Jim Peters

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Jim Peters - Transcript

[Start of Recording]


I: Scottish Broadcasting Heritage Group. Our interviewee is Jim Peters, I am Tim Amyes. The date is 13 May [2017]. Jim was employed here between 1971 and 2001 and that's really all we need before we move on. The first question I've got to ask is when did you first get interested in photography?

R: Well, many, many years ago there was a programme called Six-Five Special, which was a very early pop music programme and my father worked for J&P Coats up in Nethercraigs, which is above Paisley and they had very big warehouses there which were pretty empty but they had lights in the ceiling all over the place and, when I walked through there, I could see all these shadows on the floor and I thought, 'this must be what a television studio is like!' because on Six-Five Special there was shadows all over the floor so that put me at the idea that this must be what a television studio is like. It was just a big, empty warehouse with big lights up there causing hard shadows. I don't know, that made me think along those terms a wee bit, I suppose.

I: Anyone else in the family have a television interest?

R: No. But television was in its infancy! This would be about, I think we first got a television about 1958/59. STV had been on the go for a year or two years at that time. And I remember we got the television and, gosh, we didn't have an outside aerial. It was an inside aerial and it looked Sputnik with a couple of wires from it and I always remember my Dad moving about the room trying to get a picture and we'd say, "Hold it! Hold it! Hold it!" and he was in an uncomfortable position but eventually it did get a roof aerial!

I: So, how did you get your first job within television?

R: Well, my first job was with Scottish Studios and Engravers, which had premises along Clyde Street and they made blocks for the Printing Industry and we also did Industrial Commercial Photography, Fashion work, Theatrical stuff because Glasgow had quite a lot of theatres even in the mid 1960s, Mail Order Catalogue work, Portraiture - all that stuff. So I trained as a photographer with them. Then, I was becoming quite useful, I think, and I asked for more money and the very nice lady that ran the Photographic Department, Joyce Murricane, when I asked her for more money if it was possible, she said, "Well, we can actually get someone off the street and train them up to your abilities but you'll go with our full compliments and we'll give you a pat on the back and a good reference!" So, I got a job as a Stills Processor in the Glasgow Herald, which was an awful lot more money but I was a wee bit too old because they liked to take on youngsters to train them up as photographers in their way of doing things so I used to print the photos, develop and print the photographs that the photographers would take so I saw an advert for a Stills Photographic Technician that sounded great in Scottish Television and this was, I stayed there for a couple of years and then I applied for the job with Scottish Television and, fortunately, I got it! For Scottish Television that is, of course. I was very pleased to get it and a very nice chap called Ferdi Coia interviewed me and, to his credit, he gave me the job but he said at that point, "You know, you could be in a darkroom for the next twenty to thirty years!" because there was no natural progression from there. They had a Staff Photographer, Harry Wilson, and I was there simply to process his films and, at that time, we used to send out lots of stills to newspapers so that was my job to deal with that and because of Union demarcation and all the rest of it, I wasn't allowed even to make a copy photograph because that meant I was handling a camera!


But, so, they moved the photographic darkroom from Cowcaddens, which was based in the back shop of an old newspaper shop and the building was about to be pulled down so we moved into a new darkroom in an old part of STV, which was knocked down as well, which was next to the Theatre Royal. And fortunately for me, the Film Editing section was next door to this darkroom and I had more interest in Film Editing than processing someone else's photographs because it appealed to me because it was quite a creative job so I pestered the life out of the Film Editors and eventually an Assistant Film Editor's job came up and I got it so I stayed there for a time which was great.

I: What programmes did you work on?

R: Well, there was Scotland Today Report and features for the News programme 'cause they didn't really shoot any big events on film or Drama on film at that time. All the Drama was mostly in studio so I was there for a time and the Editors were, you know, a great bunch of chaps but a job came up for an Assistant Cameraman, an Assistant Film Cameraman and because of my previous photographic experience I got the job and it was great!

I: This was where Phil Johnson was?

R: Ah ha. Well, Phil Johnson was the head of Film Department at that time.

I: An amazing man!

R: Yes! But it was really good fun! It was good, you know. For a short time I was all over the place in that capacity for an Assistant Film Cameraman.

I: What was the most memorable place that you went to?

