It all started with a throwaway question posed by Roddy Campbell (Ruairidh Pheadair Ròraidh) as we strolled towards our favourite watering hole, the Chancellor, on Byres Road. This was after an end of second term class examination at the degree factory in Gilmorehill in the spring of 1957.
“De mar a chòrdadh e riut, a Thormoid, a bhith ann am film, How do you fancy being in a film, Norman?” Roddy said.
Yes, yes, yes. At the very least, Karma exists.
“I don’t know, Roddy,” I said, feigning nonchalance. “It would depend on what the film was about, which territory it was to be filmed in, and obviously, how attractive the leading lady playing opposite me was.”
“Well, her name is Jeannie Carson and though I haven’t cast an eye on her myself, Calum MacAulay, the brother of ‘Gruagach Og an Fhuilt Bhàin’, described the actress as a ‘piseag ghrànta’, or ‘ugly kitten’.”
(Gruagach Og an Fhuilt Bhàin’ is he title of a popular love song composed by Donald Macdonald, Dòmhnall Ailean Dhòmhnaill na Ban-fhighiche, of Daliburgh, South Uist. The bard’s inspiration was a famed beauty on Barra called Mòr Bhàn or Fair Marion MacAulay.)
“They’ve already chosen the male lead,” Roddy continued. He’s called Donald Sinden. Oh, and they’re shooting the film on Barra.”
“Never heard of either of them,” I responded sniffily. “Why Barra?”
“It’s a sequel to Whisky Galore and many of the characters have been carried over from the earlier film. The film was a big hit in the US and the audiences over there just loved the Barra scenery.”
(Whisky Galore, a film based on the true story of how the SS Politician ran aground between Barra and Eriskay, was a pleasant entertainment telling the story of how islanders tried to plunder 50,00 cases of whisky from the stranded ship. The director was Alexander Mackendrick, the writer, the Yorkshireman Compton Mackenzie (novel and screenplay) and the stars were Basil Radford, Joan Greenwood and Catherine Lacey.)
“What’s this new film about?” I enquired, careful not to show much enthusiasm
“As far as my sister Mary knows – she’s at home just now and gets all the gossip on the island – the plot is based on a Compton Mackenzie work called Rockets Galore. The Director is called Michael Relph.”
“He’s obviously riding on the coat-tails of the Whisky film, no?”
“Suppose so,” Roddy said. “The music is the responsibility of Cedric Thorpe Davie.”
“From that hotbed of Celtic music . . .Cheltenham . . . right?”
“Cò aig’ tha brath, Who knows?”
“What else has Mary told you about this . . .er, Rockets thing?”
“You might find the stuff about the person who wrote the ‘adaptation’ intriguing.”
“Her name is Monja Danischewsky.”
“The scriptwriter is somebody called Monja Danischewsky.”
“Co leis i, Who begat her?”
“Dunno. Chan ann à Barraigh a tha i, She’s not from Barra.”
“Nice work, Sherlock. I’d never have guessed,” I said, my voice dripping with sarcasm. “Why do you think I’d be interested in getting involved in this sgudal, rubbish?”
“The money they’re handing out to extras.”
“How much?” I enquired languidly.
“Mac Phop, Alex Macneil, from Castlebay and ‘Dixie’ from Brevig are getting seventy pounds every day they turn up as extras.”
“Hold on, Roddy,” I blurted out. “These guys are in the merchant navy, aren’t they?”
“And they’re getting paid seventy pounds a day while they’re home on leave?”
“How much more would they be willing to pay an undergraduate . . .er, I mean, two undergraduates?”
(In 1957 fewer than 4% of 18-24 year olds attended university, and those of us lucky enough to gain admission to one of the older Scottish universities or even to Glasgow Tech. thought we were pretty hot stuff indeed.)
“I wouldn’t like to speculate, a Thormoid.”
Always the conservative: that’s our Roddy. What a fearty!