East of the M60’s 2021 Advent Calendar looks at the North Ayrshire New Town as seen in a 1970s film

The largest town in North Ayrshire is noted for its maritime history. It was a one-time haunt of Robert Burns and Edgar Allan Poe spent his final year at the town’s grammar school. It is also the birthplace of Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who was a little nipper back when this film was made.

Unlike the usual Let’s Look At How Good Our Town Is type of films, the joys of Irvine are seen through Keith and Sarah (played by Paul Young and Virginia Stark). Keith, a Canadian who has one day to spend in Irvine, meets up with Sarah in its town centre. A sequence of bottle making follows Keith’s “good urban bottle” comment instead of a narrator saying “Irvine has the biggest bottle plant in Ayrshire”.

We see the couple taking in a horse race in nearby Ayr; they are also seen at a rugby match and at a nearby golf course. We also see them looking at the town’s historical treasures and some of its modern-day buildings including Prestwick Airport. Near the end, Sarah says how the New Town would “you just take the advantages of the old place and make them available to more people”.

Instead of the usual way of film making, the short drama style makes for a most accessible work. One that would have been suitable as a supporting feature at the local cinema. Paul Young (not to be confused with the Luton-born 1980s singer) is an active performer today and has appeared in many continuing drama serials from Coronation Street to The Tales of Para Handy. His late father, John Young, has appeared in Chariots of Fire and Monty Python’s The Life of Brian.

Virginia Stark didn’t have the same success and Paul Young, appearing in two films including Hotwire and 1974 drama series The Haggard Falcon.

View from the bridge

Two modern day developments dominated the Irvine skyline shortly after this film was made. One is the Rivergate Shopping Precinct which crosses the River Irvine. Today it also provides a link to the Rivergate Retail Park. At the other side of the town centre, it provides a link with High Street and The Portal.

The other was Magnum Leisure Centre. Opening in 1977, its reputation went beyond its immediate locality. With its water slides, live music, boxing matches and gymnastic displays, it was Scotland’s answer to Samuel Coleridge’s pleasure-dome in Kubla Khan. “The Sunny Pleasure-Dome with caves of ice” could well have been Frosty’s Ice Disco. Acts included The Clash, Simple Minds and Madness. In her teens, Nicola Sturgeon used to go to Frosty’s Ice Disco.

Due to falling visitor numbers and high running costs, Magnum Leisure Centre closed with its last rites given in 2009. By 2018 it was demolished with the town’s leisure offer now available at The Portal.

Tomorrow, we shall be staying in Scotland for the twentieth door of our Advent Calendar. This time we shall be moving to a New Town near Edinburgh. Don’t touch that dial, we’re all together now…!

S.V., 19 December 2021.

Image by Rosser1954 (Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY 4.0)).

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