Anyone seen it?
They are subtle British comedies at their best and I think they are quite wonderful.The other three are 'The Titfield Thunderbolt', 'Passport to Pimlico' and 'Money to Burn'.
- Paul A Jellis
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It was released in America as 'Tight Little Island'. The film was made on Barra in the Outer Hebrides, not Bowmore. I believe they are about to remake it.
- Spirit of Islay
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Pauls right , Whisky galore was filmed around the Outer Hebrides and The Maggie around various locations on Islay and the Crinan canal .
A good site for finding film locations around scotland is scotland the movie .
I've a few captures from the Maggie on my site , Click on "The Isle" link on the right hand menu and then click on the picture at the bottom of the first page .It also contains a link to the company that issue the VHS version .
BTW "The Maggie" was known as "High and Dry" in the USA .
Well, to be honest it doesn't bother me the least that the filming took place in other islands in the Hebrides. After discovering this area (without ever being there) I'm so fascinated by this group of islands that I MUST go there sometime in the future!
But the film itself looks very good after discovering that it's the same people/company behind Whisky Galore and several other classics such as Ladykillers. Damn, I must see this movie (and travel to the islands in the future) .
The event that inspired Whisky Galore, the sinking of Am Politician with, among other things, some 2,000 cases of whisky, took place off the Isle of Eriskay, which is not far from Barra but closer still to South Uist (there is now a causeway to the latter). Contrary to the charming comedy of the film (which I've yet to see), the incident was quite an ugly one, marked by violence and numerous arrests. I have saved an article from the Sunday Times which goes into some detail, which I'd be happy to email to anyone interested.
Undiscovered Scotland, a fine travel resource, has a feature page on Eriskay:
Eriskay's only pub, also called Am Politician, has its homepage here:
Below your humble servant (à gauche) pictured this past October with the proprietor of said pub, along with one of the infamous bottles, found in a bog only a few years ago (sorry, no tasting notes!):
It puts me in the mood for Uisge beatha gu leoir and a ceilidh with friends.
Slainte mhath, slainte mhor!
Lawrence wrote:As Mr. Picky says, the true story is not so happy and can be found in the book, "Polly, the True Story Behind Whisky Galore" by Brian Hutchinson ISBN 1840180714.
The original ship was called the SS London Merchant which was later named the SS Politician.
Andrew Jefford briefly mentiones the story behind Whisky Galore in his book Peat, Smoke & Spirit. People actually drunk themselves to death......
The government also dynamited the ship to destroy the whisky.
The Sunday Times - Scotland
March 27, 2005
Ecosse: Looting galore
Newly released documents reveal that the light-hearted popular recollection of the SS Politician’s whisky-soaked shipwreck hides a darker tale. Adrian Turpin reports
It is without doubt the most famous shipwreck Scotland has ever witnessed. On February 5, 1941, the SS Politician foundered on the tiny island of Calvay in the Outer Hebrides, two days out from Liverpool en route to Jamaica and New York. In the ship’s hold were 22,000 cases of quart bottles of whisky which, because they were for the export market, had not been subject to tax. On the neighbouring islands of Eriskay and South Uist were hundreds of thirsty locals, whose often excessive drinking habits had been curtailed by wartime rationing.
The rest is history — or at least literature. Published in 1947, Compton Mackenzie’s Whisky Galore rechristened the SS Politician the SS Cabinet Minister and renamed the islands of South Uist and Eriskay as Great and Little Todday.
The islanders were cast as lovable rogues and the officials who tried to stop their pilfering from the wreck and the subsequent trade in illegal spirits as killjoy bureaucrats. And that is generally how it has been perceived, until now.
Last week the National Archives in Kew finally released the government’s side of the SS Politician affair.
The files do not completely dispel the portrait of stuffy officialdom, but they do show that the men from the revenue had to contend with obstruction from Scottish police and law officers and threats of violence from the islanders.
In the light of the new documents, Mackenzie’s happy-go-lucky Hebridean idyll does not seem quite so light-hearted.
MANY details from the reports could nevertheless have come from the pages of Mackenzie’s comic novel, or from scenes played out in Alexander Mackendrick’s classic 1949 Ealing film.