R: As an Assistant Film Cameraman? The first time I was away on overnights, we were doing a film about the Lochcarron, which was a tramp steamer which tramped around the Western Isles and I remember sharing a cabin with a cameraman who smoked incessantly and I had the top bunk in this caravan and it was a wee bit unpleasant! But the main thing from that job was that I lived in a flat. I had just got married, the first year in STV I had just got married and this was the first time I was away from home and my wife was a bit scared of mice, of which we did have a few in the flat and I was walking along the quayside. It was the opposite side from the Broomieloch, where the Lochcarron used to leave from and there was a whole load of kittens in this bath and they were going to drown the kittens so I took one of them home! I took Fluffy home and gave it to my wife, Catherine, and she was more scared of the kitten than the mice and, of course, I was away the next morning but we had that cat for seventeen years and we never had another mouse! So, that was one of the memorable things!


I: So, how long did you remain on the...?

R: I joined STV in '71 and I got a job as a Cameraman for the first year at ITN rates or something. That was the pay scale and I wasn't allowed to shoot anything other than News footage and, in theory, the grading was for a silent cameraman but, you know, that was 1977. So, I was very, very lucky as, at that time, I was probably the youngest staff cameraman anywhere in Scotland between STV and BBC because in those days they didn't have, neither STV or BBC had many crews and it was almost a case of dead men's shoes unless they invented more crews, which they did eventually.

I: How many crews were there at that point?

R: Scottish Television, I think we had two News crews in Glasgow, two, one News crew in Edinburgh and a couple of Feature Units which meant there was an augmented crew. So, a News crew could go out and shoot a two-minute story on sound so a Sound Recordist and Cameraman could go out with a Journalist and shoot a two-minute story. If you needed lights you had an Electrician so it was, like, a four-man crew because you could shoot up to a two-minute film but if it was a bigger story, even a feature for Scotland Today News programme, if it was over two minutes, you had a Director, his Production Assistant, a Cameraman, an Assistant Cameraman, a Driver and a Stagehand, for something over two minutes! So, invariably, you'd turn up somewhere and people would be, "Good Lord!", you know and that, that brings back a memory. We once interviewed - I can't remember what the programme was for - but it was a feature unit. We were doing some interview with Roy Thomson, who'd started Scottish Television, and he looked around us all and we never got invited into the house but it was a summer's day so that was fine but we looked around, he looked around us and saw all these people and, "Would you guys like a drink?" So, someone came out with diluted orange squash and passed it round us all and then he looked around again and he said, "You know, in Canada, one guy would ask the questions and then he'd turn around the camera and ask the questions again - one guy!" So, and they used a camera a lot in America and that time called an Auricon so it was a one-man band so the Reporter would go out, do the interview and then turn the camera round on himself. One person! And that's what its come to nowadays!

I: And what cameras did you use at that point?

R: The one I used mostly was a 16mm BL, Arriflex BL and it was a very good camera. It was a workhorse but, prior to that, they had standard Ari's with sound modules that clipped on the bottom and powered magazines, which was very noisy, and Auricons.

I: Where sound was recorded.

R: Yep. I've still got our two Auricon bodies because a very well-known freelance photographer cameraman that STV employed, a chap called Mario Ford, bought up old STV equipment and used that so he had a couple of Auricons and a Bolex and when he passed away his wife was wanting to dispose of some of this stuff so another chap, who was a Sound Recordist at Scottish Television, who was very friendly with them, a chap called Len Southam, asked if I would go and identify some of this material or equipment so I'd bought a couple of the cameras and my son was going to Film School at the time so, you know, he was able to use one of them.


I: So, how did your photographic career progress?

R: I was doing News and I was designated as a News Cameraman and I couldn't do Features or anything else and then they brought on another crew and that made me, no, they brought on another crew and I still didn't get the upgrade to be able to do Documentaries and things but then a couple of years later I was, because I seemed to be quite enthusiastic and I was always in very early in the News room and there was a chap called Jim White, who was quite a well-known journalist nowadays, and Jim was always in rifling through the papers so that he would get an 'in' on the news of the day before everybody else came in so we would have a story set up and we would go away out early and so that so I suppose I was quite enthusiastic. Eventually, you know, after plodding away a wee bit, I was asked to do a couple of things and they seemed to be successful. So, in STV I was very, very lucky because for a time I was doing quite major Drama inserts.

I: How did you get into that situation? There was an expansion in film production?

R: Yeah, well, they expanded the film side. Also STV were doing a bit more Drama at the time and there was a series, Charlie Endell, with quite major film inserts and we would do the inserts for that as a Film crew, you know, a Film Feature crew.

I: How did you manage the film input with the video tape that was done in the studio?

