The selection process for Big Personalities hasn’t been prescriptive at all; there’s no one reason that springs to mind when it comes to choosing the men and women who have found themselves in the hot seat. What has begun to show though, is that all of these wonderful people have taken a path less travelled. Some are out there on their own, leading the way and pulling others along with them as they make mistakes, take bold risks and get stuck in with gung-ho determination.
Others have remained steadfast and fearless when situations have gone pear-shaped, ploughed forward with maverick ideas when the people around them were shaking their heads and wagging their fingers, wondering at what on earth was going on. They are gutsy, non-conventional and, usually, go about their business under the radar of everyday life.
On the surface, Ian Grieve’s path has been straight and unwavering. He has been on or around a stage since he was a teenager. He is, and always has been, what we affectionately refer to as a luvvie. But if you peer in just a little closer, and look at the many bends, colours and shapes that his path has thrown up, you will realise that the half century he has spent on our planet has been as loud, bold and wild as the many characters he has played.
There won’t be many men out there who can say that their careers started in a frock as an ugly sister but playing the Dame in the School Panto production of Cinderella at the age of thirteen sparked Ian’s love of the stage and set him on his way. There was no drama club at Perth High in 1978 and so he’d write his own plays, putting them on for friends and family.
“I was considered a bit weird I suppose. There was no access to photocopiers back in the seventies so I’d make my whole family copy out the scripts I had written by hand so that everyone had their lines to learn. Eventually one of the teachers let me use the school banda machine which I accepted as a necessary evil. I look at what kids are doing now with their phones and think back to me with handwritten scripts and my old Super 8 movie cameras. How was it even possible?”
He joined the drama group at the bottom of the High Street on 28thJanuary 1980, which is an incredibly accurate recollection of a date. Mavis Paterson, who was a primary teacher, ran the show and Ian had loads of mates there. Before long they were out doing street and pub theatre which at the time was seen as wildly daring and different. No-one else was doing this in Perth and Ian’s head was turned by performance of any kind. He ended up as a roadie for the Rude Boys, leaving school when they asked him to tour Skye with them.
Inevitably, as a young boy touring with a Ska band, things didn’t work out quite as he hoped they might and he came back to Perth to work in the local history library on Rose Terrace. It was here that Ian was to first cultivate an idea for a time travel story and as he went about filing books and stacking shelves, characters developed and grew in his head.
Reader, you have to remember that point!
Keen to progress with his life on the stage he applied through Maggie’s YOP scheme for a placement at Perth Theatre and for a year he was part of the stage crew learning his craft from the inside out.
“It was amazing, without the burden of Health and Safety we learned how to do a bit of everything. And, it was here that I first discovered actresses. Heady, heady days!”
Now, this may seem like the easiest start to any man’s story but of course, it’s not going to be that straight forward! There was no big job at the end of his year on the YOP and he ended up in Millets Camping Store selling tents and walking shoes. By his own admission he was a terrible salesman but that didn’t hinder his dizzy progression to manager within the first twelve months. At this point he realised he was meant to be teaching other people how to be good at their jobs, and not only was he shocking at his, he didn’t care enough to want to change.
“I knew I needed to get out. I looked for the furthest away place that would have me and headed for it. It was 1988 and I was at The Guildford School of Acting and Dance. I loved every minute of it. Of course I thought I was destined to be the next big thing and between that conviction and my position as the president of the student union I had a great time.”
At the end of his three years he contacted Joan Knight, the formidable Artistic Director in Perth Theatre. She had always been very supportive of Ian and he knew he stood a good chance of landing one of her Acting Stage Manager jobs. He was right, the job was his and his very first role out of college was as Jean Kelly in Judy.
“In order to get a job as an actor you needed to have an equity card, but in order to get a card you need to have worked for 33 weeks on the stage. It was a nightmare and the best chance by far you had was to land an ASM job where you were a stage manager and an actor. Perth Theatre had two at the time, me and Miss Amanda Beveridge. There we were, working together side by side like true professionals... (Cue a wink, a giggle and Amanda who was with us, rolling her eyes and slurping her tea.)
