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Wales West and North (WWN)


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While it seems entirely reasonable to provide a primarily Welsh-language independent television service in Wales, there were several reasons why this did not happen immediately. One factor was that the terrain made providing a television service to Wales as a whole a very difficult business. Another was that in several places, transmissions could be received from an existing company. Granada was easily receivable in much of North Wales, while TWW - Television Wales & West - had already been established on the principle that a company serving the populous area of South Wales could also cover parts of the West Country from a transmitter on St Hilary Down. Both contractors provided Welsh language programming, though almost exclusively during off-peak hours.

The resurgence of interest in the Welsh language that came in the late 1950s brought with it an increasing desire for more provision of Welsh language television. One option was to extend the coverage area of TWW northwards, but another, promoted strongly by Welsh ITA member J. Alban Davies, was to set up a new company to provide Welsh language programming in peak hours as well as at other times. Lobbying of the Postmaster General by Welsh-speaking business groups and individuals eventually led the PMG to give in, under duress, and the Independent Television Authority (ITA) advertised a franchise for west and north Wales.

Some terms of the contract were left vague, however. It had been planned originally to operate a transmitter serving Pembrokeshire with a relay serving the Lleyn Peninsula. This left some areas of north Wales - notably Denbighshire and Flintshire - outside the service area, a proposal to which the Welsh groups objected. Meanwhile the Winter Hill Granada transmitter already served those areas, and the PMG had specified that the new service should not give Welsh viewers a choice of services that was not available to other commercial television viewers. In addition almost half the population to the south of the proposed coverage area was already able to receive TWW.

Interest in what was to be the last ITV franchise area was perhaps surprisingly high, with four consortia entering the lists: Cambrian (North and West Wales) Television; Cambrian Television; Television Wales Norwest; and the Wales Television Association/Teledu Cymru, the consortium assembled by Gwynfor Evans, Dr Haydn Williams and Colonel Traherne.

To complicate matters still further, less than four days before interviews were held, the Post Office, carrying instructions from the Government, imposed a set of what can only be regarded as spitefully harsh additional conditions on the applicants, including requiring that the chosen contractor must provide a 'distinctly Welsh' service incorporating over 40% locally-produced programming - an extremely demanding and expensive condition to fulfil. Following initial interviews, Television Wales Norwest and Teledu Cymru were recalled for a second interview, and finally Evans and Williams were granted the contract after financial reviews had been carried out. In the face of objections from TWW that the name 'Teledu Cymru' gave the erroneous impression that the company served all of Wales, the ITA imposed the name 'Wales (West and North) Television Ltd' on the company.

The conditions of WWN's contract were not as drastic as originally proposed, but still required the transmission of ten hours per week of Welsh programming during peak hours, almost half of these being produced by WWN. The rest were to come from TWW and Granada, and the former graciously allowed WWN access to its Welsh programming free of charge. Granada, however, seeing no further need to produce Welsh programmes, accordingly ceased production, leaving the new station to make up the difference.

As if the new company's challenges were not enough, three quarters of the viewers in its service area were already watching a different ITV station and would need a different antenna - plus an interest in, and understanding of, Welsh language programmes - to tune in. Cable TV services, necessary in the deep Welsh valleys, were reluctant to carry the new broadcaster, preferring to stay with existing services. There were delays getting the second and third transmitters into service, with Arfon almost two months late and Moel-y-Parc over four months behind schedule. And to cap it all, the winter of 1962-63 was one of the harshest in living memory.

It was under these almost insuperable burdens that WWN went on the air from its Cardiff studios via the Preseli transmitter on 14 September 1962, with only a year and a half to go before all ITV franchises were up for general review.

The programmes were good, everyone agreed. The company met the difficult requirement to provide the lion's share of Welsh programming and provided primarily bilingual continuity announcements. But the revenue position began, and remained, poor, with advertising income per viewer under half that of a typical ITV contractor. The ITA was forced first to defer, then to write off, transmitter rental payments. By the time that the Moel-y-Parc transmitter went on the air, the company owed over a quarter of a million pounds, and even with all three transmitters in service and the company receiving network programming free of charge from other companies, income was only two-thirds of its projected level - far from break-even, let alone profitability. WWN had to cut back dramatically, closing down programme production completely, while the Post Office was obliged to release the company from the Welsh programming quota requirement. It was evident to the ITA that the company was doomed.

The obvious solution was a deal with TWW, and a generous arrangement was negotiated. A merger took place on 26 January 1964, the day after TWW had been granted the renewal of its franchise. The 'Teledu Cymru' name was continued by TWW for its Welsh language service and a new channel was added to the St Hilary transmitter to carry programming in Welsh - a channel that, had it been available to WWN, might have saved the broadcaster from an untimely demise.

Bernard Sendall, Independent Television in Britain, vol I, Macmillan, 1982
Transdiffusion - Ident,
Independent TeleWeb,

Richard G.Elen

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