PROGRAMME-FILE#2: SCOTCH ON THE ROCKS
11/05/73 21:25-22:05 (40m) Phase 1 - Colour 2" 625-line PAL video tape
The Guardian 04/05/73
Protest on TV serial
By our own Reporter
THE Scottish National Party protested yesterday to the BBC that a television thriller serial "Scotch on the Rocks," which starts next week could lead to "insurrection and outbreaks of violence in Scotland."
Mr Gordon Wilson, vice-president of the party said: "The Scottish National Party hold the BBC responsible for the possible consequences of this reckless programme, which features gang violence for political ends."
The serial, which deals with a revolutionary movement for self-government in Scotland, is based on a novel by Mr Douglas Hurd, private secretary to the Prime Minister, and Mr Andrew Osmond one of the founders of Private Eye. It is to be broadcast on the national network BBC-1 after the main news on Friday evenings.
Mr Wilson said he had warned the BBC that feeling was running high in Scotland on the way the country was being defrauded over Scottish oil and steel. Any demonstrations of violence which followed the showing of the film in Scotland would be the BBC's responsibility.
A spokesman for the BBC in Glasgow said he was surprised that the SNP should take such strong exception to what was essentially an entertainment programme. He added: "The baddies always get their just deserts in the end."
It also seemed odd, he said, to raise objections now; the book had been published for some years and had been serialised in a Scottish newspaper.
The Guardian 12/05/73
SCOTCH ON THE ROCKS on television
by Nancy Banks-Smith
"SCOTCH ON THE ROCKS," BBC-1's new five-part thriller, has all the dash and brio of caber tossing. You do see the object of the exercise. It's just that it all seems rather heavy going.
I can, however, recommend it to anyone who wants to study the art of exposition. No character is mentioned without a detailed note of his name, rank, and convictions (criminal or political). Policemen who stand up with the evident intention of sneaking off to catch the last bus are ordered to sit down again while their chief constable (he had told them he is a chief constable in case they had forgotten) instructs them in the history of Glasgow. "Did you know that Glasgow was once the second city in the Empire? The Industrial Revolution began here. Did you know that?"
Cry as you may," Yes, I did know that, you interminable old windbag" or "I don't wish to know that," the exposition surges relentlessly on.
"Well, if it isn't bluff Jack Hamble, star off television." Well, if it isn't it must be "John Mackie, the Clydeside rabble-rouser." The Cydeside rabble-rouser is sitting with "Sukey Dunmayne, old Dunmayne's daughter" or, as she coyly describes herself "a simple aristocratic wench far beneath your station."
The dialogue in general would curl your toes. And indeed I found ten nail marks on the soles of my feet after this episode, where my toes had curled compulsively.
The direction, like the dialogue, implies that we're all a bit slow on the uptake and runs on pregnant pauses, nine months long.
All, all were here, the old familiar faces. It seemed that if you hung about long enough you would meet everyone you had ever seen before in any other series. Bill Simpson from "Doctor Finlay," Iain Cuthbertson from "The Borderers," and others, less familiar, who reminded me of comment of one Scot who once caught sight of Richard Baker. "It's no... it is... it's no... it is... it is wee Fattie."
The Listener 17/05/73
Scotch on the Rocks (BBC1), the Hurd and Osmond thriller about revolution in Scotland, specialises in cut-throats and Cabinet Ministers. James Mactaggart's telly version (episode one, anyway) waters down both components. It shirked showing the cop's cheek sliced off in the opening brawl; and its SNP meeting attracted 20 instead of 800. Scaled down like this, the book hardly survives. One wonders what possessed the BBC to put on this fantasy about Scottish Nationalists - a group whose historical record is predominantly decent and restrained - linking up with Glasgow street gangs and dynamiting public buildings. In the context of the Irish horrors, it seems an irresponsible and provocative gesture.
The Guardian 31/05/73
by JOHN KERR
OFFICIALLY, and collectively, the Scottish National Party deplores the BBC's Friday night television thrill "Scotch on the Rocks." Individually, a good many Nationalists are getting a lot of fun out of the weekly instalments, and feel it can hardly harm their image when the plot includes secret negotiations between a British Prime Minister and the chairman of the SNP.
