50 years ago today in Television

Harlech Television (HTV) began broadcasting to Wales and the West of England

Harlech TV ident 1968-1970

Harlech Television (named for the head of the company, Lord Harlech) was awarded its contract by the Independent Television Authority in July 1967, replacing the incumbent TWW. Harlech based its headquarters within the transmission area, at Pontcanna in Cardiff and Bath Road in Bristol. TWW refused to purchase shares in the new consortium and opted to cease broadcasting early on Sunday March 4, 1968, selling its remaining airtime to Harlech for ¬£500,000. As the new service was not ready to launch, an unbranded emergency service was provided by former TWW staff until Harlech’s launch on Monday May 20, 1968. The opening night was marked by a networked variety special.

From the introduction of colour on April 6, 1970, the name Harlech Television was dropped in favour of HTV, which was simpler and largely ended concerns from the West of England, that the Harlech branding was only associated with the Welsh part of the dual region. The initial Harlech board of directors boasted a high-profile line-up including actor Richard Burton and his wife Elizabeth Taylor, opera singer Sir Geraint Evans, entertainer Harry Secombe and veteran broadcaster Wynford Vaughan-Thomas.

In Wales, there was an additional requirement to provide a quota of programmes in the Welsh language. HTV Cymru’s nightly news programme Y Dydd aired each week night in a 6pm timeslot shared with its English counterpart Report Wales. Alongside current affairs, features and entertainment programming, the company pioneered a wide range of Welsh output for children and young people including Miri Mawr, Ffalabalam and pop magazine show Ser. Two of the company’s best known Welsh language series, Cefn Gwlad and Sion a Sian, continue to air on S4C.

HTV West was particularly successful in producing high quality children’s TV series, often sold internationally. It established the ‘HTV Junior Drama Workshop’ in Bristol, which auditioned and trained young actors and from which it cast roles for both its own productions, and other companies seeking young talent. Arthur of the Britons (a historic adventure series), Children of the Stones (a supernatural thriller shot amid the famous stone circle at Avebury in Wiltshire) and Robin of Sherwood were all very popular wherever they were shown. In addition to networked and locally produced programming, HTV also broadcast imported output and was the first British broadcaster to air Sesame Street as part of an IBA pilot in 1971. HTV Wales produced far less drama output, though they were contracted to make the ten-part Return to Treasure Island for The Disney Channel in 1985.

Notable HTV television shows

Arthur of the Britons (1972-3)

Children of the Stones (1977)

Robin of Sherwood (1984-6)

Wycliffe (1993-8)

Budgie the Little Helicopter (1994-6)

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