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Yearly Archives: 2011

2011 End-of-year review: Still popular after all these years…

As we head towards the end of the year it’s the time to collect and collate the statistics for the use of our collections in 2011. By combining the information recorded in our enquiries database with the records of visitors to our reading room the most popular collections this year were… in third place the university’s own institutional records; in second the papers of the filmmaker Lindsay Anderson; and comfortably ahead in first place the John Grierson Archive.

Often described as ‘the father of documentary filmmaking’ John Grierson had a long and colourful career directing and producing documentaries, and making an important contribution to the development of filmmaking in Britain and the Commonwealth. Grierson’s archive provides a comprehensive record of his working life, from his work as a pioneering documentary filmmaker in the 1920s, the establishment of the GPO Film Unit in the 1930s, and National Film Board of Canada in the 1940s, through to his later years when he brought the best of the world’s documentary films into the living rooms of Scottish viewers in the late 1950s and early 1960s on the television programme This Wonderful World.

John Grierson introducing the Scottish Television programme This Wonderful World.

John Grierson introducing the Scottish Television programme This Wonderful World.

The wide variety of subjects related to Grierson for which we received enquiries in the past 12 months reflects his long and varied career. And their geographical spread highlight his international importance and influence with enquiries received, and researchers visiting the archive, from across Europe, Canada, the USA, Australia and New Zealand. Deposited with the university in the early 1970s the Grierson Archive has been a major resource for those interested in the history of documentary and the development of cinema for many years. Our statistics for this year show quite clearly that the collection’s research possibilities have yet to be exhausted!

Material from the John Grierson Archive.

Material from the John Grierson Archive.


Robert Leighton and his books

Our latest exhibition in the university library features Archbishop Robert Leighton, who was Bishop of Dunblane and then Archbishop of Glasgow in the 17th century.  As 2011 is the 400th anniversary of Leighton’s birth (we don’t know his birthday, unfortunately), the exhibition celebrates this remarkable man and his collection of books.

Leighton lived through one of the most turbulent periods in Scottish history. He was ordained as a Presbyterian minister, yet took up the office of Bishop of Dunblane in the restored Episcopal Church, in an attempt to reconcile Presbyterians and Episcopalians in a united Church of Scotland. Aware that he might be accused of seeking self-aggrandisement, he accepted a post in Dunblane, the smallest and poorest see in the country. He was later installed as Archbishop of Glasgow, though he failed to bring about the reconciliation in church affairs which he so desired.

Leighton was a learned scholar, with wide ranging interests. He bequeathed some 1500 books and pamphlets to the Cathedral of Dunblane. A library building was erected between 1684 and 1688 in order to house the books for the use of the local clergy. From 1734 the library became one of the first subscription libraries in Scotland and thrived until around 1870. Leighton’s collection of books was supplemented by 18th and 19th century additions, bringing the total bookstock to around 3350 items. The collection covers a variety of subject areas, including history and politics (particularly 17th century), theology, medicine, travel, language and the occult. There is also much to interest the book historian.

The Leighton Library is open to tourists during the summer months. Thanks to an agreement with the Trustees of the Leighton Library, researchers may consult Leighton Library books in Stirling University Library (please contact Helen Beardsley, for further information). There are no study facilities in the library in Dunblane.  We will fetch the books required from Dunblane. All of the Leighton Library’s books are included on our own online catalogue.

The exhibition highlights some of the Leighton Library’s treasures, including a 1562 edition of the New Testament in Syriac, a 1667 index of books prohibited by the Catholic Church, as well as volumes of Buffon’s Histoire naturelle (1749-1804) with their superb illustrations. We are grateful to Dr Alastair Mann for contributing his expertise to the exhibition.

Further information and a short film about the Leighton Library can be found here


Lindsay Anderson’s Wuthering Heights

This month sees the release of a new adaptation of Wuthering Heights, in which the director Andrea Arnold moves from the contemporary council estates of Glasgow (Red Road) and London (Fish Tank) to the wild countryside of nineteenth century Yorkshire.