Mr Gordon Wilson, senior vice-chairman of the party, reinforced the official line of complaint yesterday in a letter to Mr Charles Curran, director-general of the BBC. He deplored the direct representation of the SNP in the script instead of using some mythical political group in Scotland as a basis for the revolutionary adventures.
The Party, he said, was depicted as having elements in favour of violence for political ends and as having extreme left wing associations. The references to violence and left wing agitation were completely unfounded and were a political slur by the BBC on the Scottish National Party.
Mr Wilson went on to develop his theme, to the tune of a long standing Nationalist complaint about the BBC. Having been pilloried in a five-part serial, he said, the party had only very limited rights of reply under the present broadcasting arrangements. On the national network, the SNP was allocated only five minutes a year for party political broadcasts compared with an hour each...
Watching the third instalment of "Scotch on the Rocks" with some delegates at the annual conference of the SNP in Oban last week was a more lighthearted experience than the official line might suggest.
It developed into a personality spotting context with the audience identifying characters on screen with leading lights in the party. The lady in the hat was obviously intended to be Mrs Winifred Ewing, who won the party's historic byelection at Hamilton in 1967.
About the only political comment the programme produced was a criticism of the low budget decor for a scene set at the Conservative Party conference.
One of the SNP leaders said, "It looks more like a hotel room than the Brighton Pavilion or the Winter Gardens at Blackpool."
The Listener 30/08/73
United We Fall
William Wolfe, Chairman of the Scottish National Party, spoke to Ian McIntyre in Analysis (Radio 4) about the ideals and the image of his party. McIntyre asked about the SNP's attitude towards the BBC political thriller, Scotch on the Rocks, which, he said, 'seemed to cause quite a lot of agitation in some Nationalist breasts'. Mr Wolfe said: 'I thought it was reasonable that people should protest if they felt that it was going to be damaging to the Party. I understand that people who saw the first two or three episodes were appalled by the violent scenes and the use of violence in it, which were certainly completely foreign to anything that has happened in Scotland up to now and are totally outside the scope and outlook of the Scottish National Party. They were also concerned that it wasn't just some fabricated imaginary party which was used in the series, but it actually was the Scottish National Party with our symbol and posters and so on, which were quite authentic.' But, he added, 'I saw the last two episodes and I quite enjoyed them. I certainly did not think that those episodes did the Party any harm...'
The Times 04/10/73
Complaint by SNP on broadcast upheld
From Ronald Faux
The BBC's Programme Complaints Commission has upheld criticism by the Scottish National Party that a television dramatization of the thriller, Scotch on the Rocks, impugned the party. The five-part adaptation of the novel by Mr Douglas Hurd, private secretary to the Prime Minister, and Mr Andrew Osmond, a founder of Private Eye, named the party and suggested it was involved in using violence for political ends.
In the party's view the fiction constituted propaganda calculated to damage its electoral chances. It also suggested the party had extreme left-wing affiliations and links with extremist organizations.
An adjudication by the commission, signed by Sir Edmund Compton, Lord Maybray-King and Sir Henry Fisher, said: "The use of the SNP clearly identified by name and emblem as part of the realism which the BBC thought was required to give dramatic credibility inevitably created a risk that reasonable viewers might gain the impression from the series, or from parts of it, that the real SNP was involved or was likely to be involved with the objectionable activities mentioned in the party's statement of complaint to us.
"We accept that the series was conceived and executed by the BBC purely as entertainment."
The commission said the first episode of Scotch on the Rocks gave the impression that the party was involved in violence and this belief was confirmed by public reaction. They recognized that the party's dissociation from violence was brought out as the drama developed but not all viewers would see all episodes.
The adjudication will be published in The Listener on October 4.
The Guardian 04/10/73
TV serial ruled unfair to SNP
by JOHN KERR
The Scottish National Party has scored a notable point over the BBC in having its objections to the television thriller "Scotch on the Rocks" upheld by the programmes complaints commission.
