Lowri Gwilym: Widely admired Welsh television executive
Saturday 31 July 2010
Lowri Gwilym was one of the most influential television executives in Wales.
Appointed in 2004 as editor for factual programmes and co-productions by S4C, the fourth channel now broadcasting entirely in Welsh, she was associated with many of the best programmes put out by the channel, winning several international prizes for her work.
She also made programmes for radio. One of the most admired to be produced by her for BBC Cymru, where she worked for many years as a freelance prior to joining S4C, was Beti a'i Phobol ("Beti and her people"), the Welsh counterpart to Desert Island Discs, in which the matchless Beti George asks guests to talk about themselves and then request music that has special significance for them. One of the most popular long-running programmes ever to be broadcast in the language, its accolade is said to be the equivalent of an OBE in Welsh-speaking Wales. When, earlier this year, it celebrated its 25th year, there was no hesitation in asking Lowri Gwilym to be Beti George's guest.
Lowri Gwilym was one of the daughters of the late Gwyn Williams, sometime Professor of English at universities in the Middle East, whose forefathers had farmed the bleak uplands of Mynydd Bach near Trefenter in Cardiganshire; she changed her surname when she was 18. The family took all their summer holidays at Trefenter, partly so that the girls and their brother Gwydion would speak Welsh, and this they all did to their father's satisfaction. The summer of 1951 which Gwyn and his second wife, Daisy, spent on the mountain, before Gwilym was born, was lovingly recalled by their father in Summer Journal (2004) which she and her sister edited.
On his retirement and return to Wales in 1969 he set about renovating the family's old home, and lived there until 1983, so the children had a strong identification with the area. It was his daughter's intention to settle in the village later this year with her partner, the journalist Meic Birtwistle, and their two teenaged sons, a plan cruelly thwarted by her unexpected death, after a brief illness.
Gwilym was admired by all who knew her. A vegetarian avant la lettre, she led by example and never pressed her opinions on those around her. Having thrown herself into country ways with passion and understanding, she made a lasting contribution to the cultural life of Mynydd Bach, especially to Bethel chapel and Cofadail, a community initiative in Trefenter.
Educated at primary schools in Libya and Turkey, she took her first degree in Welsh at Bangor, and went on to do an MLitt at Linacre College, Oxford. She brought to her work as a producer for radio and television a rare intelligence and an academic regard for textual precision, but also bore in mind the popular demands made by these media, as evidenced by programmes such as O Flaen dy Lygaid ("Before your very eyes"), the six-part series Women in Politics, Wynebau Newydd ("New faces"), Cefn Gwlad ("Countryside"), and O'r Galon ("From the heart").
High standards were important to her and she achieved them by applying an analytical mind and quiet determination to everything she undertook. Her stint on the nightly feature programme Wedi 7 ("After 7") taught her a great deal about the pressures of working to a deadline. Until recently she was content editor for the long-running current affairs series Y Byd ar Bedwar ("The world on Four"). One of her last triumphs, the documentary Dwy Wraig Lloyd George ("Lloyd George's two wives"), won a Bafta Cymru award earlier this year.
Her father, a poet and translator, had known Lawrence Durrell and moved in his literary circle in Alexandria between 1942 and 1951. Shortly after Gwilym's birth he moved to a chair in Benghazi and then to Istanbul; it was for Durrell that Gwyn Williams made his first attempts at translating Welsh poetry into English. His pioneer selection of "poems from the first thousand years of Welsh verse", entitled The Burning Tree (1956) and with a bilingual text, was dedicated to "my daughters Teleri and Lowri in the hope that they may grow up to read both sides of the book".
In both cases their father's hope was realised: Gwilym has been referred to as "the best-read person in broadcasting", and in both Welsh and English.
Given Gwilym's cosmopolitan background, it was hardly surprising that she also wrote verse and spoke several different languages, which made her something of a rara avis in the studios of broadcasting house, Llandaf. But there was also something warm and homely in her nature that endeared her to all her colleagues.
Lowri Gwilym, television executive: born Aberystwyth, Cardiganshire 14 October 1954; two sons with Meic Birtwistle; died Cardiff 21 July 2010.
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