BBC’s Grand Tours sailor slips into Tarbert

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By Mark Davey

A yachtsman best known as the presenter of BBC’s Grand Tours of Scotland sailed into his first ever book festival at Tarbert.

Paul Murton, fresh from publishing his first book: ‘The Hebrides,’ took the headline daytime spot, on Saturday morning and spoke to a packed house at Tarbert Arts and Leisure Centre.

Mr Murton said: ‘I have never been to a book festival before but that might be because I have never written a book before.’

The 60-year-old television personality, who described himself as a ‘middle class boy from Dunoon,’ told the audience how Tarbert played a formative role in his life.

‘I know Tarbert from a long way back in the 1970s when I used to come for boozy weekends and stayed with the Blairs,’ said Mr Murton, ‘The Blairs ran a fish factory called Fyne Fish.

‘They gave me a quantity of mussels on one occasion and I said I would see if I could sell them into restaurants in Edinburgh. Another time I took a whole salmon in my briefcase – I used to drive back in my battered Ford Escort van.’

Following his fish selling foray Mr Murton’s ambition was to get into television. He was a struggling unemployed beginner with Edinburgh Filmakers Workshop in the early 1980s.

He said: ‘The Association of Cinematograph, Television and Allied Technicians (ACTT) union ran a closed shop and it was a Catch 22 situation. Anyone wanting to get in needed a card and the only way you could get a card was to work in film and television.

‘ACTT recognised there was a problem and coincidentally in 1982 Channel Four started.

‘I began making agit-pop documentaries including one about the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, coming from Dunoon I was obsessed about the Americans and the bases.

‘My next project was with a friend making a documentary about Benbecula and the Uists and the people there.

‘I suggested making it entirely in Gaelic. We interviewed a man on a tractor and said: ‘We will ask the questions in English but we want you to answer in Gaelic.’

‘Why would I want to do that?’ he replied.

Mr Murton said that, inevitably at that time, the film was a flop but he really enjoyed his five weekends in the Uists making the film.

He said he particularly remembered a group of young guys in the pub arguing enthusiastically in Gaelic but swearing in English.

These projects did not bring in much money to feed his wife and two children.

Mr Murton said: ‘My wife Vicky was getting a bit fed up with me and I applied to study law. I imagined myself with a house in Corstorphine, Edinburgh as a successful lawyer.’

Luckily for the television world he dropped the idea of a legal career and  took a more precarious route. Mr Murton said that he went into working as a director on series such as The Bill and Casualty.

Mr Murton added that this work was regimented and dull. Each epidsode had to be finished, by 5.30pm in the evening, on a Friday, so everyone could go to the pub.

He learned from the experience and it led to his current work on Grand Tours.

Mr Murton said: ‘The making of Grand Tours follows a cycle. There are 12 weeks to do research and write six scripts for six programme which I complete in my Dunoon ‘shed.

‘Once the scripts are complete we are off and I work with the team.’

Coming from a television world Mr Murton found the book world an alien place, especially when he began to pitch his idea which became The Hebrides.

Eventually Hugh Andrew, the managing director at Birlinn Ltd, in Edinburgh, agreed to see him.

Mr Murton said: ‘Hugh Andrew lives above the shop, which is a warren of copiers and young people scurrying round.

‘I was taken to the boardroom and said to Hugh: ‘I am sure you will be able to sell some books because I have been on TV.

‘I have done a lot of writing scripts for TV and sent him 3,000 words but he said you have a lot of spelling mistakes.

‘It was October last year and he gave me a deadline of January for 120,000 words.

‘One of the things I found quite difficult was that for TV I wrtie in the present tense and for the book I had to write in the past tense.’

Earlier Mr Murton told of how his work was inspired by an 18th century writer, Sara Murray.

He described her as a posh London lady from Kensington. In her 50s she travelled by horse and carriage round Scotland for a year before writing: ‘A Companion and Useful Guide to the Beauties of Scotland.’

Paul Murton holds a copy of his first book as the audience begin to discuss his talk. 25_c44bookfest04_Paul_Murton_at_TALC