Gregory's Girl: the sweet teenage love story set in Scottish new town turns 40

Gregory’s Girl, the enchanting teenage romance that sits deep in the national memory, turns 40 today.

Clare Grogan as Susan and John Gordon Sinclair as Gregory Underwood in Gregory's Girl, the enchanting teenage romance set in Cumbernauld which is 40 years old today. PIC: Contributed
Clare Grogan as Susan and John Gordon Sinclair as Gregory Underwood in Gregory's Girl, the enchanting teenage romance set in Cumbernauld which is 40 years old today. PIC: Contributed

The sweet coming of age film, written and directed by Bill Forsyth and set in the new town of Cumbernauld, was released four decades ago on April 23, 1981.

Then, it felt like a story of our times and gave Scottish life a lighter, more modern feel. A dreamy synth soundtrack unfolded over scenes of fresh housing, concrete walkways and wide open spaces shaped by the promise of a new way of new town living.

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The sun always seemed to be shining – or setting - on this place where pretty girls in cool clothes played football and did science experiments at a gargantuan comprehensive, the real-life Abronhill High. Boys were gangly geeks, children were more grown up than the teachers and little sisters were the boss.

Dee Hepburn as Dorothy and John Gordon Sinclair as Gregory in the 1981 classic movie, Gregory's Girl. It was released 40 years ago today. PIC: Contributed.

Everything felt freed from the past, like it had moved on before our very eyes.

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For those who saw the film as a kid in the early 80s – possibly on one of the first VHS tapes to come into the house – it seemed to mark a moment. Forty years on, the same still seems true.

Dr Jonny Murray, Senior Lecturer in Film and Visual Culture at Edinburgh College of Art, said: "For many people from a certain generation there is an undying affection for Gregory’s Girl mainly because, for many of us, it was everyday Scottish life as we recognised it put on a cinema screen.

John Gordon Sinclair as Gregory, the gangly schoolboy who got his girl in the end. PIC: Contributed.

"You have the pleasure of watching the film and being able to recognise this incredibly imaginative and humorous depiction of how we lived our lives.”

The film navigates the eternal secondary school quest of getting a boyfriend or girlfriend. Gregory Underwood (John Gordon Sinclair), a slightly odd, humourous lad, falls for Dorothy, played by Dee Hepburn, the first girl to play for the school football team who stuns her teammates with her ball control and bouncy hair.

Ultimately though, it is Susan (Clare Grogan) who wins Gregory, with the match made in the town park, where the two dance lying down under a tree, spinning on the edge of the earth as the sun goes down.

Dr Murray said: "Gregory’s Girl is one of cinemas true portrayals of the state of adolescence – a totally universal theme which only a few other filmmakers have been able to capture so brilliantly. Bill managed to capture not just what that looks like – but what that feels like.

Dee Hepburn trained with Partick Thistle to get her football skills honed for the part of Dorothy. [ LAKE FILM / THE KOBAL COLLECTION ]

"I think there is going to be a substantial audience for that...not just when the film is 40 but when it is 60, 80 and in the years beyond.

"That is all down to Bill’s incredible ability and achievement in his art but in his humanity and lack of judgement of human beings.

"That is the mark of a great artist and that is always worth celebrating.”

Dr Murray said that, without knowing it, Forsyth was also setting a template for a new breed of low-budget, emotional and imaginative cinema that included films such as My Beautiful Laundrette and Wish You Were Here

"This was no dour, porridgy, social realism,” Dr Murray added.

Forsyth spoke of the Cumbernauld location becoming a play on youth in an earlier interview with Arts Desk magazine.

He said: “It was a deliberate attempt to show a different face to Scotland or Glasgow, and Cumbernauld is a satellite of Glasgow.

"Another reason was because the film was about adolescence and about being young and the pains of growing. I thought to myself, why don’t we set the film in an adolescent town? I remember saying to someone, "Even the trees in Cumbernauld are teenagers so everything fits."

Forsyth found his young cast partly at Glasgow Youth Theatre, with John Gordon Sinclair – who was working as an apprentice electrician at the time - and Robert Buchanan, who played Andy, discovered here.

Clare Grogan was spotted while serving Forsyth at Glasgow restaurant the Spaghetti House and Dee Hepburn, a dancer at the time, was put forward as a good fit for sporty Dorothy.

As Forsyth and his team made their production base in Cumbernauld House, the town started to be drawn into the film. Abronhill High became a key location, as did Cumbernauld House Park – where Gregory and Susan danced under the tree – with the Westfield neighbourhood also a key shooting ground.

Amanda Muir, 44, was playing outside her house in Netherwood Court, Westfield – the street where Gregory lives in the film - on the day she became part of film history. She was four at the time.

She said: “I was playing outside my house when a man asked if I wanted to be in a film. I'm not sure you'd get away with that these days. I ran inside and told my mum.

"We didn't know what it was for, it just seemed like it might be fun. They actually asked me to crash into Gregory on my bike when he came out of the house, but I said 'hullo Gregory' instead and forgot to cycle into him.

“We all got sweets for being in the film - a 10p mixture - which was amazing. What's even more amazing is that it became a little part of such a magical film.

"It's hard to get a sense of just how popular the film is, but virtually everyone in Scotland has either seen it or heard of it. It's part of our culture now and, I suppose, always will be.”

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