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.

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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).





John (E) Noakes:RIP

2 06 2017

Children of the 60s and 70s are coming to terms with the loss of one of their childhood heroes; TV daredevil John E Noakes. 

Born Seonaidh Bottomley in Shader Barvas in 1934, fledgling actor Noakes adopted his stage name after growing concerned that the Stornoway Thespians wouldn’t let him in with a parochial name like ‘Seonaidh’. 
After several months performing in the Harbour Commission-sponsored touring production of “Ships With Everything”, Noakes finally got his big TV break when Biddy Backster (editor of BBC Alba’s hit children’s show Brù Peter) spotted his potential after seeing him playing the part of Willie Mossend in a Thespians performance of “Tobson’s Choice” in the Laxdale hall. 
In 1965, Noakes joined established Brù Peter hosts; church deacon Christopher Grace and local weaver Valtossy Singlewidth onscreen for the first time. The classic Brù Peter line-up was completed the following year when Grace left to pursue a career in praying and local piping instructor Pìobaire Purves joined the crew, which remained unchanged until 1972 when Leth-bhotal Judd came on board.
Noakes, however, was seldom on-screen without his faithful collie Shep by his side. Noakes trained Shep from a puppy and he was frequently employed by the various Common Grazings committees to scare away troublesome Greylag Geese, giving rise to Noakes’ famous catchphrase, “Get down, Shep!”
Noakes’ hilarious antics and mawish accent made him a breath of fresh air in the stiflingly buttoned-up world of 60s Gaelic broadcasting; a level of popularity which even spawned a spin-off show where he teamed up with a local Stornoway character for 1976’s “Gobha With Noakes”.
His adventurous nature and fearlessness led to many memorable stunts including climbing Lady Matheson’s statue with only a stepladder and riding a fertiliser bag down the most notorious sledging hill in the Broadbay area; the Gress-ta Run. He even entered the record books when he was kicked off BEA flight 317 on a filming trip to Inverness with the army cadets after getting hammered on complimentary miniatures before the plane had so much as started its engines, and thus conducting the world’s shortest ever freefall jump by a civilian, a record he held for many years. 
He was frequently found in the Brù Peter garden (which only contained potatoes, the shell of a 1943 N-series Fordson tractor and a Vauxhall Cresta up on blocks) alongside gardener Percivalroad Thrower, who along with his skills with a hoe was famed for his two birdsong imitations; a herring gull and a gog-gàc (both indistinguishable from each other). Years later, Brù Peter viewers were outraged when vandals broke into the Brù Peter garden, planted four hydrangeas and dug a pond.
Notoriously grumpy, Noakes had an ongoing spat with editor Backster and eventually left the show after 12 years. Although he refused to appear on any special anniversary episodes of Brù Peter, he was eventually coaxed back in the year 2000 when he and his former colleagues dug up the decaying remains of a duis they had buried in the Brù Peter garden back in 1971.
After retiring from television he and his wife attempted to sail around the world in a 14 foot clinker boat but were shipwrecked in a stiff breeze passing Scalpay where they were forced to remain until the bridge was opened in 1997.
Editor’s note – We were going to say more about John E Noakes’ work reforming the 16th-century Scottish church, and the popular baker’s shop that he used to run in Bayhead, but, surprisingly, scholarly opinion is divided on whether or not that was really him.   





Roger Smuir

29 05 2017

Roger Smùir
There was much sadness recently amongst the Gaelic film world when it was announced that actor Roger Smùir had died. This much loved actor was a regular of the BBC Alba schedules for many decades, but was perhaps best known for his role as flat-capped crofting secret agent Seumas Bonnaid. 
The early years:
Smùir first came to fame when still a young man in the popular 1950’s BBC Alba series about a medieval knight – ‘Hovanoe’ – based loosely around the story by Sir Walter Scottroad. Newly returned from the Crusades in the Holy Lands (Ness), Hovanoe had to battle evil knights, dastardly Earls and unscrupulous Barons through the medium of Gaelic song.
In the late 50s Smùir was hired to appear in the popular South Lochs Westren series “Marvig”. He replaced James Garyvardner, who as gambler-with-a-heart-of-gold Bret Marvig had made the show immensely popular in its first 3 seasons. (Garyvardner had fallen out with the producers and fleeked off to Point, where he enjoyed great success in the 70s starring in “The Rubhachford Files”). Smùir played Bret’s cousin Bó Marvig, and his ruppish Pairc accent was explained in the plot by mentioning that he’d “spent some time at the òrduighean in Crossbost”. 

