cwm (Valley Folk), the first episode of which was broadcast on 16th October 1974.

Pobol y Cwm is unique and important in the annals of British television.  Set in West Wales, this enormously popular BBC Wales production formed the backbone of S4C's peak hour schedules when the Fourth Channel broadcaster consolidated all Welsh-language broadcasting in 1982.  The series has always had a devoted domestic audience and is now winning a new legion of fans outside Wales in its sub-titled version on satellite digital television, among them Victor Lewis-Smith of the "Evening Standard".  He described it recently as "... a well-produced and coherent soap, naturalistic and often funny".  Its popularity has inspired spin-offs in the native languages of both Scotland and Ireland and this production has probably done more than anything else to consolidate minority language awareness on British television.

The series has also mirrored the way in which life has changed in Wales over the last thirty years.  Much of the action centres on the locals who frequent "The Deri Arms" in the fictitious village of Cwmderi, but in the early days when beer was just 15p a pint, the fulcrum was the Brynawelon retirement home with eleven well established Welsh actors in the principle roles.  Over the years they were joined by a new generation of actors as the story lines began to reflect more contemporary themes.  As in any repertory company, the youngsters learned from the example of the more experienced, and by now many have found their way into film and television outside Wales.  Probably the best-known "graduate" of the series is Ioan Gruffydd who, as a young teenager, played the adopted son of the landlord and landlady of "The Deri Arms".

Now a hot property in the United States, Ioan was unable to get home to join the celebrations in Cardiff but, on VT and in immaculate Welsh, he sent a heartfelt greeting from Hollywood.  Interspersed with memorable moments from the series and informal interviews with key people from the show's long history, there were also greetings and congratulations from other alumni of the series and the casts of other, younger soaps like EastEnders.  The audience was hugely entertained, laughing at changing fashions and forgotten indiscretions, cheering at the reminders of the cast's many charitable activities and blinking back tears at tributes paid to seven of the original eleven cast members who have, so to speak, moved on to "Upper Cwmderi".  It was a night of roller-coaster emotions and great entertainment.

A landmark series then, and well worthy of inclusion in the Hall of Fame.  In making the presentation on behalf of the RTS at the end of the evening, the distinguished actress Sian Phillips paid tribute not only to the actors but also to the writers, producers, directors, technicians, crews and servicing departments who had contributed to the continuing excellence of Pobol y Cwm.  Making a successful soap, she said, is a skilled and highly professional business, needing commitment from everyone involved.  The certificate puts it very simply – inclusion in the Hall of Fame is given in recognition of an outstanding contribution to Television.

So it was on behalf of all members of the cast and crew, past and present, that the current series producer Bethan Jones accepted the award from Sian.  It was the culmination of a week of celebrations both on- and off-screen ... and a cue to start the party.

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Above: Producer Bethan Jones toasting the series with Sian Phillips