LONDON — British programs invariably clean up at Switzerland’s Rose d’Or entertainment festival, but never before in the prestigious event’s 47-year long history has a Welsh show won first prize for best soap opera.
Last week “Con Passioante,” a Welsh language drama about the lives and loves of an all-male choir whose lives are transformed when a feisty femme fatale arrives as their new conductor.
The show beat some of the most popular programs on the planet including two of the U.K.’s most watched shows, seasoned soaps “EastEnders” and “The Bill.”
In fact, strictly speaking “Con Passionate” is not really a soap at all, but a returning drama; to date there have been two eight-part series and a third, for transmission next year, is in the pipeline.
What it demonstrated, not for the first time, is that the channel that broadcasts “Con Passionate”, Welsh language pubcaster, S4C, has a habit of punching above its weight.
“Con Passionate’ is the most successful Welsh drama of all time,” claims the series’ producer Paul Jones. “The critical acclaim has been phenomenal.”
“It was a fantastic accolade to win the Golden Rose,” he adds. “But I’d like to think that our show’s production values have more in common with a high-end show like ‘Cold Feet’ (a past British winner in the same category at the Rose d’Or) than a mainstream soap.
“‘Con Passionate’ is very influenced by Dennis Potter, especially things like ‘Pennies From Heaven.’ There are quite a few surreal fantasy sequences in the show.”
S4C is arguably Blighty’s most neglected broadcaster. Ratings are counted, at best, in hundreds of thousands rather than millions.
Its primary remit is to promote the Welsh language. All peaktime shows, including of course “Con Passionate”, on the main channel (a digital sister web was launched recently) are shown in Welsh.
It may be S4C’s most popular show, but only 330,000 people tune in regularly to “Con Passionate”. That, however, translates to around a 20% audience share.
Over the years S4C, part funded by the British Government to the tune of $180 million a year, has confounded sceptics by taking creative risks and often reaping the awards at gong shows or in the international market place.
Two of its feature films, “Hedd Wyn” and “Solomon & Gaenor” were Oscar nominated for best foreign language film, in 1993 and 1999 respectively.
It aims to produce one feature film every 18 months or so. The latest, “Cwcw,” a modern relationship story, is in production for Fondue Films.
Children’s animation series commissioned by S4C such as “SuperTed” and
“Shakespeare: The Animated Tales” have made a big impact both domestically and overseas.
Small it may be, but S4C is not immune to the winds of digital change threatening to blow all broadcasters off course.
In spite of a strong track record in tyke fare and a regular annual $20 million investment (this sounds modest but at a time of shrinking budgets for children’s programmes in the U.K. is not to be sniffed at) there is anxiety in the emerging broadband-era that children may desert S4C.
As all webheads know, today’s children’s audience will, hopefully, be tomorrow’s adult viewers.
With this in mind, S4C is lobbying to launch a Welsh-language children’s channel, to bow in 2008, and this week published a consultation document on the proposal.
The broadcaster seems quietly confident that the British Government will grant the necessary approval.
The win for “Con Passionate” in Switzerland and the positive publicity it has generated for S4C could not have come at a more helpful time for the station.
S4C really does have something to sing about as it approaches its 25th anniversary this fall.