Wales is among the biggest production hubs in the UK - but TV is still struggling to show contemporary Welsh life on screen, according to a panel of speakers at the Wales Screen Summit.
Drama director Mark Evans pointed out that Wales is third in line behind South East and North West England in terms of British creative communities – but asked: “Why aren't we seen as much on screen?”
Ben Irving, the BBC’s acting head of drama, pointed to a “stark gap” between high-end Welsh productions like Doctor Who and His Dark Materials and “incredible Welsh pieces made on low budgets that go on to do well on iPlayer and get great acclaim”.
He is looking to close that gap with pieces such as thriller The Pact, the upcoming Wolf, and Lost Boys and the Fairies, which will be the first bilingual English/Welsh language drama for primetime BBC1. “It feels like a real shift into filling that space,” he said.
Lost Boys and the Fairies writer Daf James was part of the BBC Writers' Room Welsh Voices development group and then took part in the Writers' Room TV Drama Writers’ Programme, where he was partnered with Leeds indie Duck Soup and the script was ultimately greenlit.
Channel 4 drama commissioning editor Gwawr Lloyd stressed the importance of telling regional stories and making them universal.
“I’m frustrated that we're not working enough with writers from Wales, but that is going to change because there are a lot of great projects on the slate,” she said.
The move away from linear commissioning and audiences’ increasing acceptance of subtitles are encouraging signs for the future.
Lloyd highlighted the success of BBC Wales drama Keeping Faith. “It wasn't commissioned for BBC Network, but it became an iPlayer sensation,” she said. “The people had spoken: they wanted to see this really authentic story set in Wales.”
As the BBC continues to move towards making iPlayer the primary destination for viewers, Irving said it will “democratise the content in the way the linear schedule cannot always do.”
On a separate panel, BBC daytime and early peak commissioning editor Julie Shaw was surprised to learn that Creative Wales-funded Netflix show Sex Education was filmed in Newport, as it consciously strives to make its setting neutral.
“The precious thing we can do as content-makers in the UK, by tapping into the nations, is to give them [dramas] a sense of place – not make them Nowheresville,” Shaw said.
Some unscripted shows continue to be filmed “back-to-back” in the English and Welsh language to produce two separate versions commissioned by different broadcasting co-producers.
Channel 4/S4C co-production The Great House Giveaway is one such show. C4 daytime and features commissioning editor Kate Thomas said she had 14 commissions coming out of Wales.
“I’m actively looking for other projects I can commission back-to-back with S4C at the moment,” she said. She urged producers: “Come to us with a really bold idea – don't just think about Wales-based ideas. Think about formats, think about relatable, scalable series. Everything’s in place for us to keep growing on that.”