Gus Macdonald’s ofﬁce takes in one corner of Scottish Television’s Cowcaddens headquarters. It has a view, as Macdonald points out, of the oldest concrete building in Glasgow. Inside Macdonald has had the ceiling removed to show the structure of the building and to heighten the room. The men with the matt black and chrome have been in and left theirmark. Macdonald sits with a huge television behind him; this will be his base for the refashioning of Scotland’s television service.
Of the television executives, Gus Macdonald sits among the angels. Best known now as Channel Four’s television Ombudsman as presenter of Right to Reply, it’s a role that naturally fell on him. ‘Isaacs asked me to do it because I’d been ﬁghting for that kind of access programme and for some more democratic structures inside television since I came into it. We did it and with the coming of the Video Box it was seen to be one of the more original things Channel Four had done.
Macdonald has been appointed Director of Programmes at the recently re-christened ‘Scottish’ Television. Since then there has been a rush of activity. Key appointments have been made such as that of David Scott to Controller of News and Current Affairs. A newspaper man by training (like Macdonald) he had been responsible for the BBC’s The Reid Report, the nearest thing to investigative reporting television in Scotland. In their new magazine for the industry Scottish Television, an innovation which comes direct from Macdonald, Scott’s new job is described as ‘the hot seat’. The description is an accurate indication of the priorities Macdonald has set for the station.
The autumn will bring three, possibly four new current affairs programmes to Scottish Television. There will be Scottish Report, a weekly current affairs programme, Scottish Assembly, a monthly political programme and in between this Scottish Questions, a sixty minute programme which will involve a studio audience. A lunchtime programme three times a week on current affairs is also being considered.ln addition, Scotland Today, the important early evening current affairs programme is to be re-vamped with Malcolm Wilson the heavyweight from the BBC’s Money Programme being drafted as presenter with Sheena McDonald. Bob Tomlinson of the Glasgow Evening Times and David Whitton, another newspaper person currently at the Record will also be joining the team.The immediate intention is clear enough. Macdonald is playing
his strongest card. As a producer of
World in Action for Granada at twenty eight, the prospect at Scottish Television is not one that daunts him.‘You are working with much more material up here. Granada has a £4M news complex in Liverpool but the stuff that comes out of it is
.- .L' T KING
On the eve of the Television Festival Gus Macdonald reveals his plans to Nigel Billen.
very thin indeed. Much more happens in Scotland and there is a much stronger newspaper tradition. You get better journalists. By the time we ﬁnish fashioning the team here we will have one of the strongest in Britain. I know because I have worked in what is judged to be the stongest. I know how quickly the gap can be closed.’
The main task of the department will be to get the regular weekly output into shape. Investigative journalism will ﬁnd, at a time when it needs one , a champion in Gus Macdonald, but he is wary of the problems for a middle-sized company, and the style of programmes will have to be tailored to ﬁt. ‘My background is investigative journalism — that’s where I served my time the longest. But you can’t get into serious investigative journalism of the kind that World in Action engages in with the resources of a station like this. I’ve been around at the time the Sunday Times got hit by the Thalidimide writs; I’ve been around at Granada when we were hit by writs over the battle with Poulson. Very envigorating, very time consuming. You need a lot of money — it cost us quarter of a million for the Steel Board mole, to keep his identity hidden. You have to be very careful. You can find your whole executive team can be knocked out handling one big case.’ The answer, Macdonald hopes, for Scottish journalism, will be ‘impact journalism’. He quotes as an example an occasion when he wrote about the M15 vetting of people within the BBC (already old news) and how the Observer took up the story, managing to add Elizabeth Hilton and a few other things, creating a front page story in the middle of the Real Lives scare. ‘That’s good journalism — impact journalism’. Impact is partly what it is all about.