And then, 31 weeks in we had a night on the Cairn O’Mohr and the booze took the better of us. Two weeks later, at the end of our ASM posts, we were offered six months in Rep in Perth, putting on a different show every fortnight. That’ll either make you or break you and by the end of it we were a couple.”
They headed for Herefordshire together where Ian had been asked to write a musical with the guy who had written Buddy.
“I spent seven months working in a shed. I was waiting forever for lyrics and a book till eventually the writer conceded he couldn't write lyrics - so back to Edinburgh...And Amanda and I, we were a bored at first in Edinburgh and so one day we woke up and decided to get married…“
They worked between Perth Theatre and Pitlochry Festival Theatre for some time until in 1996, the year that Maddie, their eldest daughter, was born, Ian took the job at Pitlochry Festival Theatre.
“I was ten years at Pitlochry in all. Initially as an actor and for the last two as Director of Productions. It was a great time. The people were so interesting; I was working with actors like Jimmy Logan, Russell Hunter and Martyn James. At the time the best way to work, financially speaking, was for me to act a couple of parts, direct a couple of plays and stay all year. We were doing amazing stuff and I played some of the best characters there is. I was Heathcliffe and of ocurse, I did a few Agatha Christie plays which Pitlochry was renowned for at the time.
Picture me. Director. Actor. On stage in Miss Marple, pistol in hand, about to kill. My belt broke, my trousers started to fall and the only way I could keep them up was to widen my stance, further and further and further to keep my trousers from falling to my feet.” (As he is telling me this, he is standing in Reid’s Café, re-enacting the scene, people looking on as Amanda and I are laughing into our tea.)
“And then I had my heart attack.”
“Well, I don't know if it was an actual heart attack but that's what I thought it was and it hurt a lot. In 1998. I was 33 and my cholesterol was off the chart high. I needed a heart by-pass. We had a guest house at the time, which Amanda was running while looking after two year old Maddie and there I was. Off work for a year. Well, I worked from home a bit.
You know, they were really good to me at that time, I don’t think it would happen now. Individuals were valued for who they were and what they offered. The arts were very much like that; it is counter intuitive to say that no-one is indispensable. Things happen because of the mosaic of people involved in them and it needs to be that way in order to work properly. There are huge chunks of time in which the arts worked perfectly and without exception these were periods when it was about the individual. In the 1960s, during the Punk Era; these were times when people wanted to do things differently. To change the rules. I don’t know if it’s still like that now. ”
Ian returned to the fold after his year recovering as Director of Production and was there until 2006. During his ten years at Pitlochry Festival Theatre he spent his time trying to change the rules and do things differently. He will tell you how much he enjoyed it, but he missed acting and when the opportunity arose he joined Theatre Babel and was able to work creatively touring with shows in New York, The Philippines, Bosnia and Coventry (not four locations I ever thought I’d type in one sentence).
“And then Graeme McLaren asked me to join him in Perth Theatre and it was announced that I was the new director. We went in with these bold new ideas; this was my dream job, directing at Perth. I wanted it so badly that at first I didn’t see that the landscape of the arts in Scotland had changed. It was no longer a two week rep, it was run by managers rather than artists and Graeme left after a year. I was there for six.”
There is a slight sadness in what Ian is telling me, He spent two years out of the loop when he left Perth, unable to face the reality of the fact that he’d lived out his boyhood dream and it had failed to live up to his expectations.
“That’s a hard pill to swallow. But I knew I needed a change and I didn’t want turn into one of these moaners. Amanda and I had been talking about setting up Theatre Arts School for years so we decided that we’d just go for it. It was great at first – and Mandy still does it, she loves it. All the kids and the shows.
But I remember us sitting in the pictures watching Les Mis and Amanda turning to me and saying ‘Are you jealous?’. She meant of the actors, in this big production. Apart from sitting watching movies like this, I was looking at guys that I had started acting with at Perth all these years before, making these big Hollywood movies and there I was not even knowing what I wanted to do. Amanda eventually cracked and told me that she was fed up of me being miserable and that I had to get out and act. ‘Just go and be an actor’ were her exact words.”
