MJ STEEL COLLINS looks back on a haunting tale from Glasgow’s high-rises in the 1980s
When people think of Govan in Glasgow, they probably think of shipbuilding and some of the hardest people you’ll ever meet. A taxi driver once told me he got respect in the rougher parts of Kingston, Jamaica, when people told him he came from Govan.
I too also come from Govan in a roundabout way, in that I live there, though Paisley is my true home. So it’s quite a surreal experience to watch “A Govan Ghost Story”, a long forgotten gem from the BBC’s 1980s “The Play on One”. Although it’s set 20 years before my time in this part of Glasgow, it’s still easy to pick out places familiar to me, even eerie in way.
The main setting for the hour long play is the Iona Court high-rises, located on Broomloan Road and Kintra Street. This makes the show even more interesting, given those high-rises are scheduled for demolition in the not too distant future. The play catches Govan in the doldrums of the 1980s’ recession when just about everyone was out of work and on the dole.
It wasn’t exactly a happy time. The main character, a former shipyard worker and 1971 Upper Clyde Shipyard work-in activist, Joe, is very much a haunted man. Haunted in the general sense, by his activist past, his tattered relationship with his daughter and the reality of being unemployed and having to sign on. He is quite rightly, a bit of a miserable guy.
But as it turns out, Joe is also haunted in the conventional sense. Something is in the flat next door, and it keeps on eluding him. At first it starts off as just one of those things you might not pay attention to, but it gradually drags Joe into its core, and we see the impact this has on all aspects of his life. This isn’t just your average ghost; it’s a ghost that can touch a man deeply, as we see here. And it’s as creepy as hell.
Throughout the play, we see Joe attempt to get to the bottom of the haunting, and ultimately the things that have knocked his life out of kilter. It drags the viewer right in, alternatively wishing to hide behind the cushion and wanting things to come out right in the end. It’s also quite an educational watch, splicing footage of the UCS protests from over forty years ago, with the present. We get to hear the late, great Jimmy Reid, leader of the work-in, lay down the law alongside some pretty nifty archive footage. If you like ghosts and social conscience, then this is definitely one for you. And it’s easy to catch on YouTube. I highly recommend it.
And an interesting aside to finish on is that the ground where the Iona Court flats currently sit was once the site of Broomloan house, better known locally as the Broomloan/Kintra St Castle as it was bedecked with turrets. However, the local kids knew it best as “The Hunty”, thanks to tales of ghosts drifting about the place. Who knows!