The BBC1 Wales series The Story of Wales has been a great success among Welsh audiences, having been rated the top programme of 2012 so far. As the series draws to a close, Cardiff played host to John Geraint, one of the producers of Story of Wales who explained how the series was made.
The task of the series was to tell 30,000 years’ worth of Welsh history in six one-hour slots. To make the programme, the production team filmed in 130 locations, travelled 6,000 miles; and filmed more than 80 hours of footage. Geraint described to his audience in the Bute Building, Cathays Park, how it was clear from the start what direction the series should take, but that creating it was no mean feat. Geraint said: “The theme was about seeing Wales in a wider world. Wales has always been outward looking and forward thinking and we wanted to portray that.
“To ensure we were doing the story justice, in the script writing process we consulted 48 historians and academics.30,000 years is an awful lot of history to get through, and I think sometimes in the editing process it felt like we were doing it in real time.”
The limitations of producing just six episodes meant the production team had to be selective with which historical events to include. Geraint told how this led to some tough decisions, and the lack of coverage of certain landmark moments in Welsh history may be seen by audiences as controversial. Geraint said: “It was impossible to include everything, so certain things had to be cut down or left out. For example the miners’ strikes in 1984 and 1985 are dealt with in about 30 seconds. You will be able to judge next Monday night whether that was the right decision.”
The series has enjoyed a prime time slot on BBC1 Wales at 9pm, and as a result has reached wide audiences. The production team were thus faced with the challenge of varied target viewers to bear in mind, which required them to strike a balance between being informative without being patronising. Geraint said: “We knew this programme would have broad appeal, so in creating The Story of Wales we assumed intelligence, but not necessarily prior knowledge among our audience about the historical events we were covering.”
The Story of Wales is presented by newscaster Huw Edwards, whose father Hywel Teifi Edwards was a respected historian. Geraint said there was no better man for the job: “Huw is just such a national treasure; I think it’s true to say that Huw was the only person we considered. Huw is the only person on BBC1 the audience recognise, so he was number one at the top of any list.”
But filming with a BBC newscaster in a summer of news which saw Libya in turmoil and the News of the World close down was not without its pitfalls. Geraint said: “We had to reschedule three or four times because there was breaking news for Huw to attend to for network BBC. He worked very hard, often doing a long day of filming with us and getting back to London in time for the 10 o’clock news.”
Director of photography, Mike Harrison, explained how The Story of Wales audiences began to see Huw in a new light. The series often shows Huw in seemingly dangerous situations and taking on physical activities. Harrison said: “Inevitably with some of the shots you often want to push it as close to the line as you can. Huw was very keen to get out of his suit and to be seen on all of the locations.”
As well as stunning vistas and historical re-enactments, The Story of Wales features many ancient artefacts which members of the public will never be able to see up close. One such item is the Act of Union, which was on Welsh soil for the first time in history. Filming delicate artefacts like this was challenging for the production team because of the strict limits on what conditions the artefacts can be kept in. Harrison said: “Filming Huw with the Act of Union was tricky. They gave us about 20 minutes in which to do it, we were in a very small room and the lighting was a bit of a nightmare.
“We weren’t allowed to use very bright lights, and there was no mains electricity in the room so it all had to be done remotely. In the end we were filming from St Fagans but the switch was flicked from Cathays Park. It was an important part of the series though, and Huw was very determined to film it.”
Speaking of the legacy of The Story of Wales, Geraint said: “One of the things I feel most strongly about is that we have pointed out moments in Welsh history where Wales has led the world, for example Griffith Jones made Wales a literate country in advance of England. I think at the moment we are in situation where, because of the economic circumstances in which we live, it seems everything is in decline. We need to remember is that we can be world leaders; that’s my hope from it. But people can take from it what they will. “
The Story of Wales series is available on BBC iplayer and will be released on DVD on March 27.