ONE of the most iconic structures in Scotland, the Forth Road Bridge is 50 years old on Thursday.
And the anniversary is being marked by a documentary, The Bridge: Fifty Years Across the Forth, being broadcast on BBC One Scotland on Sunday at 1900 hours.
Says BBC Scotland: “Central to the documentary is the first televised use of a remarkable amateur film – put together across the entire six years of the build – by Balfron man, Jim Hendry. The social and industrial heritage of the project – which had an impact across Scotland – is also underlined with interviews with people who worked on the construction and others, whose lives were dramatically changed by it.”
Here, Maurice Smith, producer with the independent production company, TVI Vision, which made the hour-long documentary, answers the questions…
Who commissioned the series?
The documentary was commissioned by BBC Scotland, initially by Ewan Angus, with David Harron appointed as their executive producer.
Explain the thinking behind the programme’s ‘look and feel’
One key element of The Bridge is the excellent film-making of amateur cine enthusiast, Jim Hendry, who spent six years following the building of the bridge – using his trusty Paillard Bolex 16mm film camera. Using Jim’s images, and others drawn from the archives, we have drawn together the story of the bridge, with contributions from workers, local people and some who worked on the ferries that ceased operation when the bridge opened in 1964.
We obtained Jim’s original 16mm film and had a digital ‘print’ made, the quality so good we were able to show it to a selected audience at The Hippodrome cinema in Bo’ness during production.
The idea was to do justice to the story and the film by knitting together the narrative behind the construction of what was then the longest suspension bridge to be built outside the US.
Who are the key personnel? How were they recruited?
The director/producer is Sarah Howitt, who has a strong track record in the arts as well as in historical documentary.
The principal filming was done by Stephen Mochrie, with additional work by Jim Galbreath, Laura Kingwell and Niall Preston.
We’ve been delighted with our specially-written score, by Kenny Inglis – Glasgow-based but better known in the US for his regular work for the CBS franchise, CSI — with Paul McLinden.
Our editor was Phyllis Ironside, and Cameron Duguid produced some really distinctive animation graphics.
Our executive on the project was Colin Cameron, and the production team included Wendy Smith, Neil McDonald and Neil Cameron.
Sarah worked on this film while pregnant and her due date is September 4th, the actual day of the bridge’s 50th anniversary!
What kit and software?
Most of the modern-day filming was done with a Canon C300 camera, and we also used a ‘hexacopter’ drone to achieve some fantastic images of the bridge, operated by UpAbove.tv’s Dave Hipkiss.
The editor was Phyllis Ironside, using our in-house Avid Media composer v6.
The online and grading were done by Guido Schneider and dub by John Devine, both at The Hive.
What were the main production challenges?
At first the main challenge was finding Jim Hendry!
Nobody seemed to know what had happened to him. I visited Balfron one wet and windy Saturday and knocked a few doors until I found his son and daughter-in-law, Neil and Karen.
It turned out Jim was experiencing a lengthy stay in hospital. Once he was home, together we viewed his film material and he told me his story.
He is a wonderful character and one of the most modest men I know.
Jim was a farm inspector and a keen member of Edinburgh Cine Club when he asked permission to follow the building of the bridge back in 1958. He did it in his spare time and – fortunately for us — had a good head for heights, a tripod and tended to pick good weather for his filming.
The quality of his work has earned praise from professional colleagues today. Yet, in 1966 – two years after the project was complete – he bought a farm in Balfron, packed away his Bolex and never filmed again.
We anticipated that filming on the bridge could be tricky, but the managers (FETA) and workers were fantastic. We shot from the top of the towers to the bottom of the under-deck walkways. This bridge is a thing of beauty – “mathematics in action”, as one contributor says.
What did you most learn and enjoy from the experience?
The core to any good documentary is its ‘story’, the central theme that drives the narrative. The people we talked to — bridge workers, ferry staff, local historians and those who work on the bridge today — bubble with enthusiasm when they talk about the bridge.
It’s almost a living thing to them, and to many people in Scotland.
This film has been a really positive experience and I’m glad we’re telling their story, and the story of the Forth Road Bridge.