I watched the first two episodes of the Danish drama Forbrydelsen – called The Killing in English, though perhaps it would be more accurate to call it The Crime – on BBC Four last night. It was very impressive, and anybody who missed it can catch it on iPlayer.


Now this isn't exactly going to be mainstream viewing, nothing on BBC Four is. But it provides a perfect example of the sort of programme that I think could and should be shown on S4C, but with subtitles available in Welsh as well as English. The cost would be minimal, but the principle of international material not invariably being offered through the medium of English is vitally important.


Strangely enough David TC Davies, the chair of the Welsh Affairs Select Committee, made exactly the same point when the committee questioned Ed Vaizey on 18 January:

Q477 Chair: Have you looked at encouraging S4C to buy in films from non English speaking countries – some very good films are produced in places like Germany and France – and putting in Welsh subtitles? I personally don't see that as being such a bad idea. It is standard practice in many European countries, including Germany and France.

Mr Vaizey: I know that you had an extensive discussion on this subject when you took evidence. I would expect the Committee's report to reflect your views.

Evidence to WASC, 18 January 2011

As someone who doesn't agree with Mr Davies on many things, it is a very pleasant surprise to find myself agreeing with him on this. Though I should make it clear that I don't think this is a substitute for commissioned drama in Welsh, but as a supplement to it.

We'll have to see whether this proposal is reflected In the WASC's report. But if I might make one suggestion to Committee members, it would be to widen the scope of that proposal beyond S4C. In this instance the BBC has bought the rights to show the series in the UK. But what is to stop the BBC from subtitling this and similar programmes ... not only in Welsh but also in Gaelic? It would be a significant step in making much more material available in Welsh and Gaelic (at least to read, if not to hear). The same would be true for the Italian or German opera that sometimes even makes it onto BBC2.

So yes, I think it would be a good idea for S4C to show foreign language programmes subtitled in Welsh. But if we are to see a much closer relationship between S4C and the BBC, similar to the way that BBC Alba works in Scotland, then there can be no excuse for the BBC not to do its share for each of the languages of Britain.


The more sharped-eyed will have noticed that the picture I've shown is actually for the second series of Forbrydelsen. It's quite likely that the BBC will acquire, or has acquired, the rights to show that as well. It might now be too late to subtitle the first series in Welsh and Gaelic, but with the right pressure from the right people, they could easily do it for the second. In fact, we could make it a requirement that our public service broadcasters should make all their subtitled foreign language programmes available in each language of Britain via the red button.

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Simon Brooks said...

S4C do quite a bit of this with children's programmes which are dubbed into Welsh.

However, the problem is that the British dislike subtitles and "foreign language" films.

And the Welsh can at times be a very "British" people. As much as the nationalist literati might enjoy a good Basque film dubbed into Welsh, I rather suspect that the the "ordinary" Welsh-speaker "in the street" will bail out and watch something in English instead.

MH said...

I agree, Simon. As I said, this is a minority taste ... as is Puccini. But the point is that it is so inexpensive to do.

I've thought about doing it myself for opera, but I don't think my Italian is good enough. On the other hand, most opera librettos are hardly very challenging.

Actually, another genre that stands out is animation such as that by Studio Ghibli. I've seen both dubbed and subtitled versions, and have to say that I almost invariably think the subtitled versions are more watchable. Patrick Stewart's Lord Yupa in Nausicaä just doesn't work for me. First in line for a Welsh version should be Laputa (Castle in the Sky) because the location and some of the characters were inspired by Wales. From Wiki:

Hayao Miyazaki visited Wales in 1984 and witnessed the miners' strike firsthand. He returned to the country in 1986 to prepare for Laputa, which he said reflected his Welsh experience: "I was in Wales just after the miners' strike. I really admired the way the miners' unions fought to the very end for their jobs and communities, and I wanted to reflect the strength of those communities in my film." Miyazaki told The Guardian, "I admired those men, I admired the way they battled to save their way of life, just as the coal miners in Japan did. Many people of my generation see the miners as a symbol; a dying breed of fighting men. Now they are gone."

glynbeddau said...

I can't claim to have been first to come up with this idea but one of my first blogs put forward this very idea.
I always thought the Swedish version of Wallender superior to the costly Branagh version made in English by the BBC and have enjoying been this new Danish series .
If you and I can work this out along with David Davies (of all people)we must ask ourselves how it hasn't occurred to those who commission programmes at S4C or probably now the BBC.
There must loads of such high quality programmes in languages other than English and I would like to see them.

Anonymous said...

Diolch am awgrymu'r rhaglen hon, MH. Da iawn, wir.

Rwy'n cytuno y byddai rhaglenni tramor o ansawdd da yn denu rhagor o wylwyr at S4/C. Dydy BBC4 ddim yn medru dangos popeth, wedi'r cyfan, ac mi fyddai hyd yn oed drama o wlad Basg yn well nag ail-ddarllediadau hyd syrffed Seen4Ever.

Dafydd Tomos said...

Although this is a nice idea and a minority of middle class Welsh speakers may enjoy watching subtitled programmes from Europe or further afield, I'm not sure what actual benefit it would have.

Buying in quality drama or films is cheaper than actually producing it but it's not inexpensive (and then you have to pay for a decent translation and subtitling work). If S4C were selling their programming to other producers I'm sure they'd want to get a decent price for it.

Over Christmas, S4C showed a documentary about meerkats which they bought in and re-did the commentary in Welsh. Apart from being 5 years late in the discovery that meerkats were cute and funny, it was ridiculed as being a very cheap way of providing 'seasonal' programming (I'm sure some children liked it).

Back to drama, since such programming is likely to appeal to a minority of a minority and shown later at night (after 10 maybe) they're not likely to bring in much advertising revenue or large audiences. The cost of buying in these programmes would take away money from a shrinking pot of funding intended for original programming.

