S4C is a national treasure

WELSH life would be very much poorer without S4C says Wrexham-born broadcaster, producer and director Nia Ceidiog who appeared on the channel the very first night it went on air.

The generation which has grown up in Wales not knowing what it was like to be without programmes made in their own language need to “treasure” the channel.

Nia, a former pupil of Ysgol Morgan Llwyd, was one of hundreds of students in the 1970s who campaigned and protested for the Welsh language and a Welsh TV channel.

“I cannot imagine life without S4C, but what is interesting is that there is a generation who take it for granted and cannot remember a world where we did not have TV programmes for them in their own language. It is something we should treasure,” she said.

Nia was brought up in Wrexham, Bwlchgwyn and Coedpoeth. She was the daughter of the late Gwilym Ceidiog Hughes, a local headteacher, and Edna Hughes, who was also a teacher.

She wanted to be a French teacher but after graduating from Aberystwyth changed her mind, did a post graduate diploma in drama and became an actress.

She got her first presenting spot on a children’s programme and in 1978 joined “a really vibrant” children’s department with HTV, leaving three years later after the birth of son, Dafydd.

She continued working on and off for HTV until S4C came along. “There were a lot of new productions and it was a very exciting time. One of those was the sitcom Newydd Bob Nos which was about a fictional TV station and what went on off screen and on screen.

“Programmes were recorded in Welsh and English, back to back. I played the secretary, Vicky. I suppose it was a little bit like Drop The Dead Donkey (which first aired in 1990).

“We recorded the programme over nine to 10 weeks at studios in Twickenham because the new S4C was a commissioning broadcaster and did not produce programmes.”

Newydd Bob Nos was shown on S4C on the historic night when the channel went on air for the first time on November 1, 1982.

Nia recalled: “S4C starting up meant a lot to me and my colleagues because we had been protesting and asking for a Welsh language channel for many years and it was really, really exciting when it happened.

“It is so important because without it the future of the Welsh language was in danger and this channel would help with the survival of the language.

“It has also opened up huge opportunities for us both as performers and as people who wanted to work in a fun and interesting profession.”

The year after S4C’s launch, Nia found herself back in Cardiff as a single mum and needing a more regular job and so became an S4C continuity announcer at their Sophia Gardens headquarters.

While there she started to write children’s stories and one day, an idea came in for a new children’s series called Fireman Sam – Sam Tan. “They were looking for someone to write the series and I was asked if I would like to write the Welsh and English versions of Sam Tan.”

Like SuperTed it was to prove phenomenally successful not just in Wales but in other countries too. And that original series still sells all over the world.

“From the beginning S4C was in the international market. In the children’s market it has been very outward looking. SuperTed had been a great success at Cannes and the TV festivals, so when Sam Tan came along there was a confidence about making programmes which could work outside Wales and be made in the Welsh language and English. It was a co-production between the BBC and S4C and it was really exciting.”

She admits that her own son Dafydd, “gave her some ideas”, for the mischievous young boy in Sam Tan, called Norman Price.

She quit the continuity announcing in 1989 and after more work on children’s programmes she hosted a phone-in show which went out live for an hour on a Sunday night and was very popular.

It was followed by a stint presenting a programme about fashion and design, called Steil a Steil, a show where she became assistant producer and ended up directing.

“I got to know the other side of the camera and I thought I had better re-invent myself and start producing and directing.” She did just that in 1996 by setting up her own independent production company based in Cardiff

“We’re quite a small company – but we compete with the big guys . The company grows when we have a production which demands it, for example with Baaas (a cartoon series about a family of multi-racial sheep) we grew from five to 45 people.”

That programme was bought by Arabic channel Al Jazeera who loved it so much they commissioned two further series, making television history in the process as the first co-production between UK and the Arabic broadcaster.

“I love making children’s programmes; I’m  passionate about how important and influential good TV is for small children, especially in the Welsh language.

“Everyone at S4C can be very proud of producing, on a shoestring, high value productions which can compete with TV all around the world.

“It is really heartening that a series like Y Diwrnod Mawr (an award-winning 52 part series produced by Nia’s company about a day in the life of particular children) can find itself at an awards ceremony among the finalists with some of the very best programmes from the UK and the world. For a programme in a minority language, that is really punching above your weight.”

Nia has just “returned” to Wales after an eight month spell producing a new series of the multi award-winning series, Something Special, for children’s channel CBEEBIES based at the BBC’s Media City.

Her next project is a brand new programme for S4C’s Cyw, called Dwylo’r Enfys (Rainbow Hands) which will broadcast on November 26 and introduce viewers to the Makaton sign and symbol communication system which can help children with special needs.

But what of S4C’s future? “The budget will always be a real struggle and there is no getting away from that. You have to work very hard and make it work. Budgets are tight and getting tighter, so we have to use every scrap of imagination to work with the money available.

“The really important thing is to tell people’s stories and tell them well, we are lucky in Wales that we have so much talent about and so many people who are able to do this well.”

Related Posts with Thumbnails