Ten years since his passing, I’ve realised that the more I worked with Jimmy Mack, the more I admired him.
I first met him in the mid 80s but had already listened for years to his show on BBC Radio Scotland. Always afflicted by odd scheduling, they started him at 8.45. That (crazy) 15 minutes was one of the finest things on the station – Cliff Hanley and Christine Kinnear joined him for a preview of the day and what can best be described as banter. Better at being Jimmy Young than JY could ever be, Jimmy M deftly negotiated the talk elements and demonstrated first-rate music skills.
That shouldn’t be surprising as 20 years early a younger Jimmy was honing those skills on a different station with (almost) the same name aboard the MV Comet. Anchored in assorted points around Scotland the station was always held in high regard by it’s thousands of listeners. This wasn’t really a surprise as it’s line-up was a roll call of current and future greats. From there Jimmy went on to have some ‘normal’ jobs, start a family and then make the move to the BBC in the early 1970s. It was only a matter of time before he turned up at Queen Margaret Drive during one of the station’s classic periods alongside Tom Ferrie, Colin Bell, Ken Bruce and others.
The superb thing about his act was the level of preparation. He was every bit as comfortable with a ‘consumer’s friend’ interview or handling callers live on air. He also had a special knack of making scripts and live pieces sound exactly as natural as each other. This leant almost everything he did with an air of relaxed authority absent from many of his contemporaries.
Towards the end 0f the 1990s there was a changing of the guard at Radio Scotland and a feeling that the station needed to reinvent itself in keeping with the times. Presenters moved around, including Tom Ferrie starting a long tenure at Westsound. But Jimmy’s move was characteristically yet another reinvention. He left the BBC and its enormous production teams with vast phalanxes of audio staff for Clydebank.
With Clyde ‘splitting the airwaves’ into the hot AC Clyde 1 and significantly mellower Clyde 2, the afternoon drive shift was a natural home. The years of working with BBC eccentrics meant that the maddest Clyde could get was grist to his mill. I like to think that his experiences built to this moment when he had much more creative control over his act.
Why’s he a hero to me?
He loved radio and music but never lost sight of the people that he worked with along the way, always finding time to chat and encourage along the way. He was meticulously prepared for his shows and had a skill I never adequately mastered – back timing. His daughter Barbara, now a senior producer at the BBC, once told me that back timing was the mark of a radio professional. One of the ways you could tell where somebody learned their trade was how their hours ended. I think that’s why I remember him every time I hear Del Amitri’s ‘Roll To Me’.
Another thing that reminds me of Jimmy is a small but perfect thumbing of his nose at station management. His finely honed shows at Clyde, with their CCDs, LPs and paper scripts were always delivered to and from the studio in – a BBC ‘Programme Box’.