Bute’s link to ‘Whisky Galore!’ tale

The bell of the SS Politician, which was the subject of the 1949 film, Whisky Galore!.
The bell of the SS Politician, which was the subject of the 1949 film, Whisky Galore!.

A retelling of the classic film, Whisky Galore!, is set for the silver screen at this year’s Edinburgh Film Festival, but did you know Bute has a very special link to the infamous story - and it can be found on our own front door?

The film (based on Sir Compton Mackenzie’s novel of the same name) tells the true story of the SS Politician, which ran aground on February 5, 1941 off Eriskay in bad weather, with 250,000 bottles of whisky on board.

The locals gathered as many bottles as they could before the proper authorities arrived, and even today, bottles are found in the sand or in the sea.

The Politician was brought back from Eriskay to the head of Kames Bay where, in November 1942, she was broken up by WH Arnot Young & Co Ltd, the Glasgow shipbreakers. The bell, which was still on board, was removed and used on board HMS Varbel, presumably having either been sold or gifted by either the British Iron and Steel Corporation or Arnot Young to the Royal Navy.

When Varbel was decommissioned on May 15, 1945, the London Merchant’s bell (the name previously given to SS Politican) was left in the entrance hall of the Kyles of Bute Hydro. When the Hydro itself closed in the late 1970s the bell and its tabernacle were left behind. By 1981, however, the building was in such a dangerous state that it had to be demolished by Argyll and Bute District Council.

Thanks to the vigilance and intervention of the District Councillor for North Bute, Mr Robert R. Reid, the bell and its tabernacle were saved and gifted by the council to Bute Museum where it has remained on display to this day.

* The remake of Whisky Galore!, directed by Gillies MacKinnon, is due to be shown at this year’s Edinburgh Film Festival.

Shot on location entirely in Scotland, Whisky Galore! features a fantastic ensemble cast of well-known Scottish actors, including Gregor Fisher (Love Actually, Rab C. Nesbitt), James Cosmo (Braveheart), Kevin Guthrie (Sunset Song), and Sean Biggerstaff (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets), while also starring is Eddie Izzard (The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian) playing the uptight Home Guard, Captain Waggett.

The much anticipated film has been subject to exceptional demand to the extent that a second screening has been added before the close of this year’s festival on Sunday, June 26.