Two weeks later there was a part came up for a Scottish Actor to play Gordon Brown. I skyped the director, Ken Toolis, we hit it off and he offered me the job. I sat for hours watching YouTube clips of Gordon Brown’s speeches, wandering around the house with an i-pod and earphones in trying to nail his polished up Fife accent. He has these really specific mannerisms and I knew I had to get it exactly right for the play to succeed. It’s like that with a one man show…”
Succeed it did; Ian toured for 15 months with The Confessions of Gordon Brown. They played two fringes in Edinburgh, a spell at The Ambassadors in London, Trafalgar Studios and of course, Perth Festival of The Arts.
“You know, when you play a character like Gordon Brown, you think you know him. The referendum changed everything and for me, he no longer stood for the things he said he did. It became irrelevant to play the part we had created and I accepted that my relationship with him was over, and there was nowhere else for the play to go. I’d loved every minute of it but it was done, over.”
Reader, you have to remember this part as well…
And now you need to recall way, way back to the portion of the story where Ian was a young boy working in the library on Rose Terrace. His idea for a time travelling story had grown characters and plots and whole lands of fantasy. He first put pen to paper back in 2008 while he was working at Perth Theatre. The kids (Dulcie had arrived in 2002) were growing up and he had an urge to do something more personal, more meaningful.
“I just started writing. I was so frustrated by this time and it felt a bit like the world as I knew it was falling apart. So I created this story, and the ideas just started to come together. I got through three scripts and had an outline of the rest of a series. I submitted it to my agent but there were writer strikes going on at the time and it ended up stuffed in the back of a drawer.”
Then in 2009 Ian met a young guy called Ryan at a ‘get in’ at Perth Theatre. A ‘get in’ is when you build a set on stage, in a day usually, and a get out is when you take it down. I'd do them occasionally to get to chat to the crew and it was always great fun. He was 19 years old and had just finished filming for Red Bull. He wanted to develop his skills and start working with actors and he was looking for some script ideas to start it all off. So Ian handed him a few scripts that he’d written over the years and Time Teens was in among them.
“God he was persistent. Over the next year he kept banging on about doing something together and eventually we agreed that we’d both give up some time and put in the effort to at least test the Time Teens script. We did a couple of scenes and this entire world of people opened up in front of us. We knew we had to do a prequel, but had no idea how we were going to introduce it in the space of twenty minutes, or how we were going to pull it off with no bloody money. We flirted with applying for funding but I just knew from years of experience that it would be better without that hanging over us.
We decided to make it into a short film, so I set about working on a story and at the time Ryan was called up by a cruise ship operator for a job filming on board.”
It’s about 2010 at this point - Ian started work on other things, such as the affectionate prod at his much loved home town, Perth in the Buff. The four man live comedy sketch show was created in the pub with Amanda and Andy Grey, and was born out of wonderment at the vast numbers of new paving stones going down on the High Street at the time!
“It was a great thing, Perth In The Buff. It worked because we talked about it so much that it felt real. Working with Amanda again is great and Andy is an old pal. When we got Charlie on board as the fourth guy we knew we had something special. We ran a couple of shows and the response was amazing. We like to do a couple a year if we can, because it’s funny, feel-good, heart-warming stuff our pals and other Perth people seem to like and enjoy.”
Fast forward a couple of years and Ryan is back from the cruise ships, eager to pick up where they left off. He’s returned with new ideas, better skills and he’s ready to make a big, bold statement. Ryan had come up working as a crew member in Perth Theatre and knew some of Ian’s old pals and together they started to call in favours from actors, from businesses they wanted to use as locations and from Utopia Costume Hire. Quite simply, they set about pulling together a short film without any budget and any means of getting one.
“We did the filming over one week. It was just mental. We were breaking all the rules of short film making. You should have no specific time period, no more than three actors and no more than three locations. We had hundreds of people, in a film about time travel, across everything from outdoors in the day to nightclub scenes and period homes. I’m driving up to Glamis Castle in a Bentley in one scene!”
The end result was, of course, nothing like the required thirty minutes long. Ryan edited and edited but he couldn’t get it down below 45 minutes.
“It was useless – the deal is it has to be under thirty or over an hour. I was in London with Gordon Brown by this time and Ryan called me to say it had to be longer. I had to start writing again. It was a year on and all we had was a trailer!
