Edinburgh International Film Festival—the Beginning

Cover of the Documentary 47 programme (ref. H3.P3)

Cover of the Documentary 47 programme of films screened in Edinburgh from 31 August – 7 September 1947 (ref. H3.P3)

As the Edinburgh International Film Festival gets ready to commence on 18 June, it’s interesting to reflect on how one the oldest and indeed the longest continually run film festival came to be.  Its roots date back to the postwar cultural revitalization of Scotland. In 1947 the Edinburgh International Festival of Music and Drama was established, and Norman Wilson realized that the medium of film was not going to be represented. Recognizing that this was a perfect venue to showcase film–as film historian Thomas Elsaesser later termed it, a ‘cultural clustering,’ a mixture of different art forms coming together for a rich community experience–Wilson, along with the Edinburgh Film Guild, went into action and took on the challenge of bringing a film festival together with limited financial backing.

“The aim of the founders, the Edinburgh Film Guild, was to have the cinema worthily represented at the first international Festival of the arts to be held in Britain” (ref. Grierson Archive, G7:44:61).The world was watching and they did not want to fail this challenge. In determining what their focus would be, they decided to showcase Scotland’s strongest contribution to film—documentaries.

“The first international Film Festival to be held in Britain will be devoted entirely to Documentary. This is no accident; for not only does Britain lead the world in documentary production, but the documentary approach—an innate feeling for reality—is now the distinguishing characteristic of British feature films” (ref. Hardy 3:9:8)

With the focus on documentaries, who better to invite to give the opening address and set the tone for the festival than Scottish-born John Grierson, the father of the British documentary movement?

A Time For Enquiry, John Grierson (ref. H3 P3)

A Time For Enquiry, John Grierson (ref. H3 P3)

The first film festival was modest, with only about seventy-five films shown during the eight day festival, but with the critically acclaimed films they did showcase, including Roberto Rossellini’s Paisan and Georges Rouquier’s Farrebique, they set the standard for what to expect at the festival.

Front of leaflet listing films shown at the first Edinburgh Film Festival

Front of leaflet listing films shown at the First International Festival of Documentary Films, Edinburgh, 1947 (ref. H3.P3)

Norman Wilson, serving as Chairman of the Advisory Committee of the Festival in 1950 , explained what kind of films the festival looks for and the power of documentaries:

“It is the film of reality that the Edinburgh Festival is especially concerned with, and many people believe it is in this sphere that film-makers come nearest to the basic qualities of the cinema as a medium of creative arts. The great virtue of the film is that it can capture reality through the lens of the camera. By getting art into the country, and into the city streets among real people—into the world of everyday, which has within itself all the drama and romance of life without fabrication—the film can interpret and synthesis realities in its own creative terms. That is its unique quality as an art form, and that is what we look for in the films selected for showing at the Edinburgh Festival.” (ref. Hardy 3:8:1)

(Kelly Kloser, M.Litt. in Film Studies)

Reverse of leaflet listing films shown at first Edinburgh Film Festival

Reverse of leaflet listing films shown at the First International Festival of Documentary Films, Edinburgh, 1947 (ref. H3.P3)

 

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Continuity of Care: new project to open up the archives of the Royal Scottish National Hospital

The University of Stirling Archives has received funding from the Wellcome Trust’s Research Resources grant scheme for a project to conserve and catalogue the archives of the Royal Scottish National Hospital, Larbert. Established in 1862 the RSNH (originally known as the Royal Scottish National Institution) was the foremost hospital providing custodial care for mentally impaired children in Scotland in the 19th and 20th centuries. The extensive archives of the institution that survive provide a comprehensive record of the management and operation of the hospital, and the treatment and care of its patients. The historical importance of the collection was recognised last year when it was added to the UNESCO UK Memory of the World Register.

Staff and patients in the grounds of the RSNH, Larbert.

Staff and patients in the grounds of the RSNH, Larbert.

The generous support of the Wellcome Trust will enable us to carry out a comprehensive programme of repair and rebinding of damaged material, along with the organization, arrangement and detailed cataloguing of the collection. We are currently advertising for a Project Archivist and Project Conservator (closing date for applications 15 June 2014). When the project is completed an online catalogue will provide a detailed record of the contents of the collection which can be accessed by researchers in our archives reading room. The archives of the RSN will provide new insights into the history of the treatment and care of children in Scotland and the wider society in which the hospital operated.

