Major General Alastair Bruce Forces Radio BFBS Scotland Mark McKenzie

Meet The Major General Keeping Downton Abbey Historically Accurate

Maj Gen Alastair Bruce uses his military experience to make sure actors like Zac Efron get things right

Major General Alastair Bruce Forces Radio BFBS Scotland Mark McKenzie

A Major General who is a descendant of Robert the Bruce has told about his long Armed Forces career that has not only spanned active service during the Falklands War and Northern Ireland but also included him acting as an adviser for TV's Downton Abbey.

Major General Alastair Bruce also describes what it's like to make a documentary with Her Majesty The Queen and tells about an awkward encounter with Hollywood actor Zac Efron.

Speaking to Forces Radio BFBS Scotland's Mark McKenzie, Maj Gen Bruce gives us a small insight into what a movie adviser does for a show like ITV's period drama Downton Abbey. He said:

"My role is to try and make sure actors ... don't touch each other because nobody did in the 1920s.

"Why? Because they didn't have antibiotics."

Major General Alistair Bruce
Maj Gen Alastair Bruce speaks to Forces Radio BFBS' Mark McKenzie

Advisers like Major General Alastair Bruce play a crucial role in ensuring the authenticity of television shows and movies.

Among other things, they ensure actors are holding weapons correctly. Even going so far as recommending the actors change their magazines during dialogue so that detail can't be edited out of the scene. Otherwise, it looks like the character has a never-ending supply of ammunition which isn't the case in the real world.

Advisers also use their military experiences to help scriptwriters create storylines that are as realistic as possible.

Paul Biddis is a military adviser to some of Hollywood’s biggest action movies like 'Wonder Woman' and 'Jason Bourne'. For any military personnel hoping to break into the film industry, he suggests starting as an extra. He said:

“The system is very much like the system they’d be used to in the Armed Forces. There is a rank structure, there is etiquette.

"There’s a time when you have to say things and a time when you need to sit back and let it run."

Variety Is The Spice Of Life

Maj Gen Bruce has many strings to his bow. To say his career is varied is an understatement. He combines being a historical adviser for television shows like Downton Abbey with being the Governor of Edinburgh Castle and the Royal, Constitutional and Events Commentator for Sky News.

Alastair also worked on American musical 'The Greatest Showman' which provided a memorable encounter with Hollywood actor Zac Efron.

He was advising Zac to keep his hands out of his pockets because historically pockets weren't commonplace until after the film is set. However, he didn't know who Zac was and repeatedly called him Maz much to the amusement of the Hollywood actor. He said:

"It was quite sweet because at the end Zac came up to me and said 'where do you live?' and I said 'well I live in Scotland' and he said 'I want to come and live there.

"I want to go somewhere where nobody knows who I am."

Scottish Pride

As a descendant of 14th century King Of Scotland Robert The Bruce, Alastair is incredibly proud of his Scottish heritage. He said:

"As a Scot, I'm Alastair Bruce of Crionaich which means the rock from which you can view rainbows."

Alastair is thrilled to have served in a Scottish Regiment and gone to war with Scots. He said:

"To finally get this honour of being emblematically the senior soldier who represents the Army in Scotland at its principle fortress, what could be better than that?"

Music And Military Eye Tests

The British Army has played a huge role in his life, although it was by no means his first choice of career. He dreamt of becoming a Cathedral Organist and then wanted to follow the family tradition of joining the Royal Navy. He said:

"Unfortunately I wasn't that good as an organist so when I failed to get an organ scholarship to one of the great universities I then had to slightly fumble about."

The only reason Maj Gen Bruce didn't follow in his father's footsteps was that he failed the Royal Navy eye test. After this set back he picked himself up and pursued a career with The Scots Guards.

However, upon applying he was faced with another eye test. Thankfully, this time the outcome was positive. Describing the eye test he said the Sergeant was a little more informal. He said:

"Can you see the tank?"

"Yes, I can touch it."

"You're in."

The Rupert Factory, Scots Guards and The Falklands

Maj Gen Bruce's military career began as a teenager at the military academy, Sandhurst. He served in the Falkland Islands and Northern Ireland, eventually becoming one of the highest-ranking reservists in the British Army, Major General. About his time at Sandhurst he said:

"When I was 19 I was commissioned with the responsibility of commanding about 30 men. They were lions. They taught me everything."

Her Majesty The Queen And The Crown Jewels

In 2017 Alastair Bruce made a BBC documentary about the Crown Jewels which included a conversation with Her Majesty The Queen about her Coronation on June 2, 1953. He said:

"It was really moving to sit with the Queen Of Scots and for her to talk about having that crown placed upon her head.

"When she lent forward to tap it I was quite moved because it must have represented such a challenge to her on the day."

"I was given such a ludicrously assisted start that it would be a disgrace if I hadn't made something of it.

"But if I can do anything it will be to try and find ways in which ... I can do my best to help Scots who are having a real struggle.

"I can see in their eyes exactly the same potential as faced me when I looked at my platoon of Scots Guardsman in 1982 before we went to war."