Martin Compston’s Scottish Fling | Interview with Martin Compston and Phil MacHugh

Tell us how the series came about.

Phil: “Martin and I had an idea we’d like to make a documentary, with me going back to the Western Isles and taking Martin there. I’m Edinburgh-based but my family is from the Western Isles, the Outer Hebrides.

We got in touch with David Marshall at Tern, who took the idea of the show and brought it onto where it is now. Tern came up with the idea of the series, travelling across Scotland to various regions, and built on that initial idea of going back to a community, learning about an area, meeting some of the people in the area and learning from them.

And it was also challenge led. There were things we wanted to do in each region – some of them were a bit more adventurous than others, some of them a bit more suited to Martin than to me and vice versa.”

Martin: “I got to go all these fantastic places in Scotland that I’d never been to before, though I felt slightly ashamed that it took me so long to go. To get to do that with your pal and meet all these incredible people, it is one of the most fun times I’ve ever had on a job in my life.

I was quite nervous about it because I’m not a presenter, Phil is but I think that is why we kind of bounce off each other really well. That is something I learned making the series, that when you are interviewing people it is always nice to have someone there beside you, because you can actually really listen… we can really engage with people and we come at it from very different points of view. As Phil says, we’ve got different strengths, but I think that makes for good telly.”

Phil: “Martin, you are inquisitive in life about things and people, so when you are asking questions you ask them really well, and you ask what I wouldn’t necessarily ask as a journalist. Through the years, my thing has been the ‘who, what, why, where and when’ of something, but Martin wouldn’t necessarily ask those questions. He would ask something that was a little bit more insightful.”

Martin: “I get what you are saying, I’m really just interested in people. I’m just there for a chat and am probably more intrigued in the day to day of their lives, whereas Phil keeps it on a professional level, so that mix is always there. And Phil always has that wee twinkle in his eye.

Me and Phil will also give most things a go, but stuff like go-karting, coasteering, climbing up things, these are things that I’m all over… like the shinty, but then the rapping and cosplay were all a bit out of my comfort zone, and that was like where Phil couldn’t get enough of it, so it was great.”

Phil: “We had each other’s back, whatever the challenge was.”

Martin: “Whatever the challenge was somebody was up for it.”

So how did you two meet?

Martin: “We’ve been pals now for like 20 years. The Scottish creative industries is quite a small world, the awards dos – you get to meet the same people – and we just gravitated to each other… young, eager and ambitious but always game for a laugh, always the last two at the bar at the end of the night. But at the same time we were talking let’s do this, why not try this. These conversations have just kept going. We just naturally became close pals over the last 20 years.

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One of the most exciting things for me is that I can’t wait for audiences to meet Phil – he’s a force of nature. Phil is so positive about everything, he sees the good in everything. It was great making the series with him, with his energy and his positivity.”

Phil: “We were both young and current in the media TV world, I was doing Gaelic television and Martin was at the beginning of his acting career. We were on the same circuit of events and parties, so we gravitated to each other, both young guys of similar ages, both wanting a fun night out but we kept the friendship going and we’ve had that friendship for a long, long time.”

So what was it like working together on this series?

Martin: “We had so much fun, it was a great laugh. And we were a really close team, because when you are on the road there are just five or six of you and you have really got to muck in. There was no two-way trailers kind of thing, it was everyone pile in the car, get the equipment together, then hotel to hotel.

And we stayed in some interesting places. There was place in the Western Isles, South Uist, where we got dropped off – they had opened up specially for us out of season – and all that was at reception was a Great Dane. There was a dog on reception and every time I hit the bell to ring it, the dog would bark at me.

But really people were so welcoming to us, everywhere we went. Me and Phil had had an idea for a documentary, but through Tern it became something way bigger. What was amazing to us and so interesting was the contributors. There were always ones where you’d think, I don’t know how this is going to go, and that was always the one that surprised you whether it would be Phil running about with a sheep’s head mask on Harris or whatever, there were just these real surreal moments.

We stayed at these little hobbit houses in South Uist near Lochboisdale, where there were seals outside and it snowed in April. We filmed round the campfire and Phil and me stayed there overnight. We sat round the campfire having a drink, just the stars and all that, it was lovely.”

Phil: “It was a good night. We had had such a busy day that it was nice to have some time to reflect on the idea of us actually doing this series. By that time we were very much up and running, so it was like, we are here, we are doing this – and we had such a brilliant team and of course the contributors. They are people who should be celebrated because they are brilliant people in their communities.”

What do you think people will get from the series?

Phil: “It is about modern Scotland, modern Scots, we’re not ticking the box of tartan and everything else that has maybe been done in the past. What we are trying to do is showcase what Scotland is today.”

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Martin: “All that stuff, like whisky tastings, shortbread, it has all been done before. We’re not as young as we were but I feel like we’ve still got young energy and so we wanted to focus on these different aspects. It was an eye-opener to see all these different facets of Scotland. I definitely want to see even more.”

Phil: “It is great that we have all this on our doorstep. And some of the personalities that we met were just phenomenal. Sometimes we take people who are well known back to a community, or others are people we’d just like to shine a light on. We’ve got what we think are the best contributors we could have for this series, because they had amazing stories to tell – hopefully we got the best out of them.”

Can you pick your biggest highlights?

Martin: “Not really. Every day of filming we would go that was the best, then that was the best and then another day, we’d go that was the best. We met some incredible people – everyone was really welcoming, everywhere we went.”

Phil: “It is very hard to pick one person over another. The series is very much about telling the stories of the people we meet, in the different regions we visit and the communities that are a big part of the culture there.

“There were also so many moments it is really hard to pick one, but I loved taking Martin back to my homeland in the Outer Hebrides. I hadn’t been back in years, it was great to go back and it was good to show him a bit of my heritage, what I see in my heart as being home. It was nice to share those moments with someone I’ve known for a long time. For Martin to be there was lovely.”

Martin: “I have a home in Vegas but I also still have a home in Scotland, but one of the joys is that I got to a lot of places I hadn’t been to before. I had never been to the Western Isles and the Hebrides were so spectacular and the dark skies in Galloway were also spectacular.

I just hope viewers enjoy the series. Not going too deep, but there’s been bleak times and I just hope we give people a wee half hour of escapism and put a smile on their faces.”

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Alastair James is the editor in chief for Memorable TV. He has been involved in media since his university days. Alastair is passionate about television, and some of his favourite shows include Line of Duty, Luther and Traitors. He is always on the lookout for hot new shows, and is always keen to share his knowledge with others.