Many of the records of the RSNH require conservation and repair.

The project will include a programme of conservation, repair and rebinding.

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Affectionately Yours

Trisha Anderson is a dancer and choreographer, and relative of the filmmaker Norman McLaren. 2014 is the centenary of McLaren’s birth and Trisha has curated a personal tribute to Norman which is currently on display in the University Archives. Here she writes about her research into McLaren’s work.

The exhibition ‘Affectionately Yours’ is based on the research for my film of the same name. In 2003 I saw an interview with the film maker Norman McLaren in which he said that movement was his art form, but had he been a dancer he would have created movement in a very different way. I was struck by this statement for a number of reasons. I am a dancer and choreographer and I was curious to know what kind of dance McLaren might have choreographed himself. This led me to research him through his personal letters.

My aim was to respond to the life and work of Norman McLaren, and to examine the link between dance and animation. This has allowed me to experience first-hand some of those common threads between my art form and McLaren’s and to begin to draw conclusions for my own practice, which eventually combined dance film and animation. I have looked at the context within which McLaren’s work took place. I am fascinated by the opinions of other artists and film makers who knew McLaren or worked with him.

Norman McLaren dancing in the garden of the family home, 21 Albert Place, Stirling, c 1936.

Norman McLaren dancing in the garden of the family home, 21 Albert Place, Stirling, c 1936.

Norman McLaren’s place in the history of animation and experimental film making is that of a pioneer who brought an amazing range of skills to his art form. He was an artist, director, scientist, inventor, keen observer of humanity and accomplished musician. Transcripts of interviews with him bring the reader in touch with a shy, sensitive, multi-sensory man who saw the world in a very unique way. His sensitivity and acute awareness of stillness and movement, music, line, form, space and rhythmic structure are all qualities which he brought to his films. As a choreographer I feel that I am intensely aware of these elements and I find myself looking at his work again and again from the choreographer’s viewpoint. I found myself asking how Norman McLaren might have used these qualities himself if he HAD been a choreographer. There are many common threads between dance, animation and film. There are also many common ‘threads’ between this film maker and me.

I am related to McLaren.  My grandfather and Norman McLaren’s mother were siblings. In my search for McLaren the film maker I realised I could not separate him from McLaren, my father’s cousin. I realised that the qualities I mentioned before may be shared between film maker and dancer, but may also reflect a shared genetic inheritance. I felt I needed to explore how strong the link was and this brought me to the archive stored at The University of Stirling.

Norman McLaren's father in the showroom of his decorating business, Maxwell Place, Stirling, c 1910.

Norman McLaren’s father in the showroom of his decorating business, Maxwell Place, Stirling, c 1910.

McLaren had an enquiring mind, and was endlessly questing to “work things out”, a quality which in part was inherited, I believe, from a very practical, down to earth lineage. His mother grew up on a farm and there are a number of relatives who were involved in some way with engineering. His artistic ability was in part inherited from his father, a painter and decorator. Musical ability was present on both sides of the family.

McLaren felt Art was one thing he was really good at which led him to Art College…. where he discovered film. By the time I found the material stored in the archive I had realised that many people still did not know who McLaren was. I began to feel that I wanted to do something to draw attention to his work. I made a decision that one day I would make a dance and film based on him. I eventually made this film, Affectionately Yours, in 2012.

Still from the film Affectionately Yours, Tricia Anderson, 2012.

Still from the film Affectionately Yours, Tricia Anderson, 2012.

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Musicians Union – what did the branches do?

The vast majority of the Musicians Union collection has now been catalogued and added to our online catalogue. The collection includes material from Central and District offices and also material from over 65 branches of the Musicians Union spread across the whole of the United Kingdom from Aberdeen in the north, to Bournemouth in the south. As you might expect the records tell us much about the administration of the MU, its structure and operation. The campaigns around the use of recorded music, promoting live music as well as defending the terms and conditions of working musicians and supporting them in times of hardship are well documented throughout the branch records.

