The men of metal who turned lowland Scotland into the Wild West frontier
When shifts ended at Falkirk's British Aluminium factory in the early 1970s, many men would find their after work options limited; they either headed home or were tempted to the pub. But some of the so-called 'Men of Metal' found a more surprising way to fill their afternoons — they made their own cowboy films.
The BA Falkirk Cowboys, as they became known, were the brainchild of fork-lift driver Rab Harvey, who was a lifelong fan of Westerns. Along with fellow worker and amateur film-maker Jock Aitken, he set about rounding up factory men to join his posse of sharp shooters.
To the men it was an unusual proposition, but many took him up on his suggestion.
"If you were on the 6-2 shift, at two o'clock the day was finished and then you went home,” explains Alex Penman in new documentary The Falkirk Cowboys. “Some of us wanted to do more."
The men had grown up watching cowboy films and their swaggering stars like John Wayne and Audie Murphy. Now, these heroes served as inspiration for movies with titles such as Border Badmen and Apache Ambush.
Given they were thousands of miles away from frontier towns like Tombstone and Dodge City, the men had to make do with what the local area could offer for locations. The local park and quarry provided a background for their lawless wild west, while town pubs substitued for saloon bars.
Each man had to contribute 15p per week to fund the filming, but these miniscule budgets required creative thinking. Actors played several roles in each film, gun holsters were fashioned from old schoolbags, replica bullet casings were made by turners in the factory, and long-suffering wives provided clothing and worked as seamstresses.
Fight scenes were improvised and fraught with potential danger.
"There was no insurance in those days; if you got hurt, you got hurt," says Alex.
The end of an era
The Falkirk Cowboys became local celebrities – and even reached a national audience when their antics were featured on the BBC's Nationwide programme.
But their fate was tied to the factory that employed them. As work declined at the plant, redundancies were eventually offered and accepted by some of the men. Losing a large group of actors took its toll.
As long-serving member Dennis McCourtney explains, "[The Falkirk Cowboys] died a natural death."
Watch the Falkirk Cowboys ride again on BBC One Scotland on Wednesday 4th December and on BBC iPlayer.