My Observations on Gaelic TV in Scotland


This is vaguely offensive to certain minorities (well, the ones that speak Gaelic) so please take it tongue-in-cheek. The story is 99% true.


Chris Rae, 13/8/97


Viewers in the north of Scotland are served by Grampian Television, the only company in Aberdeen which does not rely exclusively on the pickings of North Sea Oil. Grampian Television has the exclusive and highly valuable right to produce programmes in Gaelic, a language spoken by almost a hundred people dotted around the country. The fact that these people generally spend their time eating, drinking and supporting their ailing fish-farm by making sure it doesn't fall under the jurisdiction of the Inland Revenue matters not a jot. These people represent our National Heritage, and this must be protected at all costs. Because the English find it rather amusing to imply that Scots are descended from a rabble of fat tax-dodging alcoholics, and the majority of executive decisions regarding television funding are made in London, the government is willing to pump a great deal of money into the creation of programmes aimed at the Gaelic-speaking viewer.

This money comes in very handy for Grampian Television, as it uses it to subsidise the rest of its output. Without it, Scotland would be without such audio-visual extravaganzas as The Aberdeen Women's Sheepdog Trials, The Aberdeen Men's Sheepdog Trials and a host of other multimedia presentations shown at 4am to an audience which, although Scottish and predominantly drunk, does not speak Gaelic.

There came a time, a couple of years ago, where the purse-strings of power were tightened and funding for Gaelic broadcasting was put into jeopardy. Despite vehement protests on two non-existent fish farms in the Western Isles, it looked very much as if the plug was to be pulled. Within the walls of Grampian Television, panic broke out. With the trials next weekend and the second series of Farming Today already past the planning stage, the retention of subsidised Gaelic broadcasting was crucial. To retain the subsidy, there would need to be a noticeable improvement in popularity. As the scope of the Gaelic-speaking population was small, and both of them already watched every Gaelic broadcast produced, an increase in programme quality was not the answer. Grampian required to attract a whole new audience and, after some tense boardroom deliberation, hit upon the answer.

There existed within the auspices of Gaelic broadcasting a programme named "Telefios". Situated straight after the national Scottish News (broadcast by Scottish Television, the national operator), it provided a five-minute summary of the headlines of the day in Gaelic. In an attempt to appeal to the rest of the population it was also subtitled but as the subtitles always began "as you may have seen on the Scottish News", it proved to be redundant for all of the population who spoke English. Should they have wished, it was quite possible for English speakers to watch it without the subtitles as Gaelic's development had ended with the Union of the Crowns and enough modern words such as "helicopter", "car", and "cotton mill" could be heard to make out the gist of the news. Telefios' depiction of the day's headlines was also slightly warped by the fact that, for any event of importance, they had to find as quickly as possible an eyewitness who spoke Gaelic. This usually meant that their interviewee was carrying a bottle of whiskey, trying to stand between the television camera and his fish-farm and, while not being an eyewitness as such, had definitely heard something funny from yon over the valley.

In a master stroke, Grampian Television mastered the art of product placement. Telefios moved from 5:30pm to 6:00pm which, as well as eliminating the need for the "as you may have seen on the Scottish News" disclaimer, also left it in a useful time slot. From 5:35pm to 6:00pm on BBC 1, the primary BBC channel, is Neighbours. From 6:05pm to 6:30pm on ITV, the primary national independent channel (and, crucially, the host to Grampian programmes), is Home and Away. By situating Telefios between the two most popular Australian soap operas on television in the UK, Grampian discovered a whole host of viewers who were in such a new market that they didn't even speak Gaelic. This market was so new, so ground-breaking, that many of the new audience didn't even want to speak Gaelic. In fact, a great deal of them weren't in the room for the duration of the program.

On announcement of Gaelic's sudden surge in popularity, any question of holding back funding was treated with scorn. The idea of penalising Gaelic speakers just for being different was abhorrent. These people represent our National Heritage, and this must be protected at all costs.