On the other hand, I think S4C should explore co-production much more than it has been willing to do, to share costs and work with other broadcasters. This has its problems as well, but you don't necessarily have to create programming with two or more versions for each language. Apart from animation or wildlife documentaries perhaps, they are always more expensive and complicated to produce.

However, if S4C part-funded such projects their investment could actually have a chance of being recouped commercially.

MH said...

Thanks for the comments. Perhaps I should make it clear that I don't think showing foreign language programmes with Welsh subtitles is the answer to S4C's problems. It is just one small thing that could make a difference. S4C's big problem over the last year or so has been that the digital switchover gave it a lot more time to fill, and a lot of it has been filled with multiple showings. It would be a way of helping to fill that time without relying on Anon's Seen4Ever repeats. Also, on nights when the Assembly hasn't been sitting, S4C closes at around midnight (11.50pm tonight for example). I think it's a tragedy that the time isn't used. It's easy for people to record things and view them later.

None of this will reduce the need for popular programmes at peak times, but it helps another part of the overall equation.


I was, however, making a slightly different point in the post. I accept what Dafydd says about the potential number of viewers for programmes like Forbrydelsen being so small that S4C might not be able to afford it. But the BBC can afford it, for by showing it across the UK it will have an audience probably a hundred times larger than it would get if it were broadcast on S4C. My point was that it should be broadcast on BBC Four (or whatever BBC channel it was being shown on anyway) but with a choice of subtitles in English, Welsh and Gaelic via the red button, and that this should happen for all foreign language programming the BBC shows. Welsh language content doesn't have to be exclusively on S4C.

Subtitling is very cheap. In 2006, the cost of subtitling new recorded (as opposed to live) TV programmes was between £300 and £400 per broadcast hour, falling to the lower figure according to this. With translation, my guess would be that the on-cost would be less than £1,000 per broadcast hour. The average cost (from S4C's accounts) of a BBC drama is nearly £90,000 per hour, and £21,700 per hour for acquired programming.

Brian Williams said...

Cytunaf â'ch sylwadau yn y blog, ond faswn yn mynd un gam ymhellach a rhoi trac trosleisio i'r Gymraeg ar y rhaglenni. Wrth fyw ym Mrasil yn saithdegau'r ganrif ddiwethaf roedd y rhan fwyaf helaeth o ffilmiau ar y teledu yn dod o'r Unol Daleithiau ac wedi eu trosleisio i Bortiwgaleg. Er bod gwefusau'r actorion ddim bob tro yn mynd gyda'r sain mae'r gwyliwr yn ymdopi â'r sefyllfa yn weddol hawdd. Y flwyddyn ddiwethaf teithiais ar y bws moethus 'coche cama' rhwng Trelew ac Esquel yn yr Ariannin, a gwyliais un o hen ffilmiau Clint Eastwood wedi ei drosleisio i'r Sbaeneg, ond gydag isdeitlau Saesneg. Roedd o'n deimlad od i ddechrau ond yn gyflym mae ymarfer â'r sefyllfa. Wrth reswm, mae trosleisio yn fwy costus, ond yn fy marn i, yn fwy perthnasol i amcanion bodolaeth S4C.

Anonymous said...

@Brian. Tybed a ydy trosleisio yn angenreidiol. Mae'n bosib ei wneud e'n wirioneddol wael. A dweud y gwir, prin yw'r ymdrechion da o drosleisio i'r Gymraeg. Mae isdeitlau yn gadael i'r actorion gwreiddiol lefaru, ond hefyd yn gadael i'r gweddill ohonom ddeall!

Ken Westmoreland said...

Offering subtitles in Welsh and Gaelic would be a good idea - not just for programmes in languages other than English, but even ones in English.

Years before the launch of TnaG (now TG4) in Ireland, it might have been possible for RTÉ to subtitle English language programmes in Irish.
But of course, post-independence Ireland is an example of how not to revive a language.

One thing that impresses me about the smaller European countries is the widespread use of subtitling, not only on TV dramas, comedies and films, but also news bulletins and even advertisements!

If somebody is talking in another language on the news in Portugal, for example, it's subtitled, not drowned out with a voiceover. It doesn't matter what the language is or who's speaking it, whether it's Libyans talking Arabic, or East Timorese talking Tetum.

The Dutch and Flemish, meanwhile, not only subtitle each other in Dutch, but even themselves. Could you imagine the BBC subtitling Glaswegians or Brummies?

I've noticed that when people are featured talking in English on Welsh language or Gaelic language news, it's not subtitled in those languages. It would help learners if they were.

It is standard practice in many European countries, including Germany and France.

Germany and France subtitle? That'll be the day! Along with Italy and Spain, those countries are notorious for dubbing!

In Portugal, dubbing was banned under Salazar, as he wanted to discourage people from watching foreign movies - many Portuguese were illiterate.

Ken Westmoreland said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
schronker said...

Didn't S4C do a documentary with Polish subtitles a few years ago? Surely some sort of joint-production with a Polish network would give rise to scope for some sort of drama that could raise the profile of the Welsh language abroad, as well as giving S4C a truly unique piece of programming.

Unknown said...

I'm a tokusatsu fan. I think if S4C dubbed either a long-running show like Kamen Rider or Garo, or a one-off like Ryukendo[which Latin America has dubbed] then that would make S4C stand out from the English and American channels. I know dubbing isn't everyone's cup of tea but if the lipsyncing is good and it's not in the American school of ''I AM ACTING NOW'' then it works. I don't think you can really limit subbing and dubbing to an either-or choice because both serve different needs. Subbing is a direct translation, dubbing is making it more your own. I've dubbed some clips by myself and it's a hard job.

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