R: There was very little thought going into that side of it! Most of the filming that we did was exterior so you couldn't manipulate the image. You were there with maybe a reflector or things like that and a theodolite in the early days but things bumped up a bit in scale so you would be lighting maybe interiors, maybe night scenes, and you would tend to, you would tend to try and make the interiors look as natural as possible as far as lighting was concerned even though you had to light them because the film stocks weren't all that fast so those sequences seemed to be doing quite well because in a studio it was a multi-camera shoot so the lighting was always at the expense of not having boom shadows so the lights were put in various places so it wasn't a shot for shot, it was a multi-camera shoot. [Interviewee knocks over the microphone] Sorry about this!

I2: Just recap at the end of that aspect.

I: Talking about the fact that the studios were multi-camera.

R: Well, in, we were quite lucky on exterior locations, well on locations outwith the studio because we could try and make it look quite natural because we tended to be using only one camera so you would light shot for shot. In a studio, a TV studio, Drama tended to be a multi-camera shoot so the lighting sometimes in each shot was compromised because you were lighting for various other cameras and also worrying about boom shadows and all sorts of other things like that.


I: And so your production started to develop at STV?

R: Yes. We were doing more and more inserts into Dramas but also Documentaries were starting to come up a bit and one of the Documentaries that I worked on very early on, it was the opening of, I think it was Channel Four money that was put into it but the STV was commissioned to make it. It was a series of Scottish History, it was a 24/25 part history of Scotland, Scotland's Story and the original idea was by a chap called Tom Steel and Les Wilson, who was a Starter out at Scottish Television, directed most of it and we went all over the world on that, you know, and it was fascinating! I didn't realise how, you know, lucky I was until after it was all over, like even looking back on it, because we were in Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, America, the Continent, so it was really, it was really and, you know, it was telling the story of Scotland and we had, although there were lots and lots of interviews in it with people who had been in the Wars - even the First World War at that time - and it was fascinating stuff.

I: What was the most difficult part of that in terms of lighting? Dealing with such difficult locations.

R: Mostly the lighting element was for set-piece interviews but you tried to make them look, you know, reasonably good and make people look OK but there was never any big, major problems in lighting for that.

I: And so, you developed your skills in lighting through that?

R: Well, I'd had experience in portrait photography way back in Scottish Studios and Engravers and I mean one of the chaps, the firm bought over a photography firm called Norton Pratt, Glasgow. They'd specialised in Society weddings and portraiture and all that nonsense and Lafayette Photographers and Scottish Studios and Engravers but it was the one guy that would maybe take the photograph of each one and they would just make the photograph look more expensive and sign some of them and all the rest of it. But the chap that had to keep on from Lafayette Photographers was a chap called Harry Fry who was a lovely old-school gentleman but he was used to using big plate cameras, you know, whole plate and ten by eight and quarter plate cameras. And they were going into some colour photography of children and all the rest of it and one of my memories of him was that he never used a Rolleiflex camera at all, everything was a larger format. He didn't know how to use it so, as a youngster, I would go down into the Portrait Studio and he would be taking a photograph or he'd be watching for the expression of the kid and I was ready to press the shutter on the camera and when the time was right I would get a tap on the head and I press the button! So, you know, I was waiting for this tap every time! Because he was scared to use this what was then new technology although it was a German camera that had been out for forty years at that time! But he was used to a bulb-release and waiting for the right time so I was just an extension of his bulb release to press the button on this camera!

I: And they got on together alright?

R: Mostly, yes, oh yes, most of the time.

I: Was there corporate loyalty between them and STV?

R: Well I, yeah, I suppose it was because they were responsible for us being there, Channel Four, and the fact that STV existed and that Channel Four trusted STV with the money. I can't really think of many major fall-outs over the time. There was, you know, one or two travel things and headaches and things but I can't remember any major fall-outs.


I: When did you first move into Drama? What was your first Drama?

R: I think some of the first Drama inserts I did was for a series called House on the Hill which was a series set in a house in Park Circus in Glasgow but it was set over the years so each episode moved it on to a different part of the occupants of the house. That was good fun but we were only doing film inserts for that.

I: And these were Network productions, I assume?

R: Yeah.

I: STV coverage to average?

R: Yes.

I: When was the first production that was entirely filmed as a Feature film?

