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Rigs of Nigg set for BBC TV showcase as film puts Ross-shire oil industry boom days into spotlight

By Margaret Chrystall

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Photographer Craig Mackay in his younger years at Nigg. Picture: Scotch
Photographer Craig Mackay in his younger years at Nigg. Picture: Scotch

A NEW hour-long film will look back at the transformation brought to a small Ross-shire bay by the oil industry in the 1970s.

Rigs Of Nigg will be shown on BBC Scotland on Tuesday and tells the story of how the need for oil rigs brought thousands of workers to an unlikely location in the North of Scotland to build the platforms.

Spending many years looking across at Nigg from Cromarty, Don Coutts has made the film with Lindy Cameron and brought the untold story to life.

Contributor Craig Mackay. Picture: Craig Mackay/Scotch
Contributor Craig Mackay. Picture: Craig Mackay/Scotch

Don said: "What triggered the idea was my friend, the photographer Craig Mackay.

"And there is a Facebook page called Friends of Barmac and it is massive, over a thousand people have joined it."

In the film, Don talks to people who were involved in the story of Nigg and hears their memories of a unique period in Highland history.

"It is basically celebrating an extraordinary event," he said.

In the 1970s, the fabrication yard was extremely busy and it brought many of the skilled workers needed up from the south of Scotland and beyond.

Contributor Heather Mackay. Picture: Craig Mackay
Contributor Heather Mackay. Picture: Craig Mackay

Land was reclaimed to help create the yard which then added an oil terminal in the mid-70s.

With around 5000 employed – earning sometimes four times as much as jobs in the surrounding area – the venture created a new community and made a big impact on Nigg and the places surrounding it.

As the introduction to the film says: 'Heady days of tough work and hard living set some up for life but also took their toll on many'.

Don said: "People did earn good money, some people’s lives changed and some of the welders went round the world for the rest of their lives and gained respect and good salaries.

"But there wasn’t enough housing, then all the councils got involved and they did start building and were quite effective, but it took a while.

Contributor Rab Wilson.
Contributor Rab Wilson.

"It’s touched on in the film that the Americans didn’t realise for a while how many people were needed – they had only planned for 400 employees and had to bring more people in.

"There were two old liners stuck on the end of Nigg pier where I think about 700 people were put up."

The film features the building of Highland One, Highland Fabricators first oil platform and the world's largest offshore oil platform at the time, launched in 1974 and destined for BP's Forties field.

Those taking part in the film include photographer Craig Mackay, who has plans to stage an exhibition of photographs, sculptor and artist Sue Jane Taylor who was brought up on the Black Isle and last year was artist in residence at Nigg Energy Park.

Contributor Sue Jane Taylor. Picture: Craig Mackay
Contributor Sue Jane Taylor. Picture: Craig Mackay

Others include Heather Mackay from Dornoch, a welder and now a nurse and Rab Wilson, a shop steward at the yard.

Rigs of Nigg made by the Scotch production company is shown on Tuesday at 10pm on BBC Scotland.

The Cromarty Firth today.
The Cromarty Firth today.

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