Forgotten Leodhasach Explorers -Part 1 of Some

28 04 2018

The town of Stornoway has produced more than its share of people who went away to discover stuff, but not all of them have received the recognition they deserve. While we all know about Alexander Mackenzie’s travels in Canada, and Colin Mackenzie’s great works in India, it’s about time we looked at some of the Island’s lesser known but equally significant explorers.

Here’s the first of several..

Christopher Columbiaplace

The career of Stornoway’s Christopher Columbiaplace was uncannily close to that of his more successful cousin from Genoa. They were born but a year apart, and their birthplaces were uncannily similar; Genoa was a thriving cosmopolitan seaport with a pleasant climate, trade links to all corners of the known world and a vibrant renaissance culture, and Stornoway was beside the sea as well.

At that time Stornoway was experiencing great difficulties in its trade with the East, due to rampant piracy, the capture of Constantinullapool by the Dòtaman Empire under Sultan Donnie II, and the Caliphate-Mac ferries being full of camper oxcarts all summer.

In 1487, after hearing some amadan in the Star Inn claiming the world was round, Christopher Columbiaplace approached the Stornoway Trust and proposed an expedition to find a Westerly passage to Kyle of Lochalsh (and maybe Mallaig), by sailing across the Atlantic.

The Trust turned down Columbiaplace’s proposal, as they’d already sold Kyle of Lochalsh, Mallaig (and the Atlantic) to some cove who said he was the King of Nigeria, for 10 Woodbines and a hen supper.

Frustrated, Columbiaplace took his idea to the rulers of the emerging Catholic superpower in the region – King Ferdinand of Castilebay and Queen Ishabellag of Ardnamoine. Having just expelled the Moors from Barra (and consequently being short of peats) Ferdinand and Ishabellag were keen to expand their territories and get a few trailerloads home so they could get a good gelly going in time for the Inquisition.

The King and Queen had a whip round and bought Columbiaplace three ships: a second hand sgoth from Ness called the Pintaheavy, an ex-Fishery Cruiser called the NormaNina and the pride (and flagship) of the fleet – the Sandwick Mawria, an ex Caliphate-Mac ferry.

A crew consisting of press-ganged hard coves from the Columbia, Manor and Springfield gangs was assembled on No 1 pier and told that ‘there’s going to be fleeking loads of cartwheels for the gelly to be found in the West’. They were swiftly allocated to one of Columbiaplace’s fleet and, fortified with a cargo of salt sgadan, set sail on the morning tide.

Columbiaplace and his fleet sailed straight into trouble, mistaking Arnish for the Flannan Isles light and unknowingly returning to Stornoway. It was only when they reached the Porter’s Lodge that Columbiaplace realised he was navigating up the Glen River.

Undeterred, he continued up the Glen to Loch Airidh Na Lice where they dropped anchor. Here, Columbiaplace declared he had discovered the New (Valley) World.

This of course caused some controversy in more recent times, as it is now widely accepted that Stornowegian Viking Leac Erikson was first to discover the New Valley (hence the name of the Loch).

Fortunately for Columbiaplace, his navigational error worked out well, as the area turned out to be full of peats. Columbiaplace and his crew went ashore and traded some worthless trinkets with the natives – some glass beads, a half bottle of trawler rum, a quarter ounce of black twist, a couple of crates of gold bars, 3 or 4 chests of dubloons and all their credit card details – for as much in the way of fàds, caorans and smùir as the three ships could carry back to Ferdinand and Ishabellag’s court. The King and Queen were most pleased when Columbiaplace returned, as by this time they had a queue of heretics round the block complaining about how long they had to wait to get burned.

After his adventures in the New (Valley) World, Columbiaplace retired to relative obscurity as the caretaker of a swingpark.

But his story lives on. Generations of townie school kids will remember the poem celebrating Columbiaplace’s epic voyage of discovery….

“In fourteen hundred and ninety two

Columbiaplace sailed with a half-canned crew

He had three ships (one ex MacBrayne)

He sailed through the Glen, passed Coulregrein

He sailed by night, he sailed by day

He used the lighthouses to find his way

A compass alas he didn’t pick

That’s why he ended up in Airidh Na Lice

Ninety sailors were onboard

And they discovered peats in a huge big hoard

They brought them back to Ferdinand and Ishabellag

Who burnt the heretics and sent them to Hellag”

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NME RIP

24 03 2018

NME

So, farewell New Musical Express, or as it was more commonly known, the NME.