R: I wasn't involved in it but I think it was Sense of Freedom. I think it was Sense of Freedom and it was Jeremy Isaacs that produced and it was a Scottish Television crew that did that but the DOP was, oh, gosh, I can't remember his name just now! [off-side inaudible whisper] Ah, right, OK. The Sense of Freedom Director of Photography was Chris Menzies, who's a very well respected Director of Photography, but the rest of the crewing was from Scottish Television and I would have loved to have been involved in that because I thought, 'well, I'd learn so much off this chap!' and indeed, I think there was a Cameraman appointed for a time on it. In theory to do some second unit work or some second camera stuff but I don't think he ever did any! But it was a, sort of, Union requirement that they had to have an STV Cameraman on it and he, they filmed in Dublin at Kilmainham Prison and all the rest of it because that was the only place at that time they could do some prison interiors because I don't think the Authorities here wanted anywhere near! But they took this Cameraman over and I believe, at the end of the day, he was asking everybody what time we finished so he could put in his timesheet! Isn't that awful?! But that was the way it was!

I: And what was the first time that you, as a photographer, were complete on a film?

R: I can't quite remember. Sorry?

I: I can't think either!

R: No. Well, I'll tell you, the first, I mean the first complete Dramas I think I can remember were Taggart's and I think I shot about the third or fourth or fifth one but over the years I probably did about twenty or thirty different storylines and the Taggart's originally went out as three-parters, you know, three hour episodes and that would be one storyline over three weeks so I probably did about twenty or thirty of those individual storylines over the years.

I: Was it a great challenge working on a Feature that you were a photographer on and was a complete production?

R: The challenge was to make it look interesting and believable and exciting and creating the mood for the piece so that, you know, it wasn't, we weren't lighting things up and making everyone look happy! You know, it was a bit gloomy sometimes and whatever I did seemed to be OK. There weren't too many complaints about it! But it was, the thing about it, I enjoy lighting because you could create a mood and that was one of the sides to it that I enjoyed. I also enjoyed operating but, much to the disgust of some people who probably wanted to operate, I still liked handling a camera!

I: So, you're lighting and operating at the same time?

R: For a time.

I2: And we're taking a break?

I: We're taking a break in the film!

R: Good! [30:34] Do you want me to go on to what has just come into my head?

I: Yes.

R: To go back to News filming, if we had an Electrician out with us, for some strange reason we were only allowed to use three lights. Three red-head lights, which were 750 watts each or something, which was fine, they were quite bright but the film was quite slow but if we went out on a Feature we could use four for some reason! I never quite worked out the reason for that but we could use, the Electrician also carried a hand-basher which provided a, you know, a light source when there were no lights about or if you needed some fill but I've got a memory of a lovely chap called Tony Polini, who was a Lighting Electrician in STV and we were on News one night and we got a call to go up to Bridge of Orchy to film lories stranded in the snow so that's up in Rannoch Moor, which is quite high up and windy and flat and gets a lot of snow so we went up to, I mean we had a land rover but we were expected to go up to Bridge of Orchy and lories were getting stuck in the snow and I thought 'we're being sent up there and we might get stuck in the snow!' but, anyway, we didn't and we managed to do some interviews with the lorry drivers who were stuck and do some shots of the vehicles. But I've got this lovely memory of Tony Polini, who was a Glasgow Italian chappie, a lovely man, but he was getting on a wee bit and I asked Tony to go to the other side of the main road and hold his hand-basher on because there was a lorry, a snow plough coming up to clear the snow and so I thought, 'oh, that snow would look great back-lit!' so Tony duly went over to the other side of the road but, unfortunately for him, the snow was getting churned up and discarded onto his side of the road so, and he never moved, the lorry passed and there was this snowman holding a hand-basher!! He swore a bit after that but he took it in good part and it looked, they used it on the ITN News when it went out the next day because it was shot on film so we had no way of getting it down but a helicopter came and picked it up the next morning and took it down to Glasgow and it was processed in Glasgow so it was on the lunchtime ITN News, that shot, so I was quite pleased with that one!

I: But there were problems of getting news back because of certain situations?

R: In Glasgow originally news film, black and white news film used to be processed in Scottish Television so that was, and processing black and white film was a lot quicker than colour film but when Scottish Television went into colour film, laboratories, film laboratories were opened by Humphries in Balmore in Glasgow, north of Glasgow, which is about on a good, when there's no traffic it's a good ten minutes, fifteen minutes away from the Studio so the last time that you could get film on air at six o' clock or ten past or fifteen minutes past six because they would accept it even when the programme was running was, the four o' clock bath. You had to get the film into Balmore for four o' clock. It was processed and picked up by a driver about five o' clock, ten past, quarter past five, it was given to the Film Editor, he made, they edited the story and it went out on air and also, that tended to be a bit of a rush so sometimes the voice-overs were done live from the studio when the film was going out. There was, going back in to Assistant Film Editing days, I really enjoyed that but it was getting a bit hairy. If you were working in News the Editor would have a, you know, you would go in about four o' clock and help out with the editing and the assembling of the News film.

