ALOT of television people are running scared about the changes
sweeping through the industry. Not so John Adams. He is in the new wave
of independent producers and looking forward to the challenges of the
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last decade of the century, particularly as they are occurring just as
he is about to enter his fifties, which he regards as the most important
decade of a person's life.
''Leaving aside the prospect of financial gain, I am looking forward
to making best use of the experience I have gained over the years.
Knowing that you are working to one of nature's deadlines and that there
will be a lot of exciting things happening during those 10 years fairly
gets the adrenalin flowing. So far as I'm concerned, there is no time to
sit around worrying,'' he says.
Already he has got off to a flier with his recently-formed,
Glasgow-based Starcatch company. Together with two other independents,
Field Illeray of Glasgow, and DBF of Edinburgh, he has been commissioned
to produce a mammoth 24 hours of programming for STV's late night
Thursday discussion series, Night Flyte, which will run intermittently
until November, with the possibility of more to follow. He will be doing
12 of the hour-long programmes, the other two, six each.
Starcatch has already proved an appropriate title. He has two of
Scotland's leading lights working for him as programme hosts -- William
McIlvanney and one of the Herald's award-winning columnists, Brian Meek.
Gus Macaulay of Field Illeray, hasn't done too badly either, with Shadow
Chancellor John Smith, a man who could be Prime Minister before the the
Hogmanay show that will see in the year 2000. Hugh Lockhart of DBF has
got Peter Clark, right-wing freelance journalist whose hobby is
restoring castles. The four, though established in other fields, are
breaking new ground as presenters.
McIlvanney and Meek have already had their baptism and are about to
appear again. Next Thursday McIlvanney and some guests will be sitting
around the coffee table talking about the theatre from the artists'
point of view, asking, in effect: who is out there? With him will be
Morag Fullarton, director/writer with Borderline; actress Morag Hood,
actor Stevie Hannan, plus two drama students, Shan Khan and Melanie
MacHugh. Meek, also a politician and a sports writer, will be host the
following week, looking at ''The Dark Side of Sport'' --the pressures,
the politics, the money -- with Allan Wells, Sam Torrance, Linsey
MacDonald, John Beattie, Ally McLeod, and Ian Archer.
The Chambers Dictionary definition of the word flyte is ''scolding
match,'' implying that the series could consist of a lot of angry
exchanges. While agreeing that spontaneous outbursts are always likely,
Adams says that the word was chosen mainly because it provided a good
title that tripped easily off the tongue. Basically, the idea is to
capture the atmosphere of late night conversation. The sub-titles of the
programmes might be provocative, such as the Peter-Clark-hosted one on
Thursday past about ''the awfulness of Scottish cooking'' which saw
Clement Freud simmering gently, but the idea is to air points, seek
solutions, rather than score debating points.
I don't know if it is to be on the menu, but a topic that could always
do with another airing is the one about English people holding key jobs
in Scotland because it should be pointed out that Adams is an Englishman
in Scotland. I would argue that there should be no objection in his case
in view of the fact that: (a) A lot of Scots have taken top TV jobs in
the south; and, (b) He has not so much taken a job as created one that
will, in turn, create more jobs. Apart from which, he has been here for
nearly 20 years.
Indeed, there is a case for having people like Adams -- no matter what
nationality -- because creativity is one of his strong points. When he
first came from London, it was as a development officer with the
Scottish Film Council. In this capacity he showed a definite flexibility
by setting up Cinema Sgire which reached into the Gaelic communities of
the Western Isles. It was designed to encourage people to make movies
themselves and it succeeded in creating a lot of material of interest
today and which will be valuable for future archives. A lot of elderly
people were filmed recalling what life was like towards the end of the
last century, first-hand memories that might have been lost for ever.
''I would have liked to learn the Gaelic, but, unfortunately, there
was not the time. Quite a lot of the filming that was done had English
sound tracks,'' says Adams.
Next, he was seconded by the Film Council to set up the new Film House
in Lothian Road, Edinburgh. During the transitional period, he worked
there with Lynda Myles, before her going off to America, then returning
to London where she worked with David Puttnam. She was one of a group of
successful women discussing feminist issues on the first Night Flyte
chaired by McIlvanney.
Adams then returned south briefly as manager of a cable television
station in the days when cable was highly unfashionable. Next, it was
back to Glasgow, working for the BBC, where he started by doing a
research project into community radio before a spell of administrative
work. He got into television by working for Gordon Menzies, producer of
Scotch & Wry, on the networked Afternoon Show which was presented by
Barbara Dickson and Penny Junor.
He directed for three years -- which he found to be ''a very good way
of learning the nitty gritty of the trade.'' He made a series of
countryside programmes for Menzies, whose other capacity was head of
education TV, before helping in the making of a memorable five-part
series, Only A Game, charting the history of Scottish football.
It was written by William McIlvanney and voiced by him in those
quasi-religious tones that were to prove a godsend to the BBC's Comedy
Unit when it was discovered that Jonathan Watson (Brian in City Lights)
could do a remarkably accurate impersonation. The result was a take-off
spin-off for the Naked Radio team, including two best-selling cassettes,
starting with Only an Excuse?
Adams followed this up in a sense the year before last with a
half-hour television programme about Celtic's centenary. McIlvanney was
again the voice and this time did quite a few of the interviews. They
had enough material to release a 90-minute video cassette called Celtic
Adams had been involved as a freelance with the BBC throughout this
long-running association. He showed an increasing ability to tackle a
diversity of tasks. Although he worked on two major television
documentaries about football, he says he is not a football fanatic. And
in the year that he did the Celtic programme and video he also went to
Java to do some filming for a research company on water engineering.
Last year, for BBC Scotland, he directed Northern Lights, the
autobiographical documentary, written and presented by another Herald
columnist, Jack Webster. It has been nominated for one of the
forthcoming Royal Television Society awards. Talks are currently taking
place for him to do a new BBC TV series, and he hopes to get a major
drama off the ground next year -- a 90-minute film based on Billy Kay's
play, They Fairly Mak Ye Work, to be done on location in Dundee.
Adams runs Starcatch from ''the Scottish Home Office,'' in other words
a room in his Partick home where there is a phone, and answering and fax
machines. He says: ''In order to survive as an independent, it is
essential to run a lean operation that can be expanded at short notice
by hiring people and renting facilities. Sensible collaboration with
other independent companies is also advisable. We do this on a
complementary basis with Night Flyte, hiring the shell of the Blackcat
Studio in Glasgow for two days, then moving in with our four presenters
and guests for half a day each.''