The black and white classic that is Whisky Galore! needs little introduction. One of the most famous productions from the legendary Ealing Studios, the film shows how the inhabitants of the remote Scottish island of Todday respond when a cargo ship carrying 50,000 cases of whisky (a rationed luxury during the story’s World War Two setting) is abandoned offshore.
Among the colourful Todday residents featured is teacher George Campbell, played by Glaswegian Gordon Jackson, and his strict mother (Jean Cadell) whose values are old fashioned even by 1943 standards.
In one scene Mrs Campbell, already horrified that her son is engaged to local girl Catriona Macroon, threatens to leave if he brings his fiancee to tea…
“I’ll go and live with your Aunt Agnes in Glasgow”, she announces, to which George responds “Oh, but you hate Glasgow”. “Never mind if I do” is her blunt response.
Later in the film George has acquired a bit of courage and lays down the law to his mother, stating “I’ve told you my terms and if you don’t like them you can go to Glasgow”.
This 1986 film, also known as The Gospel According to Vic in some parts, is a real gem in Glasgow’s film history. Starring Tom Conti and Helen Mirren as teachers Vic and Ruth, Heavenly Pursuits follows a very original storyline – at a time when school and church authorities are keen to see a sainthood bestowed on the namesake of the Blessed Edith Semple School, a series of potentially miraculous occurrences captures the attention of the whole of Glasgow and gets cynical Vic thinking twice.
The film opens in Rome – where Brian Pettifer’s Father Cobb is visiting the Vatican (in fact the interior is Glasgow City Chambers) to petition a senior figure in the Catholic church on the Edith Semple matter – before switching from the grandeur of St. Peter’s Square to the Glasgow skyline under a rather murky sky. But this is not setting us up for a “grim Glasgow” tale – some years before its City of Culture renaissance the city looks fantastic throughout and it is a cheerful and upbeat movie.
The cast is first class. Conti and Mirren are on fine form as always and the former in particular is really well paired with David Hayman as his friend and union rep Jeff. As mentioned above Brian Pettifer is the school’s chaplain, and he is joined by Dave Anderson as the headmaster. Other well known Scottish faces to appear include Juliet Cadzow and Ron Donachie. The school pupils are great too – there’s a particularly joyous scene when young Stevie, whose abilities are a cause for concern to some, beats Vic in an impromptu contest to list motorcycle brands. It’s a moment of glory for Stevie as the kids all cheer him on excitedly and it’s a defeat that Vic is more than happy to accept. Stevie – incidentally – is played by a young Ewen Bremner, and Tony Curran is also listed as one of the pupils in the credits. And one final note on the names to pop up in Heavenly Pursuits – Gordon Jackson appears as himself discussing the newspapers (in particular the Blessed Edith Semple School story) on breakfast television with broadcaster Sheena McDonald.
Glasgow is another star of the film and locations featured include Glasgow Cathedral, the Victoria Infirmary, Great Western Road, Sauchiehall Street, the Western Infirmary, Renfield Street, the Kingston Bridge and Queen Street Station. The exterior used for the school at the centre of all the action is that of Queen’s Park Secondary School on Grange Road – the school has since been demolished and a modern satellite building to the Victoria Infirmary now stands on the site.
The sight of Queen’s Park Secondary was a blast from the past and that is another enjoyable feature of Heavenly Pursuits – the nostalgia. If you remember Glasgow in the 1980s look out for glimpses of Wimpy on Sauchiehall Street and Pizzaland just across the road from it, the Odeon on Renfield Street, the Irn Bru clock on Union Street, John Menzies in Queen Street Station and orange buses galore.
Completing the package is an excellent soundtrack from BA Robertson. With Heavenly Pursuits writer and director Charles Gormley has presented a charming Glasgow feature that can sit comfortably alongside bigger budget Hollywood productions of its time.
Glasgow isn’t mentioned by name in 1963 World War II classic The Great Escape, however two of its most famous thoroughfares are.
Among the prisoners at the German camp in the movie are two Scots – Macdonald ‘Intelligence’ and Ives ‘The Mole’, played by two real-life Glaswegians Gordon Jackson and Angus Lennie respectively. The two actually share little screen time together, however there is one scene – as Steve McQueen and James Garner distribute moonshine to celebrate American Independence Day – in which the two Scotsmen merrily celebrate their roots.
Macdonald tells a troubled looking Ives “Och, never mind – you’ll be walking down Argyle Street in a couple of weeks man” (sadly this prediction is shattered just minutes later), and then the two dance a jig singing “Wha’ saw the tattie howkers” – including the lyrics “Marching through the Broomielaw”.
Incidentally the film features a third Glaswegian (although not playing a Scottish part) in David McCallum. And two other towns – Musselburgh and Hamilton – get a name check when Ives is recounting his horse racing days to McQueen’s Hilts during the pair’s time in “the cooler”.
As well as looking at well known visitors to Glasgow, Glasgow on Film is also setting out to list the city’s most famous acting exports – and there is no shortage of those either.
This series begins with an actor perhaps best known for a particular television role – that of CI5 head George Cowley in The Professionals – but whose film CV is impressive too – Gordon Jackson.
Jackson was born in Glasgow on 19th December 1923, sadly passing away as a result of bone cancer in 1990. Online profiles of the actor, such as those on Wikipedia and IMDb, mention that he attended Glasgow’s Hillhead Primary School and that in adult life he worked in repertory theatre in the city.
His big screen credits include The Great Escape (which includes reference to Glasgow – watch out for a future Cameo Appearance posting on this), The Ipcress File and The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie.