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JZ's Diary

Head of BBC Radio Scotland, Jeff Zycinski, with a sneak preview of programme plans and a behind-the-scenes glimpse of his life at the helm.

Photograph of Jeff Zycinski.
  1. Tears In Castlemilk

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 30 Aug 07, 10:49 AM

    Our latest series of Let's do the Show Right Here is being recorded at venues across Scotland. Most recently the production bandwagon rolled up at Castlemilk Community Centre in Glasgow where a variety show was being staged to raise funds for WAVES.

    WAVES is a group formed to help victims of domestic violence and I'm told the show was something of an emotional roller-coaster which ended with a rendition of All You Need Is Love sung by the cast and the audience.

    Prior to curtain-up in each show, the audience sees an audio slideshow in which the fundraisers expalin why they need to raise cash. We'll be posting these on our You Tube site over the next few weeks.

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  1. Bridging The Gap

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 30 Aug 07, 10:29 AM

    The people you meet on the way to work...

    Scotland at Ten presenter Colin MacKay was crossing the Bell's Bridge over the Clyde on his way to a technical rehearsal, prior to the programme returning on Monday 3rd September. A group of German tourists were listening to their tour guide, and Colin lurked at the edge of the throng to hear what they were being told. The guide fulsomely lauded the great industrial past, but pointed to the brand-new buildings as evidence of the future course of life on the great river. She singled out the "B.B.C. - the British Broadcasting … (Corporation was a bit obscure so she added by way of explanation) Fernsehen." Colin heard himself firmly add "… und RADIO", not sure if Rundfunk wasn't a bit old-fashioned. But the guide hastily repeated "und RADIO". And a clutch of German tourists respectfully intoned "und RADIO" as Colin moved away, satisfied that the honour of the Senior Service had been upheld.

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  1. The Fall Guys

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 29 Aug 07, 07:20 PM

    cast of Free Falling

    Another first for Pacific Quay as I watched a rehearsal taking place in our brand new drama studio. James MacPherson led the cast for the new series of the sit-com Free Falling and, as I crept in, they were involved in a very funny scene in a lawyer's office. James plays the part of Raymond Swan and in the first episode he discovers he has top spend thirty days living with his estranged father, otherwise he'll forfeit his Mother's inheritance.

    The actual recording of Free Falling takes place at the CCA in Saucheihall Street tomorrow night, but it was good to see the new studio being tested as a performance space. It really is an impressive set-up. The studio includes mock kitchen and bedroom areas, a staircase with various floor coverings and and a built-in gravel pit for recording the kind of spooky scenes where a killer creeps up a driveway brandishing a machete.

    Sorry, got carried away there.

    Oh, and the cast photograph above was taken at our old home in Queen Margaret Drive...just in case you were wondering.

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  1. Did They Really Dance Like That?

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 26 Aug 07, 10:25 PM

    Historic dancers in Nairn

    Tell me this, how do we know how people danced in centuries past? Did someone take the time and trouble to record all the steps? Perhaps they used one of those big roll-out sheets with footsteps and arrows? Or are there vivid eye-witness accounts, documented by scribbling wallflowers at palace banquets?

    Or maybe, just maybe, it's all guesswork.

    I only ask these questions because The Zed family spent the afternoon at Nairn seafront, watching a series of battle re-enactments by the Historic Saltire Society. Children, some of them pre-school, were recruited to play the part of Wallace's army and were given a free hand to assault the English forces with plastic swords and cardboard axes.

    Then the Battle of Culloden was played out with the Society's own members playing both Jacobites and Redcoats. A somewhat under-rehearsed performance was saved by a wonderfully witty running commentary. The facts all seemed believable too. Apparently the Government forces had spent the eve of battle, resting in Nairn and celebrating the Duke of Cumberland's birthday with cheese and brandy.

    No mention of dancing, though.

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  1. Easterhouse Boy Hits The High Notes

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 25 Aug 07, 03:18 PM

    Paul Curran

    I've recently been exchanging electronic chit-chat with Paul Curran, an old friend from Easterhouse. We both played in the school orchestra. Paul, as I recall, was a talented clarinet player while I wrestled with a big brass baritone euphonium, making the kind of parping noises you associate with car horns in old Laurel & Hardy movies.

