‘We’re not Network 7. We’re not trying to tell people that there’s this thing called Acid Jazz, and if you’re not listening to it you’re a moron." So says Stuart Cosgrove, ruddy-haired son of Perth, and media pundit turned producer at the helm of Halfway To Paradise, the Parkhead-based series that from October 7th onwards will ﬁll a peak Friday night Channel 4 slot with a broad range of arts, music, and real people with authentic accents. Put together by independent company Big Star In A Wee Picture, that’s Cosgrove in partnership with former After Dark producer Don Coutts (lees hair, less ruddy, but himself also a son of Perth), the programme looks set to shake up some of the all too neatly deﬁned parameters of British broadcasting. . For one thing, it dares to rewrite the script for so-called ‘youth program- ming’ by widening its focus beyond the world of the 18—35 year-old. ‘Our presenter, Mr Sinclair, is based on a Bingo caller,‘ Stuart adds, ‘because we liked the idea of putting out a trendy show that actually had this ugly, culturally unsophisticated person upfront Much more Sidney Devine than Magenta Devine. We wanted something humane and warm, something that wasn’t a part of the hipper-than-thou attitude a lot of the London media seems to have.’
While there’s an almost sentimental sensibility at work here, the opening show is also redolent of the kind of eclecticism that is usually subdued by television’s traditional formats. A live performance by The Proclaimers, for instance, blends with an item on Celtic’s unofﬁcial magazine Not The View, while an impressive ﬁlm on Glasgow photographer Oscar Mazzaroli sits side by side with an unashamedly emotive vignette starring a certain middle-aged mum who cuts a slushy ballad in a DIY recording studio. All this and vintage porridge adverts too, makes for a remarkably flavoursome hour loosely organised around the theme of Gael culture, or the regional experience in the Britain that lies beyond the cocoon of the South-East.
The original spark for the series however, was struck in the not-very- Celtic setting of Washington DC, where Cosgrove and Coutts ﬁrst discovered their common origins while researching an Arena docu- mentary on GoGo music and found themselves drinking in an unusual bar just beside Trouble Funk’s ofﬁces. "Ihere was this place owned by a black guy called Jimmy McPhail, who’d been stationed over here during the war,’ explains Stuart, ‘and he was adopted by these Glasgow guys and kind of became Scottish himself. So this pub is decorated in this incredible tartan kitsch, and we decided there had to be something in this.’
The ideas gelled, and Big Star In A Wee Picture was formed to place a proposal for a Scottish orietated programme to a Channel 4 then facing a situation riddled with contradiction. ‘While there have been some documentaries, some one-off shows,
Starting this month on Channel Four. Halfimy to Paradise is the station‘s bold new attempt to give a proper hearing to arts and culture North of the Border and on the Celtic Fringe. TrevorJohnston talked to producer Stuart Cosgrove.
Mr Sinclair: more Sydney Davina than Magenta Do Vino.
they’ve never really supported a series like ours,’ Cosgrove begins to explain. 'Channel 4 is like a treasury in London with money to give out, and like the real Treasury, it takes money in from all over the country. Figures that I’ve had quoted to me are that something like 23% of their ad- vertising revenue comes from Scotland, but only 2% of the production budget is spent here. And with a number of their top level management like Jeremy lsaacs, Gus McDonald and Seamus Cassidy, actually from Scotland or Ireland, they actively wanted a programme of this sort, the right one.’
As a result, the sequence of eight programmes has secured the largest
ever Channel 4 budget given to an independent production in Scotland, which has enabled BSIAWP to take over Paddy Higson’s Black Cat studios just near Parkhead stadium (known locally as ‘paradise’, hence the title), providing interiors where the music and comedy inserts are shot and top quality editing facilities. Film crews however, have been working in Wales, the North of England, as well as Ireland, to ensure that the Scottish elements are not too dominant. Cosgrove quotes the example of a tribute piece about the great Belfast comedian James Young: ‘while the English media is capable of dealing with sectarianism only in terms of tension, what he does is to prick its
pomposity. And of course, while he’s doing this cod version of The Sash, we cut to Mr Sinclair, who’s getting right into it. That kind of humour creates the idea that there are layers of complexity in Scottish and Irish cultures that the London media doesn’t understand because it doesn’t live them.’
One of the most heartening impulses of the programme is that it allows people to speak for themselves without patronising them or asking them to apologise for the way they talk. Forthcoming pieces as the series progresses will feature Prince’s alter- ego from Shipley in Yorkshire, a Liverpool transport cafe owner's personal history of conceptual art, and perhaps most extraordinary, Ilugh Dempster from Dalmamock, Glasgow‘s very own Al Jolson impersonator and veteran of the Fifties transvestite scene (‘You want tae have seen me then, I even fancied meself’). Yet, in a media dominated by the anglicised, it is surely of considerable value that such vital and remarkable people are heard at all.
Tough Titty Cosgrove is keen to expound on the subject of language. "Ihere are voices there from the West of Scotland, from West Belfast, from Dublin, from Manchester and Leeds, the voices that are accents. If we get any complaints, it’ll pobably be because they can’t understand the language, but there’s a side of me that says tough titty to that because there's an awful lot of people out there who truly don’t get to grips with a lot of programmes made in London and it’s never an issue. I mean, how many people in Parkhead truly understand Network 7?
‘You see, it’s notjust to do with language in a dialect sense, but also in an ideological sense. Like Network 7 did this thing where Frank Gillespie hitched from John O’Groats to Land’s End on a tenner. Now I happen to know that this guy as a researcher and presenter on the programme must be bringing in a sum not unadjacent to 450 pounds a week, so it’s no problem for him to burn a few lifts knowing he’s coming home to a cosy wee bank balance. Anyway, the bastard is outside my local in Perth, The Two Tams, where 'Ihe Metal Pack, one of the local gangs hang out. There he is saying Well, I' we only got nine pounds stay left and I’m really just hoping that the Pack come out and beat the fuck out of him. He just doesn’t have the ideological language to understand that you don’t stand outside locals in Perth making an issue out of not having very nuch money.’
In a week, when a Face article previewing Halfway To Paradise noted that its base was situated ‘just beside Celtic Rangers’ Parkside ground’, it becomes all too apparent that we need Mr Sinclair and company to start breaking down a few language barriers.
llalfWay To Paradise begins on Channel 4 at 11.15pm on October 1 for an eight-week run.
The list 30 Sept -- l3 ( )Cl l‘lbb’ 11