TV review: Much more pride than prejudice on show in BBC2's Hawick Common Ridng documentary

There's much more uniting Hawick than dividing it, television viewers nationwide were reminded this week.

Friday, 23rd November 2018, 10:50 am
Updated Friday, 23rd November 2018, 10:54 am
2018 Hawick Cornet Gareth Renwick leads the way on common riding Friday. Picture: Magic B/BBC.

Displays of unity don’t always make for the most compulsive of television viewing, controversy and kerfuffle tending to work better on the small screen and generate more reaction.

The one-hour documentary The Common Riding – screened on BBC2 Scotland on Tuesday at 9pm and available on catch-up now – was anything but sensationalist broadcasting, however.

Malcolm Grant wants to preserve the traditions of Hawick's Common Riding. Picture: Magic B/BBC Scotland.

It turned out to be a rather straightforward telling of the gender dispute that has divided opinion in Hawick for decades, highlighting the town’s pride in its history and taking an even-handed view of allegations of gender prejudice at some of the events celebrating that past.

The backdrop to the programme was a legal battle in 1996 after which women were allowed to participate in common riding rideouts for the first time for many years.

It proved a pivotal year as the media converged on Hawick – there was even footage of a fresh-faced Kirsty Wark investigatng – and allegedly tried to typecast townsfolk as being out of step with the times.

It was a period which obviously scarred Teri traditionalists, and since then divisions have been submerged.

Female rider Lisa Mackay. Magic B/BBC Scotland.

Fast forward to this summer, and a documentary team observed as lady riders Pauline Tottman and Lisa Mackay were allowed to take part in the common riding’s chase for the first time.

Everyone was being reasonably civil, and there were no protests at the women’s low-key turnout, unlike in 1996.

Some of the language betrayed that appearance of civility, though.

Lisa was in a quietly defiant mood, saying: “Sometimes it feels like war, that I’m being run out of town. I’m f****d if I’ll let that happen.”

Lady rider Pauline Tottman. Picture: Magic B/BBC Scotland.

You could see what the annual event means to the male traditionalists, one of whom became dewy-eyed at the thought of change.

They don’t expect outsiders to understand life inside the Borders bubble, and there was a lot of talk of modern-day Teris being just links in the chain of history and of riding out with the ghosts of the past.

Former acting father Malcolm Grant denied the old ban on womenfolk’s participation was about exclusion, but that claim is unlikely to have convinced any of those taking the opposing viewpoint.

He risked coming across as being rather dismissive when he spoke of a “couple of girls who wanted to ride”, adding: “That’s something that needs to be looked at very carefully because we’re trying to maintain our customs and traditions.”

His passion for the June event was never in doubt, however.

Arguably the most resonant quote came from Lisa, though – “On the back of a horse we’re all equal.”

You were left with impressions of determined intransigence from male traditionalists and steely determination from those women seeking change.

There will be acceptance of change in time, no doubt, but not anytime soon, by the look of it.

Some menfolk in Hawick don’t like to be rushed after all.

The Common Riding can be viewed online at

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