    I hadn't seen Paul for more than 27 years. The last I heard he had gone off to train with Scottish Ballet but an injury had put paid to his dancing career. So it was good to get an e-mail from him a few weeks ago and then even better when he casually mentioned that he had just been appointed Artistic Director with the Norwegian Opera. He takes up the post in 2009 and will have a brand-new world-class opera house to play with.

    That dancing injury, it turns out, forced Paul to switch careers and he has spent the past two decades building his opera credentials in London, Helsinki, Sydney and New York.

    I'm hoping he'll agree to an interview for the Radio Cafe soon, but for the benefit of diary readers I asked Paul to share the secret of his success. Without hesitation he named two teachers - Helen and Frank Kerr - who I would also have to credit with inspiring confidence and pointing to horizons far beyond a Glasgow housing scheme. Let me put it this way: I don't recall our careers officers explaining how you become a world-renowned opera director.

    Helen and Frank, says Paul, were "teachers of talent and faith". He also has a few good words for Easterhouse itself:

    "Easterhouse was tough, but it makes dealing with the 'real' world a whole lot easier."

    Now that's worth making a song and dance about.

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  1. Mark Makes His Mark On History

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 24 Aug 07, 02:48 PM

    Past Lives

    Tuesday's edition of BBC Radio Scotland's history series Past Lives allows presenter Mark Stephen to make a bit of a splash...and prove a point. He's been telling his producer, Yvonne Slater, that you could throw a dart at a map of Scotland and, no matter where it lands, there's bound to be a reason to go there and unearth a slice of the past.

    This assumes, of course, that Mark is any good at throwing darts. Bear in mind that most maps of Scotland include a fair amount of the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. To say nothing of all those lochs and rivers.

    Could this be why he decided to dress for any eventuality? Find out on Tuesday morning.

    Mark Stephen

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  1. Dalek Throws In The Towel

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 23 Aug 07, 10:18 PM

    Wandering aimlessly around the Eastgate shopping centre in Inverness this lunchtime I came across a Dalek. Someone had clearly punched his lights out
    and there was a rather pathetic note from The Doctor asking that he be treated gently.

    broken Dalek

    More horrifying, however, was this cardboard cut-out advertising those beach-towel kilts which seemed to have replaced the Jimmy Hat as the must-have item for people with more money than sense.

    towel kilt


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  1. Highland Lives And Lochs

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 22 Aug 07, 11:43 PM

    Fort William

    A day of back-to-back meetings at Pacific Quay in Glasgow soI didn't even notice that the sun was shining until I made my escape at half past four in the afternoon. After three days on the road I was finaly heading home, but with an interesting stop-off at Lochaber College in Fort William. I'd been invited to a little film premiere organised by my colleagues on the BBC Highland Lives project.

    This meant a drive north along the banks of Loch Lomond and through Glencoe.
    It was such a beautiful, balmy evening, I had the windows rolled down and the scenery was stunning. I can also recommend the fish suppers at Tyndrum. Best I've ever tasted, honestly.

    I got to Fort William just before seven and was met by Rowena Jeffreys Jones, the assistant producer for Highland Lives. She and her team have been working with people across the north of Scotland, helping them create short films or audio slideshows. I saw five of them tonight - all very good - and met some of the people who had either made them or had appeared in the videos and photographs. I had been asked to make a short speech and to point up the importance of story telling. I decided to share a story I had just discovered moments before getting to my feet.

    Rowena had told me of her own Polish heritage. Her Grandfather - like my Dad - had been imprisoned in a Soviet labour camp at the start of World War II. When the Russians joined the fight against the Nazis he'd been freed and had come to Scotland and joined the air force. (My Dad had joined the navy.) Rowena had told me that she had managed to persuade her Grandfather to record his life story using a digital tape recorder. Imagine how valuable that will be for future generations. It's exactly what the Highland Lives project is about too.

    Loch Lochy

    After the film show I headed back to Inverness just as the sun was sinking into the hills. Another breath-taking drive along Loch Loch, Loch Oich and, of course, Loch Ness.

    Home, at last, just before ten o'clock.

    Sunset at Loch Lochy

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  1. Two Mornings In Moffat

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 21 Aug 07, 08:23 PM


    The thing I love about driving to Moffat is that when you take that slip-road off the A74 you very quickly find yourself in another world. It's like a little part of Scotland where time was made to stand still because the town is just so charming.

