Screening the Nation: Landmark Television in Wales

This major report for the BBC Trust and Audience Council Wales examined the representation of Wales in landmark BBC television drama made in Wales. Published in March 2010, the report draws on interviews with audiences and textual analysis of popular shows like Dr Who and Torchwood, to shed light on the complex relationship between television production, its locations, and the impact of local, regional and national identity.

Duration: January 2009 – March 2010
Funding: BBC Trust/Audience Council Wales
Research team: Steve Blandford (Principal Investigator), Stephen Lacey, Ruth McElory, and Rebecca Williams (Research Assistant)

Research context:

In 2008, the King report on BBC news coverage described Wales as 'the invisible nation’ on UK television screens. Screening the Nation directly addressed the Audience Council Priority for 2009/10, adopted by the BBC Trust in January 2009:

The Trust should investigate ways in which the BBC might better portray the full diversity of the UK’s nation and communities in the regions of England, across its Network services, significantly enhancing the cultural representation of the English regions, Wales and Northern Ireland.

In January 2009, the project team was granted £20,000 by the Audience Council Wales to conduct the research. This covered the cost of employing a Research Assistant, conducting focus groups and other project expenses. Researchers’ time was covered by the University.

Research questions:
  • What does it mean to say that a city, or a nation, is 'portrayed’ (or not) in television drama, and why is this important?
  • What sense do audiences in Wales make of the representation of Cardiff and south Wales in high-profile landmark dramas such as Doctor Who and Torchwood?
  • In what ways might the answers to the above questions contribute to ongoing debates about 'the Nation’ and 'imagined community’ (Anderson 1983) of Wales?
Research methods:

The research involved a variety of qualitative research methods. These included: a review of literature on media representation and national identity in small nations; eight focus groups across Wales; an online questionnaire of 200 respondents; a systematic review of local, national and UK-wide press coverage of Doctor Who and Torchwood; textual analysis of individual programmes and series. The research was conducted over 12 months, during which time regular progress reports were made to the Audience Council Wales.

Research findings:

The findings of the research were published in a 40,000 word report entitled: Screening the Nation: Wales Landmark Television. A Master Copy and Executive Summary of the report are available to download.

The core findings were as follows:

  1. Audiences recognise the importance of a sustained commitment by the BBC to the nations and regions.
  2. Audiences have a sophisticated sense of what portrayal means, and respond positively to high profile programming that has no overt connection with their own regional or national identity.
  3. The BBC should commit to the telling of powerful stories that reflect the unique nature of nations and regions, and told with respect for the diversity contained within them.

In this video, Professor Steve Blandford, who led the research, talks to Arun Midha of the Audience Council Wales in more detail about the research and its findings. (Produced by the BBC Audience Council Wales).

Dissemination and impact:

The report was launched on 5 March 2010 at a special seminar chaired by Chitra Bharucha, the Vice Chair of the BBC Trust. Responses to the report were given by Professor Máire Messenger Davies (University of Ulster), Dr Enric Castelló (Universitat Rovira i Virgili, Catalonia) and Dr John Cook (Glasgow Caledonian University). Members of our focus groups were also invited to take part in the seminar.

Janet Lewis-Jones, BBC National Trustee for Wales, said at the launch: “The University of Glamorgan has conducted very interesting research on the issue of portrayal, involving both internet based research and eight face-to-face focus groups in various parts of Wales. Their report offers a perspective which will contribute to the work of the ACW and the Trust during the months and years to come”.

The report is mentioned in the BBC Audience Council Wales Annual Reviews 2008-09 (p.6) and 2009-10 (p.6), and received coverage on the BBC News Website, the Western Mail, the South Wales Echo, and the Mail on Sunday. The report’s findings helped to inform the Centre’s submission to the National Assembly for Wales task and finish group on the future outlook of the media in Wales.

Research outputs:

As well as producing a final report for the BBC Trust/Audience Council Wales, the research team have collaborated on several outputs for the academic press:

  • Blandford, S. and McElroy, R. (2011) ‘Promoting public service? Branding, place and BBC Cymru Wales’ idents, promos and trailers’ Journal of British Film and Television 8 (3): 392-410
  • Blandford, S. and Lacey, S. (2011) ‘Screening Wales: portrayal, representation and identity – a case study’, Critical Studies in Television 6 (2): 1-12. (The research team co-edited this special issue of Critical Studies in Television on representation, national identity and small nations, in which the Screening the Nation research was represented in a broad, international context).
  • Williams, R. (2011) ‘Desiring The Doctor: Identity, gender and genre in online science-fiction fandom’ in James Leggott and Tobias Hochscherf (ed.) British Science Fiction in Film and Television, McFarland: Jefferson: 167-177.