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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. Happy Halloween

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 31 Oct 07, 06:14 PM

    Halloween - you either love it or hate it. A few years ago I would have fallen into the latter camp, mainly because I was fed up with teenagers knocking on the door demanding money with menaces without even a joke or a costume to justify their criminal intent.

    But last year, just after we moved to Inverness, I came to appreciate the real charm of this Scottish tradition. The kids in the north really do make an effort and the door-to-door 'guising harks back to a gentler age.

    And it is a Scotttish tradition - no mater how much supermarkets try to persuade us to go down the American route of pumpkins and trick or treating.

    That's also why we've been having some fun on BBC Radio Scotland today, as well as a more serious look at Edgar Allen Poe's childhood in Ayrshire.

    Halloween is also famous for an infamous chapter in radio history. For it was on this day in 1938 that Orson Welles' produced his version of War of the Worlds, sparking mass panic among the listening audience in America.

    Well, that's also what's prompted our one-off look at Spooks and Sporrans in which two of our esteemed news journalists - James Cook and Reevel Alderson - investigate some ghostly goings-on in Glasgow.

    All I can say is....don't suspend your disbelief....unless you really want a fright.

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  1. Bridge of Allan

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 31 Oct 07, 06:13 PM

    Bridge of Allan
    Last night I caught a train from Glasgow to Bridge of Allan and narrowly avoided a fist fight with a fellow passenger. It was all my fault, really. I shouldn't have travelled in the evening rush-hour because it's standing room only on that train. And the kind of standing where three people can read the same copy of the Daily Record P.M. without any one of them actually holding it. Spooky.

    But I got annoyed because there was a bloke hovering over two seats like a constipated gymnast

    "I've saving this for my mate." he explained, but only after I had hovered over him for thirty seconds with a frown so intense it was making my face ache.

    "Oh, and this mate of yours, " I sneered (happy to have moved on from frowning) "is his arrival imminent?"

    "Aye he's right behind you. Archie here's your seat mate."

    I turned to look at Archie and was suddenly reminded of that guy you used to see on the porridge boxes. He had the same white vest, but with tatoos too.

    "Well, that all right then, " I said, shuffling alone the carriage so I could get a closer look at emergency exit instructions.

    Forty-five minutes later I was climbing the steps out of Bridge of Allan train station and pulling my trolley-case along Henderson Street in search of the Royal Hotel. A pity, because I actually have two "friends" who live in the town, but when I called to say I was coming they mentioned something about leaving the country with no forwarding address. Well, that's one less Christmas card.

    So I tried to form an impression of Bridge of Allan based on what I could make out in the darkness. Some bits seemed posh , like the fancy deli and pavement cafe. But then you'd come across a bog standard laundrette or a huge queue for the chip shop. Mainly I got the sense of a charming Victorian spa town where the architecture was marred by some unsympathetic modern buildings - mostly banks.

    But it was in the chippie that I found a leaflet and discovered that the Romans had been here long before me. (They must have got that earlier train) And one soldier had actually dropped his loose change while trying to cross the river on foot.

    Well that's the official version. For all we know he dropped that cash while being mugged.

    Probably by a guy called Archie.

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  1. Ellis Island

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 22 Oct 07, 01:33 PM

    Ellis Island onn BBC Radio Scotland

    Thursday night, at Pacific Quay, I'll be in the audience as we record a new sketch show for BBC Radio Scotland. Ellis Island is fronted by Elaine Mackenzie Ellis whose many voices should be familiar to fans of The Why Front, Watson's Wind-Up and numerous other shows.

    This time, of course, Elaine takers centre stage in a format that mixes her own monologue reflection on life with sketches, songs and even a wee bit of poetry.

    Our most recent comedy offerings - Desperate Fishwives and Freefalling - have been getting lots of praise, so fingers crossed for this one.

    If you're there on Thursday night, be sure to say hello.

