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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. Comedy Tonight

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 27 Mar 08, 01:41 PM

    comedy night

    They had asked me to be the Simon Cowell figure on the feedback panel, but I'm just too nice a person. Honestly. Well I am compared to my fellow panelist Raymond Mearns. He tells it like it is. Oh boy.

    Tonight in the viewing theatre at Pacific Quay, seven would-be comedians had been selected to perform a three minute routine. They had spent the last few weeks attending our comedy workshops where producer Margaret-Anne Docherty had been helping them hone their material and their performance skills.
    Tonight's finale wasn't exactly a competition - there were no winners or losers - it was just a chance to perform in front of an audience and get some constructive criticism.

    Also on the panel was Jackie Bird. She writes comedy and is a seasoned after-dinner speaker. Raymond was the only one of us who has actually performed in Glasgow's late-night comedy clubs and he seemed to have the mental scars to prove it.

    I was impressed by the sheer confidence shown by every performer. A couple were still in their teens. Most of the material was original but there was a tendency towards graphic sexual descriptions and, in some cases, actions.
    I think I may have told one of them that they should have their mouth washed out with carbolic soap, which proves how old I'm getting.

    comedians of tomorrow

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  1. Poles In The North

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 26 Mar 08, 05:12 PM

    It's difficult to get any reliable official figures for the number of Polish people now living in Scotland, but as I travel across the country from week to week I encounter more evidence of their presence. Here are just a few examples, starting with the sign I saw in Union Street Aberdeen last night.

    Aberdeen sign

    Then there's the stock of Polish food now available in my local Inverness supermarket.

    Inverness supermarket

    And this little shop in Perth.

    Perth deli

    More examples welcome.

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  1. Jack Scoops To Conquer

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 25 Mar 08, 01:45 PM

    Grassic Gibbon theatre programme

    In Aberdeen today for staff meetings and a catch-up with Frieda Morrison and Robbie Shepherd. Usually I would then hop on the afternoon train to Glasgow but tonight I'd been invited to His Majesty's Theatre to see Grassic Gibbon. It's a new play by journalist and author Jack Webster and it tells the life story of novelist James Leslie Mitchell, aka Lewis Grassic Gibbon.

    The evening was made special by that fact that Mitchell's son Dylan was in the audience and I got the chance to meet him in the interval. He's a modest man who said he didn't inherit any of his father's genius for literature. He pursued a career in business instead.

    The play itself was fascinating. I had no idea that the author of Sunset Song had been encouraged to keep writing by none other than H.G. Wells. Nor that Mitchell, while winning international accalim for his nostalgic description of life in rural Aberdeenshire, was provoking feeling of anger and shames from his family and friends in Scotland.

    Just before the final curtain fell, Jack Webster took to the stage to thank the many people who had helped him get his play to this stage. He also had a bit of a scoop up his sleeve as he turned to his lead actress Vivien Heilbron and announced that she had just accepted a proposal of marriage from her long-term partner David Rintoul.

    Once a journalist, always a journalist.

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  1. Village Life

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 24 Mar 08, 02:43 PM

    North Kessock

    It's cold. Raw and cold. Too cold for Easter, if you ask me, but conditions in Inverness nothing to compare with those that Tom Morton has been describing in his blog from Shetland.

    Still, it was a holiday Monday so the Zed clan braved the ten minute blizzard and ventured across to North Kessock to enjoy a family lunch in a little tearoom. It's one of those places where they ban push-chairs, prams and mobile phones and the other customers tend to give you the hard stare if you laugh too much.
    That kind of atmosphere always encourages me to act the clown and prooke the Zedettes into fits of giggles.

    Afterwards we went for a brief stroll along the waterfront and bought some newspapers in the conrner shop. I always like to look at the community notice boards they have outside these wee shops. The messages there, coupled with the headlines from the local papers, give you a glimpse of life in modern Scotland.

    They also throw up some unexpected job opportunities.


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  1. Squinty Bridge - Latest

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 20 Mar 08, 09:54 AM

    Clyde Arc - March 2008

    A listener has e-mailed me to ask about the progress of repair work on Glasgow's "Squinty Bridge".

    My extensive knowledge of engineering allows me to tell you that "stuff is happening" and here is the photographic evidence.

    Clyde Arc

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  1. Stand Up And Be Counted

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 19 Mar 08, 07:54 PM

    comedy workshop participants

    There are people laughing behind my back. Loudly. I'm in Glasgow, sitting at my desk at Pacific Quay, and behind me is a glass-walled conference room which, tonight, is the venue for one of the stand-up comedy workshops we've been hosting as part of the Glasgow International Comedy Festival.

