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The Pigeon Men of Burdiehouse

Duration:
30 minutes
First broadcast:
Wednesday 17 October 2012

Burdiehouse is a council scheme on the outermost tip of Edinburgh and it's here, hidden away from the world outside, that Alan encounters the pigeon, or doo men, locked in a constant battle to capture each other's birds. These men are neighbours but when it comes to pigeons the battle lines are drawn.

This is an old game: 'doo flying' has been practised in Scotland since Victorian times. Hundreds of doo men fly 'horseman thief' pigeons from lofts, bedrooms and sheds. The aim being to lure and capture the pigeons of their rivals.The doomen's pigeons mean a lot to them - they are groomed, their feathers dyed and combed to make them look their best. Some families have kept doos for generations. It's a passion passed on from father to son.

In Burdiehouse Alan talks to Paul who comes from a long line of doo men. Paul gave up the birds and moved away from the scheme when he got married, but since separating from his wife has moved in with his mother Anne and built a doo hut in the garden. Central to his new life as a doo man is the swap shop, a bird auction held every week in the local pub. This is where the flyers go to trade birds and gossip over a pint. Paul runs the night with Iain, a long-time doo man and self-proclaimed sheriff of the scheme, who often has to step in to prevent the fierce rivalry over pigeons becoming violent. Despite suffering chronic health problems as a result of keeping birds since he was a boy, Iain says he will never give up his pigeons.

This is a story of escapism, gamesmanship and family set against the backdrop of the elusive sport of doo flying.

Producer: Caitlin Smith.

  • Alan and Paul Elliott outside his shed where he breeds horseman thief pigeons

    Alan and Paul Elliott outside his shed where he breeds horseman thief pigeons

  • Iain Wilson holding one of his pigeons next to Alan Dein

    Iain Wilson holding one of his pigeons next to Alan Dein

  • Iain Wilson in his doo hut

    Iain Wilson in his doo hut

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