After nearly 66 years of keeping music fans informed about the latest fads, fashions and falls from fame, the once esteemed music weekly has pulled the lead out of the amplifier and staggered off to a final backstage party.

In a bizarre coincidence, our very own, homegrown, weekly music magazine, The Newvalley Musical Express has also just announced that it will no longer be appearing on the shelves of Tommy Nicolson’s or Roddy Smith”s.

The paper began in 1952 as the “Newvalley Musical Express incorporating Orduighean Times” and very quickly became the paper you had to be seen with to enhance your musical ‘coolness’. If you read the Newvalley Musical Express, you were the first to know when the hippest bands were playing, what the latest chart hit was going to be, and when the Barvas communions were going to be taking place.

The NME appeared just as rock and roll hit Lewis, and swiftly ignored it. Instead, the NME directed its energy mainly towards accordion and fiddle music and half drunk coves singing Gaelic songs in Stornoway pubs. In its early days it also reported on really good church precenting as well – for example, if everyone who claimed to have been present in the High Church at the February 1959 Stornoway Communions (from the NME article ‘I’ve seen the future of Precenting and his name is Donald MacLeod) had really been there, you would have needed almost the full use of the Church Hall as well.

The paper also carried regular ‘gig’ reports from impromptu musical sessions in various secret Ness Bothans. Very often these reports included details of police raids and the number of half bottles confiscated.

The NME was also the first local paper to publish a singles chart, based on the returns from Maciver and Dart’s shop. The charts were hugely important to local music fans who would queue up outside the papershops every Friday to see who had reached Number 1 that week. Who can forget the media hype behind the mid 90’s Oasis vs Uncle Ethan race to the Number 1 spot with their songs, respectively, ‘(Do You Want a) Roll(mop herring) With It?’ and ‘Council House’.

In the early 1970’s the ‘real’ NME gained a reputation for ‘Gonzo’ journalism. This was largely believed to have been heavily influenced by the Lewis NME’s ‘GalsonShow’ journalism, where the paper carried reviews of live ‘gigs’ held at the various summer Cattle Shows (which was always three coves with melodians sitting in the back of a trailer and playing “Haoidh-o Haoidh-ram, Chunna Mis’ a’ Raoir Thu” on repeat).

The paper also dabbled in the glittery realms of Glamb Rock in the early to mid 70’s and regularly carried features on artists such as Marag Bolan & T-Rubhachs, The Suet (famous for Flockbuster, Balallan Blitz and Teenage Ram-graze), Gearraidh Gritterlorry and Skye band Sleit, featuring Roddy Holder, who had massive success with ‘Coz I Luv Ewes’, ‘Ferry Christmas Everyboaty’ and ‘Curam Feel The Noize’.

But by the mid 70’s, the NME was starting to get stale. Rival publications such as the ‘Free Church Monthly Record Mirror’, ‘The Melodian Maker’ and the ‘Fleekin’ Sound’ were catching a bigger share of the market whilst NME sales were plummeting.

The editor decided to take a risk and employ a couple of young, unknown writers, who were tasked with making the paper relevant again. These two were Julie Birchilldrive and Tony Parishioner, who became known as the Hip Young Psalmsingers. They originally championed genres such as Fank Rock (The Seggs Pistols, The Darned and Shader 69) and later Post Fank (such as Mark E Smithshoeshop and The Offall)

Another writer who made his name at that time was Poll Maw-erly, who went on to act as publicist for ruppish Hearach pop sensations Fankie Goes To Horgabost.

Charles Shaader Murray also gained a sizeable reputation, particularly for his moving obituaries to dead rock stars, many of which have been reposted on The (Made Up) History Of Stornoway page.