Minutes from Liverpool branch meeting
Minutes for Liverpool branch meeting 

For some branches we have a large number and a wide range of records. For example for Glasgow, Manchester and Liverpool we have records that reflect the size of the union in terms of individual members in those areas and the range of employment opportunities for musicians.

The minutes of committee meetings and correspondence record the concerns of the Union, for example in protecting terms and conditions of employment for musicians employed in local orchestras and in local theatres.  Liverpool minutes  MU/4/5/1/5

We have membership records that provide not only evidence of the size of the branches in terms of recorded members but also provide information which may be of interest to family historians. Membership registers include names, address, date of joining the union, instruments played and if the person had transferred from another branch or moved to another branch.  The membership records cover more than a century of MU membership from 1893 onwards.

MU Membership Register

Blackpool branch membership register

It is perhaps not surprising that the MU branches in these large cities produce many records; however some small towns also had very active branches. For example we have records from the Blackpool branch which reflect its history as a popular seaside resort with several theatres and attractions including the Tower Ballroom. The minutes of the Blackpool branch meetings and correspondence record negotiations with the Blackpool Tower Company over the terms and conditions of musicians. MU4/15/3/1

Use of recorded music at the Opera House, Blackpool.

Use of recorded music at the Opera House, Blackpool.

The impact of historical events is also present in branch records for example the Blackburn branch was involved in negotiations with the local council for the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth in 1953 and the use of recorded music. MU/4/11/3/1

Letter from Blackburn branch correspondence file.

The BBC looms large in many branches especially in those branches where members are employed in the BBC orchestras. Much of the correspondence of the Glasgow branch covers negotiations with the BBC over cuts to orchestras and the resulting strikes during the 1980’s.

MU P010

MU Confr026

Photographs taken during the 1980 BBC strike.

 The strike in Bournemouth in 1950 is well documented in a Strike Day by Day Scrap book MU4/18/5/1

Day by Day scrap book of the Bournemouth strike

Day by Day scrap book of the Bournemouth strike

 

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The Lasting Appeal of Night Mail

Nearly eighty years after its release, Night Mail (Wright & Watt, 1936), produced by the General Post Office Film Unit, is still relevant to documentary filmmaking – its style, content and representation being key to the fundamentals of the non-fiction film. Night Mail follows the journey of the London, Midland & Scottish Railway postal service from London to Scotland, as it collects and delivers Britain’s mail.

A scene from Night Mail (ref. Grierson Archive, G Photo 55)

A scene from Night Mail (ref. Grierson Archive, G Photo 55)

Forsyth Hardy, film critic and John Grierson’s biographer, wrote in 1979 about the lasting appeal of the film in his book Grierson on Documentary – “Of all the hundreds of films which emerged from the documentary movement in the 1930s it has most surely stood the test of time.” Perhaps this is because the nostalgia evoked, was of a time in British culture that seemed untouched by modernity. Paradoxically however, the film proved to be stylistically and socially progressive. Modernist concepts such as commercial rebranding and details like expressionistic images – the beveled, clean lines of the titles, the specially commissioned music and poetic verse suggested a cultural shift.

Founded by Grierson in 1933, the G. P. O. Film Unit made documentaries to promote British industry to the British public. Films such as Granton Trawler (Grierson, 1934), about the fishing industry reminded the nation that respect and gratitude should be given to everyday workers. Referring to this concept Night Mail director Basil Wright said that the film was, “commissioned by the post office […] to explain to the Post Office workers how this particular aspect of the vast organization happened” (ref. Grierson Archive, GA.10.55). Grierson went on to say, “It was some satisfaction to take those letters G.P.O and make them stand for what was most progressive in the cinema” (ref. Grierson Archive, G3.14.5).

Night Mail’s appeal was partly due to the collaboration of modern disciplines and experimentation in sound and visual style. The combination of Grierson’s production, Cavalcanti’s sound direction, W.H.Auden’s poetic verse and music by composer Benjamin Britten constructed an almost avant-garde aesthetic. The juxtaposition between man and machine – the close-up shots of the moving pistons, the point of view shots from the engine drawing the audience in and the precise timing of the mail bag pick-up as postal workers listen to the beats of the wheels on the track – evokes a poetic artistry. Talking to the B.B.C about the pre-production, Grierson recounts the emotional connotations, “The train had become the living embodiment of a whole slice of British life” (ref. Grierson Archive, G7.23.3).

