People of Wales win recognition of Welsh language from UK, 1970’s

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Time Period:  
Location and Goals
United Kingdom
Location City/State/Province: 
To establish mainstream, independent Welsh language and TV programs

Wales, a country that is bordered by England to the east, is part of Great Britain and the United Kingdom. The Welsh people have their own distinct national identity, with a unique culture and language. There has long been a Welsh Nationalist movement, which in modern times has been represented by the political party Plaid Cymru, literally “the Welsh Party”.

Inspired by the fear that the Welsh language would disappear forever, members of Plaid Cymru alongside the Welsh Language Society initiated in the 1970s a non-violent direct action campaign to establish Welsh radio and television channels.

The background for this campaign included multiple campaigns in the 1960s. Welsh people initiated a movement for more mainstream use of the Welsh language. On 2 February 1963, for example, students blocked the Trefechan bridge to raise awareness about the lack of official status for the Welsh language at the time.

Protesters frequently damaged or painted green the signs that exclusively had English on them. They succeeded in winning bilingual road signs, a practice which continues today. The Welsh Language Act was finally passed in 1993, declaring English and Welsh to be on equal grounds in Wales. However, the Welsh Language Society still calls for Welsh to be named the official language.

In the 1960s the Plaid Cymru’s rose to political prominence by fighting for a constitutional change that would devolve governance as well as its members joining the language campaign. The struggle for political autonomy in Wales continues into the modern day.

At the onset of the 1970s the Welsh Language Society started to campaign for better Welsh radio and TV services. Channels like BBC1 and BBC2 only broadcast Welsh language programs at irregular hours, during unfilled time slots.

The government of the United Kingdom responded by setting up a Council for Welsh Language in 1973 to implement more widespread official use of the Welsh language.

The campaigners found the response insufficient, and, joined by Plaid Cymru, pushed harder. Plaid Cymru came up with two thousand protestors who vowed to risk imprisonment rather than pay the television license fees for programs that did not broadcast in Welsh. Members of the Welsh Language Society painted signs and slogans on the buildings of businesses and engaged in other defiant, non-violent acts of the same scale. Some protestors used methods such as climbing the masts of TV poles, and invading and disturbing the peace at television and radio recording studios.

The campaigners intensified their actions in 1977 and gained a major concession: Radio Cymru was established by the BBC.

The campaigners moved on to television. Plaid Cymru and the Conservative UK government negotiated an agreement to establish a channel for Welsh programs.

In 1979 the UK government backed out of its promise to provide Welsh language television programming. The prominent Welsh politician, lawyer, author, and activist Gwynfor Evans threatened to go on a hunger strike -- to the death -- if the television channel was not established. Along with this threat came the promise of increased militancy by the activists, along with worries that the campaign would continue to grow momentum and shift from nonviolent direct action to violent protest and campaigning caused the British government to give into the demands of the protestors.

The British government gave in and established, in 1982, the Sianel Pedwar Cymru, referred to as (S4C), so that both radio and television services were now fully available in the Welsh language.

Much later the Welsh Language Society became concerned about the trend toward an increased proportion of the funding for S4C coming from the budget of the BBC; by 2013 BBC provided a majority of the funding. The Society believes that a BBC commitment to the English language means that its being the chief funding source for S4C means a step away from Welsh linguistic autonomy. In this as in other ways, a substantial number of Welsh people continue to struggle for increased Welsh independence.

Research Notes

2.) Values, Protest and Minority Nationalism in Wales

Ian McAllister and Anthony Mughan

British Journal of Political Science , Vol. 14, No. 2 (Apr., 1984), pp. 230-243

Published by: Cambridge University Press

Article Stable URL:


4.) Evans, Gwynfor, For the Sake of Wales: The Memoirs of Gwynfor Evans, Caernarfon, Welsh Academic Press, [1986] 1996, ppt. 257

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Vinita Davey, 22/09/2013