Saturday, 25 July 2009

Peter McDougall

Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting blew me away. Mand drank in the same Leith boozer as his uncle (Gillis's - cheap beer, dugs, pipes, bunnets, slippers, local civil servants, women in pinnies and sadly long gone) so we got a sneaky wee preview and thought we'd just discovered Embra's own Dead Sea scrolls. Turns out Trainspotting's much more interesting than those scraps of old papyrus and we were chuffed to bits that it went down so well when the people got to read it.

Welsh's brilliance makes it easy to overlook some of the other great modern writers who've plied that trade in their own version of the Scots tongue. James Kelman's a favourite and Peter McDougall's another. I'd almost forgotten Peter McDougall's tv plays of the 70's and was reminded purely by (target marketing) chance when an on line shopping site sugggested i'd mibby dig The Peter McDougall Collection. They were right, the bastards and i bought it straight away.

As a family, among other groovy stuff we went to the pictures a coupla times a month (Corstophine Astoria), hit the panto every year (Kings, Toll X) and watched a fair amount of telly (mainly snooker, films, fitba and Play for Today). Maybe cos McDougall and my dad both come from Greenock and worked for a while in the shipyards, PM's were the plays of the day that really got us going. 3 of these - Just Another Saturday, Elephant's Graveyard and Just A Boy's Game - feature in The Collection along with Down Among The Big Boys and a wee documentary about McDougall and his work.

Just Another Saturday stars Jon Morrison as the 15 year old mace twirler for a flute band on the day of a big Orange parade in Glasgow. The parade's a familiar (though pleasingly rarer) sight for any who've lived through a Scottish central belt summer. The Lodge's early co-operation with shooting contribute to the almost documenatry feel of much of the play. Twould appear that, as production proceeded, the Grand Order sussed McDougall's play wasnae gonna be shoogely sympathetic to their cause. They withdrew support and filming of later march scenes was done in Leith and Newhaven. Billy Connolly pops up late on in the play, looking and acting like he did in his Welly Boot Song days. There's also a great wee performance as Morrison's maw from Eileen McCallum. As well as being a good chum from high school's actual maw, she's a splendid actor and really sparkles in this role.

Morrison and Connolly team up again in Elephant's Graveyard. This one's a barry 2 hander about a coupla guys hiding out for the day from their wives and lives in the hills up the back of Greenock. It's easy on the peepers and gently paced yet the dialogue's fast, furious and often hilarious. It's a wee shorty of less than an hour and seemed almost trifling when i watched it a coupla night ago, but of them all, this is the one i've thought most of since.

Just Another Saturday is the one i remembered best from my youth. It features Ken Hutchison, Gregor Fisher and Frankie Miller (all pictured above) and contains my fave and most repeated tv line ever viz. - "McCafferty, yer tea's oot!" This play's an utter cracker. It's scary, funny (fuckin funny), tragic, heart warming, angry and bitter. The cast's outstanding and also includes Hector Nicol and briefly, oh so briefly, a superbly comical Eileen McCallum, again as an exasperated mother.

All 3 of the above were directed by John MacKenzie. Talented gadgie.

Down Among The Big Boys was shown on telly many years later (it reeks of the late 80's). It clearly had a bigger budget than the Plays for Today and the cast, including Billy Connolly on the cusp of his polo playing days, were mainly well established. I loved every minute of it. 'Tickety Fuckin Boo' indeed.

Other than that, McDougall wrote the screenplay for A Sense Of Freedom - Jimmy Boyle's autobiopic (?) and a late 80's teleplay called Shoot For The Sun, set smack among the same kinda mid 80's Embra junkies as Welsh's Trainspotting. I mind one nippy Feb night being asked to wait on the corner of Albert Street and the Walk while a scene was made for Shoot For The Sun. Near froze ma nuts off but i almost felt famous when it finally hit the telly.

I wish Peter McDougall had written (would write) much more but what he's done's been done supremely. He's managed to get the voices of real and often neglected people right up there on telly - the most important medium of its time. He's made me laugh and want to greet along the way and for that i thank him.


  1. Great writer, did you know he was working as a painter and decorator in London, and was working at actor/writer Colin Welland's house (Chariots of Fire) and professed that he thought most of the telly writing was shite and that he could do better. Welland called him on it, and MacDougall put down the brush and picked up the Remington?

  2. That was a most enjoyable piece of writing, cheers.

  3. Good on Coco Welland for that one, Monty (and good on Victor Kayam.) If Peter McDougall was decorating my gaff, i'd be makin plenty tea and encouraging him to chat cos if his plays are a guide, his patter's brilliant.

    Glad you dug it, Eddie.

  4. Good read mate. I remember seeing just another saturday on tv years ago and remember it being excellent without really understanding all that nonsense at the time.
    Always annoys me that some really excellent dramas and comedys came out of Scotland back then and the only thing that ever gets repeated on tv is Gregorys Girl. A good film, but there is so much more that it would be nice to see repeated occasionally.

  5. Johnny pal, i'll bung you a swatch o the PM Collection. You'll love it.

    Tutti Frutti's out on dvd soon anaw so i'll keep you in mind for that.

    But hey, ease up on yer Gregory's Girl chat. That film can never be repeated too often for me. Bella bella by the way.

  6. I remember watching Just Another Saturday in 70's and being really impressed, but it was Just a Boy's Game which I really liked. I'd never seen anything like it before and several scenes stayed with me. When I watched it again recently it had a most profound affect. Your absolutely right about it being funny, bitter, scary etc. By the end, its difficult not to feel moved and emotionally drained.

  7. Someone's cutting Peter's grass see for yourself. The Crews: The Scottish Sopranos: