The Life and Times of a Failed Crofter
Colin Campbell was born in Caithness, fourth in line in a family of four boys and a girl. Shortly after the war the family moved to a farm in Cromarty. Forever up to mischief, the young farmer’s lad was often in trouble at Cromarty School. He recalls “after I failed woodwork I was put onto gardening duties. There was a beautiful plum tree in the garden, and one year the branches hanging over the path were heavily laden with fruit. The Head warned us that anyone who picked them was for the high jump, so me and this loon MacPhee carefully ate around the stones, without picking the plums. Protesting that we hadn’t broken the rules did us no good whatsoever”.
In those days Cromarty was a little seaside village, much more isolated than it is today – the Kessock and Cromarty bridges didn’t exist and everyone relied on the ferries. When Colin was about twelve, his older brother Ian took up the piano accordion and learned to read music and Colin himself became interested. His father bought him a small accordion (he thinks it may have been a Hohner). Fraser MacLean came to the Campbell farm and played the box, greatly impressing young Colin who spent more and more time practising. He is completely self-taught and claims now that he just uses his accordion “for protection”! He has always liked old instruments and currently plays a 1935 Geraldo piano accordion. He is indebted to George McIntosh from Granton for the work he has done including replacing all of the reeds.
When Colin left school he went off to Balmacara Estate to study agriculture with about thirty or forty other boys from the Highlands and Islands. Says Colin “I learned all about stookin’ and dung-spreading and I really excelled at the turnip-pulling – until I cut my thumb!” It wasn’t just an agricultural education though, it was at this time that he perfected the accents and dialects of his classmates and tutors until he could mimic them exactly.
He spent some time back home on the family farm and then it was off to Craibstone (an agricultural college in Aberdeenshire now under threat of closure). He says, tongue firmly in cheek, “and that’s where I got my higher diploma in dung-spreading!” After another short spell at home Colin took over tenancy of a farm in Morayshire, where he has been ever since.
In 1970 he married Dot and they have two children. Both are very musical, Colin Jnr plays fiddle and guitar and has a band known as ‘Reddup’ in Aberdeen. Katherine went to the RSAMD in Glasgow to study cello and then did a Masters Degree in Music Ethnology. She now works at the School of Scottish Studies in Edinburgh.
In the late 70’s Colin occasionally played the accordion and sang for local WRI groups. A ‘farm walk’ organized by the College was due to take place on his land. When I asked Colin what that was he explained” it’s when other farmers come and laugh at what you’re doing!” He knew they’d give him a hard time, so he wrote a bit about each of them and performed it in their accents – West Coast, Aberdeen, Ross-shire etc.
From that evolved ‘Colin Campbell’s Local Radio’ tapes and videos, which encompass make-believe broadcasts from fictional radio stations such as ‘Radio Bettyhill’ and ‘Radio Auchnagatt’. Each station has its own shoes, jingles and DJs – Johnny Polson is the voice of ‘Radio Caithness’ and Donnie Matheson fronts ‘Black Isle Radio’. Colin has the accents and dialects down to a T. Described by ‘The Scotsman’ as “a gentle satire on Highland rural life” Colin’s act appeals to young and old alike, and he is much in demand for appearances. He draws on his own experiences and those of the people he meets for inspiration for his sketches.
In 1988 Radio Scotland broadcast a series of programmes from Colin entitled ‘Radio Calliecudden Calling’. In 1994 he took the show to the Edinburgh Fringe and had a very successful run in ‘the Guilded Balloon’.
Colin is still a working farmer, and describes himself as very much a ‘home-bird’. Despite that, he has bookings up and down the country. Recently he appeared at the annual WRI Federation Conference in Wick in front of six hundred women – “acting as judge there was very dangerous!”
On 19th October in Lanark and 2nd November 2003 in Hawick Colin will be fronting NAAFC Concerts. Colin Campbell’s Local Radio Book was published in 1988 and contains transcripts of his early sketches. Some of the funniest are the local news items – here’s a selection.
