Welsh wails

A Cardiff-dweller wonders why the Welsh take Anne Robinson so seriously.

Wasn’t it AA Gill, the Sunday Times cultural critic, who three years ago described the Welsh as ‘ugly, pugnacious little trolls’? In his defence, Gill argued that a nation’s ability to take a joke was a sign of maturity.

In that respect, it seems, Welsh politicians are still in nappies. After veteran TV presenter Anne Robinson appeared on the UK comedy chat show Room 101 on 5 March 2001, Welsh MPs immediately condemned her ‘anti-Welsh racism’ (1).

Why? Because when asked who would feature in her Orwellian nightmare, ‘Room 101’, Robinson included Wales and the Welsh. ‘What are they for?’, she asked. ‘They are always so pleased of themselves.’ To justify her dislike further, she said that the Welsh are ‘annoying’ and that they ‘speak Welsh’.

Even as a Cardiff-dweller, I found this quite funny. I regularly wind up my Welsh relatives by imitating their Valleys accents, just as I occasionally poke fun at Scottish, Irish and non-white friends. But the day after Robinson’s Room 101 was broadcast, Welsh MPs called for both Anne Robinson and BBC director Greg Dyke to appear before the Commons Welsh Select Committee at Westminster, to explain why the comments ‘which bordered on racism’ were broadcast (2). Welsh MPs want to interview Dyke as part of their inquiry into Wales’s overseas image (as if Wales and England were not on the same mainland).

Martyn Jones, Labour MP for Clwyd South and chairman of the Commons Welsh Select Committee, said of the programme, ‘If the remarks had been made about black people, or Pakistanis or gays it just would not have gone out’. Chris Ruane, Labour MP for the Vale of Clwyd, has asked for Robinson to be sacked. Meanwhile, the Welsh language civil rights group Cefn have complained to the police about Robinson’s comments and are asking for her to be prosecuted under the Race Relations Act.

A BBC spokesman attempted to inject some common sense into the debate by stating, ‘People go into the programme knowing they will be making some sort of joke, and it will be said in jest’. But the Welsh Assembly knows no such thing.

Over a year ago, on 2 February 2000, 18 assembly members (AMs) from all four political parties made a written statement against ‘persistent anti-Welsh racism’ in the UK media (3). The AMs’ statement called for media regulatory bodies to take action ‘against any remarks or images which demean individuals on the basis of their national, cultural or linguistic heritage’.

What if you said that the Welsh just can’t take a joke? Is it a demeaning remark - or just true?

(1) Room 101, broadcast on BBC2, 5 March 2001
(2) Robinson comments anger Welsh MPs, BBC News Online, 6 March 2001
(3) ‘Anti-Welsh racism’ protest, BBC News Online, 2 February 2000

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