BA Cowboys will relive their glory days at Bo’ness Hippodrome

In the limelight...Ian Gardiner (71) is one of the original BA Cowboys who will feature in a BBC Scotland documentary later this year. (Pic: Michael Gillen)
In the limelight...Ian Gardiner (71) is one of the original BA Cowboys who will feature in a BBC Scotland documentary later this year. (Pic: Michael Gillen)

Hitting the headlines is nothing new for grandad Ian Gardiner.

Back in the 1960s and 70s, he and his fellow workers at the British Aluminium factory in Falkirk became home-grown celebrities.

In their heyday...the BA Cowboys gained celebrity status in their home town, not just for the films they made but the money they raised for charity too.

In their heyday...the BA Cowboys gained celebrity status in their home town, not just for the films they made but the money they raised for charity too.

Putting aside 15p from their wages every week, they created their own Western movies, screening them at community groups to raise funds for local charities.

Now, the surviving BA Cowboys – Ian and his fellow screen stars, Denis McCourtney and Alex Penman – are riding a new wave of publicity.

For they and their films will feature in a BBC Scotland documentary later this year.

Dressed up in cowboy and Indian gear for filming, they brought traffic to a standstill in Falkirk earlier this week as they travelled to the Kelpies – on a horse-drawn cart!

As the tallest cowboy, Ian was the ideal fit to star as the eponymous character in The Mummy's Hand, the BA Cowboys foray into horror films.

As the tallest cowboy, Ian was the ideal fit to star as the eponymous character in The Mummy's Hand, the BA Cowboys foray into horror films.

And this Monday, they will take centre stage at a screening of their old movies in Bo’ness Hippodrome.

Ian (71) was just 18 when he started work at the BA factory, from 1967 to 1976.

He was impressed when fellow worker Robert Harvey showed a reel he’d made with his brother-in-law Billy McSorley. That spurred them on to make their own ... and the rest is history!

Ian said: “Robert, who worked in the finishing department with me, was a fanatical John Wayne fan.

“He and Billy shot a two-man film, on a hand-held Super 8 camera. He let us see it and we were all hooked. There was a core of five of us but it grew to about 10.

“Robert wrote and directed them all and John Aitken was the camera operator. The rest of us all pitched in – there were no stars; we just did whatever they needed us to do.”

Filmed mainly in Callendar Park, usually in one day, the actors learned to ride on horses stabled there, taking just two or three lessons each, then hiring them for 80p an hour for their movies.

Two local bars also featured heavily – The Empire and the Victoria.

Ian and his fellow stars spent hours devising stunts and creating costumes, which his wife Catherine found to her cost.

He said: “She couldn’t leave message bags lying around as I’d use them to create holsters and all sorts! The Empire and Victoria were great with us too and didn’t mind if we smashed stuff up as they knew we’d put it right in the end!”

Two scenes in Callendar Park particularly stand out.

“We did a hanging scene where we walked the horse out from under the actor,” said Ian. “I devised a harness for him so it was safe but it looked really realistic. We spent a lot of time finding the right tree though.

“On another occasion, someone called the police and told them they’d seen a man on horseback with a gun. I had a rifle butt with two pieces of tubing attached!

“Luckily, the officer saw the funny side.”

The BA Cowboys were often featured in the local press, but were real-life heroes too, raising enough money to buy five wheelchairs for local kids.

For they showed their films at community groups to raise funds for charity.

Ian said: “One of the cowboys, Danny Griffiths, was a country and western singer, so he would perform too. We went down well.”

Their shenanigans were also filmed by the BBC.

“We were big news then and had a great time,” said Ian. “The BBC reporter really wanted to be in a film so we tied him to a tree and left him!”

Ian was also the star of the BA Cowboys horror film, The Mummy’s Hand, which will feature in the documentary.

It’s a part his wife and granddaughter Ashleigh are already all too familiar with.

“I played the mummy because, at 6ft 2, I was the tallest,” he said. “I spent ages creating the costume in three parts using bandages.

“I finished it and decided to surprise Catherine, jumping out in the dark when she came home. She nearly had a heart attack!

“I’ve got that film in the house and showed it to my granddaughter. She couldn’t believe it when she saw I was the mummy.”

Relatives and friends of the cast and crew will attend Monday’s screening. Sadly, Robert Harvey will not see his films resurrected.

But Ian’s in little doubt as to how he would feel.

“Robert died a few years ago but he would be on cloud nine if he knew about this.”

Ian, Catherine, their children John and Catherine and grandchildren Ewan (8), Ashleigh (7) and Alexander (4) will all be there though.

He added: “It’s been great meeting up with Denis and Alex again – it’s taken us all back to our childhood.

“We’re hoping more BA Cowboys might come along on Monday too.”

Calling all the other cowboys

Objective Media Group Scotland was commissioned to make a one-off documentary for BBC One Scotland about Scotland’s answer to Hollywood Westerns.

Currently entitled Falkirk Cowboys, it will tell the story of the BA Cowboys.

Starring workers from the town’s British Aluminium factory and directed by Robert Harvey, the films were shot on a shoestring budget, often made in a day and showed the sagas of everyday heroes striving to make the world a better place.

The documentary will feature a gala screening of the old reels at Bo’ness Hippodrome on Monday (July 8) and it is hoped cowboys the crew weren’t able to trace will go along.

Simon Murray, from Objective Media, said: “It is open for other people to attend, on a first come, first served basis and we are looking for people to dress in Western attire!

“There is a possibility there might be some other existing cowboys around. Hopefully, your article might unearth someone who can come along on Monday.”

Doors open at 5pm, with the local cowboys taking to the red carpet around 5.45pm.

The films, including Wyoming Outlaws, Badlands, Apache Ambush, Border Badmen and The Lonesome Drifter, are scheduled to start at 6pm.

In the early 1970s the group also delved into horror films with The Mummy’s Hand. It is one of the surviving reels to be featured in the programme.

Directed by Ian Bustard and produced by Liam McArdle and executive producer Toby Stevens, Falkirk Cowboys will be screened on BBC Scotland later this year.

It will tell a tale of friendship, industrial communities in Scotland, creativity, cinema and a social history of Falkirk over the course of 50 years.