In 1964 Lindsay Anderson unsuccessfully attempted to film his own version of the novel. Buoyed by the success of his 1963 film This Sporting Life Anderson developed the project with the film’s writer, David Storey, and star, Richard Harris. Anderson’s experience of directing Harris on This Sporting Life had been an explosive, bruising affair but such was his desire to work with the actor that he noted in his diary his “inability to think concretely of any project – except in terms of Richard Harris”. Anderson saw Harris as the perfect lead for his version of Wuthering Heights, as indeed did the actor. In April 1964 Anderson visited Harris in Mexico City, where he was shooting the western Major Dundee, to discuss the project. After being shown to his room Anderson found a note on his pillow written by Harris – it read “I am Heathcliff”.

Lindsay Anderson and Richard Harris filming This Sporting Life.

Anderson’s papers include some fascinating material relating to this proposed adaptation including correspondence, scripts, progress reports and location photographs. Anderson’s diaries also provide an account of the project’s development. In David Storey’s adaptation the doomed romance at the centre of the story ends in a rather dramatic fashion with Heathcliff stealing Cathy’s body from her coffin and taking her to Wuthering Heights. He is followed by an angry mob that sets fire to the house, Heathcliff dying in a raging inferno with Cathy in his arms. Notes written by Richard Harris in April 1964 commenting on Storey’s script are also present. Harris didn’t like the ending devised by Storey – he instead suggested a more romantic end for Heathcliff and Cathy. The mob burns an empty Wuthering Heights and the following morning, when their anger has subsided, they find Heathcliff lying dead, next to Cathy’s body, on the moors.

By the summer of 1964 Harris began to succumb to the lure of Hollywood and started to show a reluctance to work with Anderson in England. His behaviour increasingly annoyed and frustrated Anderson. In a letter to his agent Sandy Liberson in April 1965 Anderson reflected on the change in his relationship with Harris, noting that “It really seems to me that his ‘success’ of the past eight or nine months has changed Richard. Or shall I say taken him beyond the sphere in which he and I can work together?”

It was around this time that Anderson (reluctantly) came to realise that the projects he was developing for Harris would not come to fruition and gave up on the idea of directing Harris in Wuthering Heights – indeed after months of planning he never even got as far as casting a Cathy to Harris’ Heathcliff. The material relating to Wuthering Heights is part of a fascinating series of files detailing the various unrealised projects which Anderson attempted to produce including historical epics, noir remakes, literary adaptations and a sequel to his 1968 film If…. For those interested in the ‘what ifs’ of cinema history a chapter on Anderson’s unmade films can be found in the book Sights Unseen: Unfinished British Films.

Let’s spend a million! The Communist plan for building a better Edinburgh

Giving seminars to students which introduce them to the wide range of materials held in our collections allows us to open up the boxes and display some of the items we hold. When putting together a selection of material for a seminar this week I came across this wonderful pamphlet in our Tait and Watson collection. Written in 1938 it lays out the ambitious plans put forward by the Communist Party for the improvement of Edinburgh. Buoyed by a huge increase in the Labour and Communist vote in Edinburgh municipal elections the pamphlet proposed “ten years of construction for the capital.” The improvements suggested included an extension of Princes Street and the creation of boulevards, gardens and floodlit fountains like those in Brussels; the removal of the slums found in the shadow of Arthur’s Seat and the construction of 3,000 new municipal houses every year; and the development of Portobello’s seaside attractions with the addition of a new pier and a tower to rival those in Blackpool and Paris.

A selection of pamphlets from the Tait and Watson Collection.

