BBC documentary about Edinburgh registry office

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For years they have taken a careful note of the city’s various hatchings, matchings and dispatchings but now registry office staff are the ones being recorded – as the stars of an upcoming BBC documentary.

In recent weeks Capital movie fans have welcomed the upbeat Sunshine on Leith and the rather more disturbing Filth, now comes a perfect marriage of the two entitled The Registrars.

A wedding party gets some guidance in The Registrars. Picture: contributed

A wedding party gets some guidance in The Registrars. Picture: contributed

Jane McAllister’s film captures the emotional highs and lows of staff within Lothian Chambers as they register the annual reel of births, deaths and marriages within the city.

All human life is on display within the imposing George IV Bridge building – the office is one of the busiest register houses in Scotland – with the key life events of thousands of people being chronicled within its walls each year.

Jane, 35, from Musselburgh, whose mother Christine has worked as a city registrar for ten years, said: “The idea for the film came from listening to her many stories; they can be heartbreaking, romantic and hilarious. The registrars have to be accurate, but they also have to be highly tuned to people’s emotional needs, they have to gauge in a moment if someone wants to talk about a death or sit in silence.

“In the wedding room they have to be alert to potential sham marriages and flag them up to the Border Agency. They often have to marry people who they know are faking it, with no rings, common ­language or affection.”

The former Edinburgh College of Art student had intended to record the 30-minute piece using a full camera crew however this ended up putting many people off.

She said: “I don’t think I had a single wedding turn me down but deaths are another matter. In the end I was surprised by the number of folk who agreed to let me film them recording the death of a loved one.

“It’s not all tragic, there is a lot of humour too, like when one of the registrars needs to find two witnesses for a wedding; she runs into the street during the Festival but instead of two folk she returns with more than 20 Swiss exchange students.

“There’s also a touching moment when my mum, who is known in work as the ‘Wedding Queen’, performs a ceremony while the bride’s mother, who is ill with cancer, listens in over the phone from a hospice.”

The film is to be screened on BBC2 Scotland in late November. City residents can also catch an early viewing at Scotland: Short and Sweet in the Filmhouse, Lothian Road on October 15 at 6pm.

Councillor Bill Cook, the city’s finance and budget vice-convener, is delighted the fly-on-the-wall film is focusing on such an important part of city life. He said: “Whether it is the birth of a child, the marriage of two people or the death of a loved one, the Registrar’s Office is involved at every point in a person’s major life events.

Our staff strive to be as friendly and professional as possible to the thousands of people who walk through our doors each year. We’ve been delighted to be involved in this documentary and give people an insight into what we deal with on a day to day basis.”

A building soaked in history

LAST year city registrars made a note of 3100 births, 2040 deaths and 2194 ­marriages. They performed 1302 civil marriages and oversaw 144 civil partnerships.

It is estimated that 60 per cent of Edinburgh’s weddings are for tourists, who come especially to the city to get married.

Formerly the Midlothian County Buildings, the office has three ceremony rooms, the largest of which can take up to 110 guests. The original County Hall was built between 1816 and 1818 with the design based on the Acropolis at Athens, but in 1892 plans were made for the extension and internal rearrangement of the rooms which created the building as it is today.