    Producer Margaret-Anne Docherty, aided by Elaine MacKenzie Ellis, has been running these workshops for the past couple of weeks. About twenty-four would-be comedians - male and female - signed up for the sessions and they've been performing their routines and getting feeback from the other participants.

    I've been popping in to say hello at the start of the night and, of course, telling my old war stories about my own days on the stage - both of them.

    They listened politely. I even got a few titters of appreciation, but nothing to compare with the guffaws and applause I'm now hearing from the room. I think I'll leave in a huff...unless I can get a taxi.

    You see what I did there?

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  1. The Bright Side

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 15 Mar 08, 05:50 PM

    Caley Fans

    As we pulled into the Caledonian Stadium car park, Jim Spence was on the air describing the weather in Inverness as "Mediterranean". There was some truth in this, so long as you're imagining those little-known parts of the Med where frost-bite is a problem. I mean, you'd think sunshine was so rare in the Highlands that its appreance has to be remarked upon.

    new tactics for the Inverness defence

    Our commentary team had decided that the spring-like weather would produce a dull game. How wrong they were because there were actually four goals before kick-off. Yes someone had forgotten to remove the practise nets and the referee waited patiently while the extra pair were carried off the park.

    another exciting corner kick

    This preamble is my way of avoiding the fact that Inverness Caley were beaten one-nil by Falkirk. But it wasn't dull at all. There were loads of corners and players falling down and well, you know, balls being kicked and stuff. OK, it was a bit dull in the first half.

    injury time

    I'm sure things would have been so much different if we'd been allowed to keep those extra sets of nets.

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  1. The Great Escapist

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 14 Mar 08, 11:22 PM

    escape artist in Glasgow

    The American escape artist on Buchanan Street was surrounded by about a hundred cheering Glaswegians and, as he slithered out of his straitjacket, exposing his bare torso to the elements, they lined up to put money in his hat.

    When the crowd thinned out he noticed that a small boy, holding his father's hand, was still watching him.

    "Hey kid, " he shouted, "I am now standing topless in the rain. You know what you should learn from this?"

    The little boy shook his head.

    "Stay in school, kid, stay in school!"

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  1. Fred Tracks Them Down

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 14 Mar 08, 12:43 PM

    Fred MacAulay

    It began, weeks ago, as a bit of fun. Today it almost became a grudge match. The producers and researchers who work on the MacAulay and Co programme decided they'd run a mile for Sport Relief. They wanted to do it in under four minutes and figured that this might be possible if they split the mile into 12 managable chunks, with each team member training for a sprint. All was well until a team from Sport Scotland agreed to provide the competition and from then on things began to get a bit serious. So serious, in fact, that the male members of the MacAulay team deicded they would all grow moustaches for aero-dynamic reasons. Don't ask.

    Richard Gordon, Deds Clarke  & Fred MacAualy

    Nicola Sturgeon with Fred

    Today, at the Scotstoun Leisure Centre in Glasgow it was crunch time. Fred MacAulay led his team - now augemented bvy comedian Des Clarke -onto the track. Richard Gordon provided live commentary. Fellow presenters Clare English and Bryan Burnett turned up to cheer them along. There was even a Government Minister on hand in the shape of Nicola Sturgeon.


    I was there too. A young journalism student called Lorraine interviewed me and demanded to know why I wasn't part of the team. I explained that I had wanted to give Fred & Co and good chance of winning but that I was more than happy to offer my services to the Sport Scotland team as a form of sabotage.

    And the result? Well they did beat Sport Scotland. They did raise hundred of pounds for Sport Relief but they missed out on the four minute mile by just ten seconds.

    You know, maybe I should have run after all.

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  1. Soon We'll Be Floating On Air

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 13 Mar 08, 05:52 PM

    There's always something new to see on the River Clyde. Here is the little hovercraft they've been testing over the past three days. All being well it will take up to 12 passengers from Glasgow's SECC jetty to Greenock, via Braehead.

    Years ago, when plans were unveiled for the BBC's H.Q. at Pacific Quay, we used to joke about coming to work in a hovercraft.

    And yet people still miss getting the Tube to Hillhead!