On March 18, 1941, for example, Charles McColl, the local customs officer, and a constable in a motor launch intercepted three boats coming away from the SS Politician with 42 cases of whisky. On the second boat was John MacLean, 84. McColl could scarcely have been more mean-spirited than when he wrote in his file that “in view of his partially successful trip, authorities may wish to reassess his means under the Old Age Pensions Act”.
There are many other examples. A case of whisky was found in the croft garden of Mrs Flora MacIntyre, 81, who became “severely distressed” on being apprehended, while three cases and 100 loose bottles were discovered buried in Donald Cumming’s stockyard. He claimed they had been put there while he was away at sea — what’s known in Scottish law as the “big boy did it an’ ran away” defence.
When the Eriskay ferry was called on by customs to intercept a boat believed to have been involved in the looting, it mysteriously failed to appear. By the time the customs officials turned up the next day, the vessel had put to sea, supposedly on a fishing trip.
Unravelling the facts from Mackenzie’s fiction is a pleasant enough task, and many of the fictional characters undoubtedly have a basis in real people or their actions.
McColl himself is often taken to be the model for Captain Paul Waggett, the scourge of the whisky plunderers in Whisky Galore, who is portrayed by Mackenzie as a prig. In some ways, McColl — who took it upon himself almost single-handedly to protect the cargo of the SS Politician from looters — seems to have deserved Mackenzie’s unflattering portrait.
There is more than a suspicion that his campaign against the whisky pilferers was motivated by a puritan distaste for the high-spiritedness of island life, a fact that came racing to the fore with the sinking of the ship.
Wartime censorship of letters did not stop some islanders referring indiscreetly to their ill-gotten gains. “They didn’t come near us yet,” reads a letter of May 30, 1941, “we have everything up in the hills. I hope you will get your share of it yet.”
There was certainly enough whisky to go around: 232,000 bottles had been stacked in No 5 hold of the SS Politician — and it’s estimated that 24,000 of these were “liberated” by the islanders. “Salvagers” were said to have come from as far away as Lewis, Mull and the mainland.
This, however, does not quite give an idea of how greedy they were. When you learn what McColl and his colleagues faced from the islanders it is hard not to have some sympathy for them.
In the customs reports Edward Bootham White, McColl’s superior, wrote: “I visited the SS Politician. It is now an almost incredible scene of wanton destruction — everything movable has been taken and practically everything else splintered, slashed and hacked. The salvage officers estimate the cost of replacement of this damage to the ship’s fittings at not less than £10,000.”
Perhaps we should take Bootham White’s outrage with a pinch of salt. He was hardly neutral, having been charged with building a case for prosecution. Nevertheless, the list of articles removed from the ship shows that the islanders descended on the Politician like locusts.
Contraband included bicycle parts — bells, tyres and handlebars — polish, reels of printed cotton, washing soda, disinfectant, deckchairs, mattresses, a coal shovel, door mats, buckets, bedsprings, clay smoking pipes, tarpaulins, lamps, writing desks and a chest of drawers. There is no record of what happened to the kitchen sink, although for good measure somebody did make off with the ship’s compass.
The looting was anything but a secret on the islands. In her new book The Wreckers, a history of shipwrecks and those who have profited from them, Bella Bathurst interviewed John MacLeod, a former Royal National Lifeboat Institution coxswain, who as a 21-year-old took part in plundering the Politician.
“We got such a lot (of the whisky) we were giving it away. There were people giving it out on the mainland as a Christmas present,” he says. “The boat was full of oil, she was holed . . . So everyone who went down to look got covered in the oil. So people knew when you’d been down to her, because you were covered in the stuff.”
For MacLeod, it seems to have been a bit of youthful fun (he didn’t even drink whisky). Yet the customs reports suggest there was a darker side to the affair.
Bootham White wrote that: “Threats and warnings of bodily injury have been conveyed to Mr McColl but he makes light of them — I would, however, request that he be not concerned in any further general search (for contraband).
“On the night of June 10, the day after the first sentencing at Lochmaddy, the garage in which Mr McColl’s car was housed at Lochboisdale had a hole burst in the roof and burning petrol and paraffin were poured through. One car was destroyed, but Mr McColl’s was extracted with merely paint damage to the roof.”
