But as the tenements came down and the new schemes rose, he lost track of his subjects and their stories.

Four young boys grin as they train their toy guns on the camera. An election poster, frayed and peeling along its bottom edge, urges Glaswegians to vote for Wilson of the Progressives. A boy empties a tin of paint on to the pavement as his friends look on. And two toddlers peer out of their prams, surrounded by washing lines and decaying tenements, the smashed windows resembling broken teeth.

The memories came flooding back for David Peat when he opened a cache of black-and-white photographs he had taken in Glasgow four decades ago. At the time the city was in the grip of change, high-rise flats being built and tenements flattened like there was no tomorrow. Engineers were gouging a path through the urban landscape for the new M8 and erecting the Kingston Bridge over the Clyde.

Although the subject matter of Peat’s pictures is familiar, the images contain traces of a lost world. They’re a forceful reminder of the conditions -- overcrowded and often unsanitary -- that existed in Scotland’s largest city until relatively recently. “The city was in the midst of the huge transition from the old tenement way of life to the Glasgow of today so, by chance, I caught the last of the truly grubby kids playing in the dereliction and detritus of demolition,” says Peat, who is 62.

It was the late 1960s. Harold Wilson was in 10 Downing Street, American soldiers were increasingly bogged down by the Vietnam War and mankind was close to realising its dream of landing on the Moon. Peat was a young shipping clerk, desperate to break into television. Without contacts or experience, he took to walking the city streets, photographing children at play in the hope of creating a picture essay that would demonstrate he had what it took to succeed.

This month, four decades after his finger pressed down on the shutter button on his Asahi Pentax, a 21st-birthday present, the photographs are receiving their first public exposure in the city they were taken in. As for Peat, he did forge a career in TV, but more of that later.

“I can’t remember specifically where some of the pictures were taken,” says Peat, who was brought up in Bearsden, “but what I do remember is walking from Cowcaddens down to the Gorbals, along towards Govan or at least the area where Pacific Quay is now, across the river and up Finnieston Street and then back along Bath Street. I did that over two years. I was fascinated by ships, and used to criss-cross that whole area, so I knew it reasonably well.

“But I didn’t take careful notes with the photographs, and I’d like to find some of the people who are featured in them, and to learn what some of the pictures actually show.

“There are some shots where you see the backs of the tenements. In some you can see what seem to be access towers, but in others you wonder, ‘What went on in there? Was that where the shared toilet was?’ There are lots of little things within the pictures, which I’m absolutely fascinated by.

“There are two pictures showing Asian children. In one there are three girls, and in the other there’s a boy, and he’s carrying something, wrapped in paper, which I don’t recognise at all, and that is a shame. Was it some sort of delicacy? Was it bread in an unfamiliar wrapper? I’d love to find out.”

Peat presses a key on his laptop and the screen fills with a photograph. “This one …” he says. “I’m most intrigued by it, and no-one has so far suggested the answer. It shows two boys. One of them has a broom handle with a wad of sacking on the end, and his friend is carrying a sack. What were they collecting? I’m not sure, but the thought occurred to me that it might have been horse droppings -- there would have been a lot of horse-drawn carts then. Were they collecting it and burning it in the range back in their tenement? I don’t know, but I’d love people to say, ‘Oh no. What it really was, was …’

“The reaction of everyone who has seen the photographs, and remembers the times, is remarkable: it has been a real nostalgia trigger. And for the younger ones, there’s a sense of incredulity that such conditions existed so recently. My hope is that we can find some of the kids in the photographs, as they will only be in their late forties or early fifties today.”

Here and there you can glean intriguing glimpses of background details in some of the photographs. That election poster, for instance. The Wilson who in May 1968 contested Cowcaddens for the Progressives, a political grouping that was highly active at the time, and was opposed to municipal socialism, is almost certainly Randall Wilson, who often stood in wards in the old Glasgow Corporation. On this occasion he finished third, behind the SNP and Labour, and ahead of the Communist candidate, but the Progressives and the Conservatives still took control of the council with 54 seats, Labour losing out for the first time since 1952.

Peat says his visual interests were inspired by his maternal grandmother, who lived in London and whom he describes as wonderful. “We would go down there as children and spend two weeks with her every year,” he recalls. “She was a liberated woman who would get into all sorts of fascinating things, including photography.

“She was an accomplished amateur photographer and I would spend hours with her in her dark room, watching the magic of negative become positive, amid the smell of the fixer and the other chemicals.

“When I left school I wanted to be a helicopter pilot but didn’t have sufficient qualifications. With both sides of my family, their business was the sea. My father had been at sea in the [Second World War] and had taken over a shipping agency in Glasgow, and he obviously hoped I would continue the line.

“But I went into another company as an office boy, walking the streets of Glasgow between offices in the days when you could get all the gossip from the men who operated the lovely old lattice-gated lifts.

“I became a shipping clerk but hated it. I wanted to become a film cameraman but didn’t know anyone. There were no colleges up here then. I knew I had to show something, so I took my Pentax and decided to take stills of the children. I printed up a few to take to people when I knocked on doors.”

Peat has won many awards in his career as a TV filmmaker, series producer and series director, including the BBC series Clydebuilt and Scotland On Film. He is best known for his intimate and well-received observational documentaries such as This Mine Is Ours, about Monktonhall Colliery, and Gutted, also for the BBC, on the plight of the fishing industry.

He remains proud of his Glasgow photographs. “For 40 years they’ve just sat there, and I kept thinking, ‘I must print them,’” he says. A Glasgow photographer and master printer, Robert Burns, who recently printed some of Margaret Watkins’ long-lost trove of photographs for an exhibition, “has conjured wonderful prints out of my amateur negatives”.

Some of them might put photography buffs in mind of the street images taken by the late Oscar Marzaroli, the Italian-born photographer and filmmaker whose work rose to prominence in the 1980s thanks to Edinburgh publisher Mainstream and the endorsement of the pop group Deacon Blue. As it turns out, Peat knew Marzaroli well.

“In the 1970s and 1980s I worked with him quite a bit,” he recalls. “He was great fun to be with, making films, but shortly before he died [in 1988] he managed to return to his first love and print up his wonderful shots of Glasgow. He had thousands of them.”

Peat is delighted to see his own photographs develop a life of their own. “Every time I go to see Robert [Burns] it’s like Christmas,” he says. “He opens a box and there they are, looking remarkable. I’m glad I finally have got my act together, and it would be nice to find out what happened to some of the people I pictured all these years ago.”


A selection of David Peat’s photographs are being shown at the RGI Kelly Gallery, 118 Douglas Street, Glasgow until November 28, 2009.