New Archive Programme Recalls The Heady Days

BBC NI show brings together archive footage and interviews to show Northern Ireland in a new light

For more than half a century BBC Northern Ireland’s television cameras have captured the changing face of everyday life in Northern Ireland. Over these years people’s lives have been transformed. We have experienced the best of times and the worst of times. And we have lived through revolutions in how we travel, work and holiday.

A new four part series, Those Were the Days, delves deep into the TV archive to rediscover some of the magical moments from our past. Moments that reveal how we used to live – and tell us something about how we live today.

The series has been produced by Diarmuid Lavery of DoubleBand Films for BBC NI and is directed by Brian Henry Martin, who explains why Those Were the Days is so much more than an archive clips show.

'We wanted each programme to tell a bigger story,' he says. 'The story of social change. We had to find the areas of society that have completely transformed in recent times. We decided very quickly on work, holidays, transport and the countryside.'

Martin was overwhelmed by the footage found in the BBC archive. 'Our archivist, Evan Marshall spent three months in the BBC archives viewing material. It was a very rewarding process. We found footage of everything from a young Liam Neeson to potato rustling, from Concorde to Billy Connolly.

'What we realised looking at all this archive is not only has Northern Ireland completely transformed in the past few decades, but also that they make beautiful and better television in the past. This is film archive to savour.'

Narrated by Richard Dormer, with popular music from the period underscoring the stories, the four episodes are titled 'Work In Progress', 'The Summer Season Trains', 'Planes and Automobiles' and 'A Taste Of The Country'.

'These are huge subject areas,' Martin beams. 'So in episode one, 'Work in Progress', the archive takes us from Belfast Shipyard, the docks and the Linen Mills in the 1960s and leaves us with the arrival of the computer into the workplace in the 1980s.

'Right there we have the story of how we went from being people who worked with our hands in the manufacturing industries to now, when we all – no matter what our jobs – work on computers in offices. And in the transport episode, I knew we would find footage of trains and planes but not an eccentric engineer from Belfast who built and flew his own gyrocopter in 1975. It’s great stuff.'

What also sets Those Were the Days apart from other archive shows is that the series features the people from the archive as they are today, and has them comment on the archive footage.

'One of my favourites is in the first episode,' Martin adds. 'Mrs Betty Scott is an Ulsterbus employee and mother of four from Lisburn. In 1976 she became the first woman bus driver in Ireland. She is a total unsung hero, a woman who quite literally drove equality forward in this country.'

BBC presenter Wendy Austin, the popular host of TalkBack on Radio Ulster, is another of the interviewees. Austin reflects across the series on many of her most colourful encounters in the BBC archives, including interviewing Minnie Delino, owner of Barry’s Amusements in Bangor back in 1979 and test driving one of the early DeLorean cars in 1981.

Other contributors to Those Were the Days include writers Glenn Patterson and Carlo Gebler and journalists Fionnuala Meredith, Norman Stockton and Billy Simpson, as well as the ordinary people with extraordinary stories unearthed in the archive including milkman Pat McIlvenny, model Rose McGrory and aviator Bill Ekin.

'It was crucial for the series that we found the real people who are in the archive, and having them comment on the film,' concludes Martin. 'It’s a wonderful process to trace people who were filmed 40 years ago and catch up with them today.

'The interviewees were crucial. We didn’t want celebrities. We wanted people who were either in the film, like BBC journalists, or people with a passion for the film archive. We were so lucky to get both. And that connection and passion hopefully makes Those Were the Days stand out.'

Those Were the Days begins on Monday, February 21 at 7.30pm on BBC1 Northern Ireland.