We start with a new radio station, Radio Morningside in Edinburgh, with presenter Moira McLoughlin………..
Hello, good morning, and it’s an absolutely marvelous, marvelous morning here in Morningside. Absolutely marvelous. Now here are some local news headlines.
The Cormiston WRI bus, on their annual ooting for efternoon tea tae Blair Castle, took a wrong turning and ended up at the water-skiing championships at Loch Earn, where the ladies were keen to enter intae the spirit of the thing by taking part. The judges were quick to react and placed the entrants as follows;
Best four pancake landings – Mrs MacAllister
Best crocheted wetsuit – Mrs Mackie
Most rigid perm, underwater – Mrs Sangster
Best ski jumper, with rope stitch – Mrs Campbell
Unfortunately, the dried-flooer arranging was a bit of a wash-oot.
We’ll head north now to Orkney.
Hello, good morning and welcome to Radio Papa Westray. Magnus Twatt reporting. Here’s the local news.
Orkney lay preacher Willie Clouston appeared in Kirkwall Sheriff Court today accused of not returning his library book for a record period. Asked by the Court where the book had been for the last two and a half years, Clouston said it had been holding up the kitchen table ever since his collie bitch Kirsty had chewed the leg off it when she was in heat. Sentence was deferred for three and a half years for a psychiatric report. Orkney crofter, Charlie Stenness, who was mugged in London outside Earls Court whilst attending the Smithfield Show, has got home safely. He says they only got his sheep dipping papers and his communion card. He says it was a good job that they didn’t steal his plus fours as he always lines them with fivers to stop the tweed chaffing his legs.
A Fair Isle jersey knitter from Westray has been arrested for solicitin in Broad Street, Kirkwall. She tellt the Sheriff she blamed her very low morals on her knitting. When she was doing her very first pattern, she did it back to front and instead of getting a pullover she became a pushover.
A man who has been stealing washing off clothes lines in Stromness got a nasty shock in the dark last night when he stole fourteen fresh haddies that had been hung oot to day.
And noo it’s time to slip doon to oor sister radio station there on the Bonnie Black Isle. That’s Black Isle Radio and oor presenter doon there Donnie Matheson. Are ye there Donnie?
Well yes good morning, right enough, coming to you from the lovely village of Cromarty out here on the point of the bonnie Black Isle.
The application by mobile hot-dog stand owner, Murdo Morrison, to set up for business in a lay-by in Glen Achfarrish at the weekends has been turned down by Highland Regional Council. Local Councilor, Rev Uisdean Matheson, said that this type of thing could turn a peaceful Highland glen into another Soho or even worse, like Achiltibuie on a Saturday night.
The hard-pressed aluminium smelter at Invergordon is going to re-open. They have found a cheap source of power. They’re going to pipe all the hot air from the County Building in Dingwall. A spokesman said this should keep them molten for years.
Well that’s all the news we have for you this morning here on the bonnie Black Isle so now it’s over to our sister station in Aberdeenshire – Radio Auchnagatt, and our presenter there, Sandy Cowie. Are you there Sandy?
Oh mercy, aye, michty, aye, an’ welcome tae Radio Auchnagatt.
The Artificial Insemination man frae Turriff wha got kickit fourteen times yesterday during the coorse o’ his duties an’ then got his car stolen containin’ his equipment frae outside the pub in Cornhill last nicht, said this really wis the last straw.
A Grampian Regional cooncillor wha fell asleep while waitin at the check-oot at Oldmeldrum garden centre an was sellt by mistake as a gairden gnome, says he quite enjoys his new job as it’s very nuch the same as sittin on the Cooncil.
Here’s a late fitba result ; Echt five, Fyvie echt.
Weel, noo it’s time for the news from John Angus MacKay at Radio Bettyhill. Yes, hello. Good morning and welcome to Radio Bettyhill, broadcasting to you from here in the far north of Sutherland. Last night saw the big sporting event of the year here in Sutherland – The All Scotland Salmon Poaching Olympics. And here are the winners of the team events :
100 metres torch and gaff ; West Highland Lay Preachers
500 metre hurdles with a fine mesh : Brora Weavers
1,000 metre throw, duck and vanish dynamire event : This was won by a team from Glasgow who are presently building a new road to Cape Wrath. They had a very high score. They call themselves the Macalpines and they also created five new pools in the river.
