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Last Updated: Tuesday, 4 January, 2005, 15:46 GMT
Six degrees of Welsh separation
Wales is often described as a small world, where everybody knows everybody else.

A new three-part programme starting on BBC Radio Wales on Monday is putting this to the test by carrying out an experiment to try and work out exactly how small the country really is.

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Letters were sent all around Wales for the experiment

It is a repeat of a famous sociological investigation that tested the idea that we are all connected to each other by just six degrees of separation.

Programme producer Aled Rowlands came up with idea for the series after travelling to a wedding in north Wales, where he had assumed that he wouldn't know anybody.

"As it turned out," he said, "the first person I met was an old school friend, the second person was one of my best friends' cousins, and the third person was the housemate of a former colleague!

"I couldn't believe it, but I'm sure it must happen to people living here all the time," he added.

As a result, he decided to repeat an experiment first carried out by Harvard Professor Stanley Millgram in 1965, testing the idea that we are all linked by just six people.

"For his experiment, Professor Millgram sent out letters to various people across the United States to see if they would pass the letter on to a target person in Boston," he explained.

By a strange coincidence his father comes from the same village that I was brought up in and we were within one or two years of being contemporaries
Grey Evans

"Failing that, they were to pass the letter on to the person they felt was more likely to know him.

"On average, he found the letter reached the target in six stages.

"Now, 40 years later, in Wales, we've tried the same experiment, sending out 100 letters to people living in all parts of the country."

Despite deliberately choosing a very ordinary target person - religious minister Gareth Rowlands, 35, from Caerphilly - he has received letters from all corners of Wales.

"I would describe myself as a north Walian, quite normal hopefully," said Gareth Rowlands.

"I'm a farmer's son, one of four kids and brought up quite traditionally.

"I feel that I'm a bit shy so I was a little sceptical about the experiment, but I'm pleased so many letters have come back to me."

Grey Evans, an actor living in Pwllheli, received one of the letters, realised that he knew Mr Rowlands, and so sent it directly to him.

This was one degree of separation.

'Successful'

"I looked at the name," said Mr Evans, "and thought that it looked familiar.

"I know him as the husband of the daughter of friends of mine. But by a strange coincidence his father comes from the same village that I was brought up in and we were within one or two years of being contemporaries."

Aled said he was very pleased with the results.

"We can say with confidence that our experiment has been successful, that we have managed to get some letters through to our target.

"As to whether it's six degrees of separation, more or less, you'll have to listen to the programmes to find out."

The first part of Small Wales was broadcast at 1800 GMT on Monday 3 January on BBC Radio Wales. It will be repeated at 0630 GMT on Sunday, 9 January, and the other parts will be aired on the subsequent two Mondays and Sundays.


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