In Conversation: Meet the guests on my new interview series

A new interview series hosted by Bernard Ponsonby has been released on the STV Player.

Tony Roper will feature in the new interview series SNS
Tony Roper will feature in the new interview series

Are you nostalgic for the era of your youth? I was seven when the 1970s arrived and yet the decade is as clear to me today as it was half a century ago.

Scotland in the 1970s was a place of industrial strife. Grainy TV images recall the bleakness and the division.

I can still smell the coal and diesel of the miners’ strike and the three-day working week. Furloughing back then was but an undiscovered luxury.

In entertainment terms it saw the tail end of the variety era, when high camp and slapstick was punctuated by accordion music and the hootenanny of Thingummyjig.

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Billy Connolly was the coming thing, his ‘blasphemous’ shows picketed by the late Pastor Jack Glass who roared in angry evangelical disapproval.

The Pastor was none too pleased that Sir William had transported the last supper from Jerusalem to the Gallowgate in a widely acclaimed sketch.

“How dare he portray the apostles as drunkards in The Sarry Heid pub with our Lord dressed in a jaggy bunnet,” raged the founder of The Scottish Protestant view. “Jack Glass is a wee pastor,” retorted Connolly, who credits STVs Bill Tennent with kickstarting his career.

Long hair and wide trousers danced to cheesy pop back then. Abba and the Bay City Rollers defined the new hysteria before punk gave the comfort of it all a good kicking by the decade’s end.

Ruth Davidson will chat with Bernard on the new series.
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Scotland broke through in the TV drama stakes when Peter McDougall’s exploration of sectarianism Just Another Saturday made it on to the BBC. David Hayman portrayed Jimmy Boyle in STVs hugely controversial drama A Sense of Freedom.

Scotland got to two World Cup Finals in the 1970s and beat England at Wembley and Hampden in what was the Home International Championships. Scots could play football back then. Yes, it was a long time ago.

And yet for me it was all rather recent. My new In Conversation series rakes over much of this ground with guests who made the series an undiluted joy.

Tony Roper wrote The Steamie, evocative of an experience long gone but so brilliant at capturing the mood of working-class Scotland of the time. Roper talks about his time down the mines, his relationship with The Big Yin and of his friendship with Rikki Fulton who brought us the Hogmanay staple Scotch and Wry in 1978.

David Hayman talks about that iconic TV role in the Jeremy Isaacs produced STV film on the life of Jimmy Boyle. There was huge pressure to block its transmission in an era when a mix of angry housewives and ministers of religion railed against violence on TV and, of course, filth, the catch-all term used to describe the efforts of artists to corrupt the young.

David Hayman features in Bernard Ponsonby’s new series.

Hayman is engrossing when describing the highs of life on the stage and of the near out-of-body experience he had when he and the audience seemed to float as one during the zenith of one memorable performance.

Jackie Kay is The Makar and her adopted parents were members of the Communist Party of Great Britain. Her mother Helen was in the vanguard of the disarmament movement and her father was a driving force in the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders struggle.

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Kay talks with warmth and above all humour about growing up black in the Scotland of the time. She debunks the nonsense of the Jock Tamson’s bairns mantra so easily and lazily and inaccurately deployed by those who could never bring themselves to be honest about the shortcomings of the past or indeed the present.

Two of my guests have no real connection with the 1970s and their interviews represent a bridge between then and now between ‘old’ and ‘new’ Scotland.

Darren McGarvey talks with articulacy without pause on issues around poverty, addiction, broken families and communities. He is a voice out-with the established politics who acts as a sharp poke in the ribs for establishments complacent with what they perceive as an unchallengeable wisdom.

The public discourse needs voices like Darren’s as he acts as a constructively dissenting voice against policies handed down from institutions to improve the lives of those distant from the decision making process.

One of those on the political inside is Ruth Davidson, who last year stood down as leader of the Scottish Conservatives. She talks openly and frankly about her upbringing, struggle with depression and the road to starting a family and re-orientating her life and career.

This interview was a first for yours truly. In 30 years of crossing swords with political leaders I have rarely chatted with them on air. So, this was a first, a relaxed conversation with a leading voice. And you know what, you will learn more from the exchange than the pugilism of the set-piece interview.

I hope you enjoy In Conversation. It was great to make it and to Tony, David, Jackie, Darren and Ruth a big thank you for taking me out of my comfort zone and making the experience so memorable.

Bernard Ponsonby’s In Conversation interviews are available on the STV Player.


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