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  1. Packing A Punch

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 19 Oct 07, 11:40 PM

    About a year ago I found myself at a swanky lunchtime do at the Savoy Hotel in London. I was sitting at a table with BBC colleagues from Wales and Northern Ireland and I'm sure they must have thought I was a bit rude because I was distracted by someone I'd spotted at the next table. One of my heroes, in fact.

    It was Alan Coren, former Editor of Punch magazine and regular panelist on BBC Radio 4's News Quiz. Also, to my mind, one of the funniest writers of all time.

    There was a time in my life - the mid 1980's - when I lived for Punch magazine in the way that some of my contemporaries lived for strong glue and tonic wine. Once a week I would catch a bus into Glasgow city centre and buy my copy from the kiosk at Buchanan Bus Station. Then I'd catch the bus back and would have read at least half of the articles by the time I got home. I would also spend the journey persusing the magazine's famous caption competition which, I'm still proud to say, I won three times.

    But it was the writing I loved so much, especially the offbeat musings of the editor himself. Coren could take a quote or a news snippet and twist it into a wonderful fantasy. I have a vivid memory of one particular article in which he imagined Britain in days to come when smoking would be outlawed, anti-social and small bands of puffers would gather on rooftops and back alleys to share the remnants of stale tobacco. No so fantastical after all.

    But back to that lunch at the Savoy. It was a Radio Academy event and, as it drew to a close, I watched Alan Coren shake hands with the people at his table and prepare to leave the room. He walked past my own table and I wanted to catch his eye and say something in appreciation of his talent.

    But I didn't...and all because I feared I'd look foolish.

    Today I discovered that Alan Coren had died. So, I know I'm late, I knew I should have said it when I had the chance, but I just wanted to say....

    Thank you, Alan.

    Alan Coren

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  1. Pants On Fire

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 18 Oct 07, 11:26 PM

    Twice today I was accused of deliberate deceit. I wouldn’t mind, but the first person to point the finger was one of my own colleagues.

    Our trails producer, Ken Lindsay, noticed that my last blog entry – about our new puppy Rascal - had attracted eight comments and he suggested that animal itself didn’t really exist and the whole shaggy dog story had been invented by me with the sole purpose of attracting blog interest.

    I spluttered with indignation and almost coughed up a fur-ball to provide evidence of canine ownership. I mean, really!

    Then, after a long train journey from Glasgow to Inverness, I got into a taxi and struck up a conversation with the driver about the BBC and today’s news about job-losses.

    “Of course, “ said the driver, “The Government will have to keep the BBC so that it can get its propaganda out. I mean you’re not telling me you’re allowed to tell the truth. ”

    This time I was spluttering so much he had to switch on the windscreen de-mister. But no matter what I said to defend the reputation of the BBC, this man wouldn’t be persuaded. He pointed to the inquest into the death of Princess Diana and Dodi Al Fayed and said that story was not being reported on the BBC – only on Sky – and that was “because of MI5”.

    I got home in time to watch the BBC Ten O’Clock news which included the latest from the inquest. I was still fuming with rage.

    But it’s difficult to stay angry when a cute puppy starts licking your face.


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  1. New Dog On The Blog

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 15 Oct 07, 01:56 PM


    This is Rascal, our new puppy. He's seven weeks old and was the reason for our mysterious trip to Alloa last week. He's from a litter of four pups, but by the time we visited the breeder there were only two dogs left to choose from. That was more difficult than you might imagine. I felt like we were destroying a family.

    In case you're wondering, he's a Lhasa Apso. He's sleeping well, enjoys chewing a toy cat and is scared of birds.

    We're new at this dog-owning stuff, so all advice welcome.

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  1. Oh, The Towering Feeling

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 11 Oct 07, 08:54 PM

    The National Wallace Monument

    So I finally got the children certified. It cost me a quid, mind you. You see, during this half-term holiday we’re on a secret mission to Alloa (more of which tomorrow) and it involves an overnight stay in a motel just outside Bannockburn. This part of Scotland is just reeking with history, of course, and being a typical Dad, I couldn’t miss the opportunity for a bit of an educational detour. I suggested that we pay a visit to the Wallace Monument and learn about Scotland's greatest hero. Plus, if you climb all 248 steps to the top you can buy a 50 pence certificate to prove it. They even stamp it for you so it’s official.

