An amazing and personal insight into one man’s view of life, love and war in one of the most turbulent periods of the 20th century is coming to our TV screens.
Feature-length film Harry Birrell Presents Films of Love & War is being given its TV debut on the BBC Scotland channel, on Tuesday, 17 March, from 10-11.30pm.
Born in Paisley in 1918, Harry Birrell was given a cine-camera at the age of 10, which as he himself noted was ‘the greatest toy a child could ever wish for.’
It sparked a lifetime obsession with film-making – never as a professional, but as a diligent amateur with a gift for the cinematic – chronicling his life experiences through the late 30s, World War II and then family life in the 60s and 70s.
Leaving Scotland temporarily for London, his camera captures the colourful cheerfulness and vibrancy in the years before the war, the joys of falling in love in the city and on leave in Arran.
And then the revelation of a posting to India as an officer with the Gurkhas in what has been called ‘the forgotten war’ against the Japanese as Burma fell and invasion threatened India.
Amid the chaos and tragedy, there is the experience of a truly exotic land and his ever growing respect and affection for the Gurkhas, stepping into a beautiful world which in normal times he would never have encountered.
The experience is lovingly rendered on colour film which Harry had asked the powers that be to give him so the viewer could see the difference between real foliage and camouflage netting – at least that is what he convincingly argued.
Back home in Scotland, he turned his eye to domestic life, with loving scenes of his children, family events and the changes in 70s Glasgow.
His cache of more than 400 films, in the family shed, is revealed in this documentary by his granddaughter Carina alongside personal diaries and letters – narrated by Richard Madden – and countless photographs that had largely lain unseen before.
Carina describes it as: ‘A lifetime of films all spliced together’ as she finds out about the life less ordinary of the kindly grandfather she remembers, whose failing sight impinged on his beloved film-making.’