NOT who, what – Dotaman, meaning “spinning top”, was a long-running Gaelic kids TV programme featuring music, learning and puppets.

It was fronted by folk musician Donnie MacLeod, who, after about 400 episodes, became so synonymous with the show that audiences began to refer to him as “the Dotaman”.

Now, 30 years after grabbing his acoustic guitar for the first show, MacLeod’s contribution to Gaelic and children’s broadcasting will be celebrated in an anniversary show on BBC Alba.


DUE to air next month, the programme is among the highlights of BBC Alba’s autumn schedule, alongside shows dedicated to Scotland international Jim Baxter and painter John Lowrie Morrison.

Using songs and humour to explore a child’s everyday world, Dotaman took the mundane and made it magical.

MacLeod wrote an original song for every single episode, with the theme of the day expressed through his extensive collection of baseball caps, some mounted with seagulls, telephones, and school shoes to help non-Gaelic speaking viewers understand what they were watching.

Puppet parrots Nelson and Napoleon were also fan favourites in a show that took a very simple format and made it work, crossing the language barrier and running for 17 years.

MacLeod, 65, said: “When we started we were going to do 12 programmes and see how it went. It’s been incredible – I still get people talking about it every week.

“Going for the shopping at the weekend, all the kids wanted an autograph.

“Nobody calls me Donnie MacLeod any more, it’s Donnie Dotaman. It just has a ring to it.”


BORN in Edinburgh to parents from Lewis, MacLeod grew up speaking Gaelic with his sister Margaret and the pair formed the successful folk group Na h-Oganaich, meaning “the young ones” in the 1970s.

When that ended, MacLeod was approached about a new venture for BBC Scotland and the show, aimed at pre-school children, went out as part of the corporation’s daytime schedule.

Made to a tight budget, it featured little in the way of showbiz glitz and was instead carried by the strength of MacLeod’s enthusiastic presentation.

He said: “You can’t be straight with kids, you’ve got to have something else to it. You have to be upbeat but very professional. Our production values were up there with anyone’s, even Blue Peter.

“It was really busy and it was hard work. It’s a very simple concept and kids even without the language could follow what the theme of the day would have been – they knew from the hat.”

MacLeod credits the show with helping to revive the Gaelic language, saying: “That’s when the language changed for kids. Gaelic culture is wonderful for singing, but we started songs for children about going to the zoo, being at the dentist, going away on holiday.

“You can’t [help] but feel proud at the level the language is at now compared to what it was 30 years ago. We like to think we made a difference.”

MacLeod also provided the songs for the Gaelic-dubbed version of Postman Pat, remembered by viewers as Padraig Post, and for Danger Mouse, which became Donnie Murdo.

He has also notched up a career in TV production and taken part in several other projects over the years.

However, nothing else brought quite such pride to his parents.

MacLeod said: “My dad worked in Peterhead prison and he got so much feedback [from] the prisoners. They would watch it and say, ‘that’s your wee loon Dotaman on the telly’.

“My mum, when they lived in Edinburgh, used to go down to Corstorphine and stand til all the tellies came on in Comet and say, ‘that’s my boy’. They loved it.”


PART of the Trusadh documentary series, it features archive material and interviews with fans, and examines Dotaman’s cult status.

That appreciation took MacLeod to the Edinburgh Fringe this year for the final performance by Scottish comedy troupe The Colour Ham, who had long featured a Dotaman-inspired sketch in their show.

In front of a 500-strong, sell-out audience, MacLeod took to the stage with his guitar and received a standing ovation from the now-adult fans who once watched him as children.

He said: “I went on and the place went nuts. It was so wonderful. You can’t beat the live situation, it’s just a joy.”

He added: “What’s happening now is the kids then are parents now and they’re all saying, ‘is Dotaman ever going to come back?’ There’s a Dota-revival. It’s Dota-mania.”

Repeats of classic episodes are also planned for the end of the year and MacLeod says he has had requests from fans – who include Skye BMX stunt rider Danny MacAskill – about releasing CDs and DVDs to share with their own families.

MacLeod said: “There is a demand. I kept the set and all of the hats and for the 30th anniversary programme I set it up in the conservatory and we filmed in there. I’m now calling it the Dota-den.”

He added: “It’s been my life for all those years. What’s wonderful is I can bring it all back down from the loft and it becomes part of my life again.”