This article was originally published in 'Discover' magazine, issue 47, winter 2022.
Words: Leanne McGrath.
This year marks 100 years since the first radio broadcasts in Britain – with Scotland's aired from Glasgow's Kelvin Hall in January 1923.
To commemorate this centenary, we will be hosting a series of in-conversation events at our Kelvin Hall base, with many well-known broadcasters sharing their memories.
We are also keen to tell untold stories relating to broadcasting in Scotland.
Some of these have emerged as part of research into Scottish South Asian Voices in Broadcasting by intern Sophie Pearce-Hibbert. The project uses our collections to identify underrepresented stories relating to the South Asian contribution to broadcasting in Scotland, and to tell a broader and more accurate story of this contribution.
You can read more about Sophie's research in her blog post 'Scottish South Asian voices in broadcasting.'
Scottish Asians remain an underrepresented group in broadcasting. Here, Scottish Asian actor and broadcaster Atta Yaqub shares his experiences ...
He was the newcomer who became an overnight sensation thanks to his leading role in Ken Loach's 2004 romantic drama 'Ae Fond Kiss'.
Atta Yaqub (pictured) won an army of fans – and hearts – as Casim Khan, a young Muslim man who falls for Irish Catholic teacher (Eva Birthistle) in modern-day Glasgow.
But he had "no ambitions whatsoever" to become an actor – and there were very few South Asians on Scottish screens to inspire him to do so.
Yaqub, who was born in the South Side of Glasgow to first generation immigrant parents, said: "Did I have a role model on TV when I was young? I don't think so, no. Growing up, the way you got faces like yourself, being second generation, was when your parents were watching a Bollywood film.
"In the 80s and early 90s, all you got were a few TV shows from the Asian subcontinent. You'd think you could relate to that but really you couldn't because here you were as Scottish Asians and your make-up is totally different.
"Then when you did see people like yourself it was always in stereotypical roles – characters who perhaps have a shop. Growing up, it was hard to see.
"There wasn't such a big deal made of equality and understanding of difference. You just got on with it. Acting was very much not really a career for me. That's changed through the opportunities I've had but finding that relatable role model was difficult and it's what everyone needs – if they see someone like them, it can inspire."
His only experience of acting before 'Ae Fond Kiss' was playing the Lion in a production of the 'The Wizard of Oz' at his high school, Shawlands Academy.
He said: "I loved it but never thought, 'This is it, where I want to be'. It was only after that the opportunity came up to work with Ken Loach. The way he works it was a bit of an open casting – he was looking at people who were non-actors."
Since his breakthrough role, the married father of one has worked as a broadcaster and had roles in everything from soaps – 'River City', 'Doctors' and 'Emmerdale' – to TV dramas ('Lip Service') and hit movies, including 2017's 'T2: Trainspotting'.
He admits some roles have been stereotypes – "I was an Asian doctor on 'Emmerdale' and in 'T2' I've played a few doctors".
But he added: "There's a level you can get to – and I totally commend people there like [Oscar-winning actor] Riz Ahmed ('Rogue One', 'Four Lions', 'The OA') – when you can start being political and he [Ahmed] is doing that in a very structured way, by influencing writers, bringing in investment. I'm not at that level. But you need to do the smaller roles to get that profile.
"Sometimes you need productions to take a bit of a chance, the way Ken Loach did with me. A sea change is not there yet but I do see it and long may it continue."
When not acting, Yaqub works with groups such as sportscotland – where he is the equality, diversity and inclusion manager – GMAC (Glasgow Media and Access Centre) and the National Theatre of Scotland to help improve diversity, equality and inclusion.
He said: "Things are getting better. There's a real push by organisations, third sector, charity and professional institutions which are trying to make a difference. I say trying because we're not there yet.
"When it comes to Scottish representation on TV, film and broadcasting, we've made progress and institutions are looking to do more of that, but they're not quite there. And it's a shame because it's not reflective of society. For me, the biggest thing is education – how do we get into primary and secondary schools as the BBC or STV or Channel 4 to really show them who and what they are and what they do, and how careers in this industry can be beneficial?"
He believes there are still cultural barriers to media careers, adding: "It's a generational thing. But a generational shift is happening.
"People my age are sending their children for these things [the arts]."
For young people looking for opportunities in the media and arts, his advice is to "involve yourself in as many things as you can – there are clubs and programmes".
He added: "Parents should really be encouraging that for their children to get a real diverse range of development, as do institutions or people who are trying to develop a more diverse workforce, create more inclusive talent etc – they need to be going into places and communities to show what they do."
Many thanks to the ScottishPower Foundation for its support with this programme.
Read the full Discover issue: