Making Movies in Strathard
The main purpose of this article is to offer information about some movies which used Strathard as a location. It also offers, given its local connection a short description of the various versions of Rob Roy from 1911 onwards. The article will also give a reference point for the oral history from Wilf and Margaret Luke who recalled their experiences of being extras in the 1953 Movie” Rob Roy The Highland Rogue”.
The First Rob Roy Movie:
In 1911 the first British three-reel film,” Rob Roy “was made in Scotland by the Glasgow production company, United Films. It was filmed with John Clyde and his company with “the National Drama” from Pocock’s stage adaption on Walter Scott’s novel (1). Clyde was a very well-known stage actor who lived in Helensburgh until his death in 1920. Several scenes were shot in fairly basic studio premises at Rouken Glen in Glasgow. The venue was originally a tram depot. Some of the picture was filmed on location at the Clachan of Aberfoyle—see Figure 2.
Greeted with great excitement by Scottish trade press, but not widely shown, and the print in 1916 failed to reach the bid price and was sold for £10. An invitation performance was given at the Picture House, in Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow (2) when the film was shown to the Lord Provost and Magistrates of the City of Glasgow. Some 400 guests were in attendance and the reporter described “Mr. John Clyde as the intrepid Rob Roy aroused universal admiration.”
Figure 2 shows two poor quality pictures of the actors on location at Aberfoyle which includes the actors and a number of baskets which may have been used to transport props and clothing.
Other Versions between 1911 and 1953:
Hard as it is to believe but another version of Rob Roy appeared later in 1911. This version became known as” An Adventure of Rob Roy” and it was claimed that it was also filmed on location in “Macgregor’s Country by kind permission of His Grace the Duke of Argyll”. The film was released on November 9th just a couple of weeks after the earlier version. It was based on a single tale “A captain kills his own kidnapped son mistaking him for an outlaw’s child” rather than on Scott’s novel and was produced by the American Gaumont Company (3). There was no doubt significant rivalry between the two film companies.
In 1913 a 30-minute silent movie version called “Rob Roy” made in America was released starring Jack Johnston, Robert Frazer and Nancy Avril. The director was Oscar Lund. It received the following review:
“A three-reel adaptation of Sir Walter Scott’s novel. The plot is a rather cumbersome one, and despite commendable acting is very slow in becoming intelligible. For this reason, there is practically no suspense until the last reel. The ambush scene was well handled and contained a surprise for the observer. Owing to the familiar New Jersey settings and the employment of studio scenic effects the piece lacks atmosphere; this seems to be an essential feature in heavy productions where the plot is slow in getting under way” – The Moving Picture World, September 20, 1913(4).
The Bioscope offered a more sympathetic assessment ‘It must have been a particularly difficult task to carry out such a production in America, and it says a great deal for the Eclair Company’s scholarly, painstaking methods that they have caught the spirit both of the country and of the period quite perfectly, in points of detail as well as in general effect. Indeed, did one not know the contrary to be the case, one would have said that the picture could only have been made in Scotland by Scottish actors”.
“Adventures of Wee Rob Roy” was produced in 1916 and is an animated film about the comic adventures of Wee Rob Roy. It is silent and had a run time of 3.26 minutes. The following is description of the content:
‘This is an early animated short film about the adventures of Wee Rob Roy. In this film we see Wee Rob Roy playing the bagpipes in his living-room. His mother tells him to stop and he is sent out. Wee Rob goes hunting and takes pot shots at a bird and a rabbit. He then watches some golfers and jumps into a car parked outside the Thistle Inn. He runs over a policeman and a fisherman, travels over rough terrain, crashes and is sent flying through the air. In a second sequence Rob Roy holds onto a bird’s legs as it flies across the ocean, landing on an island where he is captured by the indigenous people. Wee Rob is then shot out of a cannon and flies back across the ocean. He lands safely back where he started – although on a thistle!’ (5). The following link will take you to the animated version on the website of the National Library of Scotland. https://movingimage-onsite.nls.uk/film/0635
Kellino’s 1922 Film “Rob Roy” was made by the Gaumont-Westminster studios and directed by W.P. Kellino (William P. Gislingham 1873-1958). The screenplay was by Alicia Ramsey who was a novelist and screenwriter. She had adapted a variety of stories for the screen in both Britain and the United States. The cast included David Hawthorne as Rob Roy MacGregor and Gladys Jennings as Helen Campbell. The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders were used to infuse realism into the fight scenes. A special train was requisitioned by Kellino to convey artists and props to the Trossachs for the filming. At the time the Bioscope described the making of the movie as “the biggest thing ever attempted in this country and Scotland will feel honoured that it should be done on Scottish soil and for a Scottish Play” (6). Kellino gave instructions for the building of cottages, a church and a castle fort in the neighbourhood of Aberfoyle where a significant number of the exterior scenes were to be taken.
