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The story of Wales reminds us of our still fragile Union

The Investiture of The Prince of Wales
The Investiture of The Prince of Wales, July 1, 1969 Credit: Anwar Hussein

Fifty years ago this month, the same month that men first walked on the moon, Prince Charles was formally invested as the Prince of Wales. “Forget your rugby XVs, this is Wales’s top star: the Prince”, as a contemporary news report had it. The clip was included  in a retelling of the event in Archive  on 4: God Bless the Prince of Wales (Radio 4, Saturday) presented by historian Martin Johnes, Professor  of History at Swansea University.

But that single news report didn’t tell the full story. Strangely almost forgotten now was how tense the atmosphere was, and Prince Charles was definitely not seen by all Welsh people as a kind of coronet-wearing Barry John. Some nationalists  believed that Wales had already had thousands of years of its very own princes, diolch yn fawr.

It was also a time when the Free Wales Army was on the move. Surrounding the event, bombs exploded and three men died. There were rumours that Prince Charles  was wearing a bulletproof vest underneath his robes at Caernarfon Castle. The BBC prepared an obituary for him, just in case. 

It all seems quite far away now,  but this was a moment which some people thought could have sparked unrest in Wales to match the Troubles in Northern Ireland. The investiture took place not long after the valley of Tryweryn was deliberately flooded in 1965 and its residents forced to leave their homes to provide water for Liverpool, despite the objections of local people and Welsh MPs. “A living community wiped off the map to satisfy English thirsts,” as this programme put it.

The story gave weight to injustices against Wales, but was balanced in considering wider political problems that Wales faced. It was vibrant and carefully told.

And it was timely. The same questions that haunted Wales in 1969 are rising up again today. In April this year there was anger when the Second Severn Crossing was renamed the Prince of Wales Bridge at public expense without public consultation, and last week Boris Johnson was criticised in Wales for saying that there were too many places in Britain where English isn’t spoken as a first language. He’d seemingly forgotten about Welsh and Gaelic.

The wall in Llanrhystud that has been painted with the words Cofiwch Dryweryn (“Remember Tryweryn”) since the Sixties was knocked down  by vandals earlier this year, but was rapidly rebuilt by locals, and was followed by more paintings, signs and stickers bearing the same slogan all over Wales. Brexit and Scottish independence currently dominate the conversation about national identity, but this programme gave space to Wales’s story. It was an important piece of social history that showed how rich, complicated and fragile being British really is, for all of us.

Phoebe Waller-Bridge Credit: Matt Crossick

Fragility is always under the microscope in the writer Elizabeth Day’s excellent podcast How to Fail, which interviews outwardly very successful people about their worst failures. The first guest was Phoebe Waller-Bridge last year, and to mark a year of podcasts, Day invited her back for a reprise.  In the intervening time, Waller-Bridge has experienced huge success with Killing Eve, the second series of Fleabag, and writing for the next James Bond film. Has she had time  for failures, too?

Yes: failing to prepare her family  for the scrutiny that came with success, for instance. My favourite failure, though, was the failure of  two real foxes drafted in to star in Fleabag. The foxes were so freaked  out by the filming that they had to listen to Coldplay songs in an attempt to calm them down. It didn’t work, astonishingly, and the foxes were replaced by CGI. A big break wasted.

Speaking of big breaks, the BBC announced some new roles yesterday, including Mohit Bakaya as the new Controller of Radio 4. Bakaya was previously in charge of factual programming, which has long been some of the strongest and most imaginative output on Radio 4, so his appointment bodes well.

I’ll leave you with The Pleasures  of Brecht (Radio 4, Monday), the  story of Bertolt Brecht’s poem Vergnügungen and the benefit of  taking time to list the small pleasures in life. That’s exactly what Brecht’s poem does, and includes “the first look out of the window in the morning”, “comfortable shoes”, and “friendliness”. This small and beautiful programme made the point that,  in a time of confrontational public discourse, pleasure and delight feel political, almost radical.