Dallas: The BBC Alba Version

5 09 2012

So Dallas returns to the TV screens after a long hiatus.
But who can forgot the long running BBC Alba series ‘Dell-as’ which ran from the late 70’s to the mid 80’s?
Many critics unfairly claimed that it was a blatant rip off of Dallas, but to anyone who watched the popular Gaelic tv series, there is no doubt that it bore no resemblance what so ever to the glossy Texas soap opera.
Dell-as was set on Lewis and was all about a wealthy family from Ness who had made their fortune from the lucrative Guga-Oil industry. The company had been set up by famed guga-hunter Euan Morrison. Just after the Second World War, Euan had noticed a gap in the domestic heating oil market and found that guga oil worked really well (albeit a lot smellier) as a paraffin replacement. Euan set up a company to sell the guga-oil which he called it ‘Euan Oil’.
Houses across the Hebrides started using supplies of Euan Oil to light their domestic chores, and soon money was pouring in to Euan’s pockets. The TV series was all about Euan Oil and his disfunctional family, plus the intrigues, dalliances and shenanigans that went on in the lifestyles of the rich & famous.
The series was centred on the goings-on in a huge, whitewashed, ‘Department’ house in the village of Dell that Euan had built with the proceeds from his guga-oil. The house was called South Graap. Unusually for the time, this house had three bedrooms and was shown furnished with the finest stuff from Murdo MacLeans and the JD Williams Catalogue.
The cast were always shown wearing the latest fashions from Nazirs & Smiths Shoe Shop, and the female members of the cast were always sporting the latest perm from Salon Nan Eilean.
In the story, Euan had two sons. The eldest was called Johnny Robbie, or JR for short, and he helped Euan run the business. The youngest son, (who worked part time driving the Councils septic tank lorry and was called Chobby Euan) also had an involvement in the Company, but didn’t really get on with JR.
JR was married to a posh blone from Stornoway called Siuthad-Ellen whilst Chobby was married to a woman of crofting & sheepherding stock called Ramella. Other regular characters included Clibhe Barnes, Ray Velvet-Crabs and Lewisy Euan (also known as the Poison Scorp).
The storylines began to get weirder and weirder as the series went on and included alien abduction, dream sequences and countless divorces. However, the series is best remembered for the cliff-hanger ending of the 1980’s, when JR Euan was found face down at the bottom of South Graap’s septic tank, prompting the speculation on everyone’s lips (and also on t-shirts, posters, badges, songs etc) ‘Who Shat JR?’

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The Blue Peter Peatbank

28 07 2009

In the mid 1970’s the BBC decided to increase their output of regional programmes for children. The BBC Charter set out a requirement to include the whole of the country in some shape or form, taking account of local regional issues that might be of interest to children.

But what to do to keep kids in the Hebrides ‘involved’? On the back of the success of the Blue Peter Garden, Biddy Baxter the Editor of Blue Peter was keen to explore similar features which could provide long term sustainability and keep the wee maws engaged..

After extensive research (finding a copy of the Stornoway Gazette left on a tube train and seeing a feature about ‘The Most Fashionable Peatstacks of 1973’) the powers at be commissioned a series about the ‘Blue Peter Peatbank’. This was felt to be sufficient to appeal to minority audiences, as well as tick the ‘regional requirement’ box and perhaps provide a few hours of vaguely interesting tv.

The plan was to film regular features from a real peatbank, showing the way it transformed throughout the course of a year, and how peat played an important role in island life.

John Noakes, Peter Purves and Lesley Judd would fly up to Stornoway every so often and would be filmed doing things like turfing, cutting and taking the peats home. Local children would be invited along to help out with the peat cutting and to talk about their pet sheep.

The BBC carried out a number of screen tests on various peatbanks to try and get the most photogenic. After several weeks of tramping over the moors, a small peatbank was chosen at the back of New Valley on the outskirts of Stornoway. This peatbank featured picturesque heather, artistic bogs and a better class of clegs.

The BBC sent John Noakes down to the Crofters Store on Island Road to open a tab and to purchase a tarasgeir and a creel. Two local worthies were chosen to play the ‘Percy Thrower’ role, to provide expert advice on how to cut peat and to stack them neatly. ‘Bogie’ was chosen due to his authentic traditional dress sense (turned down wellies, torn boiler suit and tweed jacket with a half bottle hanging out of the pocket) and his dexterous skill at throwing whilst under the influence of strong drink. His contemporary, ‘Old King Cole’ was chosen for his unique Gaelic burr (which was only later discovered to be English sweary words).

The Blue Peter Peatbank feature ran for less than a year due to complaints from many parents that their children were picking up naughty words from the ‘scary peatmen’ but also from the  political fallout from a long running courtcase involving John Noakes’ dog Shep and several instances of sheep worrying. It was also discoovered that the kids from Laxdale School, who featured regularly in Blue Peter, were being ruthlessly exploited by the BBC who were using them as slave labour to farm vast quantities of peat to power the BBC boilers in Broadcasting House.