Why I slept with Gordon Ramsay and not J.K. Rowling.

Gordon Ramsay (2)

To Harry Potter fans, I’m sure J.K. Rowling’s association with Edinburgh is well known. She famously penned her first tale of witchcraft and wizardry in at least one of several cafes and tearooms in our nation’s capital and you only have to look up at the looming presence of Edinburgh Castle to see where she might have found her inspiration for Hogwarts.

And yet that doesn’t qualify her for a bedroom in the chic Angels Share hotel. A bedroom named in her honour, I mean, alongside the monikers of famous Scots such as Nicola Benedetti, Robert Carlyle and Sean Connery.

“She wasn’t born in Scotland,” the receptionist told me, explaining the place-of-birth criteria as she handed me my magnetic key card and gave me directions to ‘Gordon Ramsay’.  That’s when a thought or two occurred to me.

“Tell me this, ” I asked, “Do guests ever complain about the rooms you assign them based on the name?”

“Yes, they do, ” she admitted, “Sir Alex Ferguson can be a bit divisive.  Not everyone supports Manchester United, after all.  We try to change the room if we can.”

“Anyone else?”

Her next answer surprised me.

“Lulu.  Some of our female guests – hen parties and the like – don’t like the idea of spending the night in ‘Lulu’.”

I thought that was a shame. I explained that I had once commissioned a two-part radio drama about Lulu’s incredible life and career and couldn’t see why anyone would object to her name on their bedroom.   Then again, when I opened to the door to my own room I saw a huge – and I mean massive – photograph of Gordon Ramsay hanging over my bed. I could feel his eyes following me as I unpacked my luggage and was glad I had neglected to bring my usual emergency supply of Pot Noodles. Imagine the shame of it. If photographs could swear…

It was a pity I wasn’t in a room named after a writer, though, given that the hotel was also the venue for our  Radio Academy event where Grant Stott was interviewing me about my book. It turned out to be a great night and had taken place in the basement bar – The Devil’s Cut – with appropriate red lighting shining from the alcoves. I ended up talking about The Red Light Zone in a wee red light zone.

But here I am, days later, still thinking that J.K. Rowling deserves, at least, a broom cupboard…and still pondering the answer to the last question I fired at that obviously patriotic receptionist.

“So what happens if one of these famous people gets embroiled in a scandal? Do you have to make a swift change to the name of the room?”

She didn’t hesitate.

“”That could never happen. These people wont get involved in a scandal.”

“Why not?”

She smiled.

“Because they’re all Scottish.”

Devil's Cut





Wash your mouth out


I was recently asked what surprised me most when I joined the BBC.  I think I now have the answer: it was all the bad swearing.  I don’t mean the swearing was particularly filthy, I mean the swearing was done by people who weren’t very good at it.  I’m talking about quite senior management figures – usually in London – who would throw in the odd f-word during a staff presentation, presumably to demonstrate that they were street-wise and edgy. But you could tell they had thought about it too much beforehand. There was that moment of hesitation followed by that startled flicker of self-awareness in their eyes.  And usually, the f-word was slightly disembodied from the rest of their sentence. Like a bad edit in a radio pre-record.

“It’s about time we took this audience research seriously and give viewers programmes they actually want to (pause) f…ing  (pause, flicker) watch!”

Somehow bad swearing seemed more offensive that the kind of swearing I was used to growing up in Glasgow.  There the f and c-words flowed like sweet honey, punctuating dialogue and adding a touch of humour or anger, depending on the context.

Of course you never heard the c-word at BBC meetings in London and for that reason I was always tempted to throw one in, just to up the ante and see what the reaction would might be. I never did.  Call me chicken.

That’s another c-word.


Let’s get vocal about local


Jeff MFR

I owe so much to local radio. Were it not for those brave risk-takers at Moray Firth Radio who, thirty years ago, gave me my first paid job as a news reporter, who knows what I’d be doing now?  Actually, I’d probably have retired from my alternative career choice as a fighter pilot and I’d now be running my own internet radio station.

