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Significant Scots
Scotland, James, CBE, MA, BL, LLB, MEd (1917, Glasgow - 1983, Aberdeen)

'A Man For All Seasons'

James Scotland

John Henderson writes,

I first met this man in 1958 when I happened to sit down beside him upstairs on a Glasgow Corporation bus travelling from Argyle Street in Glasgow to the Scotstoun area of the city. I, like my other 1st Year class-mates, was hurrying back at about 10am on a freezing cold winter morning to Jordanhill College from Cranstounhill Baths to be in time for our Gymnastics' Session at 10.35am. I soon recognised the person sharing the seat, and was indeed very surprised that the Head of the College Education Department should be journeying thus. More surprise followed immediately as 'the great man' said, "Hello, John ... you played well last Saturday ..... you've certainly been blessed with a powerful and well-educated right boot!" So we chatted rugby over the 20 minute trip to the vicinity of the college ... in the course of which it transpired that Mr Scotland travelled mostly by public transport. I was too shy to ask him the reason for this ..... but as you will read below .... such was an important aspect of his study of humanity.

Apart from occasional glimpses of him on the touch-line supporting us at the college grounds, I had no further direct contact with him, until, in Year 3, he conducted our twice weekly classes in History of Education . He certainly brought a potentially dull subject to vibrant life with great humour and erudition! Although, I must admit that, at this formative stage of my life, I was not a follower of his extra-curricular drama activities that mainly focussed on Shakespearian plays!

There was a fair amount of disappointment in summer 1961 when we, who were returning for post-graduate studies in Education, learned that he had been promoted to be Principal of Aberdeen College of Education .... but, as a College 1st team rugby player for the next five years of our bi-annual visits to the 'Granite City' to play Gordonians and Grammar FPs, I had the pleasure of occasional chats with him, and opportunities to thank him for his continuing support of our efforts to join the elite in Scottish rugby. Of course he was a great friend of our committee men, our former lecturers at the Scottish School of PE, Jordanhill, George Orr and Bill Dickinson .... and while we after-match socialised in the 'George Hotel' lounge bar, Mr Scotland's wife Jean acted dinner hostess to 'Wee George' and 'Dickie' in the their Aberdeen residence.

My last memory of meeting Mr Scotland was on the morning of Monday 7th March, 1966, and this was indeed one of the most significant half-hours of my life. Why?

As a young Lecturer in PE at Glasgow University, ever ambitious, I had reached the short leet of two interviewees with Andrew Stevenson, Head of PE at Aberdeen Grammar School, for the post of Principal Lecturer in PE at Aberdeen College of Education. Mr Scotland, alone, did the interviewing, and his opening remark certainly put me at ease .... "Congratulations on reaching your 1000 points for JCRFC last Saturday in Glasgow against Kelvinside Accies. at Balgray. But, tell me about your disallowed try that would have clinched the 1000 pts. before you later kicked a goal to clinch it. From where I was sitting in the grandstand near that corner, I would have sworn that the referee was wrong." I replied .... "Although the referee is never wrong .... I certainly did score legitimately .... but ....".

The rest of the interview was not so much about the job in prospect, but rather what I should do about improving my academic qualifications to match my professional ones. I soon realised that, although I was not a serious contender, I was somebody for whom Mr Scotland cared and wanted to counsel about his future. Finally, he said as 'our chat' came to an end ... "For this line and status of work, John, you must at least get an ordinary degree of a university ... without it you will never gain entry to College Higher Education lecturing, far less principals' jobs."

I took this advice to heart, and, within the next decade, not only gained a 'Distance Learning' Upper 2nd Class Honours in Education and Literature at the Open University, but also, in 1974, a Lectureship at Moray House College of Education, Edinburgh.

David Northcroft in the August 2004 edition of 'Leopard Magazine', writes,

'Jimmy' Scotland played many roles: an authentic urban 'lad o’ pairts', he emerged from an east-end tenement in Dennistoun, Glasqow, to gain three First Class Honours degrees, and he latterly became a teacher training college principal.

James Scotland was the principal of Aberdeen College of Education from 1961 to 1983. During the first half of that tenure he campaigned for the transference of his institution from its stony downtown site to the open spaces of Hilton; in the latter years he presided over an establishment which had, as he had insisted, a theatre at its very centre.