5,000 metres hop, skip and gesture : This was won by all thirty-five teams equally when somebody spotted a police car on the Lairg road.
And now it’s over to Radio Balbeggie in Perthshire, with your presenter there, Davie Copeland.
Hello, good morning. This is yer wee bit laddie, yer wee ray o’ sunshine, Davie Copeland, comin tae ye live on Radio Balbeggie.
Troubled wi constant bickering amongst the raspberry pickers, an enterprising Blairgowrie fruit farmer has come up wi a new money-making scheme. He is now advertising “Pick Yer Ain Fight – 34p a punch”
At an Industrial Tribunal in Perth Sheriff Court yesterday, Council roadman, Archie Kinnoul, was awarded £3,000 for unfair dismissal. Mr Kinnoul, who was employed by Perth Regional Council to repaint the white line on the A9 from Pitlochry to Blair Atholl, completed three miles on the first day, one mile on the second day and only fifty yards on the third day. Mr Kinnoul told the Tribunal that this was to be expected as it was taking him longer to return to the paint pot.
And noo it’s over to the Shetland Isles and Dodie Odie at Radio Scallawag.
Welcome to Radio Scallawag, here in da Shetland Isles.
Da film company who are shooting a documentary in Yell on da disappearance of da Blue Whale suffered a severe set-back last night when da sixty foot latex whale, costing £340,000, which they were towing off Unst in the half dark, was harpooned by local fisherman, Ronnie Williamson who, according tae his wife, “had geen far a row wi a dram in ‘in”. Wi da sudden release o’ gas, da replica whale reacted very much like a punctured balloon and Ronnie and da film crew disappeared oot o’ sicht doon Yell Soond in four seconds flat. Reports from throughout da Islands say that a relatively still evening was interrupted by da sound o’ a huge raspberry.
Police raised a hoose ar Fetlar last nicht and discovered over one hundred rare birds eggs. Constable MacPherson said he had been watching da hoose for some time, as he had long suspected da occupant of poaching them.
And noo frae da land o’ da simmer dim back tae Johnny Polson in Caithness.
Welcome back til Radio Caithness. Johnny Polson swingan an a0jinglin here throughout e day bringan ye all at’s very best in Radio entertainment across e hill an moors o Caithness. And now it’s time for wir bakery an cookery competition. Let me remind ye, listeners. O how iss competition works. Each week yer swingan disc jockey gives ye a recipe ower e air an ye try it oot at home. Ye send in some o yur wares here an I pass helpful comments on them, and there’s a prize every week. As ye know, ladies, I dinna use full names ower e air. Iss is tae avoid gettan lynched. An so til last week’s competition, an it wis a dropped flour scones. Mercy, ladies, some o them must have been dropped frae a hell o a height. Weel, we had a very heavy post this week. In fact ye near killed wir poor postie. He arrived here at wir studio white an sweitan, and we had til pit him hame wi a dram on e handlebars o e Ootside Broadcast Unit. Weel now, til e winner o e bakery an cookery competition iss week – Janaday Swanson frae Thurso. Yer scones were a perfect delight, an so was e photo ye sent o yursel in you bathing suit. Ye’re a fine, beeg, healthy-lookan girl, ye are that.
News has just come through frae wir bank in Weeck. I am delighted til announce that wir “Jock Aid” appear has now reached its target o £25, an Jockie Budge, wir engineer here at Radio Caithness, can now pay e fine for leavan e Ootside Broadcast Unit chained til e railins in Bridge Street below e ‘No Bicycles’ sign. Thanks til w seven hundred an four generous listeners who contributed.
Copyright to Colin Campbell’s Local Radio Book
Colin Campbell 1988
Box and Fiddle