THE Town That Floored the World is a documentary about linoleum, and its remarkable impact on the Scottish port town of Kirkcaldy.
How did Kirkcaldy become the world centre for linoleum manufacture? And what did linoleum mean to the world anyway? Narrated by John Session and featuring contributions from Kirkcaldy-born crime writer, Val McDermid, and a host of lino workers, it’s a fascinating social history – quite similar to the producers’ recent film about Paisley, The Town That Thread Built.
The documentary has its first showing on BBC Two Scotland, 9pm on Monday May 21.
The film was made by TVI Vision, whose executive producer, Maurice Smith, answers the questions…
Who commissioned the documentary?
The film was commissioned originally by Ewan Angus for BBC Scotland. The BBC executive was David Harron. We pitched this immediately after production of The Town That Thread Built, as we realised that the story of Paisley – with its massive dependence on one industry, thread-making – had its parallels in Kirkcaldy. The only difference really is that Kirkcaldy still makes lino, although the industry now employs hundreds rather than the thousands that it did in the past.
Explain the thinking behind the production’s ‘look and feel’.
Linoleum is a mysterious product to many. Its manufacturing process has barely changed in 180 years, and it really is a form of alchemy involving linseed oil, chalk, jute and other traditional materials.
Although Kirkcaldy had a long history of making floor-coverings during the early 19th century, partly because of its proximity to the Dundee jute industry, its dominance in linoleum came about almost unexpectedly, and as a result of naked capitalist opportunism in the 1830s. The material came to be the default flooring material in homes worldwide, but also in offices, factories and on ships.
We wanted to tell the story of linoleum and the people who made it, and continue to do so in Kirkcaldy.
Who are the key personnel and how were they recruited?
Our producer-director is Shruti Rao, making her first full 60-minute documentary. Shruti came to us full of enthusiasm and ideas, and set about the production last autumn. She has more than a decade’s experience in a wide range of documentary production and it has been a pleasure to work with her.
Apart from our small in-house research and development team, led by Wendy Smith, and production manager, Kate Hook, we involved two people we’ve worked with regularly: assistant producer, Louise Arthur, and film editor, Angela Slaven.
Both Louise and Angela also worked on our film about the evangelist Billy Graham (Six Weeks to Save the world) which went out on BBC Two Scotland last week for the first time.
Our camera people included David Liddell, Fraser Rice and Steven Mochrie, as well as Shruti herself. The online, grade and dubbing were undertaken by Ian Ballantyne and John Cobban at Arteus in Glasgow. Graphics were by Gerard Morris at Zutto.
Colin Cameron, my co-exec on this film and also our Billy Graham documentary – Six Weeks to Save the World – has been a tower of strength to us at TVI.
What kit and software?
Most filming was done using Canon C300 cameras, and edited in Avid. We invested recently in new Canon Cine lenses and used these extensively in our interviews. We also used a DJI Osmo for various exteriors.
What were the main production challenges?
As ever, the mix of archive material with specially-shot modern-day content can be a challenge. We had access to a remarkable 1960s film made for the original Robert Nairn linoleum company (now operating as Forbo-Nairn at Kirkcaldy), which was shot in beautiful colour film.
It gave us an idea of the vivid colours that can be achieved in lino. People think of lino as a dull, routine material – it’s taken for granted. Yet great artists like Picasso and Matisse have used lino to great effect. People pay a premium for custom designed lino still today.
What did you most learn and enjoy from the experience?
As ever with social history, the most enjoyable elements come from the people. Linoleum is almost instilled in the DNA of Kirkcaldy. Everybody in the town has a relative who worked in the industry, if they didn’t work there themselves. For them, it’s in the blood. People speak fondly of the famous ‘smell’, the linseed oil that used to hang in the air over the town. Val McDermid even bursts into poetry as she is filmed arriving in her home town by train from Edinburgh !
People are proud of their industries. It is sad often that we will be interviewing people about the past, about industries that have been and gone, yet had an enormous industry on their lives. The great thing about Kirkcaldy is that linoleum’s revival means there are still jobs there. Younger workers are learning from older hands as skills are passed to a new generation.