Neil McLean

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Neil McLean was second director of the BBC's Aberdeen station, 2BD, from July 1924 to September 1930, as well as being a singer, speaker, and lecturer.

Early life

Graduate of Glasgow University.


In 1924 he took over as director of the Aberdeen station from R. E. Jeffrey.

At the end of 1926 Mr McLean had instituted a scheme of propaganda and began a series of French lessons by Mlle Madeleine Marot, which was popular among listening schools and resulted in an increased number of listeners. A pamphlet was published in connection with these talks, and was in great demand, but it was discovered that many schools were asking for it which had no wireless sets, and the position was therefore not so satisfactory as had been thought.[1]


McLean was a leading authority on Gaelic and Celtic lore and represented Scottish Gaelic at the Irish National Festivals as well as in Scotland.

During his time as Aberdeen station director McLean was responsible for all Gaelic broadcasting in Scotland, consisting mainly of readings and songs.

One of the most outstanding Gaelic concerts was in February 1926, when a service from Aberdeen's King's College Chapel was relayed, McLean intoning the Praise in the old-fashioned Highland manner, and supported by the university choir. This service was attended by the whole of the senate in hood and gown, including Principal Adam Smith.[2]

However, it was found that while there was an abundance of Gaelic scholars to undertake the literary part of the programmes, there were not nearly so many good vocalists.[3]

Neil McLean initiated a Gaelic Comer "for those in the North of Scotland who speak the Gaelic tongue". There were also programmes featuring Mod winners and, by 1928, the BBC had started to broadcast Mod concerts and prize-winners.[4]

At a meeting of the executive council of An Comunn Gaidhealach in Stirling in January 1929, members agreed to write to the BBC and express their appreciation of what was being done for Gaelic. McLean, who attended the meeting, suggested that the organisation's propaganda committee might form themselves into an advisory committee for broadcasting propaganda.[5]


He recited some Hebridean songs.

McLean carried on the community-singing club successfully, so much so that in April 1925 it had a membership of 5,000.

In 1927, McLean remarked that he very often had difficulty in arranging a programme of folk songs, not because there was any dearth of material, but because singers would not learn folk songs. He decided to do his bit by performing a selection of folk songs to intermediate and secondary school pupils in Aberdeen's Cowdray Hall. The concert was arranged by the BBC in co-operation with the Aberdeen Education Authority, and in the previous two years these concerts had taken the form of orchestral performances of classical music. The Aberdeen Press and Journal newspaper reported the proceedings as follows:

By a few explanatory remarks regarding each song, he enabled his youthful hearers to create the necessary atmosphere mentally and particularly in such songs as 'The Christ-Child Lullaby' and the allegorical 'Putting Out to Sea', he added the charm of voice to the touching words and the haunting melodies. Boat songs, sea songs, spinning songs, milking songs, and dance songs — 'mouth music' — were all included in a programme, which made the hour it occupied seem a very short one.[6]


By 1930, matters were not improved by the state of McLean's health, which made it impossible for him to give the attention to Aberdeen programmes that he should have done. On 30 September 1930, Mr. McLean's services were officially terminated at Aberdeen, and the question arose as to whether a full-time representative, or indeed any representative at all, was actually needed there. It was urged by the Scottish Regional Director, however, that although little was forthcoming from Aberdeen at the time, this was largely due to McLean's inability to cope with the work adequately, and that from a policy as well as a programme viewpoint it was most essential that a representative should be appointed.[7]

Neil McLean and his wife developed a reputation as concert and Mod favourites, and it was said that there were few Highland homes in the country without one of their recordings. McLean continued to broadcast on the BBC periodically and, on 14 April 1943, he featured in a Gaelic concert on the wartime BBC Home Service, along with Margrat Duncan, Jennie M. B. Currie, Donald MacVicar, and Jessie MacCallum.[8]


  1. Aberdeen station history, date unknown, BBC WAC R13/369/1.
  2. Aberdeen station history, date unknown, BBC WAC R13/369/1.
  3. 'Literary Gaels', Glasgow News, 4 October 1928.
  4. Walker, 66.
  5. 'Gaelic More Popular', Glasgow Herald, 25 January 1929, 13.
  6. 'Folk-Song Neglect', Aberdeen Press and Journal, 25 November 1927, 5.
  7. Aberdeen station history, date unknown, BBC WAC R13/369/1.
  8. 'Gaelic and Pipes Broadcast', Highland News, 3 April 1943.
Media offices
Preceded by
R.E. Jeffrey
Aberdeen Station Director
Succeeded by
Ian Whyte