Made Here: 100 Years of The Sunday Post

SAYS the BBC, ‘A Century of Scottish Sundays – 100 Years of The Sunday Post’ seeks to tell the story of a newspaper first published to “bring news from the trenches of World War One”.

Adds the broadcaster (here): “The newly-launched paper’s coverage of WW1 was powerful and vivid because so many of publisher DC Thomson’s staff were serving on the front and sending back first-hand accounts of the conflict.”

It is being broadcast on BBC One Scotland on Sunday at 1900. The programme’s narrator is well-known actor, Brian Cox, born and bred in the city where DC Thomson is headquartered: Dundee.

A Century of Scottish Sundays: 100 Years of the Sunday Post is a Caledonia TV production. The programme’s director, Les Wilson, 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’

The historical narrative – from 1914 to the present day, with a peek into the future – reveals a great slice of Scottish social history. But as the film relates the history, we tell a parallel story – that of today’s Post editor, Donald Martin, as he puts together an edition of the paper. We intercut the history with fly-on-the-wall sequences that reveal how a modern Sunday paper is produced. Stylish graphics allow us to interweave between historical and contemporary sequences.

The Sunday Post prides itself on its relationship with its readers, so we’ve interviewed a number of them. A couple of these happen to be celebrity readers, but there are also lots of telling comments from non-famous Scots.

While The Sunday Post has an office in Glasgow – and DC Thomson is the last newspaper publisher to have a major presence on Fleet Street – we’ve rooted the film in the city of its birth, Dundee. The effect of World War One on the city and its citizens was faithfully revealed by the early editions of the new newspaper.

The century of The Sunday Post is also the century of film – and we’ve used a lot of archive film in the programme. There is some extraordinary footage about the company from 1911 that was commissioned by David Coupar Thomson himself – a very early corporate video. We’ve also included a section of an interview that [the late trade union activist and journalist] Jimmy Reid did with the legendary Post editor, Bill Anderson, more than two decades ago. I actually directed this particular piece of ‘archive’ film – which makes me feel pretty ancient!

Who are the key personnel? How were they recruited?

I directed the film. I have a long history documentary track-record, and I started my career as a print journalist, so I have an interest in newspapers. In any case, being a founding director of Caledonia TV comes with some privileges, so I delegated directing of the programme to myself! The producer was Faye MacLean, a Caledonia TV staffer with whom I have collaborated with on dozens of productions. We squabble like mad, but we’re a good team.

Principal filming was done by David Lees, with Brian Howell on sound. They are pretty well Caledonia TV’s ‘usual suspects’, and great to work with. Faye and I also did some self-shooting.

The editor was Marion MacDonald. Marion edited our seven-years-in-the-making film about Andy Scott’s Kelpie sculptures, and so deserved a gig which didn’t involve millions of miles of footage! The graphics were by Jonny Harris and Kev McCrae at Play Dead. Jon Bruce and Diane Jardine of Edit 123 were the on-line editor and dubbing mixer.

Executive producers were David Harron, for the BBC, and Seona Robertson for Caledonia.

What kit and software?

We used our in-house cameras: a Sony PDW 700 for the main shoot, with a Canon XF 300 and a Sony PMW 200 for the multi-camera and self-shot sequences. We edited on Caledonia’s Avid Media Composer.

What were the main production challenges?

DC Thomson has the reputation of being a very private concern, but Caledonia has a bit of ‘form’ with the company. Two years ago, we made a film about the 70th anniversary of The Dandy [comic]. As production got underway, it was decided that The Dandy would close as a print publication, so our film became something of a requiem as well as a celebration. During that time we developed a good relationship with the DC Thomson staff. Our first approach to Ellis Watson, the chief executive Officer of DC Thomson Publishing, about making a Sunday Post documentary was enthusiastically received, and we quickly developed a good relationship with Donald Martin and his team.

Once mutual trust and respect was in place, making the film was easy – apart for the problem of condensing so much great material into 59 minutes.

What did you most learn and enjoy from the experience?

As a maker of history documentaries, the fact that the paper was first launched to bring news from the Western Front fascinated me. And as someone who directed a 30-part series about World War Two, I was entranced by some of the ‘home front’ stories about that conflict that lie in the DC Thomson archive.

Also! Who could not have fun dealing with the origins of Oor Wullie and The Broons? The film was a joy to make. I hope the viewers enjoy watching it as much as we did making it.