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Past Times

Dundee star of The Terror explores closer to home and finds Dighty Burn treasures

Dundee actor Gordon Morris grew up minutes from the Dighty Burn and on return visits to his childhood haunt has found relics of the past including iconic 1980s lager cans. reports.
Graeme Strachan
Gordon Morris with some of his treasure at the Dighty Burn. Image: Mhairi Edwards/DC Thomson.
Gordon Morris with some of his treasure at the Dighty Burn. Image: Mhairi Edwards/DC Thomson.

Dundee actor Gordon Morris grew up minutes from the Dighty Burn and memories of childhood scrapes by its banks flood back to him still.

His parents had forbidden the young Gordon from playing by “the Burnie” but, naturally, he disobeyed them.

He “waded in it, jumped it, floated down it on a raft, swung across it and fell in it”.

Even now, The Terror star finds himself drawn to the Dighty Burn, particularly after heavy rain when it throws up relics of the past that stir more memories of childhood in the ’70s and ’80s.

“I was brought up in Balunie Street, about a five-minute walk from the Dighty,” he said.

“I think the fact it was drummed into me by my mum and dad that I should never play down there made it all the more enticing.

“We would sneak down there during dinner breaks when I was at primary school and if my parents found out, I would’ve been in big trouble.”

Gordon shows off some of the retro cans he found in the burn. Image: Mhairi Edwards/DC Thomson.
Gordon shows off some of the old cans he found in the burn. Image: Mhairi Edwards/DC Thomson.

In the 1970s and 1980s the gangs ruled the streets of Dundee.

They were identified by different-coloured jumpers made at the Knitting & Sewing Centre in Victoria Road and patrolled estates like uniformed soldiers.

Young men knew better than to venture alone into an area they didn’t belong to.

Every time it’s flooded, I wait for a few days until the water goes down, then I go hunting for those memories.”

Gordon Morris

“When I was growing up, gang fighting was still a really big thing and I remember we went down to watch the Douglas Toddy fighting the Whitfield Shams,” said Gordon.

“This was basically just two big gangs of boys throwing stones at each other.

“The Burnie was a draw for everyone that wanted to misbehave.

“There were lots of groups of kids up to no good when you went down there.”

Underage drinking and Glue Bag Hill by the Dighty Burn

Back then there was an art and etiquette to underage drinking: buying it, hiding it and finding a place to party, while managing to stumble home before curfew time.

Gordon Morris at the edge of the Dighty Burn. Image: Mhairi Edwards/DC Thomson
Gordon Morris at the edge of the water. Image: Mhairi Edwards/DC Thomson

“Underage drinkers could take their carry out and sit there drinking without fear of being caught,” said Gordon.

“I remember there was a wee hill called ‘GBH’ which was short for ‘Glue Bag Hill’.

“It was right next to the Burnie but hidden away from prying eyes and in the early ’80s, when glue sniffing was rife, it was the place to hang about if that happened to be your thing.

“It’s strange thinking back now to those days, as now it’s completely changed.

“There never seemed to be any wildlife there when I was young, whereas now I’ll cross the bridge, walk along the path and I’ll see kingfishers, dippers and herons.

The Dighty Burn throws up empty beer cans.
Some of the relics which were unearthed from the Dighty burn during heavy rain. Image: Supplied.

“But when it overflows, as it’s done a lot lately due to all the rain we’ve been getting, it throws up the memories of its past.

“Every time it’s flooded, I wait for a few days until the water goes down, then I go hunting for those memories.

“I have found so many interesting things on my searches.

“My most popular find is probably old drinks cans.

McEwan’s Export from the late ’70s and early ’80s is definitely the winner when it comes to beer.

“I’ve found so many of these cans lying around that I think I could start a wee McEwan’s museum, closely followed by a Tennent’s Lager museum.

“They were both definitely the beers of choice back then.”

Tennent's with the Lager Lovelies being sold in Dundee on Hogmanay 1976. Image: DC Thomson.
Tennent’s with the Lager Lovelies being sold in Dundee on Hogmanay 1976. Image: DC Thomson.

And who could forget those Tennent’s Lager Lovelies?

From 1965 until 1991, cans of Tennent’s featured pictures of glamorous models.

They were much loved by drinkers, and classic cans featuring the models these days change hands among collectors for thousands of pounds each.

It’s difficult to imagine a beer company putting semi-naked women on their cans in 2023 – unless they wanted to be challenged by women’s rights campaigners.

Remember Kestrel Lager in the 1980s?

It enjoyed cult appeal thanks to TV adverts starring Hugh Laurie and Russ Abbot and soon became the drink of students, the unemployed and the older generation.

Gordon found a green can with the famous Kestrel’s head logo.

What else pitched up in ‘the Burnie’?

“Golf balls from the 1960s and 1970s seem to always appear after a flood,” said Gordon.

“I love picking those up and thinking who lost this ball?

“Was it from Caird Park? Maybe even Downfield?

“It’s taken 40-50 years to make its way to this point and resurface.

“I managed to find a 1940s football boot when I was out. Who lost that?

“Did he have a terrible game and throw it in the burn? Or did he drop it when he was crossing one of the shoogly bridges?

The football boot from the 1940s that emerged from the Dighty at Douglas in Dundee. Image: Supplied.
The football boot from the 1940s that emerged from the Dighty at Douglas. Image: Supplied.

“I also found a bottle with the markings ‘Cyas-Ecosse’ and after a bit of research I found out it was a Dundee-based cologne manufacturer.

“The bottle had found its way into the Burnie in the 1950s.

“I was the first person to pick it up after a Dundee man had maybe splashed it all over and went for a night on the town 70 years earlier.

“I absolutely love that!”

Purse and can in Dighty Burn.
The purse was found after spending 32 years in the Dighty Burn. Image: Supplied.

Gordon said his most amazing find was a purse that still contained the bank card and college cards of a young Fintry teenager who had lost the purse in 1990.

“It had been underwater for 33 years but the cards were still intact, so I was able to contact Gillian Gellatly, who had lost the purse, and tell her about it,” he said.

“She was absolutely shocked when I told her about it.

“I’ll hopefully hand it back to her soon.”

Burn existed long before Dundee did

The Dighty is the city’s historic second river.

Many communities, like Fintry and Douglas, live just a stone’s throw away from it as it slithers round the suburbs on its way to the Tay estuary.

The river, or burn as it is known locally, provided power for industry as far back as the 16th Century with as many as 70 mills situated along its banks over the years.

I’ll definitely keep on looking, as who knows what I’ll find next.”

Gordon Morris

The Dighty has even been immortalised in song.

Glenn Millar famously composed Moonlight Serenade in 1939 and 40 years later Dundee jazz trumpet legend Jimmy Deuchar released Moonlight on the Dighty.

Jimmy played in some of the world’s finest jazz and show bands alongside luminaries like Johnny Dankworth, Ronnie Scott and Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts.

He never forgot his roots or the burn that ran past his Barnhill home.

Gordon Morris by the Dighty with his treasure. Image: Mhairi Edwards/DC Thomson.
The Terror star has gone from digging in the Arctic to Dighty treasure. Image: Mhairi Edwards/DC Thomson.

Terror star Gordon feels a similar connection to the Burnie.

“I’ll definitely keep on looking, as who knows what I’ll find next,” he said.

“Who would’ve thought that, 40 years after watching Toddy fights, I would still be hanging around the Burnie, but now I’m searching for old Dundee history.

“The Burnie really is the gift that keeps on giving.

“I don’t think I’ll ever tire of hanging around there.”

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