The Tait and Watson collection consists of material relating to the history of left wing politics in Scotland collected by William Tait, son of the Scottish Socialist pioneer Thomas Tait, and William Watson, a politically-active Clydeside welder and collector. It includes books, newspapers, pamphlets and the archives of a number of small Edinburgh-based left wing parties who were active in the first half of the twentieth century. The pamphlet collection includes over 3,000 titles on a variety of national and international topics and provides a first-hand illustration of the political debate that was generated by such major events as the Spanish Civil War and the Second World War. Full details of the pamphlets can be found on our library catalogue – do a classmark search for ‘Watson pamphlet’ or ‘Tait pamphlet’ to get an idea of the range of title and topics included.

New addition to the Lindsay Anderson Archive

Another great new addition to our Lindsay Anderson Archive arrived in Stirling this week in the form of an envelope containing eleven letters written by Anderson to Edmund Papst covering the years 1945-1948. Anderson met Papst while on military service with the Intelligence Corps in Delhi, India, in 1945 and kept in touch with him after the war. The seventy five pages of news, reviews and opinions that constitute these letters cover the period of Anderson’s return from India (including a stop-off in Palestine); his resumption of his studies at Wadham College, Oxford; his work, with Gavin Lambert and Peter Ericsson, on the film journal Sequence; and the beginnings of his filmmaking career in Wakefield with Sutcliffe Engineering Ltd.

Anderson (second left) in India in 1945.

The letters provide further information on a period of Anderson’s life that is not as well documented in the collection as his later years as a film director and complement the extensive diary entries he wrote at the time. Anderson writes about his plans for the future and the letters show him slowly moving towards a decision to commit to a career as a filmmaker. In April 1946 he writes:

“What about the future? I can think of no niche in society into which I could fit entirely pleasurably. O for an independent income! Or ten million pounds with which to make films.”

The lure of the cinema was hard to resist for Anderson. In another letter to Papst in June 1947 he noted that:

“I shouldn’t be surprised if, in the end, I tried to do something in films: it’s a pity in a way that one should be interested in them since they are so heartbreakingly commercialised – but devilishly attractive at the same time.”

A letter written in September 1945, when Anderson was on leave in the Tamil Nadu region of India, shows that his confidence in his artistic abilities wasn’t lacking:

 “I have become implicated, rather foolishly, in a variety show which the local dramatic society are putting on next week: agonising to have to sit silently and watch the producer bungling everything when I could do it so brilliantly myself.”

On his return to England in 1946 Anderson sent detailed reviews of films and plays he had seen in London to Papst, who was at university in Cape Town, South Africa, at the time. In April 1946 he sent a review of a production of Henry IV Part I at the Old Vic in which he thought Ralph Richardson’s performance as Falstaff “not quite up to expectation.” Twenty five years later Anderson was directing Richardson on stage and screen, in Home at the Royal Court, and in the film O Lucky Man!

Ralph Richardson and Lindsay Anderson on the set of O Lucky Man! in 1972.


Norman McLaren’s Chinese Odyssey

The University Archives holds a collection of material relating to the Stirling-born filmmaker Norman McLaren including over 400 letters he wrote to his parents in Stirling over a 30 year period beginning in 1936. The letters were written on a regular, sometimes weekly, basis and include information on the development of his career, accounts of his travels and discussions of his work, alongside family business and personal information.

In 1949 McLaren was invited by UNESCO to travel to China to teach young Chinese artists how to make animated films as part of a project to improve the health of China’s rural population. McLaren’s adventure started pleasantly enough, travelling from his home in Ottawa, Canada, (where he worked at the National Film Board) west across the Pacific. He stopped off at Honolulu which he described in a letter to his parents as “utterly bewitching, no place for a Scot with a buried Presbyterian conscience to remain!” From the tropical paradise of Hawaii McLaren continued on to Tokyo, a city still struggling to rebuild itself in the aftermath of the Second World War. He kept a detailed journal of his trip and noted the poverty and destruction still clearly visible in Japan’s capital.

Norman McLaren

Photograph of Norman McLaren taken during his trip to China.

