Eisteddfod – Why doesn’t the BBC give a damn?
In a contemporary cultural climate which profanes to support the arts and embrace talent, it seems strange that the start of yet another National Eisteddfod remains tucked away in the old Welsh only television corner of S4C. Stranger still, given that the BBC has in recent years given attention to the cultural offerings of Scotland, Ireland, Scandinavia, the southern scene of the United States and various nations of Africa, that the main bonanza of cultural entertainment to come out of Wales is overlooked. One wonders what it is about the Eisteddfod that results in it being so consistently marginalised.
It should be stressed that coverage on S4C is no bad thing. The commitment shown to the festival is admirable, it’s near blanket coverage a bold display of faith in its viewers’ interest in the event. But one must wonder why so little attention falls on the Eisteddfod from beyond the sole Welsh broadcaster. BBC4 for instance makes bold claims about being a preserve of the arts, it, alongside BBC2, fawns over the Edinburgh Festival each year, goes giddy for the annual and often repetitive Proms programme, while BBC3 appears to prostitute its airtime to any music festival they can afford. Yet the showcase of cultural Wales is not deemed worthy of coverage.
It is telling as well, that although we as a community of nations, seem to pride ourselves on our ability to appreciate the cultural arts, we seem consistently dragged down into a mire of banality. The appreciation of the mainstream media, and those who view it, has sucked on the teat of the average for too long. X Factors and Talents and Problems being solved, have meant a generation is growing up understanding that the mediocre is the pinnacle, that those who cannot sing actually can sing, that those who cannot act indeed can, and those who seem to have no natural ability to dance or ice skate, should be celebrated as if they were Olympians.
Perhaps it is an issue of quality that holds back the Eisteddfod from a wider television audience, are our competitors too good? It can certainly be said with some confidence that, while of course not applicable to every competitor in the Eisteddfod, the standard of the competitors are particularly high. Be it solo monologues performed by some who seem barely old enough to walk, to the choirs littered with those at the exact opposite scale of the age range, the Eisteddfod should be proud to boast of the ability on display, and should equally sigh with the heavy realisation that, without a wider television audience, this talent will only be seen by the same, loyal but small, audience who has seen it tens of times before. But the notion that the quality is too high is a nonsense, as would be any acceptance of standards being too low, any viewer, however cynical, would struggle to argue such an angle. So what is it about the Eisteddfod?
Sadly the simple fact of the matter is that the BBC cultural channels have no interest because the medium of communication is Welsh. Too narrow an audience would no doubt be put forward, too parochial, too nationalistic. Yet are not most aspects of the arts narrow in audience and parochial? Indeed, BBC2 and 4 are channels that thrive on delivering the narrow and the parochial to new audiences. The Eisteddfod does and should remain fundamentally connected to S4C, their relationship is essential to each other, but the Eisteddfod, its traditions and events, and most importantly of all, its highly talented competitors, deserve a wider audience, even if it’s one night. Too much television is given over not to those who ‘can’, but to those who ‘can just about’, no real singers, but loud enthusiasts, no real dancers, but people who cry if they are told they can’t and are then encouraged to carry on anyway.
At the Eisteddfod, viewers will find those who can, those who can sing, dance, perform, at a standard that should embarrass those who are given their chance at the ‘big time’ on the strength of so little ability. It is not the place of the BBC to show 10 hours of coverage a day, but there should be no legitimate reason to prevent the channel from bringing some of this wonderful festival to a wider audience, even if it were to be just an hour, or even half that. The language should be no barrier, it serves as no such barrier to any other culture covered by the channel, subtitles are a wonderfully simple thing to make use of after all… There is no excuse, and it is time for the BBC, especially if they are having custodianship of S4C placed upon them, to look across the border, and give the cultural brilliance of the Eisteddfod the coverage it deserves. If they were to look for the best young talent, they would find it wherever the National Eisteddfod is.