When he was younger Alex Penman helped build the greatest plane that ever flew.
It was a proud achievement for a hard-working man.
But it was nothing compared to playing Cowboys and Indians with his mates after work.
Alex was one of a group of employees at Falkirk’s British Aluminium Factory who gained a level of local celebrity as amateur film-makers and actors in surprisingly elaborate and sophisticated amateur movies.
Now film academics have declared the rediscovered movies to have important sociocultural significance, and they have been included in the National Library of Scotland’s moving image archive.
Earlier this year the amateur turns saw their past lives projected on to the silver screen, when film-makers Ian Bustard and Liam McArdle arranged for their work to be seen in a cinema for the first time. A special event saw hundreds turn out to greet the surviving young guns at a special screening at Bo’ness Hippodrome cinema in West Lothian.
It saw the pensioners given the red-carpet treatment at the gala showing amid a night of limousines and flashbulbs.
The scenes were captured by cameras from BBC Scotland as part of a light-hearted and moving documentary to be screened this week, celebrating the creative instincts of men who worked in the factory producing sheet metal for use in engineering.
Dubbed The Falkirk Cowboys, the hour-long programme features Denis McCourtney and Ian Gardiner alongside Alex. The hilarious short films they made after their shift ended at the factory were directed by their late colleague Rab Harvey over a period of five years in the 1970s on a Super 8 camera.
Alex, 78, from Plean, said: “Jock Aitken had a camera, but Rab was the film buff. And when Rab first suggested that we make films, we thought it was crazy. We thought we’d make a fool of ourselves.
“But BA was a place where everybody was always winding everyone up. There was a lot of fun in the factory as well as getting the work done. So quite often we were making a fool of ourselves anyway. So we did it. It started with six of us. Then it ended up with about 15.”
The films evoked the classic era of John Wayne and Audie Murphy flicks, enjoyed by the men during their childhood visits to the pictures to watch the adventures of the old Wild West.
Titled Wyoming Outlaws, Badlands, Apache Ambush, Border Badmen and The Lonesome Drifter, the men’s films were inspired by old John Wayne classics of their youth.
Having fun was paramount, but before long the men realised their creative energies had given their life an unexpected new dynamic.
Alex said: “When we were on the 6am-2pm shift we basically had nothing to do after work. It was a case of going home and waiting for the next shift.
“My wife was working, so I’d be coming home to an empty house. So, instead, I went and did the filming and came home in time for my tea. There was no loss of contact between me and my wife. It was always there because we were always back on time.”
Alex’s former co-star and colleague Ian added: “It wasn’t going to the pub for a game of darts. It wasn’t sitting at home watching the telly. It was something to really look forward to. It really got your mind working away from the norm.
“People would be talking about the game or the darts at work, and we were thinking how to make the films work. It was a great interest.”
The men funded the films by saving 15p from their weekly wage. Making the movies went beyond providing a life-affirming creative outlet for the men. As well as making costumes and props like gunholsters from old leather schoolbags and unwanted handbags, they staged screenings in a makeshift cinema in a factory in the 1970s, which helped raise funds to buy wheelchairs for disabled children.
For Ian, 72, from Stenhousemuir, seeing the films on the silver screen more than 40 years after they were made was a particular tonic.
He said: “It was absolutely fantastic. It takes you right back to being young again and all the things we were up to.
“It felt great, that feeling of getting away from the scrapheap and getting used to feeling a wee bit of usefulness.
“We never thought of ourselves as actors. We just did it for enjoyment. We never gave any thought to becoming actors or being on the telly. It was a good idea. Something a bit different.”
The cowboys hadn’t got together for 30 years, and the recent screening helped them appreciate how they forged more than metal in the factory.
Alex said: “Friendship is always important, because life is too short. You have to have friends.
“That’s why a lot of people have emotional problems because they don’t have someone to lift the phone to, talk to, speak to. We’re in a technical age where birthday cards don’t arrive, you get a text message or something on Facebook or Twitter.
“I had a great job. Keep in mind we made the metal for the Concorde, one of the greatest planes that ever flew. But I also had a release, and that was going out to make films with my friends.
“The films were the best things we’ve ever done.
“People should try doing it. It’s what life is all about. Making friends. And keeping friends.”
The Falkirk Cowboys, Wednesday, 8pm, BBC Scotland