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.