The Broadcasters of BBC Wales 1964-1990 by Gareth Price (Y Lolfa £12.99)
THIS book’s cover brings to mind the BBC handbook published annually for six decades up until 1987 and its immense detail too is a reminder of those chunky volumes.
Its author Gareth Price joined BBC Wales as a current affairs radio producer in 1964, a time when the colourful characters who had established broadcasting in Wales were coming to the end of their careers.
He found himself in the care of entertainment producer John Griffiths, one-time employee of the National Library of Congress, whose BBC personal file carried an image of a Christmas tree signifying membership of the Communist Party.
Price is good when recalling Welsh politics during his early years with the corporation, castigating the negligence of the National Coal Board, the arrogant disinterest of its chairman Lord Robens and the “inhumanity” of Minister of State for Wales George Thomas in the period of the Aberfan disaster.
An industrious, globetrotting television producer, Price joined a generation of talented documentary makers whose programmes regularly appeared on the BBC networks.
His programme-making experiences are a source of some revealing references to Frances Stevenson, David Lloyd George’s mistress and eventual second wife, and the ghastly Thomas, by then Speaker of the House of Commons, notable for agreeing to allow a programme to be made on his Westminster role and the behind-the-scenes workings of Parliament.
From TV producer, Price rose through the ranks, eventually becoming Controller Wales and his comments on BBC supremos are worth reading. Alasdair Milne and Michael Checkland are praised, Ian Trethowan and John Birt less so — the latter’s view of BBC Wales was that “it was run like a small navy and the head of it thought of himself as the admiral.”
Of the various London controllers Alan Yentob was “arrogant,” while the music controllers Robert Ponsonby and John Drummond were “insufferable snobs.”
Price makes occasional interesting references to his days at University College Aberystwyth, where his contemporaries included extremely clever people, three of whom rose to top positions in the EU and it’s a pity that he does not share more of those memories. A pity, too, that there’s no index — compiling one in this digital age is no great chore.