Wales

75 years of Welsh language radio show that became UK hit

The audience for 'Caniadaeth y Cysegr' which was being recorded at Soar Presbyterian Chapel, Llanfechain on October 7, 1953 Image copyright National Library of Wales

It was the Welsh language radio show that accidentally became a UK-wide hit.

When it was launched 75 years ago this week, in war-ravaged 1942, the BBC's Welsh hymn-singing programme Caniadaeth y Cysegr was only broadcast throughout Britain because of a lack of transmitters to split the Welsh and English home service signals.

But when the end of World War Two saw more masts returned to the BBC from military use and Caniadaeth y Cysegr became a Welsh-only broadcast, the BBC was inundated with complaints from listeners in England.

In the light of this apparent universal popularity, a hymn-singing television series was created by BBC Wales in January 1961- Dechrau Canu Dechrau Canmol.

Shortly after, the format was adopted in English by the BBC in London.

Caniadaeth y Cysegr can therefore also lay claim to being the "grandmother" of Songs of Praise.

Welsh composer Richard Elfyn Jones believes he understands the appeal Caniadaeth y Cysegr held for a pan-British wartime audience.

"I have no doubt that the Welsh heritage excels somewhat, especially in the quality of the hymns, compared to the material from other nations, including in English," he said.

In the year of Caniadaeth y Cysegr's debut, the Allies launched a doomed raid on the German-occupied French port of Dieppe, another British radio stalwart took to the air in the form of Desert Island Discs, the Queen registered for War Service and soap rationing was introduced.

According to the Radio Times for that week, the first programme on 15 February was presented by Idris Lewis with singers Cantorion Llanelli and conducted by DH Lewis.

Other radio programmes that day included Marching Songs of Britain and Sincerely Yours, Vera Lynn.

The news bulletin at 17:00, Newyddion, was also presented in Welsh.

Nowadays, Caniadaeth y Cysegr is broadcast on BBC Radio Cymru on Sunday afternoons at 16:30, online at bbc.co.uk/radiocymru and on BBC iPlayer Radio.

Radio Cymru Editor Betsan Powys said: "Caniadaeth y Cysegr is a jewel in the crown of Radio Cymru and an important part of the station's story.

"2017 is a milestone for Welsh language broadcasting as Radio Cymru marks its 40th year and Caniadaeth y Cysegr celebrates 75.

"It's good to know that the series has had such an influence in Wales and beyond."

However, current producer Ceri Wyn Richards has a warning for the next 75 years.

"I've been producing Caniadaeth y Cysegr for five years and it's a real privilege," she said.

"I am concerned, however, that the number of Cymanfa Ganu festivals is on the decrease and the tradition of singing in 'SATB' has weakened during my relatively short period as a producer.

"Although there are strongholds which respect the tradition, we've all got a duty - if we're interested in the history of our hymn singing - to ensure the continuity of this important heritage."

More on this story