Smuir enjoyed the role, whether he was swanning about the deserts and saloons of South Lochs or beating card sharps at their own game on an Abhainn Glen Odhairn paddle steamer. However, when BBC Alba ran out of money and insisted on recycling the same script for every episode he eventually left. 
The Saintronansdrive. Posing as a clueless international playboy, undercover elder Simon Teampulleòropaidh was sent round different Niseach churches every week solving crimes- who stole the collection? Which precentors were nipping off to the bothan after church? Who was stirring up the congregation for yet another ecclesiastical schism? And who was secretly going back to worshipping Seonaidh the sea god?
The Seceders: Following on from the success of The Saintronansdrive, Smùir co-starred alongside Tony Cuirst-is and Laurence Naismithshoeshop in “The Seceders”. “The Seceders” was another high-gloss production in which the scripts called for flash cars, dolly blones, yachts and upmarket international locations. Due to tight budgetary controls by BBC Alba supremo Lew(is) Grade, however, some geographical adjustments were made, and so each week Smùir and Cuirst -is would swank into such chet-setting destinations as “The Boulevard in Nis”, “An exclusive beach club in The Balallanahamas”, or “The Casino in Monte Carloway”.
The Bonnaid Years

After Sean Canneryroad announced his retirement, larger-than-life Niseach producer Cubby Adabroccoli went looking for a new actor to play the iconic role of Agent Obhobh7, Seumas Bonnaid – Licence to (Stickys) Mill – an industrial spy trying to safeguard the latest tweed patterns whilst finding out what the other Mills were getting up to. 
Smuir performed the role in seven Bonnaid films, bringing a tongue in cheek approach to the series, whilst retaining the deadly glamour of a chet-setting life of espionage (in so much as the BBC Alba budget of £250.46 per film would allow).
His films included:
Live & Let Dye: Set in the voodoo-riven island of Scalpay, “Live and Let Dye” saw Bonnaid battling the island’s evil dictator Dr Kunninghamanga and his international herring-smuggling alter-ego Mr Beag. The theme song was by Paul McAshcart-ney, who’d recently left the Peatles.
The Maw With The Golden Bobban: this time Bonnaid is up against supervillain freelance weaver Fankcisco Scaramanky (played by Christopher Lacklee), who only weaves with a golden bobban and charges ‘a million a shuttle’, helped by his miniature assistant ‘Fleek-Sake’ . Who can forget the iconic moment when Scaramanky’s Vauxhall Victor transformed into a Loganair Islander and headed off into the skies towards his secret Sober Island lair? This film’s theme song was performed by well known local singer Lewslews. 
The Spy Who Loved Mehhh: Seumas Bonnaid teams up with glamourous Rubhach spy Angusina Amadanova (played by Barbara Back) to find out who’s been nicking Russian factory ships from the pier while the crews were ashore buying massive carry-outs in Templeton’s and looking for Lada spares. Turns out it’s evil tycoon Karl Stornoberg, with a fiendish plan to dominate the global supply of tinned mackerel, destroy the world, then make a fortune flogging canned mogs to the survivors. “The Spy Who Loved Mehhh” was famous for the iconic scene in which Bonnaid skis off Gallows Hill and then parachutes onto Number 1 pier with a giant ‘chute made from Harris Tweed and sporting the Comhairle Nan Eilean logo. The theme song was sung by Carloway Simon.
Mùn Raker: Cashing in on the success of sci-fi and Siar Wars, Bonnaid takes to space to defeat this film’s supervillain, Hugo Dradhars, who plans to monopolise the Harris Tweed industry by stealing all the shuttles, hiding them in his space station, destroying humanity with a poisonous nerve gas developed from a rare 150-year-old bucket of urine found in a loomshed in Arnol, then returning to Earth to take over the Shawbost Mill. The theme song for Mùn Raker was sung by Shearley Baaahssey.
For Your Aoidh Church Only: – Bonnaid doing more of the same, but this time in the Aignisagean Sea with smuggler Gresstatos as the supervillan hiding out in his cliff top church, resulting in Bonnaid having to climb up the Braighe Wall to 

catch him. Theme by Sheena Eaststreet
Octoberpotatopickingholiday- With a plot involving ornamental Faber-guga eggs, Tong Highland Games, a train and a nuclear warhead, Bonnaid saves the world once more.
A View to Baile Na Cille-Saving Silicon Ditch from baddies, featuring Grazings Jones as the baddie (who famously escapes at the beginning of the film by falling off the scaffolding round the Town Hall clock and landing on a bale of wool) and with a theme song by Fiona and Dolan-Dolan.  
Bonnaid Cars:

Smùir drove some classic Bonnaid cars in his movies: Everyone remembers the lechendary Aston Martinsmemorial DB5 with machine guns, ejector seat and hidden manure spreader in the boot. 

And of course the famous white Lót-us Eilean in which Bonnaid drove off the Suilven, sank beneath the murky waters of Stornoway harbour and re-emerged driving up Steinish beach (flogging mogs and skeds to passing dog walkers out the window as he went).  
Beyond Bonnaid:

Smùir also found time to star in other BBC Alba blockbusters including ‘The Wild Guga’ co-starring Rich-Herd Burr-Toin and various other old has-beens, as mercenaries collecting the annual guga on Sulasgeir but trying to sneak more birds on to the quota.
Outside his acting career, Smùir was a popular autobiographer, raconteur and philanthropist, serving for many years as an intervillage ambassador for livestock welfare organisation EWENICEF.