Fred MacAulay (Gaelic producer)

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Fred Ewen Gillies MacAulay
Born (1925-01-01)1 January 1925
Sollas, North Uist, Scotland
Died 15 February 2003(2003-02-15) (aged 78)
Inverness, Scotland
Nationality Scottish
Education Inverness Royal Academy
Alma mater Edinburgh University
  • BBC Scotland, senior Gaelic producer
  • BBC Radio Highland, manager
Predecessor Hugh Macphee
Spouse(s) Sybil Thom
  • Donald MacAulay
  • ?

Fred MacAulay (1 January 1925–15 February 2003) was a leading Gaelic broadcasting executive, head of Gaelic at BBC Scotland from 1964, and later manager of BBC Radio Highland until his retiral in 1984.

Early life

Fred MacAulay carried the stamp of the Sollas, North Uist, community that bred him throughout his life. His early education was in the local school, from which he moved to Inverness Royal Academy as a teenager in the middle of the Second World War. As the war came to its end, he was a young officer in the Cameron Highlanders working on the fraught border between Italy and Yugoslavia. His duties in Italy included being part of a team who guarded a prison camp containing SS men and Ukrainian detainees.

After the war he graduated MA in Celtic Studies at Edinburgh University. He then worked as a part-time tutor in Gaelic on the university staff while studying for a diploma in phonetics. With the School of Scottish Studies on the horizon and a linguistic survey of Scottish languages and dialects under way, MacAulay's skills were in much demand.

BBC career

In 1954, MacAulay joined the BBC's two-man, two-secretary Gaelic department at Queen Margaret Drive, Glasgow, with Hugh MacPhee from Ballachulish as his immediate boss.

Unnoticed and unannounced, he made the most of a tight budget and began a gentle and quiet revolution, introducing singers of the calibre of Flora MacNeill, unusually in those days, accompanied by the BBC Scottish Orchestra.

He succeeded Hugh Macphee as head of Gaelic in 1964, winning extra producer and secretary posts as part of the bargain. Initially working under Alasdair Milne, then controller at BBC Scotland, MacAulay expanded the range of Gaelic programming, encouraging young production talent, producing light entertainment television programmes such as Se Ur Beatha which attracted eight times as many viewers as their were Gaelic speakers, and opening strands of current affairs programming.

Alasdair Milne, later to become director general of the BBC, wrote in The Scotsman: "The Gaelic language and its culture meant everything to Fred and he was a famous perfectionist — sloppy grammar and bad pronunciation drawing terrible wrath."

When BBC Scotland wanted to move Gaelic affairs out of Glasgow in the mid-1970s, MacAulay disagreed and, despite attempts to move him from his post, he hung on until the storm was over.

Afterwards he became manager of the bilingual Radio Highland station in Inverness until his retirement in 1984.

Three of his proteges — Neil Fraser, Martin Macdonald and John Alec Macpherson — went on to build impressive reputations in radio and TV broadcasting, journalism and public relations.

Other interests

During his years of service to the BBC he still found time to produce a book of Domhnall Ruadh Choruna's poems, Donald Macdonald, a bard of his native Uist; various Gaelic publications carry his own poems under the name Eoghan Gilios, his own middle names in his own language. In his latter years his energies were channelled through various avenues, particularly the Gaelic Society of Inverness.


Fred MacAulay died on 15 February 2003. He left a son, two daughters, and three grandchildren.