Today’s proper Today’s Joanna Page is Russell T Davies’s Mine All Mine. Stick around Who-ers and Torchwood-ers, this might be about a girl but there’s something in it for you as well.
Just kidding. I am awful, aren’t I?
Now Russell T Davies has been mentioned rather a lot on this blog and it’s not always been positive – which is a little unfair. So I thought I’d first take a moment to give some well deserved praise and thanks to the great RTD.
- Thank you RTD for enlivening children’s TV in the 80s and early 90s with shows such as Dark Season and Century Falls.
- Thank you RTD for writing for Touching Evil. While I didn’t like the UK version of the show much, the US version, which used your scripts, remains one of my favourite shows of all time.
- Thank you RTD for rescuing us from stultifying conformity by increasing the range and number of gay characters on television, whether in shows you contributed to such as The Grand, or shows you created such as Bob & Rose, Torchwood and, of course, Queer as Folk. The effect can be seen as far afield as Footballers’ Wives and Caerdydd
- Thank you RTD for casting David Tennant
- Thank you RTD for bringing back Doctor Who and revolutionising Saturday night television
Most of all though, thank you RTD for your “stealth Welsh” initiative.
The Welsh on television pre-RTD
It’s hard to remember what television was like before Russell T Davies. For years, Welsh actors and characters either didn’t get a look in or were there for comedy value. Back in the 70s, it was Pobol Y Cwm on BBC1, just before kids television started and that was about it. No, Ivor the Engine doesn’t count.
Come the 80s, S4C started up and took Pobol Y Cwm with it. That left mainstream TV with Ruth Madoc in Hi-De-Hi, and the hysterical John Sparkes as Siadwell in Naked Video and in Absolutely. Catherine Zeta Jones’s turn in The Darling Buds of May before her move to Hollywood helped up the Welsh profile a bit, but she never played any roles with her own accent – something that’s been true for the vast majority of Welsh actors and actresses since. As for shows set and filmed in Wales, they were pretty few and far between – can you think of any?
Then along came Russell T Davies (joined by Julie Gardner later on) with his “stealth Welsh” initiative – his plan to “normalise” the Welsh accent as a feature of British TV shows, get Welsh people represented on-screen and to create a viable TV industry in Wales.
And he’s doing it, too. There’s Torchwood and Doctor Who filmed in Wales, with Welsh actors and Welsh characters; Gavin & Stacey does likewise, coming in those programmes’ “Cool Cymru” wake. They’re all some of the most popular programmes on their respective networks (BBC2, BBC1, BBC3).
There’s a long way to go still and the scaling back of DW and Torchwood from 13 episodes plus specials to four and five episodes next year respectively, coupled with the impending end of Gavin & Stacey altogether, suggest it could all fall apart again. A certain Joanna Page, for example, has even remarked that’s she’s been to auditions, asked to do the role in her own accent, and been told “It’s fine for you to have any regional accent apart from Welsh”. But look how much he’s achieved.
No wonder Cardiff is thinking of erecting a statue of the man.
But the first real strike in his “stealth Welsh” plan wasn’t with the BBC – it was for ITV. Set in his home town of Swansea, Mine All Mine was a comedy drama starring Griff Rhys Jones as Max Vivaldi, a man who claimed to own the whole city, and a mostly Welsh cast able to use their own accents for once.
Now I really wanted to like this. Just about every possible checkbox was ticked for my liking it: Russell T Davies – check; Swansea – check; Joanna Page – check; Siwan Morris from Caerdydd – check; Griff Rhys Jones – check; Ruth Madoc – check; lots of Welsh people – check; etc.
Yet, even though rewatching it I liked it more than when I watched it the first time, it still wasn’t what you could describe as “great”, unfortunately.
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