The life of a rock journalist could be hazardous, with a bad review or an impertinent question leading to fisticuffs with irate musicians. Famous run ins between journalists and rock stars included the battering dished out to J*hnny S**sage by punk rock karate enthusiast Jean-Jacques Shoeburnel for an insufficiently enthusiastic review of The Strondglers’ “No More Hearachs” in 1977. In 1983, Danny Bakersroad was hung by his feet over the railing of the Suilven in mid-Minch by notorious rock ‘n roll hardman Prof, after criticising Swedish TV’s “Nous Sommes Merde”. And of course there was also the mysterious demise of NME journalist Barrach Miles after he’d published his scathing “This is what your fathers fought to save you from…” piece on Kroftwerk’s “Dautomahn” album in 1975. Kroftwerk’s former chief robot, Rött “Der Aktorrr” Mörison, remains famously reticent on that subject to this day.

Co dhiù, music fans of all ages (except the under 50s) will no doubt miss the Newvalley Musical Express print experience. On the plus side, it leaves readers no worse off on the emergency bog roll front, as its famously smudgy black newsprint rendered it unsuitable for that purpose except under the most desperate of circumstances.





The Silent Film Industry of Old SY

20 01 2018

The Silent Film Industry In Old SY

In an earlier article we looked at Stornoway’s thriving B-movie industry of the 1950s, but now let’s look a bit further back, to the golden era of silent cinema. Few nowadays are aware that there was a time when Stornoway and Hollywood were running neck and neck to become the film capital of the world, but old SYs will tell you that back in the 1920s it was a close run thing. If it hadn’t been for our ruppish weather, Stornoway would have got Sunset Boulevard, the Oscars, and thon place with the stars in the pavement, and Los Angeles would have got the sheep subsidy and the Gut Factory.

It was Lord Leverhulme himself who inadvertently started the golden age of black and white silent film (known as “suylant filllim” to the urban sophisticates inside the cattle grid, and “obair an t-Shàtain” to those outside). When his dreams to turn Stornoway into the fishing capital of the Western Hemisphere came to naught, his various factories, kipper sheds and assorted paraphernalia were put to good use as ready made film studios. Canning Factories became Soundstages (and this is actually where the phrase ‘It’s in the can!’ came from), the yard behind a textile mill became a backlot that could be transformed into almost any outdoor location (so long as it required scenes featuring rain or midges) and the swanky houses at Oliver’s Brae became the luxury mansions of the celluloid heroes.

(It’s interesting to not that the present day Media Village on Seaforth Rd is precisely on the very spot where the movies were once produced).

Almost overnight a host of film companies came into existence. Amongst the most well known studios were Uniperceval, Maragmount, Essan-Y Films, Mawtro Goldenroad AlecMairsShop (or MGM as it was known), its bitter rival Mehhhtrough Goathill Mayerybank (aka MGM (Continuing)) and, of course, 20th Century Lochs.

Among the earliest pioneers of comedy in the silent era was conflicted church elder/drouth Macs Synod, who founded Keose-stone Studios in 1912. Keose-stone began life in a close between Point Street and North Beach that was equally handy for access to Synod’s favourite watering hole and the open-air gospel meetings that took place in Perceval Square in these days.

Keose-stone Studios served as the early springboard for many of the greats of silent cinema. Stars such as Gloria Swainbost (the screen siren who went on to star in countless films including “Sunset Banacheard” and “Beyond The Rubhachs”, with Rudolf Balallantino). Or Harold Leòid (famous for his spectacular stunt hanging off the Nicolson clock tower in the 1923 classic “C*l*msafety Last”). Keose-stone also employed the young Bing Crossbost (some say his singing was at its best in these early silent works), and made some of the earliest films featuring the great Barley Chaplin.

Many of the studio’s films featured perennial favourites the “Keose-stone Kops”, a shower of useless Lochie wegs who raced around Stornoway at high speed, falling off their tractor and truncheoning themselves over the head instead of the bad coves. So successful were they that rival studios began to churn out poor quality imitations, featuring the likes of the Kliasgro Kops, the Kallanishstones Kops, the Kearnphabaidh Kops (who were always very busy) and the Kuiream Kops (who wouldn’t chase anybody on Sundays).

But it wasn’t all comedy – oh no. Many great dramatic epics were made in the silent era too, by giants of cinema such as Cecil B De Stickysmill and DW Gravir. Indeed, one of the first feature-length silent films made in Stornoway was DW Gravir’s controversial ‘Birth of a (Denomi)nation’, which was about the civil war that led to the formation of the Free Church as it broke with the Church of Scotland. It was based around a screenplay called ‘MV Clansman’ and focused on two families, on each side of the divide. It caused a bit of a furore as many of the maw characters were played by townie actors putting on really bad country accents – which was very confusing for audiences seeing as how it was a silent film.