For some reason this incident failed to make it into either Mackenzie’s book or Mackendrick’s film.One thing the documents from the National Archives show is the amount of conflict between the islands’ authorities and the men from the revenue.
In a letter of July 9, 1941, Bootham White hints that the police may have been less than diligent. According to him, a search for spirits on South Uist and Eriskay in June was “comparatively ineffective” because “on the first day inspector of police Frazer of Lochmaddy refused to continue the search after lunchtime”.
He went on: “That day, while the element of surprise continued, was the only day on which really satisfactory results could have been expected. It is certain on that night there was a general conveyance of spirits to the moors and hills by the looters and the discovery is now a matter of extreme difficulty — it is probable that there will not be attempts to remove them from their present positions until darker weather or until the population is satisfied the searching is over . . .
“In my opinion little or no help will be received from the police, and the officers in Lochboisdale are far too well known to be given any information sufficiently definite to act upon. The only way to secure detections would be to send special staff in the guise of being attached to the air ministry.”
If the excise men were suspicious of the police, they were no less wary of John Gray, the acting procurator fiscal at Lochmaddy. McColl and Bootham White feared he would be reluctant to press charges. “On the mail steamer returning this morning, the sheriff quite unofficially told me that Mr Gray was increasingly reluctant to take any further proceedings against those persons charged with theft,” Bootham White wrote on May 17. He pleaded that any prosecutions should be brought on the mainland.
1. The sheriff’s assessment appears to have been right. Gray did refuse to prosecute looters under the more serious Customs Consolidation Act or the Merchant Shipping Act. Although 19 men were eventually given short jail sentences for theft, many were fined £2 (about £200 today). Bootham White inevitably complained that such penalties were “quite inadequate to act as a general deterrent to the population of these islands who would promptly seize their next opportunity for further looting and damage”.
Sixty-four years later it is easy to see the position of both sides: the frustration of the revenue men faced with each “tight little island” (as the film was called in America) and the fiscal’s understandable desire to preserve harmony within the far from prosperous island communities.
Undoubtedly the men from the revenue were overzealous, digging up crofts throughout Eriskay and South Uist and harassing the locals. McColl, in particular, was so concerned that the islanders should not benefit from the wreck of the Politician that, after two salvage attempts managed to recover 13,500 cases of whisky, he had the ship dynamited.
Many of the customs men’s actions should, however, be seen in the context of the second world war. Britain was making sacrifices. The black market was frowned upon. To many on Eriskay and South Uist, Edinburgh and London must have seemed like foreign capitals; what did their red tape matter? But the war of national survival needed to be paid for — even if that meant wringing out every last penny in whisky duties. In this case the last penny turned out to be substantially more than that: today the duty on the pilfered whisky would have been about £500,000.
In his book Highlanders: A History of the Gaels, John Macleod (no relation to the lifeboatman) raises questions about the destination of the SS Politician and her cargo, hinting at some kind of conspiracy.
“The episode was a great embarrassment to the government,” he writes, “and to this day certain papers on the Politician affair remain classified. It has been suggested that the assorted goodies were for a very important person — an American statesman whose support was vital in Washington or President Roosevelt himself; even the Duke of Windsor has been named as a recipient.”
It makes a good conspiracy theory. But the simpler possibility is that the Politician’s cargo was intended to bring in much-needed money from America. That would, directly or indirectly, have gone towards fighting Hitler. And, in the unlikely case that Roosevelt did need to be bribed, a few thousand bottles of whisky might seem a fair exchange for American entry into the war.
Hardly surprisingly, Mackenzie skates over any consequences of the islanders’ actions. Whisky Galore is, after all, a comedy and in 1947 many people simply wanted to forget the hardships of the conflict and remember the camaraderie. When the link between whisky and the war effort is made it is by Waggett, condescendingly lecturing the dry-mouthed regulars of the Snorvig hotel.
In Great and Little Todday everything is for the good. The greatest disaster that befalls anyone is the loss of 18 cases of best “Stalker’s Joy” scotch, poured away by Joseph Macroon’s daughters for fear of the constable.
Whether the wreck of the SS Politician was so happy for the real islanders is more debatable. John Macleod, the writer, suggests not: “In truth, the bounty triggered much drunkenness and suffering, and envy over other spoils caused much dispute in local communities.”
