When Hollywood legend Kirk Douglas caught the Ballachulish ferry

Also known as Catch Me a Spy, the film starring screen legend Kirk Douglas is available on DVD NO F07 To Catch a Spy from various retail outlets. NO F07 To Catch a Spy
Also known as Catch Me a Spy, the film starring screen legend Kirk Douglas is available on DVD NO F07 To Catch a Spy from various retail outlets. NO F07 To Catch a Spy

Want to read more?

We value our content  and access to our full site is  only available with a  subscription. Your subscription entitles you to 7-day-a-week access to our website, plus a full digital copy of that week’s paper to read on your pc/mac or mobile device In addition your subscription includes access to digital archive copies from 2006 onwards

Just want to read one issue? No problem you can subscribe for just one week (or longer if you wish)

Already a subscriber?

 

Subscribe Now

The tan-coloured van came to a halt on board the Ballachulish ferry, the door opened and out stepped the most famous chin in Hollywood history.

Ferryman Peter MacKenzie stretched out his hand in welcome: ‘Pleased to meet you Mr Douglas’ he said, to be met with the reply: ‘Peter, please call me Kirk’.

And from that day on, whenever big screen legend Kirk Douglas appeared in a film or on television, Mr MacKenzie would always remark: ‘That’s my mate Kirk from the ferry’.

Kate Ward, daughter of the late Mr MacKenzie, was relating this story to the Lochaber Times last week in the wake of the passing of Mr Douglas at the age of 103 at his home in Beverly Hills in California a few days previously.

The meeting between her father and Mr Douglas came during a break in the filming of the 1971 movie, To Catch a Spy. Mr MacKenzie piloted the ferry, Glen Duror, for the film producers, up and down Loch Leven.

Directed by Dick Clement, the British, Ammeican and French co-production, which was also released as Catch Me a Spy, co-starred Marlène Jobert, Trevor Howard, Richard Pearson, Garfield Morgan, Angharad Rees and Robert Raglan.

The film sees Kirk Douglas' character board the Glen Duror ferry at Ballachulish. NO F07 Kirk Douglas aboard Glen Duror
The film sees Kirk Douglas’ character board the Glen Duror ferry at Ballachulish.

It was written by Clement and Ian La Frenais and was filmed partly on Loch Leven, as well as in the Romanian capital, Bucharest.

The scenes shot on the famous loch involved three gunboats and the nearby countryside was also used for footage of Mr Douglas running through a herd of Highland cattle.

Mr Douglas is also seen fishing on Loch Awe and waiting at the local railway station. Mr Douglas’ character, Andrej and his companion,  Fabienne (Marlene Jobert) take the ferry to escape from their pursuers.

Kirk Douglas and co-star Marlene Jobert aboard the ferry at Ballachulish. NO F07 Kirk Douglas aboard ferry with Marlene Jobert
Kirk Douglas and co-star Marlene Jobert aboard the ferry at Ballachulish.

This scene is followed by others filmed on the ferry as it travels eastwards along Loch Leven towards Glencoe rather than what was the normal ferry route northwards across the loch to North Ballahulish.

The mountains that can be seen behind Mr Douglas are the Pap of Glencoe (Sgorr na Ciche) and Sgorr nam Fiannaidh.

Mrs Ward explained her father had been ferryman at Ballachulish for 40 years following the Second World War.

Peter MacKenzie, pictured centre in black waterproofs, was skipper of the ferry at Ballachulish for 40 years. Photograph: Kate Ward. NO F07 Peter MacKenzie on ferry
Peter MacKenzie, pictured centre in black waterproofs, was skipper of the ferry at Ballachulish for 40 years. Photograph: Kate Ward.

‘I remember the filming taking place, but I didn’t meet Kirk Douglas or any of the other cast members,’ Mrs ward told us.

‘But my father did – in fact he met a lot of famous people over the years who came aboard the ferry. But my dad really liked Kirk Douglas – he thought he was great. Of course that was my dad’s era –  the one that saw huge film stars like Kirk Douglas.

‘So obviously, he knew who he was. He told us he was very nice, charming, and he was really nice to my dad.

‘I was living in Fort William at the time as my late husband was still in the RAF at that point,’ said Mrs Ward, who now lives at North Ballachulish.

‘My dad actually met any number of famous people during his time on the ferry. Apart from Kirk Douglas his favourites included Queen Salote of Tonga who was over the for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

‘She was a real character, according to my dad. She was a very large lady who took up the entire rear seat of the limousine she travelled in.’

A clip from the  Ballachulish ferry scenes featuring Kirk Douglas in To Catch a Thief actually appears in the new documentary film, The Last Ferries of Ballachulish, made by Edinburgh film-maker Graham Kitchener.

The documentary took Mr Kitchener three years to make and details his investigations to uncover the history and fate of the Glen Duror and its sister vessels, the Glenachulish and Glen Loy.

Mr Kitchener is hoping his 37-minute film will get an official premier at a documentary festival in the near future and it is currently entered in several international film competitions.