“Birth of a (Denomi)nation” featured Lillian Guershader, who became the leading actress of the era until she fell out with MGM studios in the mid 1920s The reason was never entirely clear, but it was reputed to involve a bitter dispute between MGM’s 2 top female stars over the peat-cutting rights on the studio back lot. Whatever happened, Lillian Guershader left the movie business and returned to theatre, appearing in countless Stornoway Thespians productions over the ensuing 80 years. A week later, her great rival, the enigmatic Greta Garrabost, (her most famous movie line being ‘I vant to be a blone’) turned up at MGM with a tairsgear and cut 4 tractorloads herself in a Saturday afternoon.

With free peats, 4-crown, Woodbines, salt herring and sheep’s heads on tap courtesy of the studios, the screen stars of the day must have felt invincible, as if their pampered lives of untold luxury would go on forever.

But the days of the Suylent movies were numbered….

The writing was on the wall (of the toilets in the Clachan) for the silent era when the first musical appeared. Well known Mod Gold Medalist Al Galson hit superstardom when he appeared as the lead character in The Chazz Singer. This film was about a Townie who went about dressed up as a Maw whilst singing Gaelic songs badly. Memorable songs in the film included ‘Suet Suet Tootsie, Good Pie’ and ‘Mo Mhathair’ (later covered by Calum Kennedy).

The talkies killed off the career of many a silent star who failed to sound as good as they looked. Among these were Lewise Brùgs (whose glittering silent career in films such as “A Girl In Every Portnaguran” came to a sudden end when the advent of sound revealed her uncontrollable belching), Bosta Keaton, Fatty Arnishbuckle and of course, the great Mary Pickfordterrace (“Aird Tong’s Sweetheart”), who famously ridiculed the idea of sound in the movies as being like “Putting lipstick on Lady Matheson’s monument”.

On the other hand, several actors who’d never really made it big in the silent era suddenly became megastars due to their hitherto undiscovered ability to speak. Among these were the Macs Brothers (see our article from a while back), their rivals the Marags Brothers, and drunken town council toilet repairman WC Plasterfields.

Perhaps the most successful stars to cross over to the talkies were the legendary comedy duo Liobag & Fleekeenhardy… But more about Stan and Oliversbrae in a forthcoming article.





