Huw Edwards on retelling the story of Wales

Monday 27 February 2012, 12:26

BBC Wales History BBC Wales History

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Huw Edwards spoke to BBC Wales History about why he wanted to be involved in the new history series, The Story of Wales, which starts tonight at 9pm on BBC One Wales.

When BBC Wales suggested my name for this series, it really was a dream come true. No self-respecting Welsh broadcaster would turn down such an offer. To bring the nation's story to life is a daunting challenge, to say the least. Great men have laboured in this field, and I enter it with respect.

The last major television history of Wales was The Dragon Has Two Tongues in the mid 1980s, when the great Gwyn Alf Williams and Wynford Vaughan-Thomas slugged it out in one of the best history series ever seen on British television.

The Dragon Has Two Tongues mesmerised viewers: each presenter vigorously promoted his own story of Wales, engaging in endless argument about people, places and events. They conveyed the volatility of that period: there was a palpable uncertainty about the very notion of Wales. The country seemed to be in flux, the political landscape dominated by the year-long miners' strike. Gwyn Alf and Wynford taught viewers that the best history provokes debate and encourages reflection.

huw edwards

Huw Edwards on location for The Story of Wales

We made this series, 26 years later, in a rather different climate. Wales is in many ways a new country, clearly energised and boasting its own government and law-making National Assembly. For the first time in the history of our nation, laws are being made by elected Welsh representatives in Wales for Wales.

So it was high time for us to re-tell the story of Wales for the 21st century.

Wales has a remarkable story to tell: we start our series on the rocky Gower coastline where an English clergyman made the first discovery of a human fossil anywhere in the world, and the oldest ceremonial burial discovered anywhere in Western Europe. We end our series in my home town, Llanelli, where we reflect on the rapidly-changing shape of Wales in the 21st century.

In between we criss-cross the country visiting places and times whose significance we try to explain in a lively and accessible fashion. I am endlessly fascinated by the dazzling growth and ambition of Victorian Wales. Our Victorian ancestors were remarkable people and we are still in their debt today.

Some of the locations were exceptionally thrilling. The site of Crawshay's immense iron furnaces in Merthyr is still impressive in scale and form. The sadness and tranquillity of Llyn Celyn in the early morning light was a very special experience. The ruins of Strata Florida Abbey near Pontrhydfendigaid offer a haunting glimpse of life in medieval Wales.

The vivid lunar-like landscape of Parys Mountain in Ynys Mon, with its old copper workings, is unforgettable. Dinefwr Castle, majestically sited above the Tywi, is probably my favourite castle in Wales. And who can resist the peace and beauty of St David's Cathedral, a prime site of Christian worship for the past 1,400 years?

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    Comment number 21.

    Great program spoiled by some inacuracies, at the time in history Huw Edwards was talking about there was no place called Wales or Scotland or England, just Britain populated by various tribes, wales didn't exist until around the 1500's, although there was a principality in the 1200's

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    Comment number 22.

    Well done to BBC and well done to Huw for the excellent presentation.

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    Comment number 23.

    Loving your presentation of the history of Wales! Pitched perfectly, factual, fascinating, interesting, just the right amount of CGI to enhance the facts and not distract, unlike Andrew Marr's History of the World which is slow and seems to be pitched at a primary school level with over used reconstruction and CGI completely distracting from relating the story. Well done Hugh! Hope you receive the alcolades you deserve!

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    Comment number 24.

    An excellent series.
    rsvgp, I think you'll find that Huw commented that Caradoc (Caractacus) was a Brython (Briton) for in those days of Roman occupation there were no Welsh and there was no Wales. The country was called Wales by the Saxons. The modern English word is a corruption of the Saxon word "walas" which meant a non-Saxon or foreigner. Valais in Switzerland stems from the same root. In modern German a citizen of Wales and Valais is called a Waliser.

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    Comment number 25.

