Mar 25, 2010


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Mr Urdd, the cuddly little character and mascot of Wales’ largest youth organisation Urdd Gobaith Cymru, was an overnight success and grew into a favourite with tens of thousands of children and young people all over Wales. Mr Urdd was born in order to fight off a major crisis facing the Urdd following a deep and bitter internal conflict over the investiture of Prince Charles as Prince of Wales in July 1969. The Investiture triggered one of the most turbulent periods in Welsh modern history and the story is revealed in a book published today.

‘Y Fi a Mistar Urdd a’r Cwmni Da’ published by Y Lolfa is written by the man who dreamt up the idea of Mr Urdd, Wynne Melville Jones, and tells the story of how and why the character was conceived and developed and follows his personal involvement in the organisation.

The publication is also the first attempt to delve into why Urdd Gobaith Cymru, Wales’ largest youth movement, suffered more that any other organisation in Wales as a result of the strong and divisive opinions on the Investiture in 1969.

Wynne Melville Jones was appointed Public Relations Officer for the youth movement after the Investiture at Caernarfon Castle.

“I realised that my job was much more than raising the profile of the organisation in the press and media and that something radical had to be done to both the image and the spirit of the organisation.

“Younger leaders of the organisation felt dismayed and had lost interest and moral was very low”, said Mr Jones

The question as to whether the Urdd should send representatives to the Investiture at Caernarfon had developed into a bitter and heated argument. Members of the movement’s governing committees expressed concern that the movement could loose out considerably on public funding if a decision was made to snub the Investiture and the its reputation could be severely damaged within the Welsh establishment.

Others, including the majority of the younger leaders, saw the ceremony as a political stunt, and a waste of money. Some were anti-royalty and others were simply just not interested. A deeply divided Urdd National Council decided by a slim majority that an invitation to send a small group of representatives from the Urdd should be accepted. Later as a result of considerable lobbying by younger members, the Council was then recalled and the decision was reversed. Some key members of the Council resigned.

A compromise was reached by inviting Prince Charles, who was at the time a student of Welsh Studies at the University College of Wales in Aberystwyth, to the 1969 Urdd National Eisteddfod at Aberystwyth to present the main trophy for the County gaining the highest marks at the Eisteddfod, and that he would make the presentation in the main pavilion in Welsh. When the Prince stood on the stage to make his presentation a highly organised protest took place when hundreds of young people shouted anti-investiture slogans and walked out of the marquee.

The Prince, at his own request, also visited the Urdd residential centre at Glan-Llyn on the shores of Bala lake, on the day following the investiture at Caernarfon, where he wanted to spend a relaxing afternoon with young people before going on his whistle-stop tour of Wales.

“Many questions have been asked, over the years, as to why the Urdd suffered more than any other organisation as a result of the internal quarrel on the Investiture.

“Was it a devious political stunt by George Thomas, the then Secretary of State for Wales, well known for his negative attitude towards the Welsh language and his obsession with the rise of Welsh patriotism and nationalism? Was it an attempt to cause damage to a Welsh language organisation by confusing some factions of the public in Wales who could not differentiate between the Urdd and the Free Wales Army or Cymdeithas yr Iaith?

“Was the Urdd an easy target and an attempt to embarrass the founder Sir Ifan ab Owen Edwards and the Urdd Director R E Griffith both highly respected and recognised national leaders in Wales and both had been nominated to sit on Investiture Committees?

“Other important Welsh institutions including the National Eisteddfod of Wales and the Gorsedd of Bards attended the event in Caernarfon with no repercussions. Plaid Cymru, decided to leave the matter of the Investiture on the table and although Party President Gwynfor Evans refused to attend, which some say contributed to him losing his seat in Carmarthen, both Dafydd Wigley and Dafydd Elis-Thomas were elected to Parliament in February 1974 but the Urdd was still suffering from the aftermath 8 years after the event.

“It’s too easy just to identify and blame outside influences, although without doubt they did play a part in this damaging episode.

“There were also tensions within the organisation especially among the younger leaders who felt they had very little influence on policy and on the decision making process of the organisation. The members of the influential management committees tended to be middle aged or older people, highly respected people who had strived over the years to support and nurture the Welsh language.

“The generation gap and miscalculated judgement of how Welsh identity had evolved and how the younger generation perceived the ‘new’ Wales in the sixties and seventies is a lesson for all organisations. Recognition must be given to the aspirations and visions of the membership the organisation exists to serve and the voice of the younger generation must be heard in the decision making process.

“It was in this climate of low moral and fatigue that I began as PR man for the Urdd. It needed much more than a re-branding exercise and I was given the opportunity to work with others to develop new attractive ideas to appeal to a new generation of young people in Wales and Mr Urdd was one of the most successful of the campaigns and a turning point for the organisation.

“The Investiture had left a bad taste and it took almost ten years of hard work by many people for the Urdd to recover from the after effects of what appeared to many of its supporters to be an irrelevant and insignificant Investiture.

“The most important lesson is yet to be learnt- that falling into the trap of quarrelling amongst ourselves has a damaging effect on Wales

“The effort to rejuvenate the organisation paid off and the Urdd today is a highly successful and a vibrant organisation with a turnover of almost £8M, 50,000 members and 200 professional staff and is considered to be one of the world’s best youth organisation and the envy of many countries”, said Mr Jones.

MR URDD - Milestones.

* Mr Urdd, a character based on the Urdd’s triangular badge became an overnight success for Wales’ largest youth organisation and 34 years later continues to be highly popular as one of the main attractions at Urdd events.

* The huge demand for Mr Urdd merchandise led to the setting up of a business section within the youth organisation resulting in a relocation of the production unit from the Urdd headquarters in Aberystwyth to an advanced factory in Llanbadarn on the outskirts of town, the opening of a boutique and the setting up of a mail order service.

* Sophia Gardens Pavilion in Cardiff, Wales’s premier venue for major events at the time, was packed to capacity in January 1979 to welcome Mr Urdd live on stage which was followed by a 12 week tour of Wales taking Mr Urdd and his roadshow to tens of thousands of children and young people in all corners of Wales.

* Mr Urdd has travelled far and wide and has accompanied Welsh astronaut Dafydd Rhys Williams on a flight through space to the International Space Station on 17 April 1998. Recently, the Urdd acknowledged former library van driver Gareth Lewis of Bow Street, Ceredigion for travelling 384,000 miles in his private car with a Mr Urdd soft toy always on his dashboard.

* Mr Urdd songs have been released over the years by Super Furry Animals, rugby legend Ray Gravel and Emyr Wyn (Dai Scafalde) in the S4C soap opera Pobol y Cwm.

* Mr Urdd was one of the first major successful a biggest marketing campaigns in the Welsh language.

Wynne Melville Jones

A native of Tregaron in Ceredigion grew up as a member of the Urdd, spent ten years on the Urdd full time staff, became Chairman of the Urdd National Council and is today an Honorary President of the organisation and one of the Urdd’s most influential leaders.

In 1979 he founded StrataMatrix as the first bilingual PR agency in Wales. The company has its headquarters in Aberystwyth and has evolved over the years into a full communications agency and is now one of the leading public affairs companies in Cardiff Bay.

He is also a founding Director of Golwg Cyf – the company responsible for the Welsh weekly current affairs magazine and on-line news service and a Director of the community interest company the Vestri Foundation

‘Y Fi a Mistar Urdd a’r Cwmni Da’ is being launched at 6.30 pm on Thursday 25 March 2010 at the Marine Hotel, Aberystwyth and is published to coincide with the Ceredigion Urdd National Eisteddfod which opens at Llanerchaeron on 31 May.

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