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Tuesday 12 February 2013, 12:53
Programme schedulers and commissioners are always on the lookout for big anniversaries – they form a useful hook onto which we can hang a range of programmes and events and which our audiences can relate to. Next year will see 50 years of BBC Wales. This month however, there’s a more modest, but nevertheless poignant anniversary which is also worthy of celebration.
On 13th February 1923, the baritone Mostyn Thomas sang the traditional Welsh folksong Dafydd y Garreg Wen (David of the White Rock) from a tiny and basic studio in the centre of Cardiff. In its own way this small event was ground-breaking stuff in our history – not only was it the first BBC broadcast from Wales, but it was the first time that the Welsh language was heard on BBC radio.
Spin forward 90 years to the BBC Cymru Wales and Cardiff of today and you get a sense of just how much things have changed – both the organisation and society. The TARDIS has a permanent home here and visitors flock to the new Doctor Who Experience right next door to the BBC’s gleaming Roath Lock Studios; each evening on the BBC’s main television channel we see Welsh presenters from Alex Jones (The One Show) to Huw Edwards (BBC News) in prime time across the UK; and BBC Cymru Wales is the home to a slate of mainstream BBC output including Casualty, Crimewatch, Wizards vs Aliens and Being Human.
Wales is on the creative map - as I’m reminded whenever I follow the Gavin & Stacey tours bus in the narrow lanes on my journey home or am asked by a visitor for directions to Torchwood HQ. And while we’re on the subject of creative anniversaries, the Doctor himself is 50 later this year and BBC Wales is gearing up to celebrate in appropriately epic style. Life here has changed and Mostyn Thomas might agree that we’ve come on a bit?
BBC Broadcasting House in Cardiff shortly after construction.
Since his day the BBC has had a number of studios in Cardiff but in 1966 the HQ for the BBC moved to Broadcasting House in Llandaff (pictured above) and that’s where it remains to the present day.
The distinctive façade has been part of my life for longer than I care to remember as I went to secondary school just opposite. But whilst a security pass swipes me in daily now, back in the late 70s we were also frequent visitors to BH – attending concerts and performances and also contributing to a range of programmes. I even made my professional acting debut here as a dashing young hero in a drama programme – on radio of course. That early BBC experience clearly rubbed off on me and so cue the early part of my career as a BBC sound effects man, rattling tea cups in recording studios.
It’s easy to take for granted just how exciting it can be coming into a BBC building for the first time: the kit, the people, the special acoustics of the studios, the mysteries of the technical galleries – just the creative buzz of the place. I’m reminded of those visits whenever I see the public tours being guided around the site now – the BBC is important to people and there’s a fascination with seeing behind the scenes and getting even a brief glimpse of how it all works.
There’s something about our buildings and the people who work in them that is distinctive and special – just uniquely BBC. It got under my skin all those years ago and it continues to do so – right up to this day, Ninety years since that historic performance of Dafydd y Garreg Wen crackled into life from that spot a few miles down the road.
Neil Prior wrote about the 90th anniversary on the BBC News website.
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