Representing Wales
: experience on screen 1985-2010

  • John Geraint

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    This doctoral submission arises from the experience of working in broadcasting in Wales over a period spanning five decades. It focuses on one of my abiding concerns throughout: the under-represented experience of the community (the post-industrial working class of the South Wales coalfield) in which I grew up – and, more broadly, of those not especially powerful or privileged, elsewhere in Wales and the world; and how, in the broadcasting mainstream, in the UK and beyond, the quantum of the representation of such experience could be increased and its quality improved. The submission consists of a portfolio of four of my documentaries - The Waste Game (1987); Everyman: A Place Like Hungerford (1988); Do Not Go Gentle (2001); and Tonypandy Riots (2011) – and an overview which examines the characteristic features of my programme-making in the context of the development of the documentary and of television in Britain; explores the nature of representation in broadcasting, and its importance in validating the complex experiences and identities of ‘peripheral’ communities in the UK; explains how my understanding of community, forged in Wales, became problematic in the eyes of the London-based press when it informed in turn my representation of a particular and traumatic English social experience; and delineates strategies I have helped to form and articulate, both within the BBC and as an independent producer, which are intended to ensure that the under-represented experience of the periphery becomes more visible on the screen.After an Introduction which examines the interrelated group of meanings bound up in the idea of ‘representation’, and explains why they were of significance to a tyro producer/director from the Rhondda, each Chapter of the overview details the genesis, production and impact of one of the four documentaries in the portfolio, in chronological order, with an intermediate Chapter covering a period I spent away from hands-on production, engaged at a senior corporate level with issues of Welsh representation on the BBC networks. A Postscript expresses my conviction that the progress in the representation of marginal experience which I have witnessed and been party to can only be truly fruitful if the imaginative human relationship between programme-makers and those they represent is one of mutual trust and respect. This submission represents a significant contribution to knowledge in several ways. First, the portfolio of documentaries and the wider corpus of my work analysed and assessed here form a high-profile cluster of broadcast output made in the English-language in Wales. Such programmes were comparative rarities when my career began, and remain under-represented on the British screen. This intimate account of the detail and context of their production adds to the limited body of academic scrutiny such work has received. Second, at a time when the relationship between ‘the devolved nations’ of the UK and England is of particular political significance, this study constitutes a detailed consideration of a dimension of ‘British’ identity beyond those of age, ethnicity, class and gender which is just as complex in terms of the implications of its representation on the screen, and deserves as much attention. Third, this portfolio of work was produced within a broadcasting system and an institutional structure which, I argue, was signally failing to offer proportionate representation to the kind of experiences I was concerned with. This study offers a unique ‘insider’s view’ of power-struggles over the issue at the BBC and the development of a key intervention in which I was centrally involved. Finally, the portfolio itself and the broader career which it has been my privilege to enjoy are testimony to the (at least partial) efficacy of some of the strategies examined here for surmounting and moving beyond the economic barriers and cultural constraints which have historically prevented Welsh experience being fully visible, and which continue to disadvantage the Welsh producer. This account of the rationale for these strategies – and of the use made of them by the individual programme-maker and the incorporated production entity in the marketplace for factual television in the UK and beyond – may fill in some useful detail in the roadmap taking us towards a more complete representation of human experience.
    Date of Award2011
    Original languageEnglish


    • Television broadcasting - Wales
    • Wales - On television Motion pictures Wales

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