Night I turned off every television in Lancashire

Angharad Tomos was among a group of protesters who broke into Lancashire’s television transmitter station and managed to turn it off

Friday, 29th January 2021, 4:47 pm
Welsh language campaigners broke into Winter Hill transmitter

My memories of the night was anticipation, excitement and fear, if I’m honest.

I was an 18-year-old student, a passionate member of the Welsh Language Society, and the main campaign was for a Welsh language fourth television channel.

Having failed with other means, we began a campaign of targeting transmitters to stop the flow of English language programmes to Wales, and draw attention to our demands.

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Welsh language campaigner Angharad Tomos

We were a small group, with no resources, not even a driver. The only way to reach Winter Hill from mid-Wales was to stick our thumbs out on the main road, and wait for some kind soul to give us a lift.

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The night the Welsh invaded the moors above Chorley

That was all the preparation that was made. We had a hammer to gain an entry, but otherwise, we had no knowledge of the building. For someone with such scant experience, it was a daunting task.

However, we managed to gain entry, and in the light of our torches, went from room to room until we saw a big ON switch, and we turned it to ‘OFF’.

That’s when Winter Hill engineer Bill Kay probably found us, and fellow enginner Peter Dennis.

We said straight away that we were members of the Welsh Language Society, but probably that meant nothing to them.

When Bill was quoted in the article saying that one of the women had a hammer, I realised it would have caused him worry.

When you tell a policeman in Wales that you’re a member of the society, they know straight away that you pose no physical threat at all.

The Welsh Language Society is a non-violent organisation who believe in direct action. That can mean causing damage to property, but human life is sacred, and we would never put lives at risk. We had made our point, and we waited for the police to arrive. I was glad that Bill Kay mentioned that we had ‘behaved impeccably’, but I’m sorry that we scared them.

The minute we arrived at Chorley Police Station, there was some aggressive questioning by the police. They suspected we were members of the IRA.

They didn’t know that ‘Angharad’ was a Welsh name, and when they heard ‘Shaun’ and ‘Theresa’, they immediately considered we were Irish Republicans.

When we explained we were Welsh, they did not believe us. They did not know how we had the expertise to know where the control room was.

When we said it was pure chance, they still did not believe us. We were kept at the police station for two days, and my hostel warden at the university could not track us down, and my parents could not contact us.

In the court, we explained our demands, and were told that the damage to the door was £100 (not the £30 it was really worth).

I remember the decision of the magistrate: “Angharad Tomos – six months, suspended; Sion Aled Owen - six months, suspended; Glen Phillips – six months, suspended; Teresa Pierce – six months.”

Yes, my friend served six months prison sentence for the damage to that door. When you consider the real value to be £30 between four people, she served six months for the value of £7.50, which is harsh.

You could say that it was her fault, and ours – it was us who broke the law. But for a minute or two, I’d like you to put yourself in our shoes, and try to understand. And the basis of that understanding is realising how important the language is to us.

I grew up in a Welsh speaking family, in a Welsh speaking community. In North West Wales, more than 90 per cent speak it everyday. In my day to day life, I rarely have to speak English. My chapel was Welsh speaking, my school was Welsh speaking, that is the language we communicate. We have a Welsh radio service, but in 1977 there was only an hour a day of Welsh programmes.

Television was a very important thing in people’s lives at the time, that was the entertainment. But despite asking for more than 10 years, no one was interested. The Welsh Language Society organised walks, letter writing, meetings, even fasts for a Welsh television channel, but no one took any notice.

The society began in 1962, and when there were no road signs in Welsh, the English names were painted out, and in the end, Welsh place names were acknowledged on signs.

English was the language of court cases, the Post Office, leaflets, everything official. After campaigns by the society, we slowly gained recognition of Welsh in different areas of life, and a Welsh Language Act was passed in 1967 giving Welsh equal validity with the English language.

But as far as Welsh on television was concerned, we were not going anywhere. Five long years after the Winter Hill, we succeeded in our aim, and the Welsh fourth channel, S4C was established.

Now, children can have their programmes in Welsh, and there are all kinds of programmes enjoyed all over Wales – in Welsh. It’s just a pity that we had to spend time in prison, and had to be so busy campaigning just to ensure this.

In 1980, the MP Gwynfor Evans said he would fast to death to ensure that we would have a Welsh fourth channel, and I think that tipped the balance in the end.

The Welsh language is still losing ground, and the Welsh Language Society is still campaigning. But I thought that little window on the Winter Hill protest so many years ago would maybe interest some of you.

Understanding different viewpoints is so important these days, and I think people in England would like to get more information and history about the Celtic nations.

After all, all we get in school is English history!

Angharad Tomos is an author and remains a prominent Welsh language campaigner today.