Unfortunately, the British Film Institute felt Gregory’s Girl was too commercial and declined to fund it. Instead, Forsyth and the young actors made the (much) cheaper That Sinking Feeling (1979), about a group of unemployed teenagers who steal a lorry-load of kitchen sinks. It cost a few thousand pounds and Forsyth felt it was his last shot - “if we hadn’t made a go of it, my plan was just to disappear.” That Sinking Feeling turned out to be the surprise hit of the 1979 Edinburgh Film Festival and allowed him to raise the funds for Gregory’s Girl, using many of the same actors.
Gregory’s Girl “wrote itself,” he later said as he knew which buttons to press: “young love and football”. Designed as a calling card, a ticket to bigger films and bigger budgets, he originally planned to make it on 16mm for £29,000 but ended up shooting on 35mm for £200,000.
Although Forsyth used many of the Glasgow Youth Theatre actors, he spotted Dee Hepburn (Dorothy) dancing in a TV advert for a department store, whilst Clare Grogan (Susan) was working as a waitress at the Spaghetti Factory restaurant in Glasgow. “[Bill] asked me for my phone number,” she said in interview, “but my mum had warned me about strange men, so I just said: “You know where to find me.” I was 17, very naive, yet had incredible delusions of grandeur and glamour. I realise now how lucky I was: Bill had faith in me and was brilliant at making us all feel relaxed on set, spoonfeeding us ideas.”
John Gordon Sinclair (Gregory) was an apprentice electrician at the time and although he’d appeared in That Sinking Feeling, was surprised to get the lead. “”Everyone was a bit in awe of Dee Hepburn,” he said in interview, “she was already a professional actor.” After being cast, Hepburn was given six weeks of intensive football training at Partick Thistle FC.
|Susan (Clare Grogan) and Gordon (John Gordon Sinclair)|
“When I first met Gordon,” said Clare, “I was staggered to see he was still in flares. But Gordy, as he’ll always be to me, is the funniest person to be around.”
Forsyth took notice of how his young cast talked and acted with one another. “Bill always had a wee notebook in his hands, watching us, writing down things we said,” said John. “Then later, things wound up in the script and we'd think, 'Ah, that's one of our stories.'”
The setting of the film was deliberate. “I wanted a backdrop where nothing was touched or old,” Forsyth said and the film was shot in the new town of Cumbernauld, North Lanarkshire, created in 1956 as a population overspill for Glasgow. A reaction against the gritty locations of That Sinking Feeling, this was “a deliberate attempt to show a different face to Scotland.” Gregory waits by the big clock at New Town Plaza, the Fish & Chip shop is in a small shopping arcade next to the Abronhill High School used as the school in the film and the restaurant was called Capaldi’s and owned by a member of the actor Peter Capaldi’s family. The nurses home, from the opening scene, was the Electricity Board training centre in Seafar, which is now a Christian centre. Abronhill High School was opened in 1978, earmarked for closure in 2012 and demolished in 2014. Apparently, a small crowd gathered to say goodbye.
|from left - Andy (Robert Buchanan), Charlie (Graham Thompson) and Gregory watch Dorothy|
|A smitten Gregory examines Dorothy's injured knee|
John later said in interview. “Shooting was fun, it never felt like work. You knew you were getting it right because you’d see Bill’s shoulders shaking with laughter behind the camera. I had to ask him to move out of my eyeline, because it would get quite distracting.”
Three months before filming began, Clare Grogan was an innocent bystander at a fight at the Glasgow Technical college. A broken bottle hit her and she was severely injured, suffering a prominent scar on the left side of her face. The film producers wanted to change actress but Forsyth refused to recast and she was filmed mostly in profile. When close-ups were required, such as at the park, make-up artists covered her scar with morticians wax.
|Bill Forsyth (right) chats through a scene with Mr Menzies (Jake D'Arcy) and Dorothy (Dee Hepburn)|
The film is filled with affection for its characters and quickly establishes the idea that the younger you are, the sharper you are. From the kids at the beginning, who witness the teenagers watch the nurse undress and brush it off with “a lot of fuss about a bit of tit” to Madeline (Allison Forster) being Gregory’s mentor and the teachers in the staff room, more like giggling kids than their pupils. Gregory’s friends are never mocked, from his best friend Steve (William Greenless), a budding pastry chef who runs a black market business selling cakes from the boys toilet whilst taking orders from the teachers to Eric (Alan Love) the photographer who sells photo’s of Dorothy from the stall next to the cakes, conducting his conversation in terms of f-stops and lenses. And Andy (Robert Buchanan) trotting out dubious trivia (often beginning with “It’s a well known fact…”) as attempted pick-up lines, never deterred by his lack of success.
|Madeline (Allison Forster) fills Gregory in on love|
There’s also a wonderful use of the summer evening. Forsyth wanted “something that was slightly magic but isn’t corny magic, it was just human magic. It could be something like this sudden midsummer’s atmosphere that overtakes people and even the two boys that are wandering around catch it. They say, ‘There’s something in the atmosphere.’ It was just allowing every individual their eccentricity without taking it to a point where it’s just pure comedy.”
|Susan and Gregory in the park|
“I especially remember the scene after our date in the park,” said John later, “where there’s a shot of us walking off into the sunset. We were both in tears. It was the last day of filming. It was all over. This magical bubble we’d been in was about to burst.”
