The film is a homage to the sewing machine

The Singer Story: Made in West Dunbartonshire

The Singer Story: Made in Clydebank had its first showing on BBC One Scotland on Wednesday May 8, and thereafter on BBC iPlayer.  It is not to be missed. The film was made by TVI Vision, whose executive producer, Maurice Smith, answers the questions…

Who commissioned the documentary?

The film was commissioned by David Harron for BBC Scotland, who was also the executive for the BBC.

We pitched this soon after the success of The Town That Floored the World, our tale about the linoleum industry and its long-time dominance by the town of Kirkcaldy.

Singer played a major role in the creation of Clydebank, along with the shipbuilders of the late 19th century.

There was no Clydebank before Singer – just a place called Kilbowie, really. I’m fascinated by the impact of industry on communities, and also by the industrialisation of Scotland and other parts of the UK.

Audiences are too.

Explain the thinking behind the production’s look and feel

First of all, we have to celebrate our past if we are to reconcile ourselves to the fact that it is the past.

Towns and communities are at the heart of many industries – they needed each other, in many ways, and it was only monetarism and globalisation that smashed that relationship.

The thinking was to tell the story of Clydebank’s workers, what it was like to grow up there. One fascinating angle is what it’s like to have grown up in Clydebank even after all its traditional employers – Singer, John Brown Shipbuilders, and so on – have gone.

But the film is also something of a homage to the sewing machine. The invention of the machine, its marketing, even the creation of hire purchase systems so that it could be sold as a mass market product… these were all great innovations of their time. Plus, the machines themselves were built to last – people are still using machines that were built at Kilbowie before the first world war!

Who are the key personnel and how were they recruited?

Our producer-director is Shruti Rao, who made our Kirkcaldy film, The Town That Floored the World.

Shruti approaches her projects with great enthusiasm, and has an eye for light and shade that is really exciting. She can make films about lino and sewing machines come to life, with clever use of archive and a strong eye for colour, and for people.

Research was initiated by Wendy Smith, production manager was Kate Hook, and our assistant producer was Vicki Watson, a great chatter-up of potential interviewees!

The film editor was Angela Slaven, an artist with sound and archive, who has worked with us on several documentaries.

The dubbing, online editing and colouring was done at Arteus in Glasgow by John Cobban, Graham Struthers and Ian Ballantyne.

Our camera people included David Liddell, Steven Mochrie, as well as Shruti herself. Audio was Richard Paterson. Drone camera work was by Mikey McManus.

And last, but certainly not least, my fellow exec: Colin Cameron.

What kit and software?

Most filming was done using Canon C300 cameras, and edited in Avid. We invested recently in new Canon Cine lenses and used these extensively in our interviews. We also used a Canon 5D for certain set-pieces, as second cam.

What were the main production challenges?

As ever, the mix of archive material with specially-shot modern-day content can be a challenge. We sourced some lovely material from a variety of sources. Apart from that, there was a bit of a challenge getting Shruti and Vicki to Accra in Ghana for a couple of days’ filming but it’s amazing how resourceful people become on the promise of a foreign trip.

What did you most learn and enjoy from the experience?

It’s the little angles you come across. The truth about the Singer clock. The anecdotes from workers about their social lives as much as their working lives. The discovery of an English charity that refurbishes vintage Singers with such loving care, and supplies them to another charity in Ghana that uses these redoubtable machines to help young women to improve their lives, becoming seamstresses and entrepreneurs. The Kilbowie machine is still a force for good in the 21st century, and –  in a funny way  – we should feel quite proud of that.


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