A new BBC ALBA documentary examining the legacy of the oil and gas sector in Aberdeen will premiere tomorrow night.

Produced by local TV production company Midas Media, “Baile na h-Ola (Aberdeen - When Oil Came to Town)” explores the impact oil has had on the city and its people over the last 50 years.

Very much a social history not a political one, the special 75-minute film assesses why The Granite City has not benefited as much from oil as its North Sea neighbours in Shetland and Norway, despite its one-time reputation as “the most important oil centre in the world”.

With remarkable archive footage from the 70’s and 80’s, the film illustrates the harsh realities of the early days of this industry which was to prove so vital for the UK economy.

While the rest of the UK was going through an economic crisis, oil was first discovered in the North Sea in the 1970s, heralding the beginning of a golden age for Aberdeen and life would never be the same again in the North-east.

The Americans - mostly Texans - came to the “Wild West of Europe” with their skills in harvesting oil but it was the Scottish fishermen who had the experience of working in these hostile waters.

Duane Mead from Michigan, a well known face who ran the Rendezvous Gallery in Forest Avenue for 48 years, initially came to Aberdeen to set up the American School.

As headmaster, he opened the school with just 16 pupils and in four years the school roll was 400 with a turnover of 800 pupils in one year. American food stores and hamburger bars opened and you could spot stetsons around town.

Workers were enticed by the high wages offshore to drill the treacherous fields, the housing market in the city sky rocketed to levels not seen in the UK outside of London and even Aberdeen FC were glorious and victorious, winning the European Cup Winners Cup in 1983.

However, while many prospered, it became a tale of two cities where those who weren’t involved in oil struggled.

The boom times were followed by real lows. In the 80’s, the industry was hit with economic crashes and tragic disasters which had devastating effects.

The Chinook helicopter that crashed off Shetland in 1986 claimed 45 lives, making it the world’s worst-ever civilian helicopter crash. Captain Pushp Vaid was one of the two survivors and talks about what happened. Two years later, worse was to come when tragedy hit the oil platform Piper Alpha, killing a total of 167 people, and the devastating effects still resonate in Aberdeen today.

The city continued to change, as did the cultural landscape, and, unlike the earlier transient workers, many nationalities were coming to stay and make it their home.

The Nigerian population in Aberdeen has grown to become the biggest per capita in the UK. Key to this growth has been the city’s two universities, which are globally recognised for educational excellence in the energy sector, the most important industry of Nigeria.

But what of the future? The documentary hears from people like Sir Ian Wood, born and raised in the city, who became a billionaire businessman from his success in the industry. He grew his father’s family-owned fishing business into a global oil services company employing 53,000 people in 42 countries. and from former trawler captain Jimmy Buchan who saw the fishing industry change forever.

While Shetland has its £400 million oil fund; in Aberdeen, although the future looked bright, and the money poured in, Baile na h-Ola (Aberdeen - When Oil Came to Town) sheds light on why the onshore legacy of oil isn’t as evident as it could be. And as yet another energy crisis engulfs the globe, it asks if Aberdeen can once again be the saviour of the nation and lead the transition to renewable energy.

Aberdeen: When Oil Came to Town airs on BBC ALBA on Thursday 23 March at 9pm and is available to watch on BBC iPlayer for 30 days.

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