The thing is, we knew it couldn’t be just ok, it had to be brilliant. My first instinct was to go back to my original stuff but of course we had filmed this chunk and had it down so I had to reshape it slightly and create some new characters for it all to make sense.
These big romantic ideas of Perthshire and all its history started to come to life and once I put pen to paper the extended script came to me. I called in more favours, more pals, more locations and the finished film sat at 2 hours and 5 minutes.”
Ryan has joined us for tea and cake, Amanda has gone to take a class at TAS and I’m on my third pot of tea. The pair begin to describe in vivid detail the pains of getting their film to this almost final stage and there are as many frustrating anecdotes as there are funny ones. For Ian it is a chance to do something that feels real again, honest and with integrity. He is convinced that Perthshire could house a Scottish film industry, with its landscape and historical buildings ready-made sets, sitting there for the taking.
Buoyed on by Ryan’s endless persistence and sharp, untarnished hunger for the thing, Ian has found what he needed to complete his story and make something of it. As they talk, describing their journey, pitfalls and pleasures, there is a passion and energy flowing between them that is both obvious and secret. Ian cites the age difference as the key to making it work; without Ryan’s new generation approach and bang up to date camera and editing skills, there would be no film. Likewise, Ian’s years of experience and vast industry knowledge opened doors to unlikely and impressive people.
“I’d been calling up everyone to take part but you know, there are some folk you just don’t expect to work for free. So when Ralph Reoch phoned me and said ‘I think it’s a bit remiss of you not to have me in this’ I pulled out my surprise scene! The cast is incredible; you would never, ever have managed to get all these great Scottish names in one play.
Ryan, he was looking at the technical stuff all the time, deciding what was going to be possible and what we should avoid due to our limitations. We needed it all to look slick and polished. We were prepared to put in extra work to make a scene happen but not to compromise on quality.”
Filming is finished; Ryan is editing the final few scenes. It exists. The pair are chatting about premiering at Perth Cinema and finding a sponsor for taking it to film festivals next year. They need about £4K for the next stage of development. I consider bumping my January tax bill and transferring the cash there and then. Just an hour in their company and I am pumped up and excited about the whole thing. For the record, they are in discussions with someone but the dotted line remains unsigned…
Now, remember I told you to remember… About Ian saying goodbye to Gordon Brown?
Well, while he was filming the last two scenes of time teens his agent phoned. Channel 4 had commissioned a film for TV called Coalition. The programme covers the five days in May 2010 when the country was without an official government. As the departing Prime Minister, Gordon Brown’s part is significant and who else would they call in to play it but the man who spent the previous two years mastering every tiny mannerism, every tick and every expression?
“I’ve been in London filming all this week and I’m away back down next week for more of the same. In all my years acting I had never done film work before Time Teens. Thank God it happened or I’d have been lost. It’s a completely different experience to the stage, more subtle. You’re filming out of sequence and are far more aware about playing the truth. I spent last week sweating… And then there was a bedroom scene!”
He has another week or so in London to complete his final role as Gordon Brown. “That’ll be him this time I would think…” He has a few meetings lined up to discuss a sponsor for Time Teens. “It’s a bargain. I’d snap your hand off if I had the cash!” Perth In The Buff are about to play their Road To Glory Show “Perthy Gardner was awfy excited about the saints winning this year. We had to come out and play.” And by the time you read this he will be rehearsing for Panto in Perth Concert Hall. “Sleeping Beauty’s Dad.”
I have one final question, I wonder if it feels glamorous? The filming on location in Perthshire, the TV work in London?
“You know, when I look back on my 35 years in the industry, my favourite time is right now. At points it’s been glamorous, cars picking you up to go film for Channel 4 is great. But really it’s about creating a fantasy and inviting people to come with you. That’s what I like – I like the work and the people.
I’m a bit of a geek, I love movies and comics and books and cartoons. Fantasy has such an element of childhood that I love and it means far more to me than any odd notions of glamour.”
At 49 years old, many stories are at least halfway through. And yet it feels as though I’ve only just listened to the starting point of Ian Grieve’s colourful and winding path.
We drain our cups, I’m looking at my copious notes knowing there is not one piece that can be edited out or chopped down. And then he takes a phone call from his agent. It's about an audition for a play. The part is... well.... it's Gordon Brown.
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