Friday, May 28, 2021

TV Rewind

On the cusp of a new television project I've been involved in being broadcast this weekend – Whiskey Talkin' (which, very appropriately, has been around 3 years from first discussions to completion) I've been reminiscing through my 'timeline' of television-related projects and programmes, and thought it might be useful to jot them down here, even for my own future reference.

Anybody that knows me will be aware that it took years of persuading for me to eventually have a proper go in front of a camera. Presenting isn't something I ever imagined I'd do, or even set out to become – proper presenters are great at it and I'm nowhere near their league. But opportunities came along. Here are the diary landmarks –

• 2003 Twa Lads o Pairts 
The first ever TV programme I took part in was filmed in Summer 2003 and was broadcast on Burns Night 2004, a BBC documentary called Twa Lads o Pairts. It followed both me, and the renowned North Antrim community poet Charlie Gillen, in our own localities en route to eventually meeting up at the Ballycarry Broadisland Gathering which we both took part in that year.

So that was that. In December 2010 I was invited to take part in an industry panel discussion with Northern Ireland Screen, and following that in early 2011 I was invited to be part of their Ulster-Scots Broadcast Fund committee, which I did until summer 2012. Nine years that went very fast.

• Summer 2012
With the USBF role concluded, I had an email that very same summer from a seemingly nervous producer (I had no idea that I had such a fearsome reputation – I was very tired of so many tv company researchers cold-calling and cold-emailing just to, as they always said, "pick your brains" – so that fatigue seemed to be well-known). We got on very well and stayed in regular contact, sharing a lot of common interests.

Three years later, in 2015, a few individual tv appearances started to be suggested, which turned out to be both enjoyable and interesting to do. Eventually the concept for a brand new series was proposed, with me in a more prominent role. But as that producer knows, I wasn't easy to talk round...

• Autumn 2017
Two more years ticked on by, during which lots of discussions, thoughts and ideas circulated. Eventually, in late summer and early Autumn 2017, we shot a couple of wee test rehearsal things here around home, some scripted and some ad-libbed. Whoever needed to see those must have been happy enough because at the end of September 2017 it all began for real when we started filming that brand new series, in Raphoe in Donegal, for the first episode of six, entitled Hame. 

Hame was broadcast in January 2018. The community participants in each place were happy with how they'd been portrayed and that they'd been given space to speak for themselves. A wider audience was attracted, the contributors and content have always been very strong, and the team who make it all happen are great. We're currently planning series 4.

Overall, I've no idea how long this will continue for. Nothing is guaranteed, timing is everything, opportunities don't come along very often, and every now and again I think "that'll do me". I'll be 50 in January, everybody has a "sell by date", and you can footer your life away. Whenever it all comes to an end, it'll have been fun and I think worthwhile to have done.


In and around these have been brief appearances with Paul Rankin and Nick Nairn for their Big Food Trip (2013); with Tim McGarry for his Minding Your Language (2015); with William Crawley for Imagining Ulster (2015); on Phil Cunningham's Wayfaring Stranger (2017); with Gerry Kelly for Links to the Past: Pioneers of Ulster Golf (2019) and Ralph McLean and Ricky Warwick Rock N Roll Highway (also 2019). There micht hae been a wheen mair but A cannae mind.


I'm also thankful for the radio opportunities I've had, on A Kist o Wurds, Kintra, and other BBC Radio Ulster things such as the recent adaptation of Sons Of The Sod.

I'm not always very helpful, not always on good form, not always available, don't always have the answers or the archives – but I hope that whatever I have been able to help out with, behind the scenes for other companies and other programmes that I've not actually been on-screen for, has been useful to somebody in some way.