Welsh BBC adds to drama output

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BBC WALES is rapidly expanding its ambitious output of network drama with a Welsh flavour.

It is capitalising on the corporation's commitment to cultural diversity, set out in its Extending Choice manifesto last December, to make more programmes outside London and the South-east. Until now BBC Scotland dominated in providing non-metropolitan drama for BBC 1 and BBC 2.

Ruth Caleb, head of BBC Wales drama, is also trying to persuade Alan Yentob, controller of BBC 2, to screen the weekly omnibus edition of Pobol-y-Cwm, the Welsh soap opera with subtitles, which it makes for S4C.

BBC Wales started to attract attention last year with its adaption of Kingsley Amis's The Old Devils and Lynda La Plante's Civvies. It has fostered talented writers and producers who live in Wales but write and work in English, who have suffered from the concentration of S4C's patronage on Welsh programme-makers.

Although a second series of Civvies now seems unlikely, Lynda La Plante is heading a team of BBC Wales writers who are devising a 10-part family drama, Lifeboat, based in a sea-faring village on The Mumbles, near Swansea.

Sir Anthony Hopkins stars in Alan Plater's dramatisation of the life and work of Gwyn Thomas, the Welsh writer and broadcaster. This will be screened as a Bookmark Special in the autumn. Dawn French, in her first serious role, plays a nurse on a geriatric ward in a Screen One film, Tender Loving Care, also for the autumn. On 21 February BBC 2 will show BBC Wales's The Cormorant in the Screen Two series, filmed in Snowdonia by the producer Andrew Holmes and starring Ralph Fiennes. The main characters are English people who have inherited a remote farmhouse. Local people speak Welsh, without subtitles, before switching to English.

Geraint Talfan Davies, controller of BBC Wales, said he hoped to quadruple BBC Wales's output for the network to 80 hours a year, with stronger output in documentaries and arts programmes.

The Adam Smith Institute, the right-wing think-tank, yesterday called for the BBC to be privatised by a flotation on the Stock Exchange, and transformed into a profit-making public company.

A report says the BBC would attract millions of small shareholders, giving it a widely dispersed ownership. It backs the creation of an Arts Council of the Air, to channel subsidies for public service broadcasting. It also asserts that there is sufficient advertising to support all Britain's television networks.

The Department of Heritage, which published the Green Paper on the BBC last November, has received about 4,000 submissions.

What Price Public Service? Will Bracken and Scott Fowler; Adam Smith Institute, 23 Great Smith Street, London SW1P 3BL; pounds 15.

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