The Rubhach Revolution. There’s a lot of fuss this month over the centenary of the Russian Revolution, but Old SYs will be chuckling to themselves as they remember that Russia wasn’t the only empire to the East where violent revolution overthrew a despotic monarch and established a hard-line communist regime that would endure for decades. Oh no – For 1917 was also the year that the dictatorship of the proletariat came to the Eye Peninsula – the year of the Rubhach Revolution. Prior to the Revolution, Point had seen a turbulent few decades. This was in no small part due to the ineptitude of their ruler, Tsar Nicolsoninstitute II; the last of the HoVansNaHeeHoRubhamanov Dynasty and a bit of an amadan. He was blamed for many of the ills befalling Point. Chief among these was dragging the empire into the Graip War, a pointless but acrimonious family feud over a Branahuie potato patch in which the Tsar hurled millions of unfortunate Rubhachs into battle against the superior armies of his cousins; Kaiser Uilleam of Guershader, Emperor Fank Josef I of Austro-Knockgarry and Sultan Mehhh-med IV of the Dòtaman Empire. Adding to the public distrust of the Tsar was the growing influence of a strange feusagach Episcopal Priest from Benbecula who had wormed his way into the court. Despite his crippling bouts of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Creagorry Ra-spùt-in became a close advisor to the Tsarina. His influence was short-lived however, as a group of nobles invited him round to the house for a strùpag and proceeded to feed him scones and pancakes laced with organophosphate sheep-dip. The sheep dip had no effect on Ra-spùt-in, so they shot him instead and dumped his body in Loch an Tiumpan. Tsar Nicolsoninstitute was eventually given the boot in March 1917 and exiled to Sheshader, so he viewed it as something of an improvement when in 1918 he, too, was shot. A fractious assortment of parties including Anarchists, Mehhhnshearviks, and Suardalist Revolutionaries took over the running of the Peninsula, but spent all their time arguing about bin collections and after 6 months had failed to improve the lot of the workers and peasants. Eventually the least disorganised faction, the Bolsheepviks (Continuing) rose to prominence and in October 1917 nicked the keys of the Rubhach Parliament in St Peatersburg (later renamed Upper Paiblegrad), and locked everybody else out. This “October Revolution” was spearheaded by Bolsheepvik leader Vlaiginish Ilyanovich MacLenin, a local bus operator who was heavily inspired by the writings of Newmarket builder and philosopher Cal Max. His left-leaning political ideology spread throughout the peninsula as church-goers travelled from house to house at the òrduighean. Thus, the movement became known as Communionism. While MacLenin was the theorist of the revolution, he wasn’t all that great in a scrap, so he relied on his pal, a moustachioed hard cove with a liking for the deoch, to do the violence. Partly because nobody could spell his name, but mostly because of his preference for a certain Stornoway drinking den, the dreaded Comrade J. Dzhulishadervili was known to all as “Josef Starinn”. As the revolution unfolded, few would have predicted that the drunken bleigeard with the daft tache would exert a reign of terror anns a’ Rubha for 30 years. Another significant figure was Revolutionary Portnaguran fisherman Liù-on Trosg-y, a leader in the fledgling Communionist Party until his opposition to Starinn’s work placement schemes led to his being exiled to Melbost – and to his eventual assassination with a tairsgear, at the hands of disgruntled church elder Ram-on Seceder. The Rubhach Revolution had a huge impact on the geo-political situation in the Hebrides but also had an equally valid impact on popular culture outwith the Communionist Bloc, particular in the 1960’s and 70’s. Amongst the many films taking the Revolution as a focal point was the famous film set during these turbulent times ‘Dr Sheshedervago’ starring Julie Christiespier and Omarg Sharubhach. Based on the book by Maw-ris Paible-stearnag and produced by David Ling. Another famous film, but this time produced as a form of Rubhach propaganda was ‘The Battleship Po-Tiumpan’, directed by Sergei Eisenclachstein, which depicted a mutiny by the Portvoller fishing fleet against the Tsar’s Customs Officers. The film also depicts the famous massacre on the Obh-obh-dessa steps leading down to Bayble Pier. Ra-Spùt-in was immortalised in the late 1970’s by the hit song ‘Ra-sput-in’ from the Harris Tweed craft-loving group Bonny Hem. This reached number one in the Radio Ranol Charts. All together now!!!!! ‘Ra,ra,Ra-spùt-in Lover of the Rubhach Queen There was a cove who’s bowel is gone Ra, ra, Ra-spùt-in Rubhachs greatest cac machine It was a shame how he cac’ed his toin’

19 01 2018




You’ll probably have heard that thon Playboy publisher cove Hugh Hefner has passed away. Famous (or should that be infamous) for producing naughty magazines and having a gang of Bunny Girls wandering about his Mansion. Old SYs will recall that, back in the 50s, Hugh tried to establish a foothold on Lewis by producing “Playcove” Magazine, but this only lasted a few months as the centrefold models couldn’t sit still long enough because of the midges. However, his Leodhasach cousin Uisdean “Pew” Heifer, who has also just passed away at the grand old age of 91, had much more success in producing a ‘specialist’ magazine for a niche market of discerning island gentlemen. Pew Heifer was also in the publishing business, and in the post-war years he noticed a gap in the local magazine market. Up until the 1950’s there wasn’t really anything to appeal to the growing demographic of increasingly affluent island Ministers and Elders, especially lonely bachelor ones. Pew came up with “Prayboy” magazine, a monthly mag aimed at the sophisticated cuireamach cove-about-town, rather than the stereotypical trusdar in a dirty boiler suit (honest). On release it caused all sorts of controversy for its lurid pictures of blones going to Church wearing little more than a heavyweight ankle-length dress from Nazir’s Shop, support tights, a bobban cardigan, full length tweed coat and even – shockingly – a beannag and/or a hat worn at a jaunty angle. But as well as featuring photos of blones and cailleachs in their Sunday finery, “Prayboy” also had many articles on a range of topical issues (such as herring, tweed and modernist peatstack architecture). Contributions from renowned authors such as Norman Mailboat and Gabriel Grazingscommittee Maraquez gave the mag a veneer of legitimacy not enjoyed by its competitors. Readers could therefore claim to be buying it “chust for the writing” and convince themselves that some amadan might actually believe them. Each month the magazine featured a number of ‘hot’ Praymates (hot in the sense that their Harris Tweed Sunday outfits were buttoned up to the neck). To be a Praymate of the Month was a highly sought after position, and many cailleachs chosen for this role went on to become well known MawDells. At its height, Prayboy’s prestige was such that famous celebrities such as Marvig Mon-Rubha, Madonnald, and Pamela Andersonroad were queueing up to appear as the magazine’s Precentorfold. Heifer’s headquarters was the Prayboy Manse, where wild òrduigheans were reported to go on, and where he held court surrounded by a large troupe of cailleachs in matching black outfits with Free Presbyterian hairstyles – the Bun-ny Gyurls. The early success of Prayboy did not go un-noticed, however, and it was not long before a number of similar publications came on the scene – Heifer’s bitter rival, Ness minister the Rev Bobban Gugaccione, launched “Repenthouse”, while the top shelves of the island’s religious bookshops were soon groaning under the weight of lesser periodicals such as “Prayfair”, “(Church) Nave”, and “Seceders’ Wives”.