The problem came sometimes when there was a big story in Glasgow and ITN wanted a story as well so the film would be cut for ITN, it would taken along to telecine and transmitted, sent down to London and they would record whatever they wanted but if it was a late piece, that film had to come back and be inserted in to the running order. It had to be inserted in to the reel with the other stories that were going out that night and that could be a bit hairy! And I've seen me running along to telecine about a minute to six or two minutes to six and the poor chap in there would be threading things through the telecine machine, which is just like a big film projector and so, you know, that got a bit hairy! There was one night we were doing something for ITN. I think it was a News bulletin. A bulletin, I think, went out at ten to six and I remember the Editor giving me this cut piece, running along to telecine and he laced up the telecine machine and I remember a voice on talk-back from London "OK, Glasgow! Reel telecine!" And he just got it and pushed a button and that, you know, it was as close as that! And nobody, you know, nobody knew about it that all that stuff was going on in the background so it was getting a bit hairy!


I: And everybody worked together? Who did the Company sketches.

R: Yes. There was very little freelance working at that time. Everybody was Staff apart from maybe the odd Director and odd Cameraman. Mario Ford was a Photographer and Cameraman in Glasgow and he and David Low got quite a bit of work from STV doing News mainly and I think there was a chap in, was it in Dunfermline, Morris Allan? I think he did some freelance work as well. But it was frowned on by the Unions and they said, "Oh, that should be a Staff job!" But the work that they were doing, it wouldn't have sustained a staff job, there wasn't enough of it.

I: And your crews when you were doing Features were how big?

R: Well, we would have a Director, his PA, his Production Assistant, we'd have a Cameraman, Assistant Cameraman, Sound Recordist, Driver and Stagehand.

I: And Lighting? In terms of...

R: And the Lighting and we would have, yeah, we would have, in terms of crewing for a Feature, like even a News story but was over two minutes, we would have a Director, a Production Assistant, Cameraman, Assistant Cameraman, Sound Recordist, Driver, Electrician, Stagehand!

I: And for Drama?

R: Well, for Drama, for Camera crewing we would have, I like to call it a Director of Photography but in the old days of STV for some reason they hated it being called Director of Photography, you were a Lighting Cameraman but I think it was to do with grading and pay structures so you would have, on camera you would have a Lighting Cameraman or, as I say, I preferred it to be called a Director of Photography because I'm rather vain! You would have a Camera Assistant who would be responsible for loading the film magazines and servicing the camera in that way and you would have a Focus Puller who, you know, was responsible for pulling focus. If an actor moved closer to camera, the focus was pulled forward and vice-versa. So, you would have a minimum of three on camera but you'd generally on a Drama you would have maybe three or four Electricians who were working with you to provide you with what you were wanting - they were there to service you - and if you were working outwith Studio or mains power, you would have a jenny driver so you would have somebody to, you know, to power the lamps but on the rest of it, you know, on the production side of it you would have a Director, there would be the Producer, the writer, you know, that was a whole other area away from me.

I: And when digital started, how did it change?

R: Sorry?

I: When digital started how did it change?

R: When digital, in terms of News filming or in terms of...?

I: In terms of Feature filming.

R: Feature filming? Well I didn't do all that much on digital. Film was still favoured for Drama production because, well, I don't know, the code was so much better. Some people would argue against that.

[inaudible off-side comment]

R: Is Robert still there?! But it was the big, the way you used to film, you'd film on, well, on High Road productions, which was a soap opera that Scottish Television did, in the early days the film inserts were shot on colour reversal film, which was the camera original. It would be edited very carefully (sometimes!) by the Editors because if you got hairs and things on it, it was very difficult to keep the image very clean so you, the camera original was physically edited in the early days of High Road. Later on we were able to shoot neg, which meant that it would go away for processing and the Editor would get a print back which he would physically cut up. He would send that away and the neg, a neg-cutter at the Film Lab would assemble it the way the Editor had cut it and then they struck a print from that, which should have been graded properly but, in the rush, sometimes wasn't and then that print would go out. The best way that film, well, for Film and Television, was to go directly from the neg through telecine because the print process wasn't all that satisfactory and it was another layer between the end product.

