What about your Bill Douglas story?
Now that’s an old story. In my youthful days I used to fly airplanes like something completely mad, that’s why they called me the Blue Max, after the film you know. I didn’t have a car back then and one day I decided I would buy a bike because I was fed up getting on the bus to the airport because I used to go out to the airport all day and sit on the grass; changed days, I mean you can’t do that now. And the first time that I got the bike, I decided it was a nice evening one night so I thought, I’ll go away and try my bike out. So I cycled away out to Tranent, beyond Musselburgh – I stayed in Musselburgh at the time. And out there was a friend of mine, John Eccles, who owned Carlaeverock Farm, which is through Tranent and turn right. I decided to go and see if John was in, it was just a nice length to cycle there and back. He was in one of his fields in this huge harvester. I propped my bike against the wall and waited for this big harvester to come towards me. When it arrived John said, “Oh it’s you Max, come aboard.” I said, “I’m on my bike.” But he said, “Chuck it on the back”. So I chucked it on the back of the big harvester and away we went. And there I was, taking in the harvest; he gave me a shot at it. John had straight lines and I was all over the field.
Anyway, come the evening we decided to go down to the local pub. I think it was called The McMerry. It was a small hotel with about six bedrooms and this local bar and the only people sitting in it were myself, John, and this other person sitting at the other end of the bar. Now, unknown to us, this person was Bill Douglas who had come back to the area to make a film about his childhood, which became the “My Childhood” trilogy, which is legendary now in Scottish filmmaking. And he was telling the barman that he’d had amazing response from local people and the local council, who were keeping up the old buildings that he was brought up in. They were all empty, but they were prepared to keep them standing, the Coal Board was gonna open up the old pit for him where his father had worked, and so on and so on. He eventually said to the barman, “The only thing I’m disappointed in is that I wanted an aerial shot of the mine and I don’t think I’m going to manage it.” And the barman pointed to us at the end of the bar and said, “See these two…you-know-what’s sitting at the end of the bar, they’ll do it for you.” And later on, Bill Douglas said, “You could have hit me with an elephant and I would never have felt it, I was so shocked.” And that’s how we met Bill Douglas.
Then we discovered that the basis of the story was that his own childhood was lonely and the only person that befriended him was a German prisoner of war, who was working on the farms. He was going to make the film on a farm as well as in a village. So John said, “You want a farm? I’ve got a farm.” So the “My Childhood,” and the second one, “My Ain Folk,” was made on John’s farm. The bus conductress in the film was John’s sister, the farmer driving the tractor is John, the old couple singing in the pub is John’s mother and father, and the ambulanceman is me. That was the second one, “My Ain Folk,” but it’s part of the “My Childhood” trilogy. So there I am, I’m preserved forever in the British Film Archive.
There must be something comforting about that, that you’re so into film and you’ve actually been preserved on celluloid.
And that’s all because I bought a bike!
The story continues in part five of MAX GIBSON: THE MAN BEHIND THE MAGIC>>>
Posted on March 3, 2004 in Interviews by Graham Rae
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