But these are worrying times for my pals in commercial radio, what with the broadcasting regulator, Ofcom, giving companies like Global and Bauer, much more leeway to dilute local content, run stations from single hub studios and replace local Breakfast shows with London-based formats and big name D.J.s.   Those companies argue that retaining so many local radio stations is no longer economically viable and that the big bucks in advertising revenue can only come if they have enough listeners to compete with the  U.K. wide BBC shows on Radio 1 and Radio 2.

This market-economy argument – often compared to the plight of small High Street shops having to take on Tesco and Marks & Spencer – would be more convincing if it could be truly tested.  The trouble is, if someone takes over your local radio station and dumps most of the local content, you can’t just move the dial over to another local station. Those broadcast licences are a finite resource, as is the availability of space on the FM and digital spectrums.  So, once your local station is gone or changed beyond all recognition, no one will be allowed to fill the gap.  Whereas when it comes to shopping, small supermarkets like Lidl, Aldi and the bright new Co-Op stores are giving the big guys a run for their money.

So, if the big radio groups tell us the small stations aren’t viable, maybe they should be forced to relinquish their licences and let other people have a go. Here in Inverness, I’ve spoken to business people with radio experience who would relish that opportunity.

Then there’s the BBC. Here in Scotland, BBC Radio Scotland was created at a time when commercial radio was thriving and it made sense to have a national station for Scotland rather than compete by offering lots of part-time local opt-out services across the country.  Maybe now is the time to review that policy and breathe some new life into what it being beamed out of centres like Inverness, Aberdeen, Selkirk and Dumfries.

Oh, and while we’re at it, let’s also address the London-dominance of the BBC radio commissioning process which means that the version of Scotland you hear on the likes of Radio 4, is the one that has been approved by a tiny group of purse-string-holding executives in W1A. Devolved commissioning for the new BBC Scotland television channel has brought fresh and relevant ideas to the screen and created opportunities for the production sector here, let’s do the same for the radio industry.






“and I’d like to thank the Academy…”


The Radio Academy, that is, or, to be specific, the Scotland branch of the Radio Academy. Why? Because these fine folk have organised a classy wee event in Edinburgh where Grant Stott will be ‘in conversation’ with me about my book, my career and my views on everything from the BBC network radio’s London-centric commissioning processes to the recent grim news about the dilution of localness in some areas of commercial radio. Free from the shackles of the Beeb I can say what I like about those things, but mainly I’ll be telling funny stories what goes on behind the scenes in broadcasting and, in the main, the joke is usually on me.

The event is being held on Thursday 14th March at 7pm in the Devil’s Cut – which is the stylish downstairs bit of the Angel’s Share hotel. It’s open to the public – not just radioheads – and you can book a ticket through the Eventbrite.co.uk website.

Radio folk, it has to be said, have been very generous with their feedback and reviews of The Red Light Zone…

and there’s a few such quotes in this little video.  Hope to see you on the night.






They’re in the final!


It’s been a good weekend for Team Lunicorn.  I refer, of course, to the dynamic duo of Lyn McNicol and Laura Jackson the creative powerhouse behind  Lunicorn Press.  Lunicorn is probably one of the smallest publishing firms in Scotland but has just been shortlisted as a regional finalist in the prestigious British Book Awards.  The recognition is well deserved because, long before Lyn and Laura got behind my little tome, they were building a loyal fan base of young readers with their tales of Badger the Mystical Mutt.

That good news came on the back of some excellent press coverage for The Red Light Zone and the Inverness launch event. Thanks again to Toby and his team at Waterstones Inverness and to everyone who turned out to see me being quizzed by my old BBC colleague Jo De Sylva.

All of which is just about captured in this short video.



“Packed with funny anecdotes”

Highland News


Delighted with Margaret Chrystall’s piece in the Highland News today. She actually came to my house to do the interview and we had a good old chinwag – something which is increasingly rare for newspaper journalists these days. They often complain about being chained to their desks.  One secret to share about that photograph, though. It might look like I’m relaxing in my vast library, it was actually taken in Coffee Affair, a marvellous wee café in downtown Inverness which has bookish wallpaper in a corner nook.   My own shelves, packed with Michael Connelly crime novels, Stephen King horrors and the entire Bill Bryson collection, might not have looked so earnest.

There’s an extended version of Margaret’s Interview on the whatson.north website. We discussed my unpublished novel and what happened when Radio 1’s Chris Evans came to Inverness.