But on, there was one occasion, there was one Taggart where Scottish Television decided to do an experiment of 35mm film. It was, the cost implication at that time, I think, decided it was going to cost thirty thousand pounds more for an episode but the thought that, I think, the image quality would be so much better and, perhaps, the chances of sales abroad because all the American TV stuff was shot on 35mm and we shot this Taggart on 35mm and it looked great! Apart from the first day. The rushes all came up and we were all in telecine looking at these awful pictures because they hadn't provided a low-contrast print so it was a projection print from the first day's rushes and I felt terrible! You're in that room and you could see everybody looking at you - is this what we're paying this money for?! We've got 35mm cameras! The next day everything was fine because it all looked wonderful! But the print that you strike for projection was a higher contrast projection system. For television the prints were low contrast prints so all the detail in the image would be reproduced on television. But someone hadn't ordered a low contrast print.


I: So what, you carried moving on with Features and...

R: Yeah, well we did, there was, at one point someone got the idea that we should make films for Hallmark, which was an American Cable company so they had to be shot in 35mm and we were asked to do three films and I think the budget for each one was to be about a million pounds per film but the extra, a lot of the work was done on location. It was all done on location so you had all overnight costs and all sorts of things and equipment hire and I think there was a problem about them going over budget and also there was, oh gosh, they were a wee bit of a headache to try and make them work in the timescales and locations and what we were supposed to be doing!

I: And you carried on till 2001?

R: Well, I really enjoyed my time at Scottish Television because I was working on all sorts of projects that I wanted to work on and I was fortunate because I skipped between Drama and Documentaries so I was doing that for years and it was great! I mean, we did a series with Diana Rigg about National Trust properties in Scotland. I think it was an eight-parter and it was, it went out, I think it was commissioned for Channel Four and it went out locally but it went out on the Network several times and we did a film about William Burrell and it was for the opening of the Burrell Gallery in Pollok Park, which is now closed at the moment because it's deemed not to be watertight and they are refurbishing it and making it modern but, what, thirty years ago? When was it that we did that? Oh, about thirty years ago. About twenty-five, thirty years ago we made a film and we filmed at Hutton Castle and all sorts of other places and it won, I think it was called Sir William inserts of Sanan Dure. I think it won awards in various places, you know.

I: I mean, what do you think you'd won?

R: I was given a Scottish Bafta, which was rather nice. Also there was a Royal Television Society Award which we got. That was in London and that was presented by that chap who is quite famous, I can't remember! Grade! Michael Grade! That was for, that was Dr. Finlay. I'd forgotten about Dr. Finlay! I shouldn't have because we made lots and lots of those!

I: Tell me more about Dr. Finlay.

R: It was great fun!

I: It was all film production?

R: It was all film. It was a series of programmes about a Scottish doctor in a semi-rural town in Scotland. The original stories were written by A. J. Cronin a way back and STV got the rights to Dr. Finlay. And we had some really good actors. There was Ian Bannan and, gosh, my brain goes now! Annette Crosbie! We had some really good actors. We had Ian Bannan, Annette Crosbie, David Rintoul, a young chap called Fleming who's gone on to great things. Jason Fleming, who's gone on to quite big jobbies now. And his father once directed a Taggart and he was a bit of an irascible chappie so there was one actor he didn't take very kindly to who's quite well-known now but he was a young man at the time and he kept, sort of, offering up ideas to Gordon who was an old, you know, an old-school chappie, you know, and he'd a schedule to meet and one of the scenes, this young actor had to be seen looking through a photograph album and we'd run out of time to do the close-up of the photograph album being perused, you know, the hands turning the pages, so, the actor was Jason Isaacs, who's quite well-known now, and Gordon said, "That's alright, son! That's alright, son! We'll get the hand shots later, don't worry about it!" And so, the next day Gordon said, "Right, we'll set up for the hand shots." "Jason's not here." "Don't worry, son, I'll do it!" So, he flipped the pages of the album but Jason was quite an elderly gentleman at the time so he'd an old man's hands so you had this young actor who was leafing through the pages and when you cut to the close-up of his hands, there was these gnarled old hands! So, I think he did that, in a way, to get back at the actor a bit!


I: After you finished your time at STV, you, how did you finish by the way?

