His trademark hats became familiar to millions of schoolchildren in the 1980’s and 1990’s, and now Donnie Macleod is getting ready to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the groundbreaking Gaelic TV programme ‘Dòtaman’.
Donnie Dòtaman is arguably the most famous star that Gaelic TV has ever produced.
Brought up in Edinburgh, his mother hailed from Aird in Point, while his father was from Tolsta Chaolais.
Having left Gaeldom’s supergroup ‘Na H-Oganaich’ in the early 1980s, he busied himself as Norman Maclean’s sidekick in the hugely popular ‘Tormod air Telly’ comedy series.
But it was when Neil Fraser, the-then head of Gaelic at the BBC, decided to focus specifically on pre- school children that Donnie Dòtaman was born.
Donnie explains: “Neil realised that if the Gaelic language was going to survive, we had to target children before they even went to school.
“The plan was to do a dozen pre-school programmes in a similar format to Blue Peter.
“Little did we know at the time what impact it would have in years to come." ‘Dòtaman’ or spinning top in Gaelic, was chosen as a title for the show, so given Gaeldom’s propensity for nicknames, it didn’t take long for its presenter to become known as ‘Donnie Dòtaman’.
“I’ve been known by it ever since,” Donnie laughs. “No matter what I do, I can’t get away from that name.”
The show was an immediate hit with young viewers, with its colourful, vibrant and fun themes. Spellbound kids would eagerly tune in every week to see specifically what hat Donnie was wearing for that particular episode.
“The hat thing came about almost by accident,” Donnie revealed. “I came in one day with a seagull on my hat and after that, I would wear a hat based on whatever theme the programme was following.
“For instance, if we were doing a show on a farm, I’d have animals on the hat, or if we were doing a circus theme I’d have big top on it.”
Peter Falk, who played legendary detective ‘Columbo’ was famed for using his own trenchcoat during all the years the show aired. Similarly, Donnie’s hats were all his own, and he has them still to this day.
“I’ve probably got about 300,” he laughed. “I store them all in the loft, along with the sets and the puppets we used.
“Recently I took everything down for filming and set it up in the conservatory, which I’ve now renamed as my ‘Dota-den’.”
As part of the 30th anniversary, some of Donnie’s hats are now on display at reception in BBC HQ in Glasgow, and he says the response has been ‘unbelievable’. “Everyone stops and comments on them,” he said. “There’s a big kid inside all of us.”
As part of the celebration anniversary show, celebrities including comedian Des Clarke, and singer Michelle McManus, share their reminiscences growing up with ‘Dòtaman’ on the telly. “They were unaware it wasn’t in English!” said Donnie.
“That’s what was brilliant about the show – the kids could absorb the meaning through vision.
“Producers made a conscious decision not to subtitle the programme, as they thought that Gaelic speaking children would use that as an easy option. It was very much a Gaelic show.”
Now a successful TV producer himself and based in Glasgow where he works with the BBC, Donnie is more familiar to viewers these days as the presenter of his own DIY show on BBC Alba – ‘DIY le Donnie’.
But he will always be Donnie Dòtaman – and is more than happy to accept that identity. “I’m extremely proud of Dòtaman, as it’s been my life,” he said.
“At its height, I couldn’t even go to the shops without kids running up, asking for my autograph and a photo, and of course that was all due to the popularity of the programme.
“’Dòtaman’ was simple, it didn’t try to be too clever, and that’s why it was such a successful series and loved by all for so long.”
A special anniversary show has been recorded by MacTV, and will be transmitted on October 5 on BBC Alba.
BBC ALBA CELEBRATES 30 YEARS SINCE THE LAUNCH OF LEGENDARY GAELIC CHILDREN’S TV HIT, DÒTAMAN
Trusadh - Dòtaman at 30 / Dòtaman aig 30 BBC ALBA – Monday 5 October 9.30 – 10.30pm
This month marks 30 years since BBC Scotland broadcast the first episode of a new Gaelic children’s tv show, Dòtaman.
Little did anyone know of the success the show and its iconic presenter, Donnie ‘Dòtaman’ MacLeod, would enjoy as it became one of the most famous Gaelic brands on TV!
Famed for its trademark hats, wonderful storytelling, colourful outfits, and catchy songs which Donnie made his own with his trusty guitar, more than 400 episodes were made of the series over 16 years.
In a nostalgic and warm hour long anniversary programme, we hear from Donnie and the team behind the show, as we explore what made it the success it was and why it was so appealing for generations of Scots, both Gaelic and non-Gaelic speakers alike. With new renditions of Dòtaman classics, and contributions from celebrity fans Michelle MacManus and Des Clarke amongst others, we discover how Dòtaman appealed to all, and enjoyed a true cult status in Scottish culture – even making it to the Edinburgh Fringe this year!
Dòtaman aig 30 – a colourful celebration of the iconic Gaelic children’s programme as it marks its 30th year.