Ah, the BBC. Don’t you just love it ? (OK. I’m not sure you all do but we mustn’t let our political views get in the way of our wider judgement). Did you catch the Radio 4 series which started on Tuesday about the history of Scottish nationalism? http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03hcl9p
For me this is radio at its best. It’s dead simple. All you need a great mind, a great speaker – and a microphone. Professor Murray Pittock has sat in many a studio with me ruminating on all things Scottish and, since he’s the one with the brains, adding a dash of the intellectual. He is one of that understated army of Scots whom you just know has the interests of his country at heart and who has the inclination both to learn about it – rather than assume what he’s told – and to translate it for others. One of the maddening things about my years of traversing Scotland for the BBC was to find that from top to bottom, our people are ignorant of their own history – their national story. Although he does this professionally, I think he can be said to be a kind of throwback to a generation whose culture wasn’t swamped by television and online culture and was able to appreciate and nurture in his own mind Scotland’s place in history.
I gloried in the unapologetic and bold telling of Scotland’s creation from the ancient tribes through the repelling of the romans to the establishment of the universities and our early international trade and intellectual exchange. It was liberating to hear someone talk of our country as one of the early nations of Europe – in our own right – not defined by some one else. For someone with my background, the delivery too is important…a warm voice, not dwelling on a word a moment too long for effect but pacing itself steadily so the information can be disseminated, all the time driven by a passion to tell us more. These are rare gifts and 15 minutes passed too quickly which is exactly what you want the listener to feel…that they must tune in for more. I bet lots of educated folk in England stayed with it too realising that they need to learn given the referendum and finding someone of weight and wit to whom they could relate. Educating the English…now there’s an idea to appeal to the Professor.
Talking of series about the national movement, you might have heard Billy Kay recently on Radio Scotland with The Cause, a History of Scottish Nationalism. Billy, the Bard of Broughty Ferry, is another of our national champions, who has been out in front educating us about our own country for as long as I can remember and, in a way, before it became fashionable again. He got in touch to say he’s giving a talk based on the series and wants to use the blog’s global reach to advertise! As we approach the momentous decision, Billy will give a talk on his and the country’s national identity, illustrated with oral history, literature and music from his ground-breaking series. It will be a stimulating, enjoyable and intensely relevant contribution (Billy’s words!) to the national debate about Scotland’s past, present and future. For tickets visit: http://www.historyfest.co.uk/ and for more detailed information visit www.billykay.co.uk . (I notice a couple of hours later he transforms himself into Bordeaux Billy with a talk on Scotland’s links to the wine-growing regions of France complete with plonk!) Details from his website.
One other programme caught my eye. It was the Bob Servant comedy on BBC Scotland. I tuned in when it was well under way and was immediately doubtful because the jokes seemed a bit elongated, as in lacking pace, and I feared I was to be disappointed. But, as I watched, oor Bob, portrayed by another son of Tayside Brian Cox, grew on me until I realized I knew him. He was a composite of so many cooncillors I’ve known over the years. He had it all, the vainglorious pomposity, the sense of righteousness, indefatigability, and the epic belief that he and he alone spoke for the people – his people. To me these guys are democracy’s gold dust and Mr Cox fair caught the character square on the jaw. Commissioning comedy is probably the trickiest thing a broadcast executive has to do since the chances are it will flop and you never know til it’s out there. I think Cox’s Bob Servant is worth tuning for on its own. I’ll say this quietly: Well done, BBC Scotland.