Even before the serial was broadcast on the national network of BBC-1 in May, Mr Gordon Wilson, senior vice-president of the SNP, protested that it would lead to "insurrection and outbreaks of violence in Scotland." Later, an official complaint was submitted deploring the script's association of the party with violence and left-wing agitation. The serial was based on a novel by Mr Douglas Hurd, private secretary to the Prime Minister, and Mr Andrew Osmond, one of the founders of "Private Eye."
An adjudication of the commission, led by the former Ombudsman, Sir Edmond Compton, will be published today in the Listener. The commission accepts that the serial was presented as entertainment, but found that the inclusion of the SNP, identified by name and emblem, created a risk that reasonable viewers might gain the impression that the real party was involved in objectionable activities.
The report says: "We consider that the first episode of the series would leave the viewer with the impression of the SNP being involved in violence. We are confirmed in this belief by some of the reactions of members of the public, as revealed by the record of viewers' telephone calls kept by the BBC and the press after the first episode was broadcast."
The commission recognised the BBC's point that the party was dissociated from violence in later episodes, but said that not all viewers would necessarily see all parts of the serial. The report says: "The scene in which the leader of the party comes very near to encouraging violence in order to assist his political ends is not found in the novel, and its presence in the script in our view seriously weakens the BBC's case."
The Listener 04/10/73
The BBC Programme Complaints Commission delivers an adjudication
In May and June 1973 the BBC broadcast on BBC 1 a dramatised adaptation in five episodes of the novel Scotch on the Rocks by Douglas Hurd and Andrew Osmond. This series was a thriller which depicts events mainly in Scotland at a time when the Scottish National Party after a General Election had gained sufficient Scottish seats to hold the balance of power in Parliament. Glasgow gangs made use of for political ends, an explosives expert acting as under- cover agent for the Special Branch, a senior member of the Scottish National Party secretly involved with foreign agents and arms-smuggling, a 'Scottish Liberation Army' under the command of a British Army colonel, were among the elements in the narrative. Each episode lasted about forty minutes.
The Scottish National Party complained to the Commission that they had been unfairly treated by this series of broadcasts. Their complaint fell under four headings: 1. that the Scottish National Party is shown as having elements in it favouring violence for political ends, 2. that the Scottish National Party is shown as having extreme left-wing associations, 3. that the series suggests a link between the Scottish National Party and extremist groups or organisations deriving funds from foreign countries, 4. that the series constitutes propaganda against the Party calculated to damage the Party's electoral prospects.
The Commission, who have viewed a re-cording of the series and read the script, heard a verbal presentation of the complaint by Mrs Winifred M. Ewing, Vice-President of the Scottish National Party. Mrs Ewing emphasised the Party's commitment to democratic methods and noted the action (e.g. the expulsion of members) which the Party had taken to safeguard this principle. It was thus damaging for the Scottish National Party to be linked directly and by name with the violence of criminals and extremists. The first of the five episodes, which set the scene and would leave a persistent impression, had given rise to much of the complaint. A scene in the fourth episode, in which the Party Chairman had 'swithered' at a crucial moment, refusing to denounce violence and even seeking to take advantage of it, had, in Mrs Ewing's view, been of significant effect. The presentation of the series at a time of violence in Ulster, and within the run-up period to the next General Election, added in the Scottish National Party's view to the potential damage of its prospects.
The BBC's view, as stated in correspondence with the Scottish National Party and also put verbally by their representatives to the Commission, was that the series was a Political fantasy in a realistic setting. That the Scottish National Party was identified in the series by name and by the use of visual material was not disputed. This was not unusual in dramatic programmes dealing with political activity. But early in the series the drama clearly showed the leadership of the Scottish National Party as dissociating itself from the elements favouring violence. The 'swithering' episode did not carry the interpretation put on it by Mrs Ewing: given the existence of violence not caused by the Party, the Chairman was shown as taking political advantage of it and this gave authenticity to the drama. Looking at the programme as a whole, the BBC believed viewers would be in no doubt that what they were seeing was entertainment, not a political tract. As to the timing of the series, the BBC discounted the suggestion that the Scottish National Party had been prejudiced either in relation to events in Ulster or in relation to the next General Election. The BBC, having decided to portray the real Scottish National Party in the programme, had taken account of the possible political implications of the programme and the timing of its exhibition. The risk which had concerned them was not, however, so much that of damage to the Scottish National Party as of being criticised for giving the Party an electoral advantage from the emergence, in the story, of an independent Scotland with the Chairman of the Scottish National Party as its Prime Minister.
