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Yearly Archives: 2012

2012 End-of-year review: Top of the Charts

As we head towards xmas it’s time to collect and collate the statistics for the use of our collections in 2012 to create our end of year chart. We’ve combined the information recorded in our enquiries database with the records of visitors to our reading room and have a new No. 1 this year, knocking the ever-popular John Grierson Archive into the No. 2 spot.

In 2012 our most used collection was the Musicians’ Union Archive. The collection provides a comprehensive record of the work of the union and its responses to the various challenges (both political and technological) which have faced musicians over the last 130 years. There are a number of factors that contributed to the collection’s popularity in 2012:

  • The increased accessibility of the collection due to cataloguing, making previously unaccessible material available to researchers
  • The heavy use of the collection by an AHRC-funded project based at the University of Glasgow which is researching the history of the Musicians’ Union
  • The centenary of the sinking of the Titanic which led to many enquiries from the media and researchers relating to the musicians on board the ship

The collection also received many genealogical enquiries from people tracing the careers of family members, the membership records providing a wealth of useful information, and a range of enquiries from researchers investigating various aspects of political, social and musical history.

MU Archive

Material from the Musicians’ Union Archive

Cataloguing of the Musicians’ Union Archive will continue in 2013 as the records of the local branches located across the UK are added to the catalogue, providing a comprehensive record of union activity from Aberdeen to Exeter.

Further down the chart our Lindsay Anderson Archive made the top 3 for the second year running, the final fruits of the work of our ARHC research project being published in November. It was also encouraging to see the university’s own institutional records being well used (at No. 4) and featured in an exhibition celebrating the 40th anniversary of the macrobert in September and on television in a report on the Howietoun Fishery on BBC 2 Scotland’s Landward in November.

The statistics for our flickr pages highlight the success of our Going Wild In the Archives exhibition which took place across the campus in the spring of 2012. The top 10 most-viewed flickr images all hail from the natural history collections which were photographed for the exhibition and include beautiful Victorian illustrations of birds of paradise, sea anemones, butterflies and Himalayan plants. With plans in place to open-up some interesting new accessions to researchers in the new year we’re looking forward to a busy and stimulating 2013!

Our most-viewed image on flickr: ‘Resplendent Trogon and Ceylonese Sun Bird’, from Beautiful Birds in Far-off Lands, Kirby, M. (London, 1873).

2012 Advent Calendar

This year our advent calendar celebrates the natural world. Every day in the run-up to Christmas a new image from our collections will be revealed including animals, butterflies and flowers from our Victorian illustrated books and some weird and wonderful drawings from our Norman McLaren Archive! The advent calendar can be viewed here.

A rabbit in winter. From The Mammals of Great Britain and Ireland, J. G. Millais (1905).

The images included in the calendar highlight the rich holdings we have relating to the natural world, both printed and archival. In 2012 we put together an exhibition entitled ‘Going Wild in the Archive’ which displayed material from our collections alongside items from the School of Biological and Environmental Sciences museum collection. Material was displayed across the campus, including a full tiger skeleton which took up residence in our reading room for several months! The calendar also provides a nice introduction to the Year of Natural Scotland 2013 which will celebrate Scotland’s outstanding natural beauty.

Leighton Library film

We have added a short film about the Leighton Library to YouTube – see

Let us know what you think!

Lindsay Anderson’s Olympic Spirit

This week the macrobert is screening Chariots of Fire, the stirring Olympic tale of Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell, two British athletes who ran at the 1924 Paris Games. The director Lindsay Anderson, whose papers are held in the University of Stirling Archives, appears in the film playing the Master of Caius college, Cambridge, alongside John Gielgud, who plays Master of Trinity college.

Chariots of Fire was one of the few occasions when Anderson moved from being the director behind the camera to an actor in front of it. In 1953 he appeared in a short film directed by the American artist James Broughton called The Pleasure Garden and played supporting roles in a couple of television adaptations of plays (Inadmissable Evidence and The Parachute) in 1968. His most memorable onscreen performance is probably in his own film O Lucky Man! in 1973 when he plays a director who auditions Malcolm McDowell at the end of the film and proceeds to smack him across the face with a copy of the script.