Detail of bust of John Grierson by the sculptor Kenny Munro at Stirling Train Station.

Detail of bust of John Grierson by the sculptor Kenny Munro at Stirling Train Station.

On its release, Night Mail was successful, in part due to transportable projection units. In Sight and Sound in 1937, J.B. Holmes, director of productions at the G.P.O discussed their method of distribution, “With machines, operators, screens and films, they were capable of showing in almost any sort of premises” (ref. Grierson Archive, G3.P4). Aside from the influential use of the cinematic device and the modernist propaganda ascribed to the film; far beyond the filmmaking world, railway enthusiasts have sustained the appeal of Night Mail and as a result, in 2013 a sculpted bust of Grierson was introduced to Stirling railway station.

(Susannah Ramsay, M. Litt. in Film Studies)

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The World According to Grierson

As part of 2014’s Glasgow Film Festival, Documenting Grierson, a film by Laurence Henson, was screened, allowing the audience an all too brief encounter with the ‘father of documentary’ John Grierson. Henson’s film highlights the importance and influence of Grierson’s philosophies and ideologies regarding cinema, social welfare and education during the interwar years in Britain.

John Grierson

John Grierson (ref. Grierson Archive, P 151)

In an excerpt from Henson’s film, Grierson talks passionately about the purpose of documentary as being, “A chance to say something, a chance to teach something, a chance to reveal something, a chance, possibly to inspire, certainly always an opportunity for influence of one kind or another.” Grierson wrote a lengthy manifesto outlining the principles of documentary, discussing the ethical issues and function of filmmaking (ref. Grierson Archive, G2.15.2). Today the artistic and pedagogical significance of documentary filmmaking continues, with The Grierson Trust awarding accolades each year to the most inspiring films. Academically, documentary techniques are rigorously theorised, crucially analysing the distinction between the ‘real’ or non-fiction aspect and the fictitious or ‘wish-fulfillment’ style, as pioneering documentary theorist Bill Nichols suggests.

Opening paragraph from one of Grierson's influential lectures (ref. Grierson Archive G2.16.3)

Opening paragraph from one of Grierson’s influential lectures (ref. Grierson Archive, G2.16.3)

Early on in his career John Grierson decided that producing films would be more advantageous to the cause, especially when negotiating for government funding. He employed like-minded people to execute technical duties such as, camera work and editing. The core production crew consisted of, Harry Watt, Edgar Anstey, Basil Wright and Stuart Legg, a mix of aspiring young filmmakers. Grierson’s tenacity and ability to get things done changed the way we viewed the world and through the Empire Marketing Board film unit, headed by chief commissioner Stephen Tallents, society was presented with information, education and choice – a testament to the power of cinema (ref. Grierson Archive, G4.31.3).

The Documentary Boys (ref. Grierson Archive GAA 13.3)

The Documentary Boys (ref. Grierson Archive, GAA 13.3)

Grierson encouraged others with his documentary making views through lectures and publications, sometimes subversively, but always expressing an over-arching importance. He is quoted in The Daily Herald (1935) saying, “I wish the B.B.C., instead of sterilizing its speeches in the cabins of Broadcasting House, would take its microphones out to the people” (ref. Grierson Archive, G3.14.1). A method that Arthur Elton and Edgar Anstey incorporated in their film Housing Problems (1935) – an idea attributed to John’s sister Ruby Grierson, also a filmmaker.

Grierson dealt his contemporaries with equal amounts of contempt and praise. In an article in Cinema Quarterly (1932), he pitted other disciplines against the prestige of documentary – “newsreel is just a speedy snip-snap of some utterly unimportant ceremony”, continuing to say, “[they] avoid…the consideration of any solid material” (ref. Grierson Archive, G2.15.2). However acerbic Grierson’s humor might have sounded, the importance of documentary and for those involved was paramount.

Still from Housing Problems (1935). (Ref. Grierson Photo 41)

Still from Housing Problems (1935) (ref. Grierson P 41)

The British Documentary Movement went into decline after the Second World War and as a consequence of those who had experienced ‘real’ war, the documentary style became more about technique than content. As the political restructuring of Britain began, Grierson’s production unit splintered and with the introduction of television to the mass audience in 1953, produced a new style of documentary. Grierson et al welcomed this shift and went on to produce a variety of documentaries for the new medium.