From the dust and rubble of Tokyo McLaren continued onwards to the heat and humidity of Hong Kong and into China to the small town of Pehpei in Szechuan province. Unfortunately for McLaren he arrived in China as the conflict between the Nationalists and Communists swept through the country. For several months life continued as normal in the sleepy rural town of Pehpei where McLaren got on with his job of educating his Chinese pupils. In December 1949 the Communist revolution arrived on Pehpei’s doorstep. In an article he wrote for a Canadian magazine on his return McLaren recounted the efforts made by the town’s mayor to prevent the retreating Nationalist forces from ransacking the town by welcoming them, feeding them and providing them with transport to help them on their way. With the Nationalists gone the town prepared a big welcoming show for the advancing communist troops – which had to be quickly cancelled when a further group of Nationalist soldiers appeared on the horizon! After entertaining thousands of retreating nationalist troops the town put up it’s bunting and held its breath for the victorious communist army. However the expected red army didn’t appear and the town was entered by a single truck of slightly bemused soldiers.

The arrival of the communists made McLaren’s departure difficult as the country closed its doors to the outside world. With no way home McLaren was forced to remain in Pehpei and extend the educational project. After the initial upheaval of the Communist take-over life in Pehpei appears to have returned to quiet normality. In a letter written on 22 Jan 1950 McLaren noted “life here is very quiet and simple, with little to do, little to read, and no radio.” A new regime brought new bureaucracy and it took McLaren five months to get a travel permit to leave. In March 1950 he received an official invitation from the Ministry of Culture to visit them in Peking. It was his ticket out of China. He left Pehpei and travelled across the country by train where he witnessed “many evidences of the battlefields of the past twenty years of war”. Following a brief stop-off in the capital he finally reached Hong Kong in May 1950.


Letter from Norman McLaren to his mother, 26 September 1949.

Despite the conflict he witnessed and the virtual imprisonment he suffered McLaren appears to have enjoyed his time in China and gained a great respect for its people. Reflecting on his experiences he wrote, in a letter to his parents, “Chinese civilisation in many ways is superior to our recent western civilisation. I am sorry in many ways to be leaving it. It is not in its plumbing or mechanical gadgets that China is superior, but in its simple human attitudes.”

Musical Toons

The Musicians Union Archive includes a full set of the various journals, reports and bulletins produced by the union over the years for its members. These publications provided information relating to union activity and reported on the major issues affecting musicians. From 1921 – 1931 the union produced the Musicians Journal. This publication is notable for the cartoons which featured in many of its issues, these images both entertaining the journal’s readers and illustrating many of the threats to the livelihoods of musicians in the period.

Cartoon from the October 1925 issue of the Musicians Journal

The first cartoons, which begin to appear in 1923, reflect the working conditions of many of the union’s members with amusing scenes depicting such common complaints as overcrowding in orchestra pits. The benefits of union membership begin to be stressed in the aftermath of the General Strike of 1926 with a number of cartoons illustrating the valuable role played by the union and urging members to renew their (increased) subscriptions.

Towards the end of the decade technological advances in film and sound presented a major threat to musicians employed in cinemas and the Journal includes a series of cartoons which reflect the concerns felt by its members by these new developments. A number of these cartoons also illustrate the views expressed in a number of journal articles that the ‘talkies’ were a passing fad. Facing the new decade of the 1930s the fears of an uncertain technological future were summed up in the Journal in this striking image from the January 1930 issue…

Cartoon from January 1930 issue of the Musicians Journal

Portraits of the artist

This week we were delighted to receive a great new addition to our Lindsay Anderson Archive in the form of a set of black and white photographic portraits of the director. These images, taken by a number of different photographers, were mostly taken in the 1980s – a period when Anderson found it increasingly difficult to make films following the poor critical and commercial response to his 1982 film Britannia Hospital. The archive includes a fascinating series of files relating to Anderson’s unmade films detailing the unsuccessful efforts made to produce a range of projects.