19 01 2018




Amadan Westview (Backman) RIP

23 06 2017


It’s been a busy few weeks for the MUHOS coves, what with all those icons of the golden age of Stornowegian telly going to the great Studio Alba in the sky. Hot on the heels of Roger Smùir and Peter Salach, we’re sad to announce the demise of Amadan Westview, the star of Grampian TV’s classic 60s series ‘Backman’.

‘Backman’ ran for two seasons on Grampian, the first big-budget production for the Gaelic Department of the Aberdeen broadcaster. 
(Although filmed in Gaelic in order to qualify for a grant, pennypinching Grampian bosses also tried to squeeze a few mair bawbees oot o’ it by dubbing it into Doric very cheaply and recycling it for their East Coast viewers. ‘Flichtermooseloon’, wi’ a’ the voices spak by yon J*mmy Spankie mannie aff ‘Top Club’, was apparently a big hit in the Rothienorman area, ye ken). 
‘Backman’ revolved around the exploits of billionaire businessman Bru Swainbost, and his alter ego, Backman, fighting crime in the fictional metropolis of Gothill City. The show was famed for its camp production values, shaky sets, and the famous fight scenes in which comic-book sound effects like “SGLOG!!”, “OBH!!”, “FLEEK!!”, “BRAG!!!”, “HENGOES!!” and “MO CHREACH ‘S A THANAIG!!” would appear on screen. It was also infamous for the “quality” of the acting – which contained more ham than the fleekeen cold meat counter in Hugh Matheson’s.
The story was that Backman had become a secret crimefighter because of a traumatic experience he’d had as a child in the lawless and gangster-ridden 1930s, when somebody nicked a whole bucket of peats out of his parents’ cruach. 
Swearing revenge on criminals everywhere (especially peat thieves) Backman created a secret base beneath his mansion, Swainbost Manorpark. Together with his trusty butler Alexdanfred, Backman developed an array of crime-busting vehicles, gizmos and gadgets – from the Backmobile to the Backbike, the Backtairsgear, the Backcroman, the Backtractor and the Backmitchellsbus.

    

Backman was ably assisted by his ageing, forgetful and occasionally incontinent assistant Tick Gress-son, aka “Ropach, the Bodach Wanderer”. Many viewers were rather suspicious of the pair’s domestic arrangements and the age difference between them, but for the purposes of the series this was all explained away by the premise that Backman was Ropach’s “carer”. 