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  1. Steal The Beer (And Drink It Anyway)

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 12 Mar 08, 02:55 AM

    In a late night book shop in Glasgow city centre I saw a rack stuffed with copies of the famous self-help book Feel The Fear (and do it anyway) and the blog title above popped into my head for no apparent reason. I have no idea what Steal The Beer..would be about...probably something to do with arriving a party without a carry-out... but I see it as one a series that includes...

    The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Nuns

    Julie Andrews et al reveal the secrets of their success

    The One Minute-Steak Manager

    Gaining confidence with butcher-meat.

    Who Moved My Keys?

    One hundred easy ways to start pointless arguments at home

    The Easy Way To Stop Boaking

    For those who can't resist the kebab shop after a night in the pub.

    How To Bin Friends And Influenza People

    Why those people who turn up at work when they are obviously sick must be destroyed.

    Perhaps you can add to this list...or suggest how I can get help.

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  1. West Wing Style

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 11 Mar 08, 09:22 PM

    The West Wing (NBC Television)

    I recently treated myself to several box sets of the NBC drama series The West Wing and am now into the start of the fourth season in which President Bartlett is elected for a second term. I'm not sure how closely it matches real-life Washington politics, but it now spooks me to think that Barack Obama is about the same age as me. According to TV ads being run by Hillary Clinton, he's the guy who may have to answer the White House phone when it rings at 3 am. Frankly when my phone rings at 3 in the morning I'm hard pushed to remember which end of the receiver I should speak into.

    But I've taken greater inspiration from the meetings style that is portrayed in The West Wing. Some last no more than a few minutes and many actually happen as the participants are walking quickly along corridors. How very different from the BBC culture of three hour sessions in over-heated conference rooms with tea and biscuits on hand to make sure everyone feels right at home. Sometimes there are pillows and hot water bottles.

    So today in Glasgow I decided to take a leaf out of Bartlett's book. The train from Inverness got me into the city at half past twelve and by five o'clock that day I had met with 26 colleagues at Pacific Quay. Our new buidling is ideally suited for walkie-talkie encounters so no meeting lasted more than ten minutes and only five of those actually involved sitting down. In that four and a half hours I had:

    Agreed a commissioning deadline for comedy and drama
    Finalised arrangements for a meeting with the Controller of Radio 4
    Talked to Chick Young about Gretna football club
    Got some information about recent radio drama productions
    Agreed in principle plans for a new weather forecast for outdoors enthusiasts
    Investigated some technical problems with the Radio Scotland website
    Offered some feedback to Annie McGuire about our new lunchtime sports report
    Met with the writer of a new comedy/drama
    Reviewed audio files for a new package of stings and jingles
    Discussed the news podcast for Dundee and Tayside
    Checked on my recent report for the BBC Audience Council
    Suggested one of our presenters for a new radio award
    Talked to a Inverness based colleague about the refurbishment progress
    Discussed plans to improve our coverage of events and festivals
    Talked to Frieda Morrison about the SoundTown garden
    Got information on a training course I'm attending tomorrow
    Agreed the structure for some job interviews I'm chairing next week
    Bored people about the new hovercraft service on the Clyde.
    Agreed six more meetings for this week.

    Now I have no idea whether the decisions I made at these meetings would have been better if I'd given each more time and talked with a mouth full of tea and biscuits.

    But somehow I doubt it.

    God Bless America.

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  1. SoundTown Revisited

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 7 Mar 08, 10:53 PM

    It's five years this month since we launched the SoundTown project. To celebrate that fact we recently revisited all the schools which have played host to our SoundTown studio and spoke to former pupils, teachers and people in the surrounding communities.

    It was heartening to discover that, after all those years, memories of the various events are still so vivid. It was even better to hear pupils describe how their involvement with BBC Scotland gave them the confidence to go on and do other things.

    The SoundTown Revisited programme is available on the Radio iPlayer and there's video of the very first school - Doon Academy in Dalmellington - available on our YouTube site.

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  1. A Time For Change

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 6 Mar 08, 10:15 AM

    Gareth Hydes

    My colleague Gareth Hydes is the man who says "Aye" or "Naw" to programme teams who come up with ideas for Children In Need. He travels across Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland acting like a roving diplomat for the charity. I'm guessing he must hear some pretty wild suggestions as he searches for the ideas that will bring the cash pouring in.

    With that in mind I drew his attention to this article I'd read just before Christmas. It's all about the millions of pounds in loose change that is sitting about in drawers and jars doing nothing. It seems we just can't be bothered carrying it in our pockets and purses. You can take it to the bank, but they insist it's all counted out in those little plastic bags and even then you get the evil eye from the cashiers when they see you struggling though the door with your haul of metal loot.

