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Kay Mander: BECTU Interview Part 2 (1988)

The making of Highland Doctor and views on the documentary tradition

Main image of Kay Mander: BECTU Interview Part 2 (1988)

The copyright of this recording and transcript is vested in the BECTU History Project. Kay Mander was interviewed by Sid Cole with John Sherman on 28 November 1988.

Highland Doctor

KM: I made a film called Highland Doctor, which was the story of the Highlands and Islands medical service, which was the first nationalised medical service in this country.

SC: Flying out to the Outer Hebrides, and ...

KM: That's right, yes.

AL: You directed it?

KM: Oh yes, I was always the director there.

SC: You went out to the islands?

JS: Did you write it?

KM: I did everything!?

JS: That's the Shell tradition, isn't it?

KM: Well, no it was the documentary tradition, we all did everything. [...] I mean that was the way documentary worked, because I mean nobody could do your research for you. I think this is awful when - I've been away and worked on films - I worked with a man called John McGrath, a Scotsman, on a film about Suez, and his research had been done by somebody else. And the whole of the time he was shooting that film he had to ask her what particularly he was shooting at that place, and why. I found this extraordinary, I mean, in documentary we did our own research, we wrote our own script so we knew why we were writing the script, the reasons behind everything. ... yes. [...]

SC: Was there a significant thing particularly about Highland Doctor that you can recall? [KM laughs] It sounds like you did!

KM: Well it was an incredible experience, because the Outer Hebrides were number three defence area, I think, we couldn't go to Barra where we should have gone, and we couldn't go to a place called Applecross on the coastline, which was number one defence area. That's where they were putting all the Anthrax on the island in Gruinard Bay, God help them. So, anyway, we went to Lewis and Harris and North Uist. This was a strange film, because it combined actors acting out the historical aspects of the medical service, with the real doctors actually working at that time. They were great characters.

SC: Did they go by boat to the outer islands?

KM: Well, no they lived on the outer islands, but there was one man who had to stand on a hillside and run up a flag if he wanted a boat to take him across to a small island. And there was another one who went across a very narrow strait by boat and had a motor-cycle on the island. And we went across and we couldn't get back because a strong wind had blown up! We had to wait about four hours for the tide to go down. And they were given a basic salary in order to practice there, you see. Because they wouldn't have got enough money from the local people. Anyway it was a fascinating film to make, and...

SC: Who photographed it?

KM: A man called Teddy Catford. [...] I just want to say one more thing about Highland Doctor, I gave Alex Mackenzie his first professional acting part - the man who was later in...

SC: Otherwise he was a local, was he?

KM: No, he was a schoolteacher in Glasgow, who used to do monologues and things like that at ceilidhs, sort of semi-amateur. He went on from there to do Whiskey Galore! [actually the sequel Rockets Galore!], The Puffer [actually The 'Maggie'] and sundry other films like that.

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Mander, Kay (1915-)