Gregory’s Girl: ‘The affection for it overwhelms me’

The teenage romantic comedy set in a Scottish new town has been an enduring success for 40 years.

Hardly a day goes by without somebody asking Clare Grogan to quote a line from Gregory’s Girl, the teenage romantic comedy set in a Scottish new town which became an unlikely hit when it was released 40 years ago this week.

“Sometimes they ask me if I can lie down in a bank of grass and dance,” says Grogan, who was just 18 when she filmed that scene in the film four decades ago.

Grogan, whose career also included huge success as a pop star in the band Altered Images, told BBC Scotland she does not mind the constant reminders of a film she made when she was a teenager.

“It is the gift that keeps on giving,” she says.

Clare Grogan has a crush on Gordon John Sinclair in a scene from the film 'Gregory's Girl', 1981.
Clare Grogan and John Gordon Sinclair in a scene from the film

The film was written and directed by Scottish filmmaker Bill Forsyth, who was also later responsible for the classic Local Hero.

When he came up with the idea for Gregory’s Girl he says it was because he had no budget and was working with youth theatre kids because they were “cheaper and more easily exploited”.

The 74-year-old Glaswegian director recalled how he liked the idea of a coming-of-age romance but he wanted to give it a twist so he decided to make the object of Gregory’s desire a girl who played football.

Forsyth told BBC Scotland’s Afternoon Show: “The zeitgeist in the late 70s was feminism and I just had a notion of a girl on a football team because, especially in sports, there were boys and girls and never the twain shall meet. Football was for men and all that, so it had lots of nice anomalies in it.”

In the film Gregory (played by John Gordon Sinclair) is infatuated with Dorothy (played by Dee Hepburn), the football team’s female striker, but it is Susan (played by Grogan) who is clearly the girl he should be looking for.

image caption“Bella, bella”: Hepburn and John Gordon Sinclair in a scene from the film

It is Susan who Gregory eventually ends up swapping favourite numbers with, as the pair perform lying down arm-dancing at the base of a tree in a touching scene which so many awkward young people related to.

Grogan says: “I remember when Bill suggested it, it did seem like a really daft idea but, my goodness, now I can see why people love that scene.”

The film, which was made for just £200,000, was shot entirely on location in the new town of Cumbernauld, north of Glasgow, and was different to many previous Scottish films in that it showed an up-to-date and modern version of the country.

Grogan says the film was “years ahead of its time” in showing the girls in the science lab and the boys mastering baking.

She was not familiar with Cumbernauld and remembers thinking that its wide open streets and new houses were what Canada must look like.

Grogan lived a mere 15 miles away in the “trendy” west end of Glasgow and was working as a part-time waitress at the Spaghetti Factory in Gibson Street when Forsyth asked her to be in his film.

She says she was a “well brought-up” girl whose mother told her not to give her phone number to strangers and refused Forsyth’s request “point blank”.

But the restaurant manager was able to vouch for Forsyth’s credentials as a respectable film director and advised her to reconsider his offer.

ALTERED IMAGES Promotional photo of lead singer Clare Grogan of 1980s Scottish New Wave group
Clare Grogan had a career as a pop star in the band Altered Images
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Forsyth told BBC Scotland he was in the Spaghetti Factory that night with fellow director Michael Radford and, in contrast to how Grogan tells the tale, it was the Englishman who had whisked the teenage waitress over to tell her “my friend is a filmmaker”.

“I was just sitting there dumb and nodding my head,” says Forsyth.

Grogan was shocked to find she had been repeating a false memory of the incident for 40 years.

Meanwhile, Sinclair had been a member of the Glasgow Youth Theatre and had worked with Forsyth before on his 1979 film That Sinking Feeling.

He too was 18 and had started work as a trainee apprentice electrician when Forsyth offered him the part of Gregory. He was worried about taking the role as he would have to miss his work.

GREGORY'S GIRL, Dee Hepburn, 1981, (c) Samuel Goldwyn/courtesy Everett CollectionIMAGE COPYRIGHTALAMY
image captionDirector Bill Forsyth said he liked the “twist” of a girl playing football

Sinclair has previously said he identified strongly with the character of Gregory, a lanky, gawky teenager going through the “madness of adolescence”.

Forsyth told BBC Scotland he knew Sinclair would be perfect for the role when he saw him during a scene on the ice in the previous film.

“He has all this natural physicality and timing and body language,” he says.

Sinclair said Grogan was an “exotic creature to me” when they first met.

In contrast, she says Sinclair “seemed like the tallest person in the world – and I could not believe he was wearing flares”.

“I had to have a talk to him about that,” she says.

“It is his film really. He is so amazing and so funny and so Gregory.”

When John Gordon Sinclair Met Clare Grogan
image captionSinclair and Grogan returned to Abronhill School where the film was set in 2012 for a BBC Scotland documentary

The film was a huge hit in 1981, missing out on the Bafta for best film to Chariots of Fire but beating that movie to the best screenplay award.

It ended up grossing about £25m around the world and played in some London cinemas for over a year.

The love for it has continued ever since and Grogan says she had no idea the film would be such a huge and enduring success.

“We were just having a carry on,” she says.

“I had no clue I would have this all my adult life. How can you not feel touched by that? It just genuinely overwhelms me, the constant affection for it.”

Source: Gregory’s Girl: ‘The affection for it overwhelms me’

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