(Susannah Ramsay, M. Litt. in Film Studies)

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Leighton Library access April – May

Due to staff illness, it will not be possible to fetch books from the Leighton Library in Dunblane between 16th April and mid May. If you will require a Leighton Library book during that period, please request it by 9th April at the latest.

Note that many books in the Leighton Library are available online in Historic Books (available from the A-Z list of Online Resources).

Apologies for any inconvenience this may cause.

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When Grierson met Jason Singh

This year the wonderful Hippodrome Festival of Silent Cinema featured a stunning new soundtrack to John Grierson’s Drifters by Jason Singh. Accompanied by members of the Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra Jason fused electronic effects, clattering beats and his own voice to create a striking contemporary response to Grierson’s 1929 documentary about North Sea fishermen. The energy and power of the film was heightened by Singh’s beat-boxing, the engines of the fishing trawlers fueled by his propulsive beats. His performance responded beautifully to the changes in tempo and tone in the film, voice and effects demonstrating the power of the waves crashing off the rocks, then quietening to reflect the underwater images of the shoals of herring sought by the trawlermen and the seagulls flying above the boats. The performance ended with a memorable recreation of the sounds of the bustling fishmarket where the trawlermen’s catch was bought and sold. After the elemental sounds of the sea and the mechanical hum of the trawlers the babble of voices brought us back to land.

An underwater scene from John Grierson's 1929 documentary Drifters.

An underwater scene from John Grierson’s 1929 documentary Drifters.

Drifters was made at a turning point in the history of cinema when silent films were beginning to be replaced by the ‘talkies’ and the use of sound in films was becoming more common. Grierson was quick to realise the potential of sound and his archive includes a printed document distributed to cinemas providing a scene-by-scene musical accompaniment to the film. The recommendations are divided into two sections. The first provides popular tunes to be played by a cinema orchestra, while the second lists gramophone recordings of classical music for cinemas without musicians. These were to be played using “non-synchronous tables” (gramophones set up to play likes today’s DJ turntables). As the fishermen prepared their nets before casting them into the sea Mendelssohn’s Fingal’s Cave Part 1 was to be played. Later in the film the threat of the gathering storm clouds was accompanied by Wagner’s Flying Dutchman Overture. Grierson was keen to utilise the technological advances of this time to enhance his pioneering documentary – Jason Singh uses 21st century techniques and equipment to breathe new life into the film for contemporary audiences.

Suggested musical accompaniment for Drifters (ref. Grierson Archive, G2.1.3)

Suggested musical accompaniment for Drifters (ref. Grierson Archive, G2.1.3)

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‘Drifters’ at the Hippodrome Silent Film Festival

As the Bo’ness silent film festival enters its fourth year, the five-day programme promises to deliver classics from the silent cinema era, including the unambiguously titled double bill, Before Grierson Met Cavalcanti on Sunday the 16th March. Showing first is Brazilian director Alberto Cavalcanti’s Nothing But Time/ Rien Que Les Heures (1926), an experimental film portraying a day in Parisian life. Following that is John Grierson’s groundbreaking documentary Drifters (1929), which depicts the epic journey of herring fishermen. It was first shown in London in the winter of 1929 to critical acclaim and mass audience approval.

Publicity advertisement for Drifters, Stoll Herald, 1929 (ref. Grierson Archive G2.1.5)

Publicity advertisement for Drifters, Stoll Herald, 1929 (ref. Grierson Archive G2.1.5)

Drifters, not only documents but also dramatises the struggle between man and nature, both poetically and cinematically. Much thought went into the musical score for its original screening and has been updated for the 21st century. The musical accompaniment to Drifters will be Jason Singh, a human beatbox.