This, however, is only one of the ways in which it is possible to represent the man. Always a man of the theatre, he was in turn a stand-up comedian, radio and stage actor, script-writer to the stars, dramatist, producer, Shakespearean biographer and critic. If the theme that runs through his richly plotted life was that of public performance, it is important to grasp the integrity which gave meaning to that concept. For Jimmy Scotland, the notion that life should be presented as if on a stage went much deeper than any personal desire towards artful display: it was the very means by which the individual could engage with others in a disciplined representation of humanity’s most abiding concerns, a way of converting knowledge, ideas and emotion into an act of public education.

Born in 1917 in an upstairs apartment in Dennistoun, Jimmy Scotland grew up surrounded by examples of this belief. Membership of Sydney Place, the family church at the bottom of the street, and its range of activities, drew him into the kind of neighbourhood drama club that was a feature of urban life in interwar years, while his education at the local Whitehill School involved him in debating and concert appearances. And when he went to the university over at Gilmorehill, his studies under the distinguished Shakespearean scholar, Peter Alexander, gave academic structure to a life-long passion, one that began with a Jordanhill production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 1950 and culminated with The Tempest in Aberdeen 33 years later and which, all that while, was accompanied by the drafting of the book, Shakespeare, a Personal Memoir, that he looked forward to completing in the retirement that never came.

The young Jimmy Scotland was first a fan, then a readily adept stage practitioner. By 1940, while immersed in his Law studies, he was appearing alongside Dave Willis as ‘Jimmy, the Student Comedian’ in the touring Bombshell shows raising money for the war effort.

Call-up into the Royal Artillery allowed him to bring his enthusiasms to a more mixed audience. In May 1945, while serving in Italy, Colonel James Scotland scripted, acted in and produced Cinderella at the Benevento Opera House, a show that was announced by the cry, ‘Oh, to be in England now that Scotland’s here!’

It was an aptitude which he was to refine during his 12 years on the staff at Jordanhill (1949-61). Winter and summer, the college’s annual pantomime and Shakespearean weeks would bring the non-theatrical and practised trouper together in productions that were at once institutional and youthfully vital.

All this time, James Scotland, Head of the Education Department, was establishing a second career. As ‘Ronald Emerson’ or ‘Kenneth Little’ he was one of the most prolific purveyors of comic material to the brightest of the new postwar talents in Scotland. Whether working alone or in collaboration – most notably with Alex Mitchell of Parliamo Glasgow fame – the biggest names of that generation were ready consumers of his material. Among them were Jimmy Logan, Andy Stewart, Roy Kinnear, Una Maclean, Duncan Macrae, John Grieve, Beryl Reid, Molly Urquhart and Stanley Baxter.

In this capacity, he was able to join in the last pre-television flowering of the Glasgow theatre, when post-war audiences still thronged to an array of pantomime shows at a dozen various venues. Chief among these was the Citizen’s. Between Clishmaclaver in 1958 and A Beano for Jack in 1965, the team of Scotland, Mitchell and, for the music, Arthur Blake, forged the Christmas shows which ensured that the theatre upheld the reputation for topical wit, for self-aware sentiment and nimble linguistic exuberance – as well as 13-syllable titles – that had been ushered in by The Tintock Cup of James Bridie and Stanley Baxter in 1950. And when the Alhambra brought in its Five Past Eight show, it was Kenneth Little who was the mainstay. During that time a whole cascade of sketches and musical numbers, under titles like Hell Caledonia, The Glasca Waltz, Pinto’s Scaretaker, My Fare Lady and The Cheery Orchard demonstrated his fluency at turning the topical, the highfalutin, the commercially calculated sentimental and the downright vulgar, into the stuff of an irrepressible local culture.

He was also adept at the other mass entertainment medium of the age, the wireless. The essence of his work here lay in the daily scene. Much of his material was gathered, notebook in hand, on the tram or in the teeming downtown streets of his native city. Such work was based upon the intimately observed and acutely overheard daily comedies that lay around him. The Scottish Home Service became a weekly outlet.

His collaboration with Stanley Baxter resulted in the 1954 series Speedy; for the up-and-coming Andy Stewart, the domestic adventures of the newly weds, Jim and Mary, followed a year later. The ability to sustain recognisable scenarios culminated in the four-year run of 17 Sauchie Street between 1957 and 61.This was a comic soap opera that involved the ups and downs of the McGuthrie family as its members cheerily struggled with the vagaries of life in their tenement home. Through its regular, and prized 6.30 Friday night slot, the doings of this ordinary east-end home and its two young female lodgers