As the Western Mail celebrates its 150th anniversary, Carolyn Hitt explores the past, present and future of Wales' national daily newspaper. Carolyn – who’s written an award-winning weekly column for the Western Mail for 27 years – intertwines its history with the here and now of a paper challenged with keeping its foothold in Welsh life against a backdrop of seismic change in the media industry.
It’s a narrative rich in anecdote, controversy and characters - a story spanning 150 years that tells us as much about how Wales and concepts of Welshness have changed as journalism itself.
We hear how the Welsh paper dismissed by some as the Llais y Sais (voice of the English) was founded by a Scot, the third Marquess of Bute to “espouse the Conservative cause” and his political aspirations. Through the first-hand account of SW Allen, a docker who the Marquess put in charge of production, we relive the chaotic printing of the first edition on May 1st 1869 in a dilapidated old salt store behind a Cardiff pub. And we trace how within 20 years it had become as “indispensable to the people of South Wales as their morning meal.”
The programme explores the colourful characters whose by-lines made them household names, like Joseph Staniforth who was plucked as a teenager from the print room to become a cartoonist who helped shape Welsh identity at the turn of the 20th century. Through the newly digitised archive of his 1300 works at Swansea University we hear how he reflected Wales to the world and trace the impact of his most famous creation, Dame Wales who came to represent the nation visually in the same way as John Bull symbolised England.
And we hear about the biggest names who have written for the Western Mail – including Saunders Lewis, Gwyn Thomas and the brilliant journalist Gareth Jones who reported from Hitler’s plane in 1933, two years before his life was cut tragically short when he was kidnapped and shot by Mongolian bandits. We’ll uncover some of the more surprising people who have written for the paper, including Richard Burton, Ian Fleming and anti-apartheid activist Donald Woods.
We also hear how the Western Mail responded to pivotal stories in Welsh history from the Great Revival to Devolution. And we discover how it sometimes became part of the story – from its campaign to raise £26,000 for Scott’s South Pole expedition to its fundraising drive to bring Dylan Thomas’s body home.
Its more recent history is revealed through interviews with staff who worked there from the 60s to the 2000s, including its current editor Catrin Pascoe - the first woman to edit The Western Mail in its 150-year history.
As the Western Mail celebrates its 150th anniversary, Carolyn Hitt explores its history.