On the fifth anniversary of the opening of Cardiff Bay’s BBC Roath Lock Studios, Andy Howells finds out how the South Wales’ studios continued success creating top quality television drama is also providing a vital training platform for new talent.
Be it travelling through time in the TARDIS, an emergency in Holby City or kitchen sink drama in Cwmderi, all the excitement we watch each week on BBC Wales TV dramas is created at Cardiff Bay’s Roath Lock Studios.
The studios recently celebrated their fifth anniversary at the 175,000-square foot purpose built facility having been officially opened in March 2012 by the First Minister of Wales, Carwyn Jones.
The studios are the permanent home to long established dramas including S4C’s Pobol Y Cwm, the world’s longest running science-fiction drama, Doctor Who and the National Television Award winner, Casualty.
Since Roath Lock’s opening, the studios which have three external filming lots, post-production facilities and office space have produced over 850 hours of programming for the BBC including in their repertoire successful productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Upstairs Downstairs and the independently produced dramas Sherlock and Merlin.
Part of the studios success has also been providing a training ground for 52 apprentices in roles such as production, costume, editing, post production and rigging, over 75% are now working in the creative industries.
Former script and production apprentice, Wrexham born Ben Davenport, works as a runner on Pobol Y Cwm. “The experience of working with the Production and Script Coordinators was fantastic,” he says, “It really gave me an insight into working in television as well as a foot in the door”
Casualty’s Executive Producer Erika Hossington, who is also a former pupil of St Julians, Newport, believes the energy from people, including the trainees, has helped play a part in the continuing success of Roath Lock. “if a great show is a sum of its parts, its parts are its people,” she says, “There’s something unique about this building, all the shows and us working together.”
As well as Roath Lock’s success in training apprenticeships, the studios have provided a strong hub for producing quality drama from a local to an international scale. Part of the success of a TV drama is to establish regular continuity, not only with its characters but with its locations and sets which add to series believability. While Doctor Who’s TARDIS is a permanent set, similarly Pobol Y Cwm’s Cwmderi and Casualty’s Holby City Hospital have their own permanent interior and exterior lots.
“Our greatest asset is our backlot,” says Pobol Y Cwm actor Jonathan Nefydd, “My character, Colin, works in a shop which is a live set on the lot. You can do a scene and through the window see a slice of West Wales rural life, happening right here in Cardiff Bay!”
Casualty actress Cathy Shipton continues “Stories can now be conceived travelling right through from the ambulance bay, on to Resus, into the lift and on to a ward. The possibilities are endless.”
In the case of Pobol Y Cwm, the efficiency of making TV drama on a closed set has ensured the show can go on recording, even in adverse weather conditions. “Having the facility has meant the schedule has carried on as per where we’ve relocated scenes to be inside the sets,” explains Pobol Y Cwm executive producer Llyr Morus, “It has massively benefited the production process.”
The studios combination of talent and creativity are integral for taking Roath Lock into the future as Director of BBC Cymru Wales, Rhodri Talfan Davies reveals “Roath Lock was only created because we dared to think big. That spirit of bold creativity and invention is essential if we’re to continue to build on the centre’s many successes over the coming years.”
- A version of this article by Andy Howells appeared in the South Wales Argus on March 25, 2017.
- Read more about BBC Roath Lock Studios and the programmes made there on this blog soon.