Scotsman Obituaries: Douglas Eadie, pioneering Scottish filmmaker behind a TV classic

Douglas Eadie, film-maker. Born: 11 May 1943 in Perth. Died: 14 March 2023 in Kirkcaldy, aged 79
Douglas Eadie fought to ensure Scotland got its share of cash for filmsDouglas Eadie fought to ensure Scotland got its share of cash for films
Douglas Eadie fought to ensure Scotland got its share of cash for films

Just a few years after Easy Rider broke cinema records at the end of the 1960s, Scottish film-maker Douglas Eadie produced a Scottish road movie that was seen by literally millions of viewers.

Passing Places starred Bill Paterson and instead of Steppenwolf and Jimi Hendrix it had a soundtrack from fiddler Aly Bain and Owen Hand on the banjo. But it was never going to break box-office records, because it was less than two minutes long.

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A public information film shown on television throughout much of the 1970s, it instructs motorists on how to drive safely on narrow country roads… in song. It featured jolly hillbilly Paterson, in straw hat and dungas, extolling the virtues of the Highlands. “Along the road to the North and West you’ll find the scenery is the best,” Paterson chirps, “you just don’t want to drive so fast.”

And he sounds like he has partaken of some of the stuff Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper and Jack Nicholson had been smoking in Easy Rider, while Bain and Hand gave it laldy in the backseat of a vintage Bentley driven by a woman who seemed to have had her hair done by the same stylist as Princess Leia and whose identity has been lost in the mists of time.

This was long before Scotland had anything that could really be called a film industry or infrastructure, just a few mavericks, including Eadie scraping together cash from various public bodies and businesses to make a living from the moving image.

But when Channel 4 launched in the 1980s Eadie was at the forefront of the campaign to make sure Scotland got its fair share of the available cash and he worked with Mike Alexander and Mark Littlewood at Pelicula Films to make the landmark five-part documentary series How to Be Celtic.

He later got Channel 4’s backing for As An Eilean (From the Island), one of the first ever feature-length drama films in Gaelic. He was producer and writer, basing the script on an original story by author and poet Iain Crichton Smith. Mike Alexander was director.

A decade after Passing Places Eadie renewed his working relationship with Aly Bain on Down Home, a 1985 documentary for Channel 4, looking at the links between Scottish and North American folk music, with Bain chatting to and playing with musicians on the other side of the Atlantic.

It was followed by Aly Meets the Cajuns, The Shetland Sessions and then six seasons of Transatlantic Sessions between 1995 and 2003. They were made for BBC Scotland, BBC 4 and the Irish broadcaster RTE and guests included Emmylou Harris, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Dougie MacLean and John Martyn.

As well as being a pioneering figure in Scottish film, he was significant in expanding the audience for folk music in recent times.

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Born in Perth in 1943, John Douglas Eadie was the son of a master carpenter, who worked with the joinery firm of John Soutar. Soutar’s son William was a poet and a leading figure in the Scottish Literary Renaissance. He died just a few months after Eadie was born, aged 45.

Eadie was a great admirer of his work and in the 1970s he produced a half-hour film about him called The Garden Beyond. It was the first independent Scottish production shown nationally on BBC1.

Eadie attended Craigie Primary and Perth Academy before going to Edinburgh University to study Literature. During the holidays he began a long association with Edinburgh International Film Festival, writing texts for the programme. He would later serve as its deputy director and the festival would provide a platform for his films.

In 1966 he married fellow student Deirdre Atkinson and they spent two years in Italy teaching English at a language school in Venice. He returned to Italy years later to make a film about the Italian Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci. Eadie himself was a left-wing Scottish nationalist.

While working as deputy editor of Scottish Field magazine he met photographer Oscar Marzaroli and they collaborated on the film Hugh MacDiarmid: No Fellow Travellers, with Eadie writing commentary and Marzaroli as director. It was commissioned by the Scottish Arts Council for MacDiarmid’s 80th birthday. Eadie was subsequently (under-)employed as a literature assistant at the Scottish Arts Council, where he claimed that his most taxing daily task was the completion of The Scotsman crossword. He also had a stint working for Films of Scotland, before moving from Edinburgh to Kinlochewe in Wester Ross in the early 1970s.

With the West Highlands as his new base, he developed dozens of films, most of which never got made for lack of finance.

Some, however, did. He wrote and directed Sorley MacLean’s Island and produced The Caledonian Account, a dramatisation of an imagined journey along the Caledonian Canal by builder Thomas Telford and Walter Scott, during which they discuss the Highlands, history and tradition.

Eadie loved the Scottish landscape, climbed all but four of the 282 Munros and was a member of the Torridon Mountain Rescue team.

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He was also a keen cyclist. And he wrote book reviews for The Scotsman under the pseudonym Colin H Week, an anagram of Kinlochewe.

He moved to Fife and in the 1980s. Later films include An Ceasnachadh: Interrogation of a Highland Lass, a docu-drama about Kay Matheson and the taking of the Stone of Destiny from Westminster Abbey in 1950, Fishing for Poetry: A Celebration of Norman MacCaig, with Aly Bain and Billy Connolly, and Final Ascent: the Legend of Hamish MacInnes.

Although Eadie suffered heart problems in recent times, he continued working until a few weeks before his death.

Douglas Eadie is survived by his wife, their four children, Emily, Ben, Brigid and Jack, and ten grandchildren.


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