The back-story was supposedly that one-time Coulegrein House resident Ropach had wandered out of the day room one afternoon and joined a queue of sheep at the old slaughterhouse, convinced that it was 1928 and the mehhhags were his old drinking pals lining up to catch the last bus home to Tolsta. Backman happened to be passing when Ropach reached the front of the queue, and rescued him just as he was about to be dispatched by the slaughterman. A grateful Ropach decided to run away from Coulegrein, move into Backman’s mansion, and join the Caped Cruach-saver’s crime-fighting enterprise full time.
Every episode, one of Gothill City’s regular supervillains would get up to some sort of bleigeardry that was beyond the wit of the Gothill City Police Department to handle, so Commissioner Gordond**sel and Chief O’Heeyarrrna would get on the Backphone to summon assistance from our hero. However, the Backphone would usually be fleeked due to faults in the area, so they’d fire up the Backsignal instead – a powerful searchlight emitting a beam visible for miles around (unless it was daytime). Surprising though it may seem, few Bacachs today are aware that this is how the village’s Lighthill district got its name. 
Among the criminal masterminds of Gothill city were:
The Smoker – A villainous grinning master-crook with his secret hideout in a kippering shed on Newton. Fortunately for Backman, the Smoker was dead easy to catch because of the distinctive kipper-y smell that he left everywhere. The Smoker was played with relish by the great actor DonnieCesar Rubhamero.
The Puffin (played by Barvas Murdoditch) – A fat bleigeard with a big beak, a secret base on the Shiants and a taste for sand eels that usually lead to his downfall.
The Riddler – Played by Fank Gartan (a cousin of Tick Gress-son), The Riddler was a notorious Gothill City worthy who terrorised the populace by drinking in the municipal toilets but never using them for the purpose intended. Instead, the Riddler preferred to answer the call of nature in ‘unusual’ locations then send cryptic clues to the Gothill City Cleansing Department as to where he might have done his business. (It was almost invariably the same phone box in Perceval Square).
Hatwoman (Played initially by Julie Newmarket, then by husky Hearach chanteuse Urgha Kitt) was the terror of Gothill City’s churches on Sabbaths and Òrduighean days, swooping in, stealing hats off the cailleachs’ heads, and disappearing back to her fictional secret base under Tiumpan Head before anybody realised what had happened. During the week Hatwoman’s alter-ego, Selina Kylescalpay, operated an exclusive milliner’s shop from the fictional lighthouse buildings, flogging all the hats she’d nicked on Sunday back to the cailleachs again. 
Due to persistent misprints of her ads in the Gazette, however, people kept turning up to leave their moggies at the ‘Tiumpan Head Hattery’ while they went on holiday. Initially this led to a roaring trade in Davy-Crockett-style winter chapeaux, but eventually suspicions were aroused by a host of complaints from returning holidaymakers who’d been told that their beloved Tiddles or Fraochan had ‘run away’, only to spot them on some cailleach’s head the next time they went out to the prayer meeting. Feeling the pressure but also spotting a legitimate business opportunity, Hatwoman eventually went straight, winding up the headgear-related side of her empire to concentrate on pet care full time.
And who can forget the Backman theme music which went on to gain cult status?
All together now! -”Dun, Dun, Dun, Dun, Dun, Dun, Dun, Dun Berisay!!”





Peter Salach RIP

11 06 2017

Sad to see that yet another stalwart of the BBC Alba schedules has passed away: the great veteran actor Peter Salach.
Although best known for playing the character Tormod Glaoic in the long running sitcom ‘Last of the Communion Wuyne’, Salach also had a second stab of fame and fortune in his later years through his voice-over prowess in the popular animated series ‘Wellies and Bonnet’.
‘Last of the Communion Wuyne’ was originally aired in the 1970’s and went on (and on and on and on) for a further 249 series until it was voluntarily euthanized in 2010. 