R: Well, in Scottish Television I think things were getting a bit tight for money towards the end of my time there and I remember a staff meeting where all the, there were meetings held with different departments about the way ahead and I remember, you know, I stood up and asked a question of the Managing Director, whoever he was at the time. "Look, there's a lot of talented people here. There's a lot of us not doing anything. It wouldn't cost very much to do some productions on spec. The talent's here, the people are here, everybody's being paid, why don't we do something on spec? A cookery programme, whatever!" And I left about a month later! And so, anyway! But I went, I worked for Scottish, I left Scottish Television as a Staff Cameraman and worked for them for a year freelance. I think I did another three Taggart's for them that year and then I worked for the BBC on a, a film series went out on a Sunday night, a thing called Born and Bred with James Bolam, Michael French and I worked on that for about three years, on and off.

I: And Heartbeat?

R: No, I didn't do Heartbeat.

I: So, an enjoyable time at STV?

R: Yeah.

I: Very professional.

R: Because I, well, it was enjoyable for me because I was working on all sorts of interesting projects and things that I wanted to work on and I was very lucky. Very lucky!

I: A corporate pride within the Company?

R: I think there was a pride because we were working for, we were altogether, you know, although when, you know, when I was working on projects I was, you know, on a film or a Drama or a Documentary, I was doing stuff that I was being paid to do. I was being paid to do work that I would have undertaken to do for free because I was really, well, latterly I was quite well paid for it, too, so that was probably one of the reasons I was asked to go!

I: Very good! Anything, Janet, that you think we should extend on that?

I2: I'd like to ask Jim about watching his own stuff on television.

I: Oh yes! We've got to ask you, do you like watching your own stuff on television? Do you still watch television?

R: Yes, I still watch television. Everybody watches television! I like Dramas and Documentaries but I've got a, I tend not to see very much of my own stuff now because I don't do all that much. I don't do any now but, in the village where I live, the odd person keeps coming up to me and saying, "I saw your name on television last night!" "Oh, what was that?" "It was an old, it was in a Taggart!" "Oh, right!" And they start talking about the story and half the time I can't remember what the storyline was about! One of the best Taggart's I think we did was with Alex Norton but Alex Norton wasn't in the Taggart role, Norton was a mad butcher who killed people and stored the bodies in plastic bags in Maryhill. It was great! He was very good! But that was in his younger days. Taggart had lots of quite famous people involved in them, you know, like Jimmy Cosmo who's quite well-known now and there was quite a lot of people who came through the early STV Drama departments.

I: Alan Cummings, for instance.

R: Was Alan Cummings Taggart? Alan Cummings, Taggart, yeah. Oh yeah, there was lots and lots of people. I mean the Drama, I think, was down to the perseverance of Robert Love who kept that department going a bit when I think there was pressure on him not to take on so much or whatever, I don't know, but it was his enthusiasm that kept STV Drama going for as long as it did.


I: Thank you. Have you got anything else, Janet?

I3: Yes, I'm sure he would like to work at STV [unintelligible]

I: I've tried that one.

R: What do you want me to say?!

I3: STV would like you to say how nice it was!

I: Yes, what was it like working there? Was there a corporate spirit at STV?

R: I think most of the time there was, yeah.

I3: Is there at all?

R: Is there? Well, I don't know because I don't work for Scottish Television any more but it was good fun because the Film Department as was, tended to work on projects so you didn't tend to be part of the huge STV, well, huge to us, STV interaction with other departments.

I: It's very impact, it worked together, it was a very corporate thing within itself!

R: Yeah.

I: We all got on together.

R: In the old Film Department - because it was film that we dealt with - there was a small number of people really relatively, a relatively small number of people working on similar projects and sometimes we got the feeling that there was a bit of animosity from, perhaps, studio-bound people who, on the face of it, they didn't think they'd as much freedom as we had and I think there was a bit of, hmm, you know, you got a feeling there was a bit of animosity from that side but we didn't care!

I2: Could I ask...

I3: I think we'd better take a break!


I2: You mention that almost within STV there was a sort of, not silo, you were the Film Unit and then there was, perhaps, more Studio but, looking outwards, did you feel any kinship with your fellow Film Directors outwith in the Independent Sector because particularly in the eighties and nineties there was a lot of stuff going on about creating a Scottish Film industry and what is a Scottish Film. How do you feel your role, as a Film Maker, contributed to that?