Suggested musical accompaniment for Drifters (ref. Grierson Archive, G2.1.3)

Suggested musical accompaniment for Drifters (ref. Grierson Archive, G2.1.3)

At the time of release and for years after, the filmic technique of Drifters has been compared with the Russian school of filmmaking of the 1920s in particular Sergei Eisenstein’s ‘montage’ theory and practice. Eisenstein suggested that the purpose of film editing was to create drama and conflict within the narrative, while creating symbolic meaning through the relationship between shots by means of juxtaposition. In essence, editing consists of several individually filmed shots, that when put together produce a coherent story, thus creating a ‘montage’ or sequence. When the individual shots, such as action/reaction shots, POV (point of view) shots and cutaways (general views) are edited together, a dialectic or conflicting element can arise through these opposing images on screen. In the case of Eisenstein’s films such as, Strike (1924) and Battleship Potemkin (1925) this provoked an immediate reaction from the audience as they grappled to make sense of the visually generated narrative truth. By interpreting the film subjectively the viewing subject was offered a rich cinematic experience. Over time symbolist editing techniques were used by Eisenstein and other directors as a propaganda tool for Russia.

It was Battleship Potemkin that influenced Grierson’s own nascent editing techniques. Film critics and reviewers supported the use of Grierson’s editing style, articulating a new intelligence found in filmmaking and the way films were being read.

“It is really in it’s editing, it’s ‘montage’, that ‘Drifters’ begins to live,” wrote Henry Dobb from the Sunday Worker on 3rd November 1929. (ref. Grierson Archive, G2.24.1)

‘HT’ writes in The British Film Weekly,

“[…] His beautifully chosen angles, the cleverness of his cutting, the beauty of his editing, created a dramatic and thrilling picture.” (ref. Grierson Archive, G2.24.2)

Drifters, was a success for the socially conscious Grierson and in terms of film form and language he adapted to the new techniques, and to the introduction of sound to accommodate his didactic and creative nature. John Grierson went on to produce a plethora of innovative and artistic films, developing over the years to establish his own pedagogical approach to Britain’s social problems, through government-funded films.

Changing concepts - the introduction of sound to film (ref. Grierson Archive, G2.23.4)

Changing concepts – the introduction of sound to film (ref. Grierson Archive, G2.23.4)

(Susannah Ramsay, M Litt. in Film Studies)

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Parallel Worlds – an exhibition of material from the Iain Banks Archive

The University of Stirling Archives is delighted to announce a new exhibition presenting a selection of foreign editions of Iain Banks’ novels from his personal collection.  The exhibition highlights the international appeal of Banks’ fiction and shows the variety of ways his work was presented in different countries around the world.  The volumes on display are part of a larger collection of almost 200 editions of Banks’ work translated into a range of languages and designed to reflect the tastes of readers in a range of markets including France, Germany, Israel, Russia and South Korea.

Detail from a 1988 Japanese edition of The Player of Games.

Detail from a Japanese edition of The Player of Games.

The exhibition also features a book sculpture commemorating Iain Banks which was presented to the University by the Edinburgh International Book Festival last September.  The sculpture is part of a set produced by an anonymous artist celebrating literature and the love of words. It represents Banks’ 1992 novel The Crow Road and is accompanied by a tribute to the writer from author Ian Rankin. The exhibition is on display in the Archives & Special Collections area of the University Library and runs until Friday 4th April.

The book sculpture which forms the centrepiece of the exhibition.

The book sculpture which forms the centrepiece of the exhibition.

Iain Banks was one of the most popular and critically acclaimed Scottish novelists of his generation, and an alumnus of the University of Stirling. The University is delighted to be working with his estate to collect and preserve an archive of his working papers and make this material available to researchers with an interest in his work.

Interviewed by the University for an alumni profile Banks reflected on his time at Stirling:

“I did get in a lot of writing… as well as a fair amount of walking in the hills. What I remember most keenly is the wonderful feeling of freedom of being there, and the sheer intoxication of living and working in a place devoted to learning, to the pursuit of knowledge. I still smile when I think of the place, the time, and my years at Stirling were some of the happiest and most productive of my life. All that, plus I got to be an extra in ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’, How cool was that?”

Some examples of Banks’ student writing can be found amongst the University’s own archives in the pages of the creative writing journal Cairn. Launched in Spring 1973 Cairn featured poetry and prose written by students and staff of the University, including the poet Norman McCaig. The journal is one of several student titles which are held in the University Archives along with a full run of the student newspaper Brig, which was first published in 1969.

Cover of the first issue of Cairn, Spring 1973

Cover of the first issue of Cairn, Spring 1973.

 

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