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It was a stint in the army as a corporal/clerk in charge of a petrol depot in Cyprus at the end of the 1950s that had Plockton villagers thinking young-returning-army-corporal Charlie MacRae would make a good secretary of the village hall.
And that was how, at the tender age of 23, in October 1961, Charlie took on the role that he only this month relinquished after an astonishing 60 years’ service.
The Lochaber Times asked Charlie – who also writes for the paper as its Plockton area district correspondent – to look back on his time as secretary; although, as he pointed out, he is not quite ready to step down from the hall committee and is staying on to assist his successor.
‘I came out of the Army in 1959 after two-and-a-half years in Cyprus reaching the great rank of corporal in charge of a petrol depot. I was a clerk there so when I came home everybody thought I would make a good secretary, able to take minutes etc., even although I was only 23,’ Charlie explained.
‘So I became secretary of the village hall in October 1961, and a few years later became also treasurer with 2s/6d in the funds. I also became hall-keeper for a few years at £2 per week.
‘I organised dances to raise funds and these were enjoyable with great bands like the Wick Scottish, and John Carmichael and Fergie MacDonald – two good friends now – octogenarians and still playing! Also the late Jim Johnstone.’
However, Charlie soon added a considerable number of other strings to his administrative bow with local sports clubs and spending, as secretary, 10 years with the football club, 10 years with the local football association, 26 years with Plockton badminton club and 38 years with the badminton association.
He also served for 31 years as secretary of the Lochalsh Branch of the Royal British Legion Scotland and when the Skye and Lochalsh Sports Council was formed in 1975, Charlie joined the committee and was on it for 32 years, the last 18 years as chairman.
He continued: ‘When a community council was formed in Plockton in 1975 I joined the committee doing 40 years – 25 as chairman. I was also the poppy appeal convener for over 20 years.
‘I have also been the local news correspondent for several newspapers including the Oban Times/Lochaber Times. I was Commodore of the Sailing Club in 1965.
‘Despite all my writing, I got a boat built in 1965 in Portree and sailed for over 50 years in the local regatta and I’m delighted my son Neil now sails in it and is also now secretary of the club. I also enjoyed playing badminton in a very good Plockton team.
‘When I was 37 I managed to find time to get married to Kathleen, the home economics teacher at Plockton High School. A local newspaper said the minister asked Kathleen if she would take this secretary to be her husband!
‘In 1981 I got the old house 36 Harbour Street, where I was born, knocked down and rebuilt and I am still here, with Kathleen and Kenneth, who paints locally despite being at Edinburgh University. My other son Neil is married and lives just three miles away.
‘He is a captain with MacBrayne and presently a chief officer on the Finlaggan on the Kennacraig to Islay run.’
When it came to paid employment, Charlie, who turned 84 on Easter Sunday, was a postman at Kyle for 27 years, also relief postbus driver on the Broadford to Elgol run and, for the last 10 years before he retired at 65, was the manager at Kyle Sorting Office.
And it was his job that unexpectedly lead to an appearance – albeit a very brief one – in the now cult classic television series, Hamish MacBeth, which was filmed in the Plockton area and featured Trainspotting star Robert Carlyle as the local policeman.
Charlie said: ‘I was manager [Kyle sorting office] at the time and they wanted a postman to deliver a letter to a house at 43 Harbour Street. He called off and the bosses in Inverness said I could go.
‘I delivered the letter driving from Kyle and looked forward to seeing myself. However all you see on the screen is the letter dropping through the letter box.
‘But as I was chairman of the community council at the time, during three years of filming, the location manager was in my house every day at 5pm asking if he could go to various places the next day.’
As a result of his efforts, Charlie was presented with the Royal Mail general managers’ award for the Highland and Islands area, getting a trip to Edinburgh and attending the Queen’s Birthday party at Holyrood in 1983.
He said the impact of the hugely popular series can still be felt today in the area. ‘It had a huge impact on the village which was very busy when they were filming with 90 personnel and 30 vehicles,’ Charlie explained.
‘Tourism boomed when the series came out with thousands of extra visitors, particularly from Australia, visiting the village. Prices for houses in the village doubled meaning more holiday homes followed.’