    My parents lived for a short time at Hendre Bolon in 1930 a smallholding near the Hepste falls and this is marked on the O.S. map. Then moved to live at Hendrefydd, also on the map. Wild goats were seen on the mountain near Ystrad fellte and was told they had escaped from drovers on way to market.I attended the new school built 1930 ? named after a local poet at Pontneathvaughan , Pontneddfechan,now closed for lack of pupils I am told.We visited a popular picnic site Dinas Rock where stood a carved stone chair called Arthur's seat. Then to a small farm at Tycroes Carmarthenshire in 1933 where I soon learnt to speak Welsh as most children did and were bi-lingual . Lessons were given in English with translations to help. Recommend a book by George Borrow " Wild Wales"

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    Comment number 26.

    This programme is a brilliant insight into the Welsh story. And much credit goes to Huw Edwards whose knowledge, credibility and enthusiasm ensure it is exactly what it should be - and emotional, committed roist through the pages of an amazing story. My few years living and working in Wales and with the Welsh were great fun and I am so pleased that this is not some dry, dusty chronology. Thanks you all.

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    Comment number 27.

    Great programme tonight.. having recently researched my family history and found ancestors who moved from rural Carmarthenshire in the early 1800's to the industrial Tawe valley - in particular
    the Tin works in Pontardawe - this struck a chord. Diolwch yn fawr Huw!

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    Comment number 28.

    The show is by far the best historical programme ever made.I love Wales and love to visit historical sites and have found I have many more to visit after watchingnthis programme. The programme is put accross in the most brilliant way and is great for children to have a clear understanding of the vital history of Wales and how the country was shaped from the very start. Huw Edwards and in deed the entire team working on this are sure to get awards, and it will do wonders for the tourism of wales. it is worth pointing out that the Caractacus issue (lets say) can in no way be regarded as a mistake (many of my freinds have asked) or as misleading. True Caractacus was a King of britain and was part of the Cantuvellauni, however it is worth remembering he was born c 10 AD, and many british legends of him are shall we say hazy and he went in to the Welsh legends more than those of Britain. Most historical facts of an age so long ago can be taken many ways and it is true to say that he may well have gone for many a wander over the welsh borders as he made the trip to Rome on at least one. Sorry for the ramble there and cant wait to buy the DVD. WELL DONE......

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    Comment number 29.

    I am not Welsh but I am enjoying the programme very much.

    One question, what is the music accompanying the series, it is really lovely?

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    Comment number 30.

    Episode 4. Huw. Richard Price, American War of Independence. "English Crown". At the time it was the British Crown. James VI of Scotland became James I of England in 1603. Furthermore in 1707 there was Union between Scotland and England.

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    Comment number 31.

    Marvellous historical tour of Wales. Congratulations. Only found the programme by chance so have missed a few episodes - most TV (BBC included) is rubbish so I rarely switch the TV on. Nor can I view the episodes with i-player because I am not in the UK, so hope there will be a repeat in the near future. From an appreciative Englishman.
    PS Why do you have a spellchecker on these comments using American spelling? Symptomatic of much that is wrong at the Beeb

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    Comment number 32.

    I've been fascinated by this informative series. However, I am surprised that there was no examination of the origins of the Welsh people. Where did they come from before they arrived in Britain? This is especially an interesting question in the light of recent revelations. Based on the examination of the DNA of Welsh people, especially those of the North West of Wales, where there has been less inter-marriage with people of non-British origin (Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Viking...), it has been shown that these Welsh share as much as 80% of their DNA with the Basques! If the Welsh are truly of Basque origin, it poses the question, why don't they speak Basque?

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    Comment number 33.

    My enjoyment of this series was marred by having to puzzle over Huw Edwards's strange use of the present tense when describing the past. On occasions he found it dificult to keep it up, and couldn't resist the more normal past tense, only to pull himself up sharp again and resume his battle with the English language. It was really very distracting. Why did Huw put us - and himself -- through this ordeal?