Macdonald, until now, has kept
fairly close to his chest his plans and
aspirations for Scottish Television. Macdonald was a founder of the Edinburgh Televison Festival and over the Festival period, Scottish Television will be presenting its own televison Festival. He describes the ‘Fireworks display’ he has lined up, both for Scotland and for the buyers who will be in Edinburgh. It includes an eight part series on the Scottish Enlightenment, a Tribute to Sandy Mackendrick, director of Whisky Galore who turned his back on Hollywood, and live from the Festival, Acmpolis Now.
One of the Scottish Television Festival programmes The Nippy Sweeties with Liz Lochhead, Elaine Smith and Co. will be running on the same night as Miss UK. ‘Miss UK is being pumped in from Thames and we decided to play the The Nipp y Sweeties against it later that night.’ It’s a programme that Scottish Televison have been billing provocatively, being broadcast on the same day ITV marks ‘the forty- sixth anniversary of the assassination of Trotsky with the networked final of Miss UK.’ Macdonald had hoped the programme would be picked up by Channel Four — it hasn’t and Scottish Television are probably well down in the league in terms of programmes taken. ‘In the past there has been a general sniggering approach from London about things from Scotland such as the Scottish Fiddle Orchestra or The Corries. When you challenge them, they say they want something sharper, but when you give them it they begin to get uncomfortable. Partly it’s a matter of accent, partly a lack of confidence. We’re not part of those informal networks around Charlotte Street where they all know each other as a community and commissioning editors recommend people to go on from one show to the next. I suspect they are waiting to see if this stuff comes up to scratch in terms of production values. But even there they have a check given the production values of some of the
thingsChanel Four do show.
‘There’s a very patronising attitude, an offensive attitude both in Scotland as well as outside about all that white heather stuff. It seems quite at variance with all our other national traits and characteristics that we should be somehow patted on the head for being a cosy wee
I couthy television station. I just
wanted to make quite clear, quickly, that that’s what we’re not. This is a dramatic way of doing it and one that has got a lot of enthusiasm here.’ Macdonald is enjoying his new job and is actively creating the impression that exciting things are
5 about to happen from Scotland. He 5 appears too to have found a
. company ready to respond. ‘It’s
; exhilarating. Rarely do you find a
5 station with the spaces already
Opened up in which to bring in new people. There is a sense throughout
: the company that its the end of a cycle and it‘s nice to come in with the ; sense of change shared, unlike most ' television when you are fighting a
l bloody battle with an old guard who , are struggling out past you with
2 knivesin their backs.’
There is, in addition to the news
and current affairs changes, a new
team at work on Light
- Entertainment shows with the brief to find and develop new ideas for the
: Spring. The pace of developments . reflects Macdonald’s ﬁelds of experience. News is moving now,
but light entertainment has a little
1 longer. For the moment he is content 3 with making it clear what he doesn’t want. ‘Light entertainment has
never been very strong up here but if you already pay out large sums of
§ money to the games show factories I ofthe south I don’t see why we 1 should try to emulate them. They
wouldn’t pay as much as we have to pay for their programmes and I don’t
need the practice.‘
He is proud that Scottish
1 Television is the only ‘regional’ company (not one ofthe big five)
with a soap Take the High Road, on the network and intends to ‘cosset
; and promote it’. Elsewhere though ‘ we will have to wait and see what
3 develops. He doesn’t see the need
5 for a"ratings gathering philosophy’
at Scottish Television and has already begun an attack on the traditional assumptions of Scottish
‘ popular programming. ‘It’s a
patronising assumption that it was
the tartan shows that pulled in the audiences. In fact our research shows they are not nearly so well regarded as people assume. I’m not over enthusiastic to offer the network another Hogmanay show, the sort that gets every Scot mocked
5 in the South for a week.’ Macdonald g reﬂects for a moment — ‘gets you
mocked in Glasgow for a week as well.‘
Passionately devoted to the real Scottish Culture he is looking for different ways to present it. At the moment, much of it he ﬁnds in some ways ‘humiliating’. ‘We are one of the few cultures who have turned their popular history into a form of
The—List 8- 21 August 29