    I found myself there at ten o'clock on Monday morning because I'm one of the eight judges in this year's Burnsong event. I was due to meet the others in the Moffat House Hotel at noon, so I had plenty of time to wander among the tea-rooms and toy shops on the main street. I even had time to get a haircut. £3.50, it cost me and what a bargain. The lady with the scissors told me that the local school term resumed the following day and so she was expecting a last minute rush of small boys. No sooner had she said this than the door opened behind me and her prediction came true.

    Moffat hairdressers

    Chimes like Big Ben's wee brother told me it was noon and I made my way to the hotel. I'm not allowed to reveal anything about the judging process, nor reveal any of the winning songs, but I can tel you we sat in that hotel conservartory until almost eleven o'clock on Monday night, taking one main meal break (no pudding) but otherwise ploughing on through the CD's.

    It has to be said that every other judge had a credible background in music performance or production. I bluffed may way through the night making the odd reference to Noel Coward and Cole Porter until I was beaten senseless by the others. No, just joking, my fellow judges were remarkably tolerant of my "I know what I like" approach to the whole affair.

    I was particularly impressed by Karine Polwart, who had arrived with her beautiful two-week old boy in tow. I was a little less taken by Karine's sudden observation that she was probaly the youngest judge in the room and that subsequent Burnsong panels should try to recruit at least one member who was still in her or her twenties.

    "But I'm only twenty-two, " I protested, "I've just had a hard life."

    It was at that point we decided to call it quits for the night. I shuffled off to my room, thankful that I can still manage the stairs.

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  1. More Festival Fun

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 18 Aug 07, 01:06 PM

    Sue Perkins and Fred MacAulay

    I arrived at the Speigeltent this morning just as Fred MacAulay and Sue Perkins had finished their run-through and before the doors had opened for the audience. The the three Australians - Tripod - who I'd seen last night were waitring at the side of the stage and I got a chance to congratulate them on their sell-out performance. I also asked about the number of fellow Australians who seemed to turn up for their shows.

    "So much for travelling across the world to find new audiences, " was all they could say.


    Fred and Sue Perkins were in fine form this morning but they didn't really have to work hard to get laughs from veteran funnyman Jin Bowen. The former Bullseye host told a string of stories about his comedy pals, such as the late Bernard Manninng and the hyper-active Frank Carson. You can catch a bit of that on our You Tube site.

    Which reminds me about the new BBC Radio Scotland Podcasts we've just launched. Among them is a daily comedy-cast which features clips from Fred's shows in Edinburgh. Apparently it's already soaring up the podcast charts, breaking into the top 100 after just a few days.

    Funny thing comedy. After Fred's show II had a brief chat with Mary Kalemkerian, the Head of Programmes at BBC 7 (which is running editited highlights of the Spiegeltent shows). She shared my view that investing in new comedy talent was a long game...but that it was much more fun to take risks than to play safe.

    And in the Festival Cafe at lunchtime, there waa at least one example of performers not playing safe as we watched an extract from the finge musical Jihad, including a jaw-dropping song about a man's desire to be "just like Osama."


    Think that caused offence? Not as much as a Des Clarke caused when I went to see his very funny evening show at The Pleasance. He made the mistake of slagging Irn Bru and there was an angry mob of Scottish people waiting for him outside. wasn't a was just one woman...but she was very loud.

    I had to pretend I wasn't with her.

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  1. Festival Fun

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 15 Aug 07, 11:05 PM

    Festival posters

    The 0645 train from Inverness gets me into Edinburgh just after ten and I dash up to the Speigelgarden at George Square in time to catch the last half hour of MacAulay & Co. I can hear laughter from Fred's tent while I'm still walking along the street outside. A good sign, and as I creep in the side door I can see comedian John Bishop getting huge guffaws from the audience. He's been talking about his son's leg injury and how he persuaded doctors to keep him in plaster for an extra week because he'll qualify for better seats at Anfield. Fred spots John's other children in the side booths and urges them to flee to safety while he's distracting their Dad.

    Fred MacAulay

    The show's finale features former Monty Python funny girl, Carol Cleveland, who doesn't quite hit her stride and so decides to stake the farm on an impromptu and unaccompanied song about "a woman without a womb". It doesn't really win over the audience, some of whom are still sitting open-mouthed with shock ten minutes after the show finishes.