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    Comment number 34.

    I have loved watching this program, it showed not only the many hardships that the Welsh people have endured but also the many gifts that have been provided by Wales. Not only to the UK but to the greater world also. I would have loved to have heard also about our understanding of herbs through the written information on the Sons of Myddfy and how this too reached out to different parts of the world, but on the whole Huw Edwards has done a fantastic job! I am not a fluet Welsh speaker but my grandparents were. They were born and lived in Llanelli as did I in my younger years. My grandmother reaching the grand old age of 99 only died two years ago and was filled with the wisdom of a life that was truly lived. Living with both my Grandparents as well as my my parents, I was brought up on stories of the many hardships and poverty that my Grandparents generartion had had to deal with in their younger days, but also the stories of community and family unity that pulled everyone through it. I am greatful that I was born into such a rich culture as Wales! Diolch yn fawr Huw!....

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    Comment number 35.

    My god even when telling the history of Wales the BBC cannot attack Thatcher even on this issue.
    They are keen to tell you the few unemployed under the remnants of an old Labour government.
    But Thatcher "Swept to power" and everyone was wealthy. Despite being decimated under the witch.
    If it were not for the arranged Falklands war with her fascist dictator friends in south America she would have been booted out.
    Don't the BBC realise one day all this crap will come out and the police will come a knocking.
    Remember the names of those involved people for the inquiry.

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    Comment number 36.

    As a Scot married to a Welshman (originally from Tredegar - hats off to Aneurin) I found this programme so informative. Wonderful to hear the Welsh place names pronounced by a Welsh speaker. Huw's fronting of this series was immaculate and he has such an easy grace.

    Thank you BBC -

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    Comment number 37.

    Excellent series. Reminded me - up to a point - of my O Level Welsh History. As an exile, pleased to say that some of my English friends enjoyed it too.

    Two observations by way of very minor criticism:

    1. There was no mention of the Welsh Knot - the punishment for speaking Welsh at school.
    2. Also no mention of the colony in Patagonia. An attempt to preserve Welsh language and
    culture from English incursions.

    By the way rsvgp (above), at the time of the Roman invasion, there was no England. What would become England (in the Dark Ages) was settled by established Celtic (i.e. Welsh) tribes.

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    Comment number 38.

    I thoroughly enjoyed the Story of Wales presented by Huw Edwards who brought the story and the camera together as one. In particular I enjoyed how Queen Elizabeth encouraged them to see her as a friendly Royalist by issuing the Welsh Bible to each church and how Wales embraced the Church of England.
    I felt proud and thrilled on learning of how the Welsh culture and traditions moved with the times to its modern day beliefs and how, although still keeping its Welsh acclaim, it has a strong link to England.
    It saddens me to see the Islamic extremists cling to their past traditions and cultures; when they could move onwards. How can we help them to look forward like the Welsh people did? Maybe all Islamic people need is Huw Edwards to talk to them about their country in an enlightening way and showing them how they are gaining new cultures and traditions. How we all can join together in the world’s search for harmony.

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    Comment number 39.

    whilst a very good series it was effectively the story of "south wales"as there was so little input about north wales where i come from. No mention of the coal mines at gresford,llay, point of air and so on. No mention of the gresford disaster of 1934?or the importance of the steelworks of Shotton and brymbo. One brief mention of the closing of Shotton. No mention of the production of nylon at courtaulds.No mention of the roman influence at Chester and the building of the A5 road to Anglesey.the Programmed did very little to tell the story of the whole of wales.hugely dissapointing

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    Comment number 40.

    Very interesting series, much enjoyed by me (Welsh) and my English husband. My family consisted of farmers and miners in different parts of the country and much of the later programmes rang true.
    Why was the story of the development of religion in Wales hardly mentioned? Perhaps another programme or series (to be shown in whole of Britain) could be produced, ideally with Huw Edwards as the presenter, as he is so at ease in the whole Welsh environment.

 

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