Built by DIY le Don­nie. And in­spired by in­mates of coun­try’s tough­est jail

How host carved out ca­reer with help of lags

Sunday Mail (UK) - - News - Steve Hendry

Novem­ber 22, 1963, is a day Gaelic star Don­nie Macleod will never for­get.

As news of the as­sas­si­na­tion of US pres­i­dent John F Kennedy was be­ing broad­cast on the TV in his home, he was sur­rounded by pris­on­ers from Scot­land’ s tough­est jail, Peter­head.

They were an­gry, ex­ple­tives rang out and of­fi­cers had to calm the sit­u­a­tion.

This wasn’t an es­cape or a protest, how­ever, but frus­tra­tion af­ter a job well done had just been ru­ined by Don­nie’s dog, Lewis.

BBC Alba’s DIY ex­pert grew up within the grounds of Peter­head as his fa­ther Kenny was an of­fi­cer there. Dur­ing the 50s and 60s, lowrisk pris­on­ers were put to work to utilise their skills and pro­vide main­te­nance for the homes of the guards and their fam­i­lies.

On the Fri­day when Kennedy was killed, a group had been lay­ing the foun­da­tions for an ex­ten­sion to Don­nie’s home and Lewis had just ran all over it.

He said: “The con­cre­teon­crete scree had just been laid. Itt was a Fri­day, so it was a job which had to be fin­ished be­fore the week­end­k­end and the dog came run­ning through the wet ce­ment. I re­mem­bermber one of the pris­on­ers say­ing,, ‘Get that f*****g dog out of there.’ ’

“Of course, thehe dog heard the shout­ing but it didn’t re­treat the same way it came,me, it just cre­ated a whole new mess.s. Mean­while, we had this lit­tle blackck and white telly and my mum wasas watch­ing as news came throughough about Kennedy be­ing shot.”

Don­nie movedd to Peter­head in 1957,7, when he was seven, and stayed for 13 years. He cred­its s grow­ing up there with g iv ing him the in­spi­ra­tion for the DIY skills.

The y are be­ing put to good use in a spe­cial edi­tion of his shshow, DIY le Don­nie, which airs ovover four days be­gin­ning to­mor­row.tomo In it, he en­lists lo­cal trades­men­trad to ren­o­vate the LewisLew Re­tire­ment Cen­tre in Sto Stornoway over five days.

It’sI a sense of com­mu­nity rem­i­nis­cen­trem­i­nis of what he ex­pe­ri­enced grow­ing­growin up, when of­fi­cers and their fafam­i­lies lived side by side.

As fo­for the prison it­self, while Peter­head’sPeterh rep­u­tat ion as Scot­land’sS­cot­lan tough­est jail was well earned and con­di­tions were no­to­ri­ously harsh for the pris­on­ers, it didn’t sseem that way for a child.

Don­nieDon had a pa­per round which took him through the

Ad­mi­ralty Yard, where con­victs worked along­side a civil­ian labour force. They would of­fer ad­vice on his rounds and a lit­tle bit more.

He said: “Some of them used to pay me with the rac­ing pi­geons that would land on the cell win­dows. When I was keep­ing rab­bits and build­ing my hutch, they would sneak me let­tuce and wire from the work­shops.

“All the prison of­fi­cers and their fam­i­lies stayed on the site so there was a real com­mu­nity spirit and the pris­on­ers would be put to work do­ing things around the houses.

“The prison of­fi­cers would pay for all the ma­te­ri­als but they could get the pris­on­ers to up­hol­ster a chair or do some build­ing work if that was their trade.

“They weren’t dan­ger­ous, they had made mis­takes but they were al­lowed to get on with their job. It was a re­minder they were just peo­ple.

“I would be walk­ing through Ad­mi­ralty Hall, go­ing to see my dad or de­liver the pa­pers, and you could see guards high in their look­out tow­ers, armed with ri­fles.

“I had a mo­torised go-kart then a mo­tor­bike and the pris­on­ers do­ing work around the houses would see what I was tin­ker­ing with and of­fer ad­vice. They were a big in­flu­ence. I saw them work­ing, mak­ing things and it rubbed off. I loved work­ing with my hands.”

There were also ad­ven­tures. He saw se­rial killer Peter Manuel’s gun when his un­cle, who worked in po­lice foren­sics, was tak­ing it to trial. The safe­cracker “Gen­tle” Johnny Ra­men­sky hid in the rooff of his pri­mary school on one of five es­cape bids from Peter­head.

Don­nie said: “Johnny ’ s nick­name was Gen­tle Johnny y as he never hurt any­body.

“He was re­leased from prison to be trained as a com­mando dur­ing World War II and fought be­hind en­emy lines, break­ing safes. Af­ter the war he couldn’t stop and was back in jail.” Don­nie has, of course en­joyed his own ad­ven­tures. Hav­ing ini­tially worked as an en­gi­neer, he formed the suc­cess­ful folk group Na h- Oganaich, mean­ing “the young ones”, with his sis­ter Mar­garet in the 70s. When that ended, he was ap­proached by BBC Scot­land about a new Gaelic show, aimed at preschoolscoo cchil­dren, which was to go out on BBC2 day­time.day Do­ta­manD – or spin­ningspi top in GaelicGae – fea­tured mu­sic,mus learn­ing and pup­pets and a hun­dred dif­fer­ent hats worn by Don­nie who become known­know to view­ers as sim­ply Do­ta­man.Dota He said: “I don’t only have moth­moth­ers and chil­dren who recogn­recog­nise me, I have grand­m­moth­e­moth­ers.” Don­nDon­nie, who is a TV pro­ducer in Glas­gow,Glas where he works witwithth ththe BBC, also hosts DIY le DoDon­nie.on­nie He’s del ighted his hand­handy­mandyma skills are be­ing put to good use in Stornoway. He said: “The Lewis Re­tire­ment Cen­tCen­tre is used by more than 1500 is­lanis­landers ev­ery week as a meet­ing plac­place and recre­ational space but it wwas badly in need of up­dat­ing and im­prove­ment. “WWe had peo­ple com­ing out of the rafters to give up their time and ma­te­ri­als for free. It was a gre­great com­mu­nity ser­vice and wi­will now be long last­ing.” DIY lle Don­nie – An Dubh­lan, BBC Alba, Mon­day to Thurs­day, 8.30pm

FAME Donny on TV’s Do­ta­man

HATS OFF Don­nie is the host of BBC Alba DIY show CLOSE LINKS SUP­PORT The Gaelic TV star grew up in the grounds of Peter­head jail Don­nie and his team at Lewis Re­tire­ment Cen­tre NEWS JFK’s death. Top, safe­cracker Ra­men­sky ON GUARD Don­nie’s dad Kenny at Peter­head prison

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