The Commission, having formed their own impression of the programme by viewing the whole series and having taken due account of the Scottish National Party's representations and the comments furnished by the BBC, have arrived at the following conclusions. The Scottish National Party included in their complaint the charge that 'the series constitutes propaganda against the Scottish National Party calculated to damage the Party's electoral prospects': but in discussion with us they did not claim that the BBC deliberately designed the series for political ends. We accept the statement made by the BBC to the complainants and to us that the programme was conceived and executed as entertainment, and that the real Scottish National Party was not used in this political fantasy with the intention of causing either benefit or damage to that Party. We do not accept the view, expressed in some of the evidence given to us by the Scottish National Party, that the BBC acted without forethought or recklessly in the sense of including a portrayal of the real Scottish National Party in this entertainment without considering the political implications. However, the use of the Scottish National Party, clearly identified by name and emblem, as part of the realism which the BBC thought was required to give dramatic credibility, inevitably created a risk that reasonable viewers might gain the impression, from the series or from parts of it, that the real Scottish National Party was involved, or was likely to be involved, in the objectionable activities mentioned in this Party's statement of complaint to us.
We accept that the series was conceived and executed by the BBC purely as entertainment, and that by using the identified Scottish National Party as an element in the political thriller, the BBC did not intend the viewer to regard the drama as a political documentary, and indeed believed that they had avoided the risk that it might be so regarded. We also believe the evidence of the BBC that their timing of the series was not related to events in Ulster or to a prospective General Election.
We do not consider that a reasonable viewer would have been led to believe that there was a link between the Scottish National Party and extremist organisations deriving funds from foreign countries or that the Party had extreme left-wing associations, since such links or associations are consistently shown in the story as being neither known to nor designed by the leadership of the Scottish National Party.
We consider, however, that the first episode of the series would leave the viewer with an impression of. the Scottish National Party being involved in violence. We are confirmed in this belief by some of the reactions of members of the public as revealed by the record of viewers' telephone calls kept by the BBC, and by letters to the BBC and the press after the first episode had been broadcast. We recognise the point made to us by the BBC that the dissociation of the Party from violence is brought out as the drama develops in the subsequent episodes. But not all viewers will have seen all the episodes. Moreover, there is a notable exception to the dissociation from violence at the point in the later action when the Party Chairman is shown not only as unwilling to condemn violence but as condoning it and as being prepared to take political advantage of it. The scene in which the leader of the Party goes very near to encouraging violence in order to assist his political ends is not to be found in the novel, and its presence in the script in our view seriously weakens the BBC's case.
We are anxious to give weight to the BBC's argument that this series was broadcast as fiction and entertainment and should have been received as such. But our concern is with the impression actually made, whether intended or not. There is force in the remark written by a newspaper critic after the first showing that 'so authentic and well-researched is the action and the settings that the story approaches the borderline between drama and documentary.' and we think the Scottish National Party can fairly claim that a significant number of viewers would reasonably consider that an association between the actual Scottish National Party and the use of violence in pursuit of political ends was being portrayed, and that some might give credence to it.
In view of the declared policy of the Party and its record of disowning violence, we consider that any such imputation would be unfounded. We consider that this reflection on the Party constitutes unfair treatment, and that this cannot be justified by the requirements of entertainment or of dramatic effect.
To this extent the complaint is upheld.
This adjudication is signed by Sir Edmund Compton, Lord Maybray-King and the Hon. Sir Henry Fisher.
With thanks to Steve Arnold.