Ouch! Lindsay Anderson slaps Malcolm McDowell across the face with a copy of the script in a scene from O Lucky Man! (1973)

 The extensive correspondence files that are included in Anderson’s archive provide some interesting insights into his appearance in Chariots of Fire. In April 1980 he wrote to a friend describing his experiences on set:

“I’ve been spending a few days on the other side of the camera you’ll be amused (and amazed?) to hear… Doing a small featured role in a picture being done here about young Olympic sportsmen in the twenties. Playing the snobbish, sentimental, class-bound Head of a Cambridge College – three scenes with John Gielgud, and an address to a hundred and fifty undergraduates… I’m afraid I may have over-strained my technical abilities: but one certainly gets an insight as to how totally actors tend to be victimized, exploited and sabotaged in a film studio. It’s true that the last people anybody thinks of in setting up a scene are the actors. I fear I may have made an awful fool of myself: but at least no one can compel me to see it.” (Ref. LA 5/1/2/7/21)

Anderson had directed John Gielgud on a number of occasions at the Royal Court Theatre and was a close friend (the archive contains a file of correspondence between the two men). In a letter to another friend he summed up his performance as follows:

“About myself I’ll only say that I didn’t seem to be a great deal worse than John Gielgud.” (Ref. LA 5/1/1/69/5)

Following the release of the film Anderson received letters from many friends and colleagues congratulating him on his appearance. In reply to one of these letters he wrote this detailed, entertaining response, which also hints at a different direction his career may have taken:

“Well – without wanting to fall into the category of actors who talk endlessly about themselves – I’m glad that appearance in Chariots of Fire seemed okay to a fellow professional. As you can imagine, it was quite a scary thing to do, particularly acting with Gielgud and learning just how self-centered a real star has to be… Also, the director had never made a feature film before and hardly directed any actors, so I was on my own.

I have to admit that I wasn’t as enthusiastic about the film as you were – but then I did see it under rather peculiar circumstances. At the Royal Command Performance, in fact, seated some half-a-dozen rows back from Her Majesty the Queen Mother. I didn’t rate high enough to get into the presentation line-up with John Gielgud, which I thought was rather unfair (after all, I did have one more scene than he did). I tended to close my eyes when my scenes came up, so I suppose I didn’t really give the film a chance. Anyway, I’m pleased by its success.

I myself am hoping to graduate shortly into the category of elderly director-character actor (eg. John Houston etc.). I was, you’ll be amused to hear, offered a Prince of Evil role (at least I think it was an offer) in the new Star Wars sequel. Unfortunately I couldn’t take it because we’ll still be working on Britannia Hospital. I think I’d have enjoyed that.” (Ref. LA 5/1/2/7/23)

Lindsay Anderson as a cult sci-fi character? This is how close the director if If…. came to having his own action figure!


Portrait of Anderson taken in the 1980s. In 1981 Anderson was offered the role of the Emperor in Return of the Jedi.

The first day…

The University of Stirling opened its doors to its first intake of students on Monday 18th September 1967. The 164 undergraduates and 31 postgraduates were welcomed into the brand new Pathfoot building where all lectures took place and the library was temporarily located. On the evening of the 18th September staff and students celebrated the opening of the university with a dinner dance and firework display.

The following morning students met the academic staff in more formal surroundings at registration and lectures began at 8.30 am on Wednesday 20th September. For the university’s first group of undergraduates the most popular subjects were Sociology, Psychology and English with a smaller proportion of students (21%) choosing to specialise in science subjects.

Construction of Pathfoot Building, 1967.

The new Pathfoot Building, 1967.

Staff and students at the Chancellor’s Ball, held in April 1968.

The archives of the university contain a wealth of material tracing the growth and development of the institution including minutes, correspondence, reports and photographs. The story of how Stirling came to be chosen as the site for a new Scottish University can be found here.

Leighton Library added to COPAC

The catalogue of the Leighton Library has been added to COPAC . COPAC contains the combined catalogues of the largest and most important research libraries in the UK and Ireland. Researchers around the world can now easily discover the Leighton Library’s books.

The Leighton Library is open to visitors during May – September, Monday – Saturday, 11am – 1pm. However, if you would like to consult a book, please email and we’ll fetch the book from Dunblane for you.

It’s great that the profile of this small library in Dunblane is being raised. If you are interested in visiting, it’s near the golden ‘Andy Murray’ postbox!

 More information on the Leighton Library collection

From Russia With Love: Norman McLaren’s Soviet Holiday

The award-winning experimental filmmaker Norman McLaren travelled to many parts of the world and seemed to have a knack for visiting interesting places in interesting times. He was in Spain during the Civil War shooting footage for the film The Defence of Madrid. In 1949 he had an unexpectedly extended stay in China when the communist revolution overtook the UNESCO project he was working on. And he spent several months in India in 1952-53 educating local filmmakers.

In September 1935 McLaren travelled to Moscow as a tourist. At the time McLaren was attending the Glasgow School of Art where he was one of many students who embraced the idealism of the Soviet project which was so effectively promoted by the Russian art and film of the period. McLaren’s father had no time for Norman’s youthful idealism and, so the family story goes, he paid for Norman to visit Moscow in the hope that the reality of life in Russia would puncture his idealised views of the Soviet Union.