    So imagine these millions could be retrieved for Children In Need. That's was my suggestion to Gareth. Being the diplomat he smiled and expressed interest.

    I'll let you know if anything comes of it. In the meatime, as an unscientific survey, please let me know how much loose change you have cluttering up your house or car.

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  1. An Alarming Night In Glasgow

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 5 Mar 08, 10:33 PM


    I was sitting in my Daffy Duck pyjamas, thinking how lucky I was to have found one of the last available hotel rooms in Glasgow, when the fire alarm went off. Thirty seconds later I was out on the street wearing my shoes on the wrong feet. I had jumped into them just moments after jumping out of my own skin.

    It had been a last minute decision to stay in the city tonight but it had taken me almost two hours to find somewhere to sleep. Apparently there's some big medical convention in town and every hotel is full of people in white coats wearing stethoscopes. My fall-back position in such circumstances is to turn up at my Dad's house and beg a bed there. The thing is, I worry about regressing to my childhood or teenage years. I'll be offered soup and get a ticking off for staying out after nine o'clock. In the morning I'll wake in a panic because I've forgotten to do my homework.

    This gave me the incentive to keep phone-bashing, and eventually I got myself a room at the Express by Holiday Inn on West Nile Street. It's one of those places where you need a magnetic key card to make the lift work. I discovered that after repeatedly stabbing the button for the second floor but emerging back at the ground floor reception desk time and time again.

    Still it was good to get to the bedroom, kick off my shoes and curl up in bed with all the paperwork for my meeting at Pacific Quay tomorrow. And that's when the alarm sounded. A false alarm, as it turned out. The firemen came, they saw, they talked to the manager and they let us back into our rooms.

    It gave us all a fright when someone shouted "duck!" but that's what happens when you wear novelty jim-jams.

    firemen leave

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  1. My Thanks To A Porn Baron

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 4 Mar 08, 09:28 AM

    This morning I received an e-mail from Good Morning Scotland presenter, Gary Robertson, demanding that I write a blog tribute to porn baron Paul Raymond who died yesterday. I'm happy to oblige.

    I've made no secret of the fact that I owe my career in broadcasting to the late Mister Raymond. My first paid job was working for Capital Radio in London in 1987 when, as a trainee journalist, I was asked to spend 24 hours in the Raymond Revuebar in Soho. It was part of a project telling the story of 24 hours in the life of the city.

    I pitched up at the Revuebar at eight o'clock in the morning and I was still there at midnight. Between times I recorded material with back-stage carpenters, exotic dancers (wearing nothing but American football helmets) and a string of Japanese businessmen who wouldn't enter the club until they had been given the price-list for the bar.

    I'm not sure how much of that material was used in the final programme - probably very little - but it certainly game me something different to put on my C.V.

    And, for the record, I kept my clothes on at all times.

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  1. Cross Words

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 1 Mar 08, 07:42 PM

    As our crime season draws to a close it was good to open the Herald newspaper this morning and read a review of Ken MacDonald's programme on Cross Examination techniques. As Anne Simpson pointed out, Ken's journalistic experience counted for nothing when he was given the chance to question a witness in a mock courtroom. The programme is still available on the Radio iPlayer so have a listen if you can.

    It got me to thinking about other situations where the lawyer's technique might come in handy in order to get to the facts as fast as possible. Like today when I was in the Garden Centre....

    ME: For the record can you state your name and occupation.

    SHOPGUY: Archie Bullen, store manager.

    ME: Please place your right hand on this seed catalogue. Do you swear to tell the truth and nothing but the truth about the patio furniture you claim to be selling at 'unbeatable prices'?

    SHOPGUY: I do.

    ME: Mr Bullen we've heard expert testimony suggesting you suffer from travel sickness.

    SHOPGUY: Yes...I puke up in cars. Have you been talking to the cleaners?

    ME: I'll ask the questions, Mr Bullen! So... when checking the prices in every garden centre in Scotland you use some other means of transport do you? A micro-light aircraft perhaps?

    SHOPGUY: Well, I don't actually visit them all. I just get the girls to phone around and ask the other managers...

    ME: Objection! Hearsay!

    MY MATE: Sustained.

    ME: So the truth is, Mr Bullen, you really have no idea if your prices are unbeatable at all, do you?

    SHOPGUY: Well...I, well, er...

    ME: No further questions. We're off to B & Q.

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