The tv adaptation

BBC Scotland making three-part Icelandic thriller

On 18th May 1978 The Stage and Television Today [1] reported the production of Running Blind by BBC Scotland.

thenovel-tvadaptation-stage-and-tv-todayThe article stated that production would be starting ‘next week’ and that Bagley’s novel had been dramatised by Jack Gerson. The article stated that this was in no way a co-production as it had been fully funded by the BBC. The producer, Bob McIntosh, gave indications that the production was to be ready for transmission by September in order to be included in the autumn schedules for 1978.

The cast and production unit would be living rough in Iceland as they were filming in the interior where there were no hotels or visitor accommodation. They would be living in tents and were most likely to be the first people that year to enter the interior and filming was expected to take two months. This news had in fact been reported in the Icelandic newspaper Morgunblaðið over a month earlier on 8th April [2]. The article referred to the production by its Icelandic title of Bagley’s novel, Út í óvissuna (Out into the unknown). The article indicated that the production would be a series in three 50-minute parts. In another Morgunblaðið article a few days later on 13th April [3] they named two Icelandic actresses, Jonina Scott (then living in London), and Ragnheiður Steindórsdóttir, as contenders for leading female role.

Robert McIntosh was quoted in this article as saying:

In addition, we will have 8 to 9 Icelandic actors considered for smaller roles, but I don’t want to mention any names now, as no contracts have been finalised.

McIntosh did say that two English and one Russian actor have been invited and that filming would begin in Scotland in mid-May. The team would travel to Iceland on 29th May and would stay in the country for eight weeks.

On 19th April another Icelandic newspaper, Vísir [4], reported that McIntosh had been in Iceland for a short time and had visited both Mývatn and Ásbyrgi looking for filming locations.

The Icelandic newspaper Dagur published an article on 12th May 1978 [5] in which Vilhelm Ágústsson, the owner of the Icelandic car hire company Bílalelgu Akureyrar, stated that he had been commissioned by the BBC to supply cars to be used in the filming of the television series. In the article titled ‘Bílalelgu Akureyrar cars to be shot at’ Ágústsson said:

The BBC has ordered 10 to 15 cars to be hired for a variable amount of time. The film crew have asked that we obtain a new Opel with 2 or 3 additional windscreens. Also, we that we provide a long wheel base  Land-Rover with a radio and a refrigerator, as the story mentions a man who gets a beer out of a fridge whilst driving along the Sprengisandur.

The article also mentions that it will also be necessary to hire a mechanic to refit the car windscreens that will be shot at during the filming. The film crew are expected to be in Iceland at the end of the month and it has been decided that a few English actors will take roles in the BBC production, which, though mainly set in Iceland, is currently being filmed in Scotland. The film producer, Robert Mackintosh, is reported to have said that the episodes would be completed by early winter with transmission soon after.

On 23rd May 1978 the Glasgow Herald reported on the filming of Running Blind, which had taken place the previous day at Duchray Castle in the Loch Ard Forest at Aberfoyle, then the home of Lietenant-Colonel Alastair Ramsay, late of the Royal Scots Fusilers. The article can be viewed here.

Yesterday was the scene-setting easy bit for the actors and crew. After some more location work in the west end of Glasgow, the 22-strong team leave for a hectic spell in Iceland, the first time a BBC Scotland TV drama will have gone on location abroad. [6]

BBC’s Spectacular Challenge

On 19th July 1978 the production of Running Blind was listed in the BBC’s line-up of drama to rival ITV productions.

thenovel-tvadaptation-daily-expressIn 1978 the BBC was experiencing a financial crisis and needed to come up with a plan to increase revenue. In July of that year they announced they would be investing £12 million in new productions, many of which would be co-productions with foreign television companies. It was though that overseas sales would raise about £3 million in the first year. One of these productions was Running Blind, to be filmed on location in Iceland. This is contrary to the view expressed by its producer, Bob McIntosh, who had indicated in The Stage and Television Today interview that it was in no way a co-production. In the event it wasn’t a co-production it was entirely produced by BBC Scotland though the production utilised Icelandic actors, actresses and assistant production crew.

The £12 million investment was a direct challenge to the commercial television companies and included productions such as Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. I.T.V. had recently lured away both Bruce Forsyth and Morecambe & Wise as well as former BBC 1 controller Brain Cowgill. The BBC responded by signing names such as Sir Alec Guinness, Dames Flora Robson, Diana Rigg and Helen Mirren, Leonard Rossiter, Michael Crawford and Claire Bloom.

In an interview with the Daily Express published on 19th July 1978 [7] the BBC’s head of drama Shaun Sutton said:

 We can still get the big guns because they know they get quality when they work with the BBC.

The BBC were looking at a £30 million deficit by December of that year and had also decided on a TV licence fee increase that would be implemented following the general election.

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1. The Stage and Television Today (1978). ‘BBC Scotland making three-part Icelandic thriller’ (18th May 1978 p. 18) © The Stage Media Company Ltd.

2. Morgunblaðið (1978). ‘Menn frá BBC undirbúa töku sjónvarpsmyndar hér á landi’ (8th April 1978 p. 48).

3. Morgunblaðið (1978). ‘Út í óvissuna’ (13th April 1978 p. 48 & 26).

4. Vísir (1978). ‘Kvikmyndir’ (19th April 1978 p. 25).

5. Dagur (1978). ‘Skotið á bíla frá B.A.’ (12th May 1978 p. 1).

6. Glasgow Herald, (1978). ‘Dirty tricks at the castle’ (23rd May 1978, p. 6).

7. Daily Express (1978). ‘BBC’s £12m Star War!’ (19th July 1978 p. 1&2) © Northern and Shell Media Publications.