Some filming took place in Oban in early May. This was covered in the Bioscope with several photographs.
Aberfoyle was the setting for extensive outside filming in July after which the cast returned to London to complete some internal shots. All went well in Aberfoyle and several local were included as extras. On the final evening the film’s company gave a concert in Aberfoyle. (7) The external filming was not without incident. Fifteen of the actors received first aid after the staging of a big fight scene. The extras included people from Glasgow and Stirling as well as four companies of Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. (8).
Publicity was extensive with a strong message that it excelled the American version which was also in production. The Kellino version was seen as being historically correct and was launched in Glasgow at the Salon Picture House on 23rd October 1922 (9). At the launch were a group of officers and men of the Royal Scots Fusiliers as well as a group of 250 wounded from the military hospital at Erskine. Extra police were on duty to keep everything in order as Sauchiehall Street was blocked and all traffic held up. The second run was secured by La Scala and the bookings were extensive for the film to be showed across all parts of Scotland.
In the past few years this version has enjoyed a revival at a number of film festivals and also at Celtic Connections in January 2020. In several instances the film has been screened along with a live soundtrack by multi-instrumentalist David Allison.
W.P. Kellino was to return to Aberfoyle in 1923 when the silent historical drama film Young Lochinvar was being developed. The Bailie Nicol Jarvie Hotel was used to accommodate the cast. (10) According to one report Owen Nares (who was the leading male actor) was mistaken by a tourist as being a local and because of the nature of his attire the tourist thought that he was an advertisement for the hotel (11).
The 1950s proved to be period of renewed film making the Strathard area.
In 1953 a version of Rob Roy by Walt Disney Production was filmed extensively around Loch Ard and the surrounding hills. It was called “Rob Roy The Highland Rogue” and was directed by Harold French. The actors included Richard Todd, Glynis Johns, James Robertson Justice and Archie Duncan. The film lasted 81 minutes, cost about £1500 per day to make and came in at a total cost of about £400, 000 (12). There were several locals involved as extras in making Rob Roy including Walter Joynson, Wilf and Margaret Luke and many others. Other extras were soldiers from the 1st Battalion of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders who were based in Stirling Castle.
A Royal Command Film performance was on 26th October 1953 and the summary of a critic was “It is no great film but it avoids being either silly or genteel and for the next school holidays should be a great favourite”.
Local people were taken by bus to Glasgow to see it on the big screen and the contribution of local people was acknowledged at the end (13).
Geordie is another movie made in the area that is within the living memory of a small number of local people. It was produced in 1955 and filmed in a number of locations including Gartmore Station and the sports field opposite Aberfoyle School. This venue was used to film the efforts of Bill Travers including hammer throwing, shot put and other activities.
Bill Travers played the title role of a gamekeeper who as a boy was undersized and with the help of a long-distance physical education course became a giant of a man. He subsequently is persuaded to take up hammer throwing and eventually wins that event in the Olympic Games at Melbourne in 1956. There is the inevitable love interest featuring Nora Gorsen as his “spirited” girlfriend in Scotland (14). Walter Joynson acted as a judge of the hammer throwing competition. The Bell Cottage near Kinlochard was used as the “Keepers Cottage” where Wee Geordie supposedly lived with his gamekeeper father played by Jameson Clark.
The Kinematograph Weekly described Geordie as “An unusual but happy tale, clever teamwork and direction and box-office stars “(15).