It is a far cry from the picture that Mackenzie painted. So too — as the documents show — was the work of McColl and Bootham White. Nobody is going to make the customs men heroes, but they weren’t the prize killjoys of Mackenzie’s imagination.
Additional reporting: Peter Day
Lawrence wrote:I don't remember reading people drinking themselves to death but I do remember reading of the heavy hand of the British government and the confiscation of fishing boats in a fishing community, the result being that people had their means of making a living and feeding themselves stripped away.
The government also dynamited the ship to destroy the whisky.
Sorry Lawrence, my mistake! I clearly remembered - but I was mixing it up with the Mary Ann who landed on Machir Bay in 1859. 3 people drank themselves to death, there were much disorder such as fistfights - including one with the local police who legged it. It's in Peat, Smoke & Spirit p. 314-316.
Ps! Tattieheid - great article!
Let me know if you have any specific questions. If you are visiting Scotland sometime next Spring I believe the Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh are looking to put together an exhibition.
The film was released in America under the name Tight Little Island as the authorities had a problem with the word whisky, due to the prohibition.
In France it was called Whisky a gogo
In Germany Das Whisky Schiff
Somebody has already referred to a great read on the subject
Polly The true story of Whisky Galore by Roger Hutchinson.
Try and get the hard copy as it has more pictures of later salvage operations.
My bottle is shown being held high out of the water by one of the divers.
Another book which is more difficult to find is Arthur Swinsons book
Scotch on the Rocks. It is due to be re-released later this year after his daughter Antonia came along to one of my talks.
There were some nasty goings on, but the real mystery was why were there so much Jamaican currency on board? Several million of pounds worth. There are still some stories on this subject, it is still considered secret by the UK Goverment. The records are due to be released 2011.
Keith wrote:Let me know if you have any specific questions. If you are visiting Scotland sometime next Spring I believe the Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh are looking to put together an exhibition.
I'll be in Edinburgh in October, too early, unfortunately, to see that exhibit. Do you know if the SMWS is still offering their hardcover version?
The SMWS still had some hard books copies of Whisky Galore, written by Compton Mackenzie.
You could possibly reserve one online waiting for your arrival. Let me know if you have any difficulties, I may be able to help you. It is a really great book for any whisky collector.
This book different to the book I referred to which was The Polly.
What do you have planned for your visit?
Keith wrote:The film was released in America under the name Tight Little Island as the authorities had a problem with the word whisky, due to the prohibition.
Odd, since Prohibition (at least nationwide) ran from 1920 to 1933 in the US, although some states continued their own prohibitions afterward. Mississippi was the last state to end it, in 1966.
Of course, we've always had a problem here with busybodies who can't stand the idea of people having fun, but that's a rant in itself.
It was not uncommon for Jamaican Shillings which were part of the SS Polly batch to be paid in to banks and travel agents across the world. The most recent was in the 1980s.
I have 5 of these shillings, one actually has a oil stained finger print on the top corner. Now that would make a great story.
Keith wrote:Hi Ron,
What do you have planned for your visit?
I'll be in Edinburgh for just a couple of days but I'm sure I'll be stopping at the Bow Bar and at Royal Mile Whiskies to replenish my stocks. After that I'll be heading toward Islay.
Thanks for the info regarding the books!
Another couple of venues for you to consider for a good dram is
The Cannymans in Morningside, Edinburgh a real fantastic whisky bar. Plus if you are a member of The Scottish Malt Whisky Society, the new venue on Queen Strret is Great, as is the Vault at Leith.
Have a great visit
Nov 5 2005
"NINETY-TWO tonnes of whisky and liquor have been swept into the sea off the coast of Wales. In an incident that had all the makings of a Welsh version of movie classic Whisky Galore! the container carrier Endeavour shed its payload near the Pembrokeshire coast on Thursday night."
You may read the full article on the icwales website.
I just hope, that everybody on board is o.k.!
Lawrence wrote::D Yes, I have it, I picked it up at the Vaults, although mine has a bottle of Glenfarclas inside, cask 1.101, it's quite neat and goes well in my book collection.
I just picked up the book during my visit to the Vaults last month. Mine also had a 5 cl of 1.101, a 25yo Glenfarclas, neatly hidden inside.
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