“To this day, I’ve never seen Gregory’s Girl in its entirety,” said Clare at a 30th anniversary showing of the film. “I always have to leave at some point because I find it too much.”
Gregory’s Girl was written and directed by Bill Forsyth and produced by Clive Parsons. The music was written by Colin Tully, Michael Coulter was the cinematographer and John Gow was editor.
The film was released in the UK on 23rd April 1981 and distributed by ITC Entertainment. Watching it at the 1981 London Film Festival, John was “mortified, I looked terrible and gangly” and suddenly understood why Forsyth had “made me exaggerate all those stretches and lunges when he was filming me exercising”, worried his performance “ruined the film”. Clare, whose band Altered Images had signed with CBS during production, was a bit more used to showbusiness and recognised the charm of the film and its “smart, progressive view of a girl's world”. Even though the film got a great reception, all involved thought the fuss would soon die down.
It never did, really. The film Forsyth called “an act of desperation - I was in my early thirties, it was a last roll of the dice” was ranked number 30 in the British Film Institute's list of the top 100 British films and number 29 on Entertainment Weekly's list of the 50 best high school movies. It was nominated for three BAFTA’s - Best Newcomer (John Gordon Sinclair), Best Direction and Best Film - and won the BAFTA Best Original Screenplay, the London Critics Circle Film Award: Special Achievement and the Variety Club Actress Of The Year Award (Dee Hepburn).
|Dee Hepburn, John Gordon Sinclair, Clare Grogan - at the 30th anniversary screening at the Glasgow Film Festival, 2011|
The film was first shown on Channel 4 on 8th January 1985 and attracted 10.75 million viewers, Channel 4's third biggest audience of that year. ITV repeated the film the following Christmas Day.
The film was released in America on 26th May 1982 by The Samuel Goldwyn Company, opening small and relying on word of mouth praise which was consistently good. It performed well in New York and other US cities and whilst it wasn’t a blockbuster, at one point it was number 7 in the US Top Fifty. Learning their lesson from Ken Loach’s Kes, which was withdrawn after two days because Americans couldn’t understand it, the film was re-dubbed with milder Scottish accents (with some of the original actors, thankfully - both versions are available on the US DVD). Subtitles were originally suggested but Goldwyn’s Larry Jackson was quoted as saying “we thought it was a wholesome entertaining story with a general appeal, and we didn't want it to end up with an art house audience only.” It’s said he loved the film the first time he saw it, though he did have a script to follow the dialogue. Critic Richard Skorman wrote, “Unlike the film's American counterparts, Gregory’s Girl is refreshingly free of mean-spirited characters and horny young studs bemoaning their virginity.”
The success of Gregory’s Girl led to the development of the Scottish Film Production Fund, Glasgow Film Fund and other financing organisations which allowed for talents like Danny Boyle (Shallow Grave, 1994) and Lynne Ramsay (Ratcatcher, 1999) to get their first features made. It was been cited as an influence on Wes Anderson and Shane Meadows and, according to Clare Grogan, is one of Martin Scorsese’s favourite films.
On its budget of £200,000, Gregory’s Girl went on to make £25.8m around the world and played in some London cinemas for an astonishing 75 weeks.
Watching it now in widescreen, I was delighted to find the film hadn’t really dated at all. I was watching it as a different person, certainly, but it still spoke to me and even though some of that might have been nostalgia - from my first viewings, perhaps from my teenaged years - it was also because the film stands up well. There is an air of youthful naivety, of course, but it’s warm and smart and the humour makes you smile.
Gregory’s Girl is a wonderful film. If you’ve seen it before, watch it again and if you’ve never seen it, I envy you that first viewing experience.
Happy birthday Gregory, bella bella!
Clare Grogan (born Claire Patricia Grogan in Glasgow in 1962) went on to play Charlotte in Bill Forsyth’s Comfort & Joy (1984) and was Kristine Kochanski in the 1st, 2nd and 6th series of Red Dwarf. She is perhaps better known the lead singer of 80s new wave group Altered Images, whose debut album Happy Birthday was released in 1981. Grogan continues to act and sing, presents on BBC 6 Music and her first book, a children’s novel called Tallulah And The Teenstars was published in October 2008. She lives in Haringay with her husband Stephen Lironi (her former bandmate) and their adopted daughter.
Dee Hepburn (born in Airdrie in 1961) won the Variety Club Actress Of The Year Award for her performance as Dorothy. After working in TV, she appeared in The Bruce (1996) with Oliver Reed but has now left showbusiness. She lives in East Kilbride with her second husband and two children, working in business development.
|Bill Forsyth, Clare Grogan, John Gordon Sinclair|
|The UK quad poster of the double-bill I went to see|
|The US release poster|
|Susan and Dorothy talk about Gregory in Chemistry|
|Susan, Gregory and Steve (William Greenlees) in cookery class|
|Dorothy on the pitch|
|The boys at the nurses home|