Over the years the Sentinel carried out many interviews with prominent people in the fields of politics, sport, music and the arts. Generally, the interviewees seemed more than happy to talk and the resulting articles made very interesting reading. A few, however, turned out to be memorable (and revealing) for rather different reasons.
The writer James Kelman, winner of the Booker Prize in 1994 for his novel “How late it was, how late”, was one. When he came to Wester Hailes the following year to give a talk at Club 85, a bit of a car crash interview ensued. It was conducted by Helen Arthurs and she was not at all impressed by him!
Under the headline “How Rude He Was – How Rude”, Helen absolutely panned the “dour Mr Kelman”. She had been looking forward to having the chance to speak to him, she said, but felt that he appeared none too pleased to be approached and that everything went downhill from there.
“My first question ran along the lines of what had inspired him to write his controversial award winning novel…Mr Kelman responded with the line, “Oh God, it’s those sort of questions is it.” What could I say to that. What sort of questions did he expect?”
Talking to him, she found, was like drawing blood from the proverbial stone.
“Did he plan [his books] before he started to write, I asked. “When you’re writing you just write to finish the story,” was his reply. Sorry I asked.”
Things never got any better and it does seem a real pity because here was a man whose stated intention has been to write as “one of my own people…to remain part of my own community” and yet, in talking to a community newspaper, owned and managed by local people, he simply conveyed the impression of being surly and uncommunicative.
Helen’s article concluded:
“Enough was enough. Here I was talking to an award winning author who had nothing to say. Or it is probably nearer the truth to say that he didn’t really want to speak to me anyway.”
Another such was Andy Roxburgh. Not the archetypal football manager you might think – a teacher, polite, a bit pedantic (remember how it was always Alistair never Ally McCoist when he referred to him).
Not a bit of it. Stewart McRobert who was despatched to interview him was so scarred by the experience that he felt moved to pen a tongue-in-cheek open letter about it to editor Susan Dalgety in the Sentinel’s 200th souvenir edition. It had left him, he wrote, “having recurring nightmares”.
When he was ushered into Roxburgh’s presence, trouble started right away:
“First of all he objected to me using a tape machine. Second, he objected to my line of questioning. However, I was determined to get this interview in the bag so I carried on. There then followed an uncomfortable twenty minutes which still makes me break into a cold sweat when I think about it.”
At the end of the interview, John Millar, the Sentinel’s photographer asked the manager of our national team if he could manage a smile while he took his picture. This request, Stewart recounted, provoked an entirely opposite response: “I could feel the gamma rays melting John’s lens”.
He ended the letter with the following plea:
“In conclusion, I want to say that I hope writing this letter, means that I can finally put this episode behind me, and if at any time in the future you want Andy Roxburgh interviewed again, please do it yourself.”