BBC Cusidh

Cusidhs Make it to BBC! Next Stop Hollywood!

Read the full account here..

 In 1934 Lewis Grassic Gibbon of Sunset Song fame wrote an essay ‘The Antique Scene’ in which he said, ‘Few things cry so urgently for rewriting as does Scots History’ since the common perception was of ‘heroic Highlanders, hardy Norsemen, lovely Stewart queens and dashing Jacobite rebels’ but unacknowledged behind them ‘a real people once lived….and hoped and feared and hated’. Gibbon wrote about the real people of the Mearns but more importantly told their story in a version of the Doric, the Scots language of the north east.  

This new BBC series, narrated by the ‘cool’ Neil Oliver, also explores the idea that language is power in the struggle between Gaelic and Scots and certainly does attempt to redress the balance of history in so far as Gaelic sea kingdoms are concerned. They are shown as the power base that they were was during the turbulent times of the12th century Somerled’s descendants who were Lords of the Isles ‘Righ Innse Gall’  - ‘King of the Hebrides’  - that is till the Stewart kings deprived them of power in the 15th century, destroying Clan Donald and bestowing the title on their own line but leaving the lands of the Gael in turmoil.

This is the story narrated in Programme 4 of the series and the Cusidhs were required to be part of the scene in the hall of the powerful Alexander Macdonald, Lord of the Isles.  Drum beats – boom, boom, boom! In fact we weren’t in the islands at all but at the BBC HQ at Pacific Quay, Glasgow in the early morning for the first day of filming with Drawing Down the Moon{ Banrigh } and Riding the Wind {Creubhag }.

In the morning the set was hot and smokey and even bribes of tripe sticks failed to keep the dogs on duty for too long as several exits from the set proved irresistible so they had to be retrieved on several occasions among the sets of ruined castles and battle gear. The gallowglasses or armour bearers and the deer skins on the floor were very impressive but once the cusidhs sussed out the bag of tripe sticks outside the set then that was that. The BBC then kindly supplied bones which were duly presented to the cusidhs and ignored, prompting the comment, ‘Are these dogs vegetarian? ‘. They soon got the idea though and were later scheduled to have close up shots with Alexander who was duly primed with cheese etc but suddenly Alexander disappeared with the bribes and was never seen again!  Instead, however, they were quite happy to cross backwards and forwards across the set to cheese bribes till they worked out there was no sense going to Point B for something that was already available at Point A. This section which was the afternoon contribution was later taken out in favour of the outdoor scenes which were more to the Cusidhs‘ liking in any case. What became clear was how much filming is involved for all concerned for some effective cameos in the edited end product.

BBC CusidhWe met up again for the hunting scenes in the 15th century a few weeks later at Pollock Park but before that we went back in history to the Picts for the morning session at the village of Eaglesham ,near East Kilbride, and with Elise there too we were able to get some informal pictures of the shoot.  Cusidh Coille Hallaig and Riding the Wind, Creubhag were on set together for a cameo of a hunt so they got a chance to run briefly as well as pose so that was more in line with their expectations and with ours too as we found a little tea room open for coffee and scones before the BBC had arrived and, thus mentally and physically fortified, enjoyed our morning!

BBC Cusidh

BBC Cusidh

BBC Cusidh

BBC Cusidh

Then it was over to the Burrell to meet up with our reinforcements, Patsy, my sister, and Gillian Shackleton with Rossyln Neil who was going to run with Banrigh, Creubhag and Cluaidh’s Boon to Cusidh, known as Clutha ( clooa), and called after the River Clyde as she was born in the Clyde area. She’s also known as ‘Slim’, ‘Dishcloth’ and ‘Bag of Bones’ but boy can she run!

The BBC were running late at Eaglesham so we didn’t get started till after 5 o’clock but, after we had decided on our plan of action with Patsy and Elise as slippers leaving Gillian and myself as catchers , the car with the camera began to roll and the dogs were off! Neil had had a sneak practice with the girls at Craigend and, despite my worries that the dogs would collide with trees, or with each other, or with the camera crew or worse catch sight of the park deer, - everything went to plan –that is once Clutha realised she wasn’t supposed to follow the car on the track but run through the woods! She did well though and has a bit all to herself where she’s quite recognisable as a brindle but her moment of glory may, of course, be subject to the revisions of the final version! I’m not sure it was as much fun for the slippers as that was hard work but it was exciting to call the dogs and see them coming hell for leather!

In the production the hunting dogs seem to be more symbolic of the ongoing power struggle between James I, the Stewart king and Alexander, Lord of the Isles and Clan Donald with James being brutally murdered in 1437. The scene ends dramatically
with the blood stained cards and a shot of a fearsome open mouthed hound. Beware!
As the bards put it:

Without Clan Donald there is no strength,
Without Clan Donald there is no joy.

However, by then it was 7.30 pm and time to go back to the present but the BBC team and the handlers seemed really to have enjoyed the session as well as the exhausted hounds. Unfortunately, I have to say that the dogs are now finding their field a bit tame after all the excitement so we’ll just hope Hollywood has something on offer soon!

Was that the phone ringing??


Claire and Hallaig