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?’

Frozen Gannet

18 12 2011

There’s much in the media just now about Frozen Planet and how yon David Attenburgh cove and the BBC  filmed some Polar Bears in a zoo instead of the Arctic.

By chance a similar storm has engulfed BBC Alba, as it has come to light that their 6 part natural world series ‘Frozen Gannet’, was not actually filmed on Sulasgeir as was widely believed. This series from the BBC Alba Natural History Unit was supposed to be about a year in the life of the gannets living on the rocky outcrop of Sulasgeir. The show was narrated by well known Neisoch naturalist Sir David Adabrock and was first aired on BBC Alba in November this year to rave reviews.

However, viewers began to get suspicious when some of the anticipated breathtaking shots of the far-flung island appeared to be less epic than expected.

Viewers started to become suspicious when the ‘steep cliffs’ of ‘Sulasgeir’ appeared to be climbed very easily by the 85-year old Adabrock (in his Mobility Scooter) and seemed to feature no nesting seabirds whatsoever apart from two hoodie crows sitting on an old fishbox. When the camera panned around ‘the north Atlantic’, viewers caught glimpses of what appeared to be the Cal Mac ferry Muirneag in the background and in one shot the local Brownies could be seen having a sausage sizzle on a stoney beach.

BBC Alba has finally admitted that all of the shots of ‘Sulasgeir’ were in actual fact footage of Sober Island in Stornoway Harbour. A spokesperson for BBC Alba said ‘Well heck, Frozen Gannet was on after the rerun of  Machair at 11.30pm, so we didn’t think anyone would be watching’.

Sir David is also well known for his fishing documentary ‘Lythe On Earth’.

Dr Who

16 10 2009

Fans of the popular tv series Dr Who will be surprised to learn of the close connections that the Time Lord has with the Isle of Lewis. William Hartnell, the first Dr Who, was a keen fisherman and spent many years tramping the moors of Lewis in search of trout and salmon. He was also regularly up in front of the Sheriff for partaking in nocturnal poaching activities.

When the second series of Dr Who was in production, Hartnell demanded that some of the filming should take place on Lewis to allow him to partake in his favourite pastime. As most Dr Who episodes requiring outdoor shots were filmed in old sandpits and quarries, the producers, in an effort to keep their star happy, were willing to search Lewis for a suitable quarry. Consequently, many episodes of Dr Who were shot in the Marybank Quarry throughout the sixties and seventies. The village of Garyvard also doubled as an alien planet on several occasions as it didn’t require any special effects whatsoever to recreate a hostile environment.

A number of mid sixties episodes of Dr Who filmed on Lewis fell foul of the BBC ‘clear out the cupboards’ policy. Among those episodes lost were ‘Attack of the Gugamen’. This was filmed entirely on location on Sulasgeir. The storyline revolved around the second Dr and his companions landing by Tardis on a barren island and been attacked by a fierce tribe of savages who worship a strange seabird/rat deity. The BBC film crew and actors accompanied the Neisochs out to Sulasgeir and spent a fortnight plucking guga in between filming location shots. The actual Tardis used on location for these episodes is still on Sulasgeir, as the Neissochs refused to take it back on the fishing boat as it would limit the number of guga they could take back to Lewis. The Tardis is now used as a lighthouse run entirely on guga oil.

Another episode filmed on Lewis and now lost/destroyed was ‘Exodus of the Daleks’. This was from the Jon Pertwee era and was the first Dr Who episode to feature the prototype K-9, the Dr’s robotic dog. The storyline revolved around the Daleks being cleared from their crofts by an unscrupulous landlord and forced to emigrate to America. These episodes featured the Daleks draped in tartan and talking in a robotic form of Gaelic. ‘Tha mi exterminate’ as they said. The prototype K-9 was also a metallic sheep dog who came to an unfortunate end when he fell into a sheep-dip and rusted.

The Stornoway Ship Canal

22 03 2009

Many people of Stornoway will be aware of the narrow drainage channel that runs from near Engie’s Petrol Station (Vi selger bensin og sant!) on Sandwick Road, to the village of Steinish and out into Broad Bay. Most folk will not realise that this long narrow ditch was originally an impressive fully working canal- a spectacular feat of engineering able to take fishing vessels and puffers of considerable size. Nowadays, it’s sad to reflect on the Ship Canal’s lost greatness, as the only things that can use the clogged and muddy waterway today are ducks and canoeists in very small canoes.

The Stornoway Ship Canal was started by Lord Leverhulme in 1919 as part of his townscaping proposals for Stornoway. His original intention was to build a canal which enabled his fishing fleet to pass from the plentiful fishing grounds of Loch A Tuath direct to the Newton Basin and his cannery factories, without having to face the danger of circumnavigating Point. Leverhulme had lost many fishing vessels to the ‘wreckers’ of Point, who used to lure unsuspecting fishermen to their doom with the promise of a nice cup of tea.His canal would prevent this from happening but would also speed up the production process, by getting the fish from the sea to his Cannery Road factories and thus to the tea-tables of Britain much quicker.

A squad of Neissoch navvy’s was contracted to carry out the work, and they set to the business at hand with great skill and determination. Within 9 months the channel had been dug, the eight locks were in place and a team of Lock-keepers had been appointed. With great fanfare Lord Leverhulme himself conducted the opening ceremony and declared the Stornoway Ship Canal open for trade on 12 April 1920.

The first ship to sail through the canal was a Norwegian cargo boat called the SS Loch Engie. This was a coastal steamer carrying a cargo of guga from Ness to Stornoway. The Engie entered the lock at Steinish and made steady progress down the canal until she became stuck at the Sandwick Road Lock, where it was discovered that the engineers had made the canal wide enough, but not deep enough.

This was thought to have been due to complaints from local crofters that their sheep would not be able to cross the canal if it was too deep and so wouldn’t be able to to take advantage of the flowers and vegetables in Stornoway’s gardens.

It later turned out that the engineers had misheard Leverhulme and had thought he wanted a ‘Sheep Canal’ constructed.

The SS Loch Engie alas, couldn’t be moved. The canal was gradually filled in around the stranded boat, with the wheelhouse becoming the only part of the boat left visible. The wheelhouse was eventually turned into the original Engie’s Petrol Station. The diesel fuel you get from the pumps today is actually from the original oil tanks of the cargo boat, long since buried beneath Sandwick Road and the remains of the Stornoway Ship Canal.