Film-maker loved people

The Arts
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David PeatA SHANDON man who died of blood cancer on April 16 2012 at the age of 65 is considered to have been one of Scotland’s greatest cameramen and film-makers.

In David Peat’s early days he was an all-action cameraman flying in helicopters, filming the famous Clyde sit-in and other highlights such as the career of Billy Connolly.

He covered subjects as diverse as an intensive care unit in Belfast at the height of the troubles to the fishing industry in the North East, and ironically life in a cancer hospice.

He spent 40 years filming the stories of ordinary people, and in Britain he won three BAFTA Scotland Best Documentary Awards and in America two Cine Golden Eagle Awards for Documentary.

Helensburgh man David Bruce, a friend who collaborated in publishing the book ‘David Peat: An Eye On The Street’, said of him: "In his last years he turned out to be one of Scotland's best photographers without anybody even knowing it."

Father of a son and a daughter, David, who lived at Overgare, Stuckenduff Road, for 27 years, was involved in the early stages of planning the book and selected many of his favourite photographs to be included.

His widow Trish said: “Sadly, David never saw the book, but he had an idea what it would look like. He would be very pleased to know that it had come to fruition.

“David was a film director and his work took him all over the world, and he took the opportunity to photograph people in places as diverse as Paris and Ecuador.

“These are the pictures that are in the book, David’s second. It includes 70-plus images which David had taken over 40 years. “They show not only his skill at capturing the moment but often his great humour and compassion.”

David Henderson Peat was born in Glasgow, where his father ran a shipping agency, on March 22 1847.

He was brought up in the village of Killearn in Stirlingshire. After leaving school, he took a job in another shipping agency but had ambitions to work in television as a camera operator.

Following in the footsteps of his maternal grandmother, Eileen Henderson, who was an amateur photographer, he started taking still pictures on the streets of Glasgow — including stark black-and-white images of children in the Gorbals — after being given a Pentax camera for his 21st birthday.

A year later he began work as an apprentice camera operator and found himself in demand during the successful ‘work-in’ at Upper Clyde Shipbuilders in 1971.

His break came when he teamed up with the director Murray Grigor to make sponsored travelogues about Scotland's Highlands and islands, and they also shot a number of arts films for cinema and television.

Their sixth film together was Clydescope, shot in 1974, which included the folk singer-turned-comedian Billy Connolly, himself a former shipyard worker.

The following year, Peat and Grigor spent 48 hours filming Connolly performing in Dublin and Belfast at the time of the war known as The Troubles.

He shot major documentaries for acclaimed producers, having  learned the vital observational skills from working with the two early masters of the genre in the United Kingdom, Roger Graef and his cameraman, Charles Stewart.

Action and physical shoots became a speciality, including ‘The Legend of Los Tayos’ in the Amazonian jungle, the last documentary made by Bill Forsyth before he embarked on his feature film career which was to include ‘Gregory's Girl’ and ‘Local Hero’.

The transition to directing and film-making came through the support and enthusiasm of producer Steve Clark-Hall, which included the learning curve of delivering a weekly programme from the early days of Channel Four in 1982.

He cut his teeth as a director on Years Ahead, a magazine series for older viewers, between 1982 and 1985, then started making his own documentaries.

After directing Six Little Sisters — The Waltons at Three in 1986, about the world's first surviving all-female sextuplets, his focus returned to Scotland, first directing programmes for Scottish Eye on Channel Four and Around Seventeen on ITV in Scotland.

In 2004, he produced the first series of Scotland on Film, an anthology of clips representing a history of 20th-century life in the country.

Neil McDonald, creative director of documentaries at BBC Scotland, said Peat was an extremely talented film-maker who had documented four decades of seismic shifts in Scottish industry.

"What made David great as a documentary-maker was an empathy with the people he was making the films about,” he said.

"He had an honesty and warmth that drew people to him. And as a photographer and a cameraman he had a superb eye. He was really exceptional."

Throughout his career in documentaries, he continued with his stills photography, having progressed from Pentax to Leica.

After being diagnosed with the incurable cancer myeloma in 2009, he decided to collect together the pictures he had amassed over the years for an exhibition, Eye on the World: David Peat's Street Photography.

It was held at the Windmill Gallery, Aberfeldy, in 2011, when he was also presented with Scottish Bafta's Outstanding Contribution for Craft award.

He won many other awards, including the Production Base UK Outstanding Freelancer of the Year 2011, BISFA Grand Prix and two Gold Awards, a Royal Television Society Award, and two Celtic Film Festival Best Documentary Awards.

His Retrospective Exhibition at Glasgow’s Street Level Gallery in the summer of 2012 was very successful and was voted one of the top exhibitions of the year by List magazine.

In his final years he passed on his knowledge and skills through training courses within the BBC and at various colleges.

Tony Nellany, producer of a documentary about David, ‘A Life Through the Lens’, said: "In the months and years to come you will be hard pushed to watch an evening of television without seeing a film which has been produced, presented, directed or perhaps commissioned by someone David has trained, mentored, or believed in.

"David passed on his skills and incredible knowledge not because he had to, but because he wanted to.

"He wanted the film-makers of the future to feel confident and empowered, and he wanted those watching at home to be surprised and spellbound.

"This will be his legacy. He loved film-making, but above anything else David loved people."

  • The 152 page hardback book ‘David Peat: An Eye On The Street’ was published by Watermill Books of Aberfeldy, and can be ordered online at, price £20 plus p&p.