The Norman McLaren Archive includes a postcard that McLaren sent back to his father from Moscow. Written on the 6th September 1935 Norman’s account of his visit reveals that his father’s efforts didn’t have the desired effect:

“Having a great time in every way here. Have seen dozens of things of great interest; met many Russians, been several times to the theatre, have taken quite a lot of film; have visited hospitals and exhibitions, have been inside (on my own) homes and dwelling houses, shops, and a church which is still used by some of the old people, a sports stadium, parks, etc. One is quite free to wander anywhere here, and one can film almost anything. Weather’s been good – food been too abundant – I have only three days more in Moscow. NORMAN.”

Front of postcard sent by Norman McLaren to his father in Stirling in September 1935.

Back of postcard (message transcribed above).

This postcard is part of a collection of over 400 letters and postcards Norman McLaren wrote to his parents in Stirling over a 30 year period beginning in 1935. 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.

Going Wild in the Archives (3)

This morning we waved goodbye to the tiger who spent the last few months keeping a watchful eye over the researchers in our archives reading room. The tiger’s journey back to the Biological and Environmental Sciences stores marked the end of a very successful project which raised the profile of the university’s natural history collections in a cross-campus exhibition.

A tiger in the reading room yesterday.

Working with students and staff from Biological and Environmental Sciences highlighted to us how valuable our collections could be for the study of the natural world. This academic input showed us the value of our nineteenth century wildlife books for studying the changes in species numbers and distribution in the past 100+ years. For example, in our copy of J. G. Millais’ The Mammals of Great Britain and Ireland from 1905 the ‘Common Squirrel’ is depicted as a cute little red squirrel and not today’s ubiquitous grey variety.

The Common Squirrel in J. G. Millais’ The Mammals of Great Britain and Ireland, 1905.

A small archive collection of the papers of a local amateur naturalist, Ian Crockart, which sat unused on our shelves for many years, revealed material of great importance for the study of butterflies in Scotland. On investigating the collection the students involved in the project noted the detailed records of sightings of butterflies in the local area kept by Crockart during the early 1970s. Accurate, comprehensive records of this nature are very rare for past decades and the value of this material for comparative studies of butterfly populations in the Stirling area has now been identified by Butterfly Conservation Scotland.

A colour plate from British Butterflies and their Transformations, H. Humphries & J. Westwood, London, 1841.

While the physical displays have now been packed away it should be noted that a permanent online gallery of illustrations from our special collections can be viewed on our flickr pages including colourful images of Himalayan plants, Birds of Paradise and British Sea-anemones. The permanent display cases in Biological and Environmental Sciences, in the university’s Cottrell building, will also get a colourful ‘makeover’ as exhibition graphics and images will be re-used to enhance the displays.

If You Were There: Wham! in China

In April 1985 Wham! became the first western pop group to perform in China. The band’s management hired Lindsay Anderson to direct a documentary recording this historic event. Unfortunately this was an ill-fated project with Anderson being removed from the film in October 1985. His portrayal of the Chinese tour did not meet with the approval of the band or their management. A new director was brought in and a shorter film, very different from Anderson’s documentary, was produced. This article draws on Anderson’s correspondence and diaries to provide the story behind the directors ‘lost’ film.


Lindsay Anderson accepted the invitation to record Wham!’s visit to China at a time when he was finding it increasingly difficult to get his own films made. In 1982 he released the film Britannia Hospital, a biting satire set in a hospital preparing for a royal visit to celebrate its 500th anniversary. It was a critical and commercial flop, its prospects not helped by the film appearing to be ‘unpatriotic’ at a time when Britain was fighting the Falklands War.

Britannia Hospital had failed to repeat the success of Anderson’s earlier films. In the years following its release he turned to the stage, where he always found it easier to work, and directed a number of productions in London and the US. At the start of 1985 he had just returned from Washington DC where he had directed a troubled production of Hamlet which was plagued with problems and closed after a short run.

Anderson rarely worked as a ‘director for hire’, preferring to have total control over the films he made. However he was tempted by the offer of returning to his documentary roots. Anderson had begun his filmmaking career in the 1950s making documentaries. Indeed he won an Oscar for a short documentary, Thursday’s Children (a film about a school for deaf children) in 1954. In a letter to a friend written in January 1986 he explained that he undertook the Wham! project “in a spirit of curiosity. Curiosity about China and curiosity about the odd confrontation of China and Wham! – and even a certain curiosity, not very great, about the phenomenon of Wham! itself.” (Ref. LA 1/10/3/8).

Lindsay Anderson and Wham! in China.

Lindsay Anderson and Wham! in China.