The series was about the twilight years of a trio of old coves, Froggy, Compost and Glaoic, living in the village of Holm and wandering about the scenic Lax Dales, entertaining themselves between Pension days with a series of ‘youthful’ misadventures.
Salach played the part of Tormod ‘Norman’ Glaoic, the most sensible one of the trio. The second of the band was scruffy trusdar and dawn squad regular Compost Simesclockite (played by Bill Ossian). The job of third bodach carried with it a high mortality rate, like being the drummer in Spinal Tap or the cove in the red shirt in Star Trek, and so it was occupied by a number of different actors over the years. 
Longest serving was Brianahuie Wuilde, who played retired St Kilda French teacher Froggy DeHiort. Wuilde was preceded by the P*rk*nd Scr*be, who played original third man Coinneach Blarbuidhemire. The Scr*be left the show due in 1975 due to his commitments starring as bearer Ram G Macleod in “It Ain’t Half Hiort Mum”, Jimmy Ferry and David Crofter’s popular series about a wartime Ceilidh Party sent to St Kilda to entertain the troops. (In non-PC 70s fashion, the Scr*be played this role in full Hiortach make-up, including a giant plastic middle toe). 
In later years the third man role was filled by the late Fank Thornton. Thornton was of course most famous for his role as pompous floorwalker Captain Sheepcac in “Are Ewe Being Serviced”, the long-running sitcom set in the upmarket fashion (and livestock mineral supplements) department of Lewis Crofters.
Co dhiu – Back on ‘Last of the Communion Wuyne’, Glaoic, Compost and the other cove were ably supported by an ensemble cast of entertaining characters including the formidable Norah Battery (played by Sgiathanach actress Kathy Staffin), her henpecked husband Welly, and, in later years, deluded SY-worthy-cum-secret-agent Zebo (played by thon amadan Rust Habost). Other top names to feature in the show included Jean Alexandersgarage, June Plasterfield, Dame Todhar-a Herd, and many of BBC Alba’s other great comic actors.
Plot was secondary to characterisation in ‘Last of the Communion Wuyne’. Just about every storyline was devised to ensure the episode culminated with Compost careering downhill out of control in a home-made vehicle of some kind – usually adapted from a sheep trough, a “Return to Lochinver” fishbox or a septic tank. Salach’s main job in the role of Tormod Glaoic was to put his hands over his eyes and make a worried noise whenever this happened. Over the 72-year span of the show he became an internationally recognised authority on it, and in fact taught masterclasses on the subject to generations of German drama students at Sabhal Mór. 
The other long-running thread in Peter Salach’s career was his work on the massively successful “Wellies and Bonnet” cartoons. In 1983, under the watchful eye of his parole officer, notorious Stornoway biker Nick Parkend formed a company (Fleekeen Hardman Animations) and set out to make his first stop-motion cartoon. Parkend approached Salach and suggested that he’d be just the cove to provide an unpaid voiceover the film.
Initially reluctant to work for no fee, Salach accepted the job once it was explained to him that it came with an excellent dental plan; “Nick said that if I did it, I might get to keep my fleekeen teeth”, Glaoic explained in an interview on the Michael Paircinson show many years later.   
The first in the series was the ground-breaking ‘A Crofting-Grant Day Out’, featuring Salach as clothing inventor Wellies and his pet collie Bonnet (the actual brains of the outfit), who spend all their days inventing new crofter wear. In this episode Wellies invents a new tractor and himself and Bonnet go to the moine for the peats, with hilarious consequences.
But it was the second in the series ‘The Wrong Briogais’, that cemented the shows success. Wellies invented a pair of automatic dungarees to aid Crofters, but the prototype was nicked by lodger Fingal McMaw to steal a case of Diamond Heavy from Hendy’s Off-Licence with hilarious consequences. 
The third in the series, ‘A Cove’s Shave’, was a bigger budget affair (£25.56) and was about Wellies and Bonnet diversifying into window ‘cleaning-up’ by causing fights in the Narrows after chucking out time on Friday’s and Saturdays, in the hope that shop windows would get smashed, so they could offer to fix them. It also featured an android Johhny Geeper cutting hair and beards off to within an inch of a cove’s life. With hilarious consequences.  
The final episode in the series was actually a fully-fledged BBC Alba film called ‘The Curse of the Were-sgadan’, in which Wellies is transformed into a giant herring due to a mishap with his latest invention, the Clann-Nighean-a-Sgadan-o-Matic fish packing machine. Hilarious adventures ensue, at the end of which Wellies is transformed back into himself, revived by Bonnet with the aid of some ripe sornan gort, and gets off with Lady Tootingtòin (voiced by posh actress Helenìnag Bunabhainneadar Caversta), who turns the Gut Factory into a sanctuary for homeless mogs and skeds, or something.
Salach was also well regarded for his theatre work, appearing on the West Side and on Broadbay. Perhaps his greatest theatrical success was as Dr Galson, opposite Fraochz Weaver as the great detective Siarach Holms, in the Stornoway Thespians’ 1964 musical “Baker’s Road” (based on the works of Sir Arthur Croman Dhomhnuill).