The 39 Steps was a 1959 British thriller film directed by Ralph Thomas and starring Kenneth More and Taina Elg. It was produced by Betty Box and was a remake of the 1935 Alfred Hitchcock film, loosely based on the 1915 novel The Thirty Nine Steps by John Buchan. Interior filming took place primarily at Pinewood Studios, with extensive location filming in Scotland. Locations included North and South Queensferry, Dunblane, Balquidder and many parts of Stirling and Perthshire such as Brig O’ Turk where its wooden 1930s tearoom was called “The Gallows Inn”. The film also included a large section of Waverley Station and the Forth Bridge.
The Altskeith was called Glenkirk House where Richard Hannay met with Professor Logan, the man with the missing finger. Located on the shores of Loch Ard it provided a stunning location.
Further along the B829 towards Inversnaid there is a scene showing a car going over a bridge. This was filmed at the small bridge at the Teapot approximately a mile north of Kinlochard.
Location filming took place in the early autumn of 1958 including at the Forth Road Bridge which generated many thrills (16). It wasn’t until 13 March 1959 that the world premiere took place in the Odeon in Leicester Square followed by the first Scottish showing on the following day (17).
In the following weeks it was to prove to be a very popular attraction especially in Scotland. This was given an added poignancy as Robert Donat, the star of the 1935 version died in June that year.
No My Darling Daughter was filmed in 1961 and some scenes were shot around Kinlochard and on the shores of Loch Chon. Betty Box who was the producer had also produced the 39 Steps so was familiar with the beauty of the area and the availability of suitable locations. This film starred Juliet Mills, Michael Redgrave, Michael Graig, Roger Livesey and an American actor called Rad Fulton. One scene was shot outside the shop in Kinlochard and sees them reading a paper about their elopement. Apparently, Juliet Mills took a shine to feeding the dog of the shop, Rex with chocolate, because he was such a good beggar (18).
April 1961 saw Rob Roy appear as part of a seven-part black and white BBC serial. Rob Roy was played by Tom Fleming and Samantha Eggar played Di Vernon.
In 1974 a local setting was found to film a specific scene from Monty Python and The Holy Grail. The Aberfoyle Slate Quarries were used to film a section where John Cleese played the role of Tim the Enchanter. Filming took place in a single day and the character portrayed by Cleese was a wizard who emitted explosions from his hands (19).
Rob Roy was a 1977 BBC Scotland Television Drama adaptation of Sir Walter Scott’s novel for the BBC1 network. It was dramatized in six parts by Tom Wright for the Sunday early evening serial slot on BBC1. The part of Rob Roy was played by Andrew Faulds (1923–2000), the only actor in the twentieth century to have become a Member of Parliament. Faulds was elected Labour MP for the Staffordshire seat of Smethwick in 1966 and remained MP for the constituency until his retirement in 1997. He agreed to play Rob Roy only after being assured that most filming would take place during the summer recess of 1976. Faulds came from an Ayrshire family but was born in Africa on account of his parents both being missionaries there for the Church of Scotland. He was educated in Scotland but spent the rest of his life in England. Much of the filming took place around the Lake of Menteith (20).
Rob Roy in 1995 was directed by Michael Caton Jones and starred Liam Neeson and Jessica Lange. Unlike the Disney film this movie was shot elsewhere including Drummond Castle, Glen Nevis, Loch Leven and the Eas Chia-aig Falls in the Highlands.
On this web site is more information about the 1953 version of “Rob Roy The Highland Rogue” as well as an oral history which recorded the memories of Wilf and Margaret Luke who were extras in the film.
2. The Bioscope 19 October 1911 p. 155 col. 2.
6 The Bioscope 4 May 1922 p.64 col 1.
7 The Bioscope 20 July 1922 p.55 col 1.
8 The Bioscope 27 July 1922 P.53 col 3.
9 The Era 5 October 1922 p.30 col 2.
10 The Bioscope 19 July 1923 p.28 col 2.
11 Kirkintilloch Herald 2 August 1923 p.4.col 2.
12 The Picturegoer w/ending October 24 1953 p11-1.col 1.
13 Picturegoer w/ending September 3 1955p.18.col 1.
14 Kinetograph Weekly 11 August 1955 p.16 col 1.15
16.West Lothian courier 3 October 1958 p.15 col 1.
17 Kinematograph weekly 5 March 1959 p.7 col 3.
Acknowledgement: Newspaper images © The British Library Board. All rights reserved. With thanks to The British Newspaper Archive for permission to reproduce several newspaper images.(www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk).