AVERY civilised war is non-raging between Scottish Television and BBC

Scotland. And, oh what a stylish war! . . . as might be expected when

the territory being fought over is the coverage of the arts, a very big

field in Scotland 1990.

On the high ground, and hanging on determinedly against the big guns

of BBC London money, are STV with their weekly NB series. They have a

veritable ball-of-fire commander in producer Donny O'Rourke and are

being kept under constant scrutiny by diminutive BBC producer May Miller

and her laid-back supremo John Archer. There is a suggestion at

Cowcaddens that the scrutiny has been a little too close and all that

has been captured so far have been O'Rourke's ideas about the concept

for an arts programme, first with Excess and now with Saturday Night


In the BBC camp they have been keeping their heads down as though

nothing else was happening. A couple of heat-seeking missiles that could

cause hurt have been sent off in the direction of Queen Margaret Drive.

One is the suggestion that Saturday Night Clyde (SNC) is like NB on

tranquillisers. Potentially more damaging is a report from the front

that NB is picking up higher ratings in Central Scotland than is SNC

which is being shown all over Britain on the BBC2 network. It was left

to BBC's Naked Radio to flush the matter into the open by lampooning the

presenters of NB. ''Now we know we have arrived,'' says O'Rourke.

As a neutral observer, I can see considerable qualities in the

programmes of the two sides, but have to admit that they are qualities

of great similarity. And the fact remains that Scottish were first in

the field.

This is the situation so far: O'Rourke, with full encouragement from

his supremo, Alistair Moffat, started from scratch, recruited a small,

dedicated army -- more like a platoon, really -- to go into what was

unknown territory. There had not been a regular all-embracing arts show

at Scottish for years. It was a high risk area, and, possibly in case

the team was not going to survive, they were kept at bay, billeted in

Nissen huts (or Portakabins) in the STV car park.

O'Rourke had very clear ideas about his plan of strategy. The show had

to be entertaining, fast-moving, and it was essential that the many

areas of the arts being dealt with should be seen in a serious light.

He wanted a freshness of approach, something that would be helped if

the presenters were not regular TV faces. In this he got off to a flying

start by signing up Janice Forsyth. He had been to university with her

and, as his television career developed, he determined that if the

opportunity arose, she would make a good presenter. She was bright,

could turn a phrase, and had personality. Yet until NB her only

association with TV had been as a researcher. Most of her career had

been doing PR for things like the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. O'Rourke

then placed adverts for the other two presenters in List magazine and on

the notice boards of drama colleges. There were more than 800 responses.

These were whittled down to eight who were camera tested and from these

came Allan Campbell and Bryan Burnett.

A fairly fervent nationalist, brought up in a socialist household,

O'Rourke had also been determined that NB would have an all-Scottish


Having recruited a youngish, trendy trio of presenters, none of whom

had ever been on television before, he was lucky in getting director

Alistair Scott, a graduate of the National Film and Television School,

Beaconsfield, whom he considers one of the best in the country. Scott

played a big part in creating the special identity of the programme, the

subliminal buzz style and backing rap sound. Chris Buckland did such

clever things as video editor that he has now been promoted to second

director. Everyone struck an instant rapport, says O'Rourke. A team was

born. Presenter Campbell co-wrote the rap music that helped establish an


Young though the presenters might be, they were targeting at the full

age range. ''So often, if you don't look like them, sound like them,

come from the same part of England as some of the TV presenters today,

they have no time for you,'' says O'Rourke.

He got three contrasting people to do what he describes as ''little

NBs'' setting the mood before the titles -- Pat Kane of pop group Hue

and Cry (now in the other camp with SNC), John Mauceri of Scottish

Opera, and Una McLean, representing the rich tradition of Scottish

vaudeville. What does NB stand for? someone was bound to ask. There are

several explanations -- like Nae Bother, No bullshit, North British. It

has been inherited from an earlier show that was never made, mainly for

financial reasons. It would have been called NB?, questioning the

description promulgated by Walter Scott that Scotland was just north

Britain -- ''Which is far from the case,'' says the nationalistic


Now we switch to Queen Margaret Drive where the arts unit thrives

under John Archer who has the ear and the money of Alan Yentob,

Controller BBC2. Whisper it not, Archer, head of music and arts,

Scotland, is an Englishman, but a very pleasant, charismatic member of

the species. NB was alive and successful when they launched Excess,

which, from behind the Cowcaddens binoculars was also seen as a show

with a two-letter title -- Excess: XS. Or maybe there was an implied

warning shot: Nothing succeeds like Excess.

New faces were in at the BBC, too. Clare English, the young presenter,

had never been seen before on television. Then there was the rap music,

the subliminal repetitiveness, a show looking and sounding almost

identical to NB. The format has been carried over to the current

Saturday Night Clyde. Co-presenters on Clyde are Kane and the ubiquitous

Stuart Cosgrove. There are those at Scottish who say that if they had

not taken the risk with new presenters, Excess would have had a familiar

face instead of Clare English.

One difference between the two programmes is that SNC might stay with

a subject longer than NB that packs 15 items into 24 and a half minutes

(a commercial half hour). ''Because of the time span, if John Lennon and

Elvis came back from the dead and got together as a duo, they'd get one

minute and 25 seconds on NB,'' says O'Rourke.

Initial reports from the front indicate that SNC which lists a lot

more names when the screen credits roll, is picking up something like

300,000 viewers nationwide whereas NB is ahead with about 400,000, its

audience centred on Glasgow and Edinburgh. When you get the cumulative

figures from a Saturday repeat and Grampian and Border also transmitting

it, the figure is nearly a million.

Apart from having a lot of energy, O'Rourke, still under 30, is a man

with a wide variety of interests, making him the kind of person capable

of coping with being an arts producer. He went to St Mirin's Academy,

Paisley (John Byrne is another ex-pupil) then Glasgow University for

English and history. He went to London where he was chairman of the

British Youth Council, a coalition of every youth organisation in

Britain, from the Young Communists League to the Girl Guides. This is an

agitation group set up after the war to promote better relations between

East and West and his job involved a great deal of travel, particularly

to Eastern European countries, and broadcasting.

He was a regular on BBC's Question time, sitting at the table with Sir

Robin Day. He is a Burns expert and holds a Burns supper each year when

he crams about 70 people into his Woodlands flat in the west end of

Glasgow. He plays the guitar and sings.

For two years he wrote a folk and trad music column for the New

Statesman and he has also done folk concert crits for the Glasgow

Herald. Back in Scotland he worked as a researcher for producer Gordon

Menzies with BBC Scotland TV and then became a radio reporter and

producer. He worked on a Channel 4 programme, I Shall Not Die But Live,

about the Wee Frees in the Outer Hebrides and says: ''At first they were

puzzled about somebody with a name like O'Rourke. What was this Tim

doing there? But we ended up the best of friends. My mother comes from

County Antrim which has given me a great interest in Irish music and

poetry.'' Strong rumour has it that O'Rourke and the NB team will be

taking on STV's next Hogmanay programme, another high risk area if ever

there was one.

Somehow he also finds time to tutor for the Continuing Education

Department of Glasgow University. His subjects so far have been modern

Irish poetry; Scottish and American detective fiction; song lyrics, from

Cole Porter to Bob Dylan; and this year's subject: the television image

in Scotland.

They started NB in April last year and are now into the fifth series.

Between times they have done NB specials, like the one on Glasgow Fair

that will launch the sixth series in July. NB has been rewarded with a

new prime time, early evening slot each Thursday. They might just get

out of the car park and into the building before the bells and the end

of 1990.