Photograph of Lindsay Anderson, taken in the 1980s, recently added to the collection.

The archive contains a huge photographic record of Anderson’s life and career with thousands of photographs documenting everything from his childhood in India to detailed records of the making of his films – a selection of Anderson’s photograph albums from the 1950s can be seen on our flickr site. This week’s donation further enhances this comprehensive collection with a selection of new and previously unseen portraits of Anderson.

Another of the photographs recently added to the collection.

Many of the photographs were taken in Anderson’s London home, the setting for his final film Is That All There Is?, an autobiographical documentary made in 1992. As well as the black and white portraits the new material we have received also includes a set of colour photographs of the contents of Anderson’s flat. Both documentary and photographs provide fascinating background information for the archivist as they show material from Anderson’s archive in its original context. The cameras record the cinema posters on the walls, the books and video tapes on the shelves and the correspondence in the filing cabinets in Anderson’s office – material which is now held in our new archives store.

Books and video tapes in Anderson's London home - now part of the Anderson Archive at the University of Stirling

The Edible Archive

The Scottish Council on Archives is currently running a campaign called The Edible Archive which is seeking recipes from archive collections (and family cookbooks) across Scotland. They hope to create an archival cookbook from the recipes collected and also stage a feast featuring selected recipes. It’s a fantastic idea for raising the profile of archives and the campaign has already caught the attention of STV. We were keen to contribute but unfortunately our collections don’t have much of a culinary flavour. However while sorting through some uncatalogued boxes of material in our Tait & Watson collections this morning I came across an interesting recipe at the back of a notebook containing notes on religious subjects and popular songs. I’m guessing it won’t make it into the cookbook… or feature in the feast…

Potted Head

Ingredients – 1 ox head, 2 cow heels, pepper, salt and mace Mode soak the head in salt and water till it is quite free of blood and cleanse the heels thoroughly then put into a large stew pan and boil for 4 hours, then strain off the liquor then put the meat back into it and simmer the whole slowly for 5 ½ hours till it is thick and tender Now boil up quickly add salt pepper and pounded mace to taste then put into pots Time 9 ½ hours Average cost 4α per lb cow heels 6α each Season at any time

The Choice of Stirling

This week has been mostly spent getting to grips with some of the university’s own archives. Over the years material has been transferred to the library from various departments and offices, with additional material being donated by graduates and former members of staff following an appeal made during the university’s 40th anniversary celebrations in 2007-08.

The planning documents, committee minutes and fundraising campaign publications produced in the mid to late 1960s provide a fascinating picture of the new university taking shape. The university opened its doors for the first time in September 1967. It was a brand new university, unlike many of its contemporaries it did not develop from an existing college or parent institution. Those involved in the planning of the university therefore had a blank sheet of paper on which to plan the new university (and also the untouched green fields of Airthrey Estate on which to build the physical campus).

Airthrey Castle before the arrival of the university in 1967.

So how did Stirling come to be chosen as the location for a new university? Well… in January 1964 the government announced that a new university should be set up in Scotland and the University Grants Committee was tasked with selecting its location. Campaigns were set up to lobby for this new institution in a number of towns across Scotland. In Stirling the Council submitted a proposal offering the Airthrey Estate as a suitable site. In April and May 1964 the UGC’s New Universities Sub-Committee visited the seven locations from which they had received serious submissions: Dumfries, Ayr, Cumbernauld, Falkirk, Inverness, Perth and Stirling.

The visits further strengthened the committee in its view that for reasons of geography and population the most suitable locations were those in Central Scotland (Cumbernauld, Falkirk and Stirling). The committee had been impressed with the possibilities offered by the Airthrey Estate (and the potential use of Stirling Castle for official ceremonies). The site, combined with Stirling’s excellent transport links, plentiful accommodation for staff and students and close proximity to industry led to Stirling becoming the unanimous choice of the committee – much to the surprise of the press who had considered Inverness and Falkirk the favourites to be chosen.