Heritage, culture, tourism and TV

First published Tuesday, September 23, 2014

I had a very interesting conversation with a member of Pembrokeshire Tourism yesterday morning, which in turn prompted some thoughts and discussion points relating to the identity of Wales, and the various ways in which we can promote and market the country.

The discussions around identity and nationality are very much being heard at present in the wake of the Scottish Referendum. The political landscape for all nations within the United Kingdom is now being considered, argued over, and undoubtedly will play a part in the various manifesto pledges made by all the major political parties in the run up to next year’s General Election.

However, outside of the political arena, just how often do we see mainstream television programming that focuses on the heritage and culture of Wales? From time to time there are programmes that take us around the coastline, or to meet people running businesses and enterprises that are a little out of the ordinary or special because of the work they do. Cardiff and the surrounding area providers the backdrop for shows such as Casualty, Doctor Who, and Sherlock, but they don’t necessarily show or explain the heritage, or culture of Wales.

It is of course a difficult balance to strike. Think of all things cultural to do with Wales and perhaps you have castles and male voice choirs come to mind, possibly the rugby, and maybe some miners. There is of course so very much more than this. With wonderful tales such as the Mabinogion, the life of St David, the story of Gelert the hound, and a number of more recent additions to the folklore and tapestry of story telling, some written and set in Pembrokeshire, and this being only a small part of it all too, the culture and heritage of Wales is deep and colourful.

How can we bring some of this to life? Dry documentaries don’t do it justice, and are unlikely to engage many or inspire them to find out more. That said, Huw Edwards presented The Story of Wales which covered 3,000 years or so of Welsh history in 6 episodes, bringing aspects of the country’s heritage to life. However, there are perhaps other ways in which it could be made accessible and ‘real’. Consider the huge following period dramas such as Downton Abbey receive, and perhaps there is the clue. By bringing characters from a particular period to life and telling their tales in a way that engages the audience and creates a connection with them, you can bring in the history, heritage and culture of a nation at the same time without it being a text book history lesson. Learning about the Rebecca Riots in the classroom is one thing, seeing it dramatised as something involving a family you’ve come to know well on screen and seeing the impact it has on them and their neighbours is another. Personally I think I would remember the details somewhat better from the second than the first!

There are many benefits to setting such dramas in identifiable locations. Aside from the coffee break chats about the programme and the almost subconscious absorption of facts and history, such series create a draw for visitors, which in turn brings economic boosts. Cardiff has done well from Doctor Who, and many fans visit simply to see the locations used. Pembrokeshire has enjoyed many a claim to fame on both the small and big screen – Harry Potter, Robin Hood, and shortly airing Under Milk Wood all being notable for their impact on the visitor and tourism economy as fans visit the locations.

Take a few moments to think about the series you watch regularly. Where is it set? What does it impart about the culture or heritage of the nation? How do you feel that the nation is represented in tv shows, documentaries, dram series? Is it accurate? Is it fair? Does it inspire a sense of pride? As the last few weeks have shown, different areas within Great Britain, in much the same way as throughout the world, have their own very individual sense of place, with a heritage and culture unique to that location. It is a diversity to celebrate, and one to share – the more we learn and understand about each other and our identity, the more enriched our lives can be.

First posted on The Pembrokeshire Tourism Blog

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