'They Can't Stop Us Singing': Film, Television, and the Representation of the Welsh Working Class

Daryl Perrins

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


This thesis explores how the Welsh working class have been imagined and how they have imagined themselves in film and television. It asks the question who are the Welsh working class and how have they been represented? The thesis offers a broad approach which takes in examples from popular feature films, documentaries, drama-documentaries, ‘made for TV’ commissioned films for S4C, and sitcoms as evidence.

The first part of the thesis establishes the Welsh working class in cinema through a thorough deconstruction of a number of films from the mining cycle (1938-1949). Here it will be established that two historical archetypes – the Welsh domestic folk (gwerin) and the Welsh internationalist working-class – jostle for control of the public imagination. Here the central premise will be that Wales offers a distinctly problematic set of conflicting tropes for popular cinema, being both a ‘Celtic’ and a highly industrialised nation. The films – which are almost exclusively the product of either the American or British studio system, or the British documentary tradition – play out narratives which either centre on the trope of despoliation associated with the nationalist narrative of the Welsh folk or gwerin, or collectivist narratives associated with a Leftist internationalist tradition and the Welsh working class. The latter prefaces characterisations and tropes of social realism later found in the British New Wave. The contemplation of these competing forces will be supported by the application of theoretical perspectives from historical, sociological, literary, and cultural studies to argue that the industrial Welsh increasingly displaced the gwerin in cinema. However, I will suggest that without a film industry, this ‘working-class style’ rather relied on the performance of class inherent in the film roles and personas of actors from the coalfield Richard Burton and Stanley Baker.

The second part of the thesis considers the role of a nascent Welsh film and television culture in its representation of a Welsh working class under threat in the post-industrial age. The argument here will be that the development of a domestic Leftist Welsh cinema, which foregrounded the working class ideologically as in the early work of Karl Francis, was stymied by a Welsh media establishment that saw such an identity as both archaic and ‘British’ at a time when a ‘postcolonial’ Wales was being imagined as middle-class, Welsh-speaking, and European in the lead up to devolution. Central to this will be an evaluation of the role of film and TV drama commissioned by S4C and a trio of English-language films associated with ‘Cool Cymru’. The thesis will conclude by arguing that despite these ideological trends, the Welsh working class continue to exist as ‘the Welsh style’ through the carnivalesque space afforded proletarian taste and values in the sitcoms associated with both Boyd Clack and Ruth Jones.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Hill, John, Supervisor
Award date1 Dec 2023
Publication statusUnpublished - 12 Apr 2024


  • Wales
  • Film
  • Television
  • Class
  • Language
  • Post-industrial
  • Post-colonial
  • Gwerin
  • Devolution
  • Stars
  • Realism
  • Identity

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