Wales on the box

Dr Iwan Morus

Dr Iwan Morus

20 June 2011

Media and Memory in Wales, 1950 – 2000

A new online archive featuring 120 fascinating oral histories of peoples’ memories of television during the second half of the twentieth century has been launched by a team led by Dr Iwan Morus from the Department of History and Welsh History.

The basis for the study are people’s memories of sitting in front of the television to watch events such as  the Queen’s Coronation in 1953, the harrowing images of the Aberfan disaster, the groundbreaking launch of the Welsh fourth channel S4C, or the mounting tension as the results of the 1997 referendum on devolution were announced.

The new website, Media and Memory in Wales, 1950-2000, was launched at The National Library of Wales on Friday 17 June 2011.

Over the past 6 months, project officers have been recording peoples’ memories of television during the second half of the twentieth century and have produced an archive of 120 fascinating oral histories.

Working in four areas of Wales – Caernarfon, Carmarthen, the Rhondda and

Wrexham – Lois Thomas and Dana Edwards have interviewed people about how

television affected their lives and the way they saw the world around them.

Dana Edwards explains how “television changed people’s lives. The Forsyte Saga was incredibly important to many with the Sunday night televising of this family drama forcing the change of chapel service times and even prompting one chapel-goer to suggest to her minister that his sermons should be curtailed to enable her to get home to settle in front of the ‘box’!”

Contributors were asked for their memories of watching BBC footage of some of the most significant events in Wales during the fifty years in question, starting with the Coronation of Elizabeth II and covering such topics as the Aberfan Disaster, the Miners’ Strike 1984-85, the Investiture of Prince Charles and both Devolution campaigns. Focusing people’s attention on specific events elicited some interesting anecdotes. “In the early days, televisions were few and far between and many remember watching being a social activity. One contributor recalls how he watched the Queen’s coronation in 1953 seated outside a shop on the main road through the Rhondda and having to move his chair each time a car wanted to pass.”

Dr Iwan Morus, project lead, said: “The Welsh context is particularly pertinent to the project and adds significantly to its potential value since, for a variety of political and linguistic reasons, the history of television in Wales has been particularly conflicted. For much of the fifty years in question, television formed a key battleground in struggles for linguistic and national identity. The archive resulting from this project will provide a significant resource for understanding the politics of television.”

Funded by the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC), the project has been carried out by Aberystwyth University’s History and Welsh History Department with support from project partners Culturenet Cymru. Other partners are BBC Wales whose footage of the events provided an important spur for peoples’ memories, and the National Screen and Sound Archive at the National Library of Wales where the content will be archived.

If people are inspired to share their own memories of watching these events and of the impact of television on their lives, they can do so by contributing to People’s Collection Wales –

Project funders / partners are: Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC), Aberystwyth University, The National Library of Wales and People’s Collection Wales.

The project received a grant of £93,000 from JISC.