BBC ALBA – Thursday 24 September 9.00 – 10.00pm
DESPITE his tag as the nation’s more expensive footballer, a new BBC ALBA documentary reveals how Rangers and Scotland legend, Jim Baxter, was compelled to complete his National Service – and spent most of his time whilst on guard phoning teammates and rivals.
In an intimate portrait of his personal and professional life, Jim Baxter – produced for BBC ALBA by purpleTV – tells the story of Baxter’s early life growing up in Hill o’ Beath through to worldwide fame thanks to his talent on the pitch and to his later years that saw the Fifer undergo two liver transplants in 1994 before succumbing to cancer just seven years later at the age of just 61.
The film also examines the devastating event that impacted Baxter for the duration of his life – his adoption as a baby – and the lifelong feelings of abandonment that those closest to him suggest fuelled the darker aspects of his personality.
Spotted while playing for junior club, Crossgates Primrose, Baxter was signed by Raith Rovers before becoming a household name with Rangers in 1960. Remembered for his skill, confidence and flamboyance, Baxter’s career soared and then fell sharply as his lavish lifestyle impacted his performance on the pitch.
The documentary uses both drama reconstruction and archive footage of both Baxter and his parents to tell his story, as well as personal input from his much-loved partner, Norma.
The biographical account also features contributions from award-wining author, Val McDermid, whose father was the Raith scout that identified Baxter’s potential, his teammates at Rangers, Willie Henderson, Davie Wilson, Ian McMillan and Willie Johnston, as well his Scotland colleagues, Denis Law and Paddy Crerand.
And Crerand is one of those that lifts the lid on Baxter’s time on National Service.
Despite Rangers paying a £17,500 fee to make Baxter the British record transfer in 1960, that didn’t prevent the midfielder from being called up for National Service in October 1961.
At a time when compulsory National Service was coming to an end, Baxter was called up thanks to his birthday falling a matter of days before the cut-off date for the end of conscription.
Serving with The Black Watch at the barracks at Stirling Castle, regiment museum archivist, Richard MacKenzie, explains how Baxter was placed in charge of looking after the barracks – making sure that everything was clean, tidy and polished – but was also asked to play in the regiment football team.
Whilst on duty, MacKenzie explains some less conventional ways how Baxter used to keep himself entertained. Richard said: “There is a comment in the regimental magazine that Jim Baxter has rung up very large phone bills using the regimental phone calling not just family and friends but also football agencies in Glasgow.” And it is something his colleagues can testify to.
Former Scotland and Celtic star, Paddy Crerand, said: “I used to get phone calls at all times of the night from Jimmy doing his National Service. ‘I’m on duty’, he’d say. ‘Well why are you on the bloody phone then if you’re on duty?’
“He phoned me nearly every night, he drove me absolutely mad. He was absolutely bored that’s why. On guard duty… guarding against who?!”
Despite still turning out for Rangers during his national service, Baxter concluded his time with The Black Watch with a seven-week football tour of the Far East with his regiment. And as Baxter biographer, Tom Miller, points out, it’s a situation that’s unlikely to be replicated.
Tom said: “It’s just bizarre to think that Rangers broke the British transfer record officially to sign him, that someone with such a value to a football club and the insurances that would have been required to go with that, was allowed to play football effectively in an amateur arena and the same week turn out in a full house of a 100,000 crowd to ply his trade. It’s just a very strange phenomenon.”
Produced for BBC ALBA by award-winning production company purpleTV, the Jim Baxter film is presented by sport broadcaster, Alex O’Henley, and is produced and directed by Margot McCuaig. The same team was responsible for the production of Jock Stein, the factual entertainment documentary that won the Royal Television Society Scotland award for Best Sport Documentary in 2015.
Jim Baxter will transmit on BBC ALBA on Thursday 24 September from 9.00 until 10.00pm.
NOTES TO EDITORS
BBC ALBA is available on the following platforms:
- Sky 143 (UK)
- Freeview / You View 8 (Scotland only)
- Virgin Media 161 (UK)
- Freesat 110 (UK)
- BBC iPlayer
BBC ALBA is run by MG ALBA in partnership with the BBC. MG ALBA is the operating name of Seirbheis nam Meadhanan Gàidhlig, the Gaelic Media Service. Find out more about MG ALBA and the partnership at www.mgalba.com or visit www.bbc.co.uk/alba for scheduling and programme information.
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