    After lunch I'm back in the tent to watch Clare English present the Festival Cafe. Her guests include actor Jamie Bell. He's the star of the new film Hallam Foe and he entertains the audience with details of the steamy sex scenes which feature in the movie.

    Festival Cafe

    The Festival Cafe concludes with a discussion about film adaptions of books and Scotland on Sunday literary editor, Stuart Kelly claims that Muppet Treausre Island was one of the best. Talking to him after the programme he explains that any story that can survive Kermit and Miss Piggy must have something to commend it.

    The day ends back at the Spiegel Garden where I fork out good money to watch the Australian comedy trio Tripods. Great songs, laughs a plenty including a short but inspired routine about would-be super heroes such as Married Man. He responds to pleas to save the world by saying "I'll just have to check."

    Well, it made me laugh.

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  1. The Inside Story Of An Outside Broadcast

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 15 Aug 07, 12:17 AM

    I've received these photographs from John Fergusson, who runs BBC Radio Orkney. They capture a little bit of radio history because they depict the station's first ever live outside broadcast. And it was all made possible thanks to the support of listeners.

    But hey, John tells the story much better than I can

    We got the caravan after an appeal on air in the Bruck Programme, stripped out most of the fittings, soundproofed and wired it, and installed the equipment. The aerials for the radio mics were mounted on the step ladder for maximum range.

    We broadcast four hours from the County Show - the first real OB (i.e. outside a "venue" like the cinema or college) since we were set up, and it went without a significant hitch.

    At 1500 hrs, we stripped the rig at the show, and re-set at the Sports complex for the Parish Cup football final. The gantry was put up by a local building company.


    We started the programme at 1830, for kick off at 1845 and closed it after the final whistle of extra time at 2100. It was a more complex technical rig, but a simpler production task and went without a hitch. It was very well received not only by listeners at home, but also by spectators at the game listening on earpieces."

    Parish Cup final

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  1. Back To School

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 14 Aug 07, 03:40 AM

    So it's the early hours of Tuesday morning and I'm just about to e-mail the Good Morning Scotland presenters to remind them of something very important. Today is the first day of term for many schools in the north of Scotland. That start-date varies across the country so I like to do my bit to keep the information flowing to the newsdesk.

    In the Zed household this is a big day because our daughter starts Secondary school. Gosh, she seems so calm about it, almost excited. Times must have changed.

    When I started Secondary school, (sometime before the Boer War), there were all sort of rumours about what would happen when the older pupils got hold of you. These rumours, of course, involved having your head inserted into the toilet bowl while fellow pupils tested the flushing mechanism. That didn't actually happen to me, or to anyone I've ever met, not even plumbers.

    I've actually documented my one and only experience of school violence in this short film, which is designed as a taster for Hollywood studio chiefs. I'm hoping that Brad Pitt will play me in the inevitable blockbuster.

    Well, I have to have something to fall back on in case I get my jotters.

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  1. Double Talk

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 6 Aug 07, 11:42 PM

    There's a very old joke about a new employee getting a tour of the factory on his first day. "How many people work here?" he asks the foreman. "Oh about half of them." quips his boss.

    Now, I'm not sure what the opposite of that joke is, but it kept going through my head as I walked around the new Portakabin structure that's been built at the back of the BBC car park in Inverness. Most of the staff from the main building have been decanted while the eight month refurbishment project continues. Trouble is, there aren't quite enough desk spaces for all of us, so we're devloping various shift patterns and home-working policies to get us through the months ahead.

    It all seems that bit more crowded when vistors arrive. Today, for example, I had the company of two colleagues - Wendy Morgan and Suzanne Vickers -from our Press & Publicity office in Glasgow and they had to keep shuffling around doorways to avoid getting run down by fast-moving producers.

    Earlier, Wendy had asked me how many people actually work in our Inverness offices.

    "About double what you see here." is what I should have said.

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  1. A First Time For Everything

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 2 Aug 07, 01:24 PM

    Do you remember your first kiss? How about your first drink? Who was your first friend? These questions and more are answered by celebrity guests who take part in MacAulay & Co's first time tombola.

    Now, as the show prepares itself to its annual fortnight of fun at the Edinburgh Festival, the big tombola wheel is being tarted up before being installed in the Spiegeltent.

    That's what producer Dave Flynn was doing today when I confronted him and gave him a taste of his own medicine.

    I love the story he tells about buying his first drink in a Glasgow pub...

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