    “How come there’s a monument for Wallace, “ quipped my ten year old son, “but nothing for Gromit.” Terrible joke…I can’t think where he got his warped sense of humour.

    Anyway we scudded down the A9 and, just after Dunblane, we caught out first glimpse of the monument towering over the autumn landscape like a piece of Gothic scenery from a Hammer Horror.

    “It doesn’t look too big, “ said Zed-son. I made a mental note to explain the concept of distance and perspective to him, but he had changed his tune by the time we made it to the visitor centre car park.

    “Do we have to go all the way to the top?”

    I didn’t need to answer. He knew that we would by the way I threw my head back and cackled for five minutes. By that time a little mini bus had arrived which takes visitors from the car park to the door of the monument itself. This seems like a wee bit of a cheat, but believe me, you need to conserve your puff for the spiral stairway inside.

    Then we had another piece of luck. According to the brochure: “From April to September The Monument is the setting for regular live performances by costumed actors bring Sir William Wallace and the characters of his time to life.” This being October, we didn’t have to see any of that. Yipee!

    There are five levels to the monument. The ground floor reception area and coffee shop leads up to the first floor exhibition which gives where a simple audio-visual display gives you the highlights of Wallace’s life and death. The next floor contains marble busts of Scottish historical heroes with a chance to vote for modern-day heroes such as Jock Stein and Billy Connoly.

    The third floor was my favourite. It tells the story of the monument’s design and construction and the various squabbles that surrounded it. In the mid nineteenth century, both Glasgow and Edinburgh were vying to be the location for the monument. The present site, high in the hills above Stirling, was a bit of a political compromise.

    Building the thing was not without danger. Apparently the whole structure is held together by a capstone right and the crown of the tower. But that capstone had to be placed in exactly the right spot by a stone mason with a sense of balance and an eye for detail. So they asked for a volunteers but suggested that married men with families to provide for might want to give this particular job a miss. Talk about a hard sell!

    Having made it all the way to the viewing platform underneath the Crown, I could see that you’d need a head for heights or a really extreme game of double-dare to want to work up there. The views are spectacular and I urge everyone to drop what they’re doing this very minute and make your way to The Monument immediately. I don’t care if it is after Midnight. Bring a torch.

    It really is wonderful. You can see the snaking pattern of the River Forth, the Trossachs, Ben Lomond and right into people’s back gardens (bring binoculars). But you have to be a little bit of a Braveheart to make the climb.

    Which, when you come to think of it, is something even William Wallace never did.

    Jeff Zycinski at Wallace Monument

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  1. Ambition

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 2 Oct 07, 05:34 PM

    I've just finished my staff briefing at Pacific Quay and have returned to my desk to find that I was being secretly photographed by my colleague Julie Adair. Spooky.

    Jeff Zycinski briefing staff at Pacific Quay

    My theme this afternoon was "ambition". I'm struck by the way some people respond to new ideas by saying "that sounds very ambitious" when what they really mean to say is "you're off your head". This is what passes for straight-talking in the BBC. It's all far too polite, with few opportunities for violence.

    I was also talking about ambition in relation to an article in The Scotsman this morning. It was about the appointment of Donald Runnicles as the new chief conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. He's returning to his native Scotland after building his reputation in Germany and the United States. The article included the following quote from cultural historian, Neil Cameron:

    "Probably one would just have to accept that Scotland is a small place, opportunities are limited and people's imaginations are limited as well. By moving abroad, you escape all that and the sense of limitation. If they stay where they were brought up, it doesn't allow them to free themselves from that

    At today's staff meeting I wondered aloud if things really had to be that way.
    Do we really have to move to London or further afield to realise our creative ambitions?

    Your thoughts are welcome.

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