R: I would think at that time we didn't do all that much, you know, as a Company, for Film Makers outwith the freelance world but there wasn't a big freelance world then anyway. There was BBC Scotland and STV who were putting out their own programmes and their own output and, occasionally, BBC would get, you know, a freelance, a crew to do work but we didn't do much of that. When I left Scottish Television it was a different world. It was a freelance world and I didn't, I was a babe in arms! I didn't know my way about the freelance world and, in retrospect, although I was very lucky and I got work, I worked for Glasgow production companies doing documentaries, Caledonia TV with Les Wilson and Seona Robertson, I did a lot of work with them as well but in retrospect, working in television in the way I worked, you got various projects handed to you. You didn't need to chase work. Freelance people had to chase the work and I don't know that we did all that much help in that area at that time.

I2: There was an initiative in the nineties in the Scottish Film and Broadcast Training Trust which I think were looking for people within broadcasting to mentor young people coming into the industry. Were you ever involved in that?

R: After I left Scottish Television I did a little bit with RSAMD [Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama] when, oh, I mentored a couple of people on projects there and there was also the Edinburgh College that did a media project so I did a little bit of that but not very much.

I2: But not when you were with STV?

R: No. Not when I was with STV, no.

I3: So, that's the one, that's the one! So, just turn around for me towards the green side.

I2: And you might want to retrieve that cup from his hand as well!

I3: That's perfect, thank you.


I: What was your most memorable moment at your time at STV?

R: Gosh! I've got so many things that happened I can't, you know, in terms of experience of what I worked on or?

I: What you worked on. We've got a couple already as Roy Thomson did the first.

R: Oh good. There was one time, there was one memorable experience which I found quite funny. The actress involved found quite funny. The Director involved quite funny. Yes, I think the Sound Recordist would have done as well! The rest of the crew were put on to this little boat to go to the Fair Isle and it was called The Good Shepherd. I think there were various Good Shepherds' over the years but this particular Good Shepherd had been a fishing boat with a little cabin popped on the top and it went from side to side, all over the place, and the people on it were extremely sick but we'd spent the night in Nairn because we'd some shots to do with Diana Rigg in, you know, with helicopter input, going round with Diana in circles some beautiful spot in Scotland. So, we had a lovely meal that night. It was a bit bumpy on the way over but Diana had some Glenfiddich whisky with her so we all had a little dram on the way over so we were quite happy by the time we got to Fair Isle and this boat, this wretched boat arrived and the rest of the crew had been, some of them had been very, very sick and the Photographer, they'd sent a Stills Photographer out at the time, a chap called Harry Moulson and Harry was quite ill as well and his camera case had opened and his cameras had apparently been swishing backwards and forwards on the floor of his cabin and they were incapable of doing anything about it! It seemed funny at the time but we gave him great sympathy afterwards.

There was another occasion, we were doing Held in Trust. We had to do some aerial shots of Iona and we arrived and there was an STV Outside Broadcast Unit because they were doing the programme they did with Harry Secombe and we arrived in the middle of this and landed and spoilt their time, I think. We had lunch but the catering, I think, wasn't hugely innovative. I think we'd pies and beans and things like that but they were the caterers. But they did a shot, a chap called John Shirley did a shot from the helicopter with an umbilical cable from the helicopter down to the scanner so they didn't do very much of that so that was great.

I: What do you think is the most important contribution STV has made to Scotland and why?

R: Scotland, well nowadays Scotland is in a state of flux so Scottish Television seem to be kind of helping to pursue peoples' understanding of this state of flux because we have some quite good political people now - Billy Ponsonby - you know, they've got all, I think they're, and they've got their new channel with their News programme which I caught a couple of last week, which I thought were very high standard considering it's coming from small resources, you know.

I: And your fondest memory? Fondest and funniest memory? I think we've probably had that but your fondest memory?

R: Ah, dearie me! There was something that came to my mind a minute ago but it's just gone at the moment. Give me a drink of water and I'll maybe come back to it. What was the question?!

I: Fondest/funniest memory of STV.

R: Fondest/funniest memory of STV.

I: We've got that one we covered with the snowman story.

R: When you were working with actors and sometimes journalists, if somebody started corpsing or, you know, you found something funny and you mutually found something funny, that was quite difficult at times because there was a couple of times in News stories I had to leave the camera running and walk away from it so that the journalist could do the questions without corpsing. There was one quite famous journalist now, Sally McNair, who works for BBC. She was a Reporter on Scottish Television and she was prone to giggle and I remember filming her doing a piece to camera and I had to put my coat over my head when I was looking through the viewfinder because she, you know, I was putting her off and it was, you know, occasions like that were great fun.

I: Alright. Great. Excellent!

[End of Recording]