Anderson travelled to China with Wham! in April 1985. The tour began with two concerts in Hong Kong and then moved to China where Wham! performed in Beijing and Canton. During the tour Anderson suffered a fall and spent much of his time in a wheelchair. His diaries also reveal that he was suffering from arthritis in his legs and hands (something he hoped Chinese medicine might cure).

The summer and autumn of 1985 were spent editing the footage shot in China. In October 1985 Anderson screened his film for Wham! and their management. The film was far from being a straight pop promo as it looked away from the band and spent some time examining China and its people. It also stripped the glamour away from the event, showing the tedium of touring. A few days after the screening Anderson was informed that he was being removed from the project because his film was not what was expected or required. Before he left Anderson’s made a copy of his version of the film, which he called If You Were There and it is this tape which is part of the Anderson Archive.

Lindsay Anderson on location in China.

Lindsay Anderson on location in China.

Following Anderson’s removal a new director was brought in and additional concert footage was shot in London at great expense. A new version of the film entitled Foreign Skies was screened at Wham!’s farewell concert at Wembley Stadium on 28 June 1986. This film was 20 minutes shorter than Anderson’s, added far more concert footage of Wham! and removed most of Anderson’s documentary footage of China.

In If You Were There Anderson attempted to do far more than just produce a pop promo. The visit of Wham! to China came at a time of great change as consumerism, pop music and western tastes and fashions began to be absorbed by the old communist state. Anderson captured a society on the cusp of change. As with his award-winning documentary films of 1950s Anderson treated his subjects with warmth and compassion. The people the camera encounters are full of life, friendly and enthusiastic, and Anderson captures the vibrant atmosphere of street life in Beijing and Canton.

He does not forget, however, that this is a film about Wham! and their historic visit to China, live performances of the band in Beijing and Canton forming the climax of the film. While George Michael and Andrew Ridgley sometimes seem bemused by the welcome extended by their Chinese hosts (there are only so many members of the Communist Party you can shake hands with) Anderson manages to catch some unguarded moments of fun and laughter where the excitement of being performers at the peak of their popularity shines through.

Angered by the rejection of his film Anderson wrote an open letter to the crew who worked with him on the documentary in November 1985. In it he detailed the circumstances surrounding his removal from the project. He also summed up his frustration with the situation in characteristically bullish style (Ref. LA 1/10/3/7). Anderson never had an opportunity to release his version of the film. Such are the complexities of the rights relating to If You Were There that it has never been publicly screened. The story of this most unusual project can, however, be traced in Anderson’s personal and working papers.

Stirling hosts digital archives conference

ARA(S) present The Born (Digital) Identity

Friday 1st June 2012, Stirling Management Centre, University of Stirling

A one-day conference presented by Archives and Records Association (Scotland) with the support of the Scottish Council on Archives. Focussing on the management and preservation of born digital archives, this event will bring together experts in the field who will offer practical advice for those facing the challenge of dealing with born digital material.

The AGM of ARA(S) will also be held during the day and the event will be followed by an evening reception in the beautiful surroundings of the Management Centre’s Conservatory. Cost (payable on the day):  £30 for ARA members, £40 for non-members (this includes all presentations, catering and evening reception). We would ask all those intending to attend to please register in advance of the event. To register, email Jane Petrie, Secretary ARAS:

Conference programme:

10.00 – 10.30: Coffee and registration

10.30 – 12.15: Morning Session:

  • “Don’t Panic! An introduction to born digital records” – Sharon McMeekin (Digital Preservation Coalition)
  • “An Update from the National Records of Scotland” – Susan Corrigall & John Simmons (National Records of Scotland)
  • “An Update from RCAHMS: trustworthiness, preservation and dissemination, and available repository software solutions” – Emily Nimmo (RCAHMS)

12.15 – 1.00: Lunch

1.00 – 2.15: ARA(S) AGM (including presentation from Marie Owens, ARA)

2.15 – 5.15: Afternoon sessions:

  • 2.15 – 3.00: “Preserving Moving Pictures and Sound: An overview of the latest DPC Technology Watch Report” – Richard Wright (Audiovisual preservation specialist and former technology manager of the BBC Archives)
  • 3.00 – 3.30: “The use of file validation tools in the University of St Andrews digital archive for research data” – Swithun Crowe (St Andrews)
  • 3.30 – 4.00: Tea / coffee
  • 4.00 – 4.30: Parallel session (a): Practical demonstration of DROID file format identification tool – Swithun Crowe (St Andrews)
  • 4.00 – 4.30: Parallel session (b): “Twitter for Archivists and Archives” – Kiara King (Ballast Trust)
  • 4.30 – 5.15: Panel discussion and Q&A

5.30: Evening BBQ