David Peat: Film-maker who put Scottish life and hardships on screen

 

From fishermen and miners in threatened industries to individuals displaying feats of human endurance, David Peat brought the everyday lives of ordinary Scottish people to television screens over four decades as a documentary-maker.

The empathy he showed for his subjects meant they opened up to him and expressed their hopes and fears. One of his greatest challenges was earning the trust of the trawlermen in Fraserburgh, North-east Scotland, who were seeing their livelihood threatened by reduced white-fish quotas under the European Union's Common Fisheries Policy. They were particularly wary of the media following "junkie fishermen" headlines in better times when they had money to spend and were targeted by heroin traffickers.

"The fishing communities are generally suspicious of outsiders," recalled Peat. "Only two skippers would even consider talking to us on-camera. Even after six months in the area, there were still some who would agree to meet you and then never turn up."

Getting the co-operation he needed to direct the resulting documentary, Gutted (2004), took viewers into a world of a fishing community facing a bleak future. Not only did Peat bring into people's living rooms the reality of one family's vessel being hit by North Sea storms – before it was finally de-commissioned – but also their feelings on and off board.

He was allowed to film the funeral of the skipper's father, who died during the six-month shoot, and was approached by a fisherman's wife – one of the Cod Crusaders petitioning the British and Scottish Parliaments for a better deal – saying that she and her husband were splitting up and wanted to talk about it on camera.

Although the documentary was screened only by BBC Scotland domestically – and postponed until after European elections because it was seen as a political hot potato – it has since been broadcast by the Public Broadcasting Service in the United States. It also won a Scottish Bafta award.

Born in 1947 in Glasgow, where his father ran a shipping agency, Peat was brought up in the nearby village of Killearn, Stirlingshire. On leaving school, he took a job in another shipping agency but had ambitions to work in television as a camera operator.

Following in the footsteps of his maternal grandmother, who was an amateur photographer, he started taking still pictures on the streets of Glasgow – including stark black-and-white images of children playing in the Gorbals – after being given a Pentax camera for his 21st birthday. A year later, in 1969, Peat landed a job as an apprentice camera operator and found himself in demand during the successful "work-in" at Upper Clyde Shipbuilders in 1971.

His break came when he teamed up with the director Murray Grigor to make sponsored travelogues, starting with Travelpass – It's Just the Ticket (1972), about Scotland's Highlands and islands. Their sixth film together was Clydescope (1974), which included the folk singer-turned-comedian Billy Connolly, himself a former shipyard worker.

The following year, Peat and Grigor spent 48 hours filming Connolly performing in Dublin and Belfast at the time of the war euphemistically known as The Troubles. Just a few months earlier, three members of the Miami Showband had been killed in Northern Ireland, so other entertainers were boycotting the country. The result was Big Banana Feet (1976). In 1980, Peat worked for the BBC on a Man Alive programme about soldiers wounded in the province and a World About Us documentary on the over-fishing of mackerel and herring stocks in British waters.

The launch of Channel Four in 1982 brought new opportunities. Peat cut his teeth as a director on Years Ahead, a magazine series for older viewers, between 1982 and 1985, then started making his own documentaries.

After directing Six Little Sisters – The Waltons at Three (1986), about the world's first surviving all-female sextuplets, his focus returned to Scotland, first directing programmes for Scottish Eye on Channel Four and Around Seventeen on ITV in Scotland.

Influenced by the fly-on-the-wall techniques of the director Roger Graef, Peat carved out an observational style that connected with audiences and earned him the trust of his subjects.In This Mine is Ours (1994), he entered another "secret world" of men in ahidden environment, chronicling the attempt by miners to establish their own pit at Monktonhall Colliery, outside Edinburgh, in the wake of plans to privatise it.

This was typical of many of Peat's films, which lamented the impact of "progress" on communities, as did Please Leave the Light On (1997), focusing on the keepers working on the last staffed lighthouse before it underwent automation. Another documentary about endings was Life's Too Short (2007), featuring a pioneering Glasgow hospice whose staff were trying to make it possible for the dying to end their days at home.

Peat celebrated the goodwill and skills of individuals in the series Heartland fm (1998), an affectionate portraitof volunteers running the Highland Perthshire community radio station, and both The Man Who Cycled the World (2008) and The Man Who Cycledthe Americas (2010), following Mark Beaumont's feats on a bicycle. In 2004, he produced the first series of Scotland on Film, an anthology of clips representing a history of 20th-century life in the country.

Throughout his career in documentaries, Peat continued with his stills photography. After being diagnosed with the incurable cancer myeloma in 2009, he decided to collect together the pictures he had amassed over the years for an exhibition, Eye on the World: David Peat's Street Photography, held at the Windmill Gallery, Aberfeldy, last year, when he was also presented with Scottish Bafta's Outstanding Contribution for Craft award.

Anthony Hayward

David Henderson Peat, film director and photographer: born Glasgow 22 March 1947; married Patricia MacLaurin (one son, one daughter); died Shandon, Dunbartonshire 16 April 2012.

Sport
footballLIVE City face Stoke, while Warnock returns to Palace dugout
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
gadgets + echSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
News
i100
News
The slice of Prince Charles and Princess Diana's wedding cake and the original box from 29 July 1981
newsPiece of Charles and Diana's wedding cake sold at auction in US
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind the scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
News
i100
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Clinical Negligence Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: HAMPSHIRE MARKET TOWN - A highly attr...

Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF, BGP, Multicast, WAN)

£35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF,...

Commercial Property Solicitor - Bristol

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: A VERY HIGH QUALITY FIRM A high qual...

DevOps Engineer (Systems Administration, Linux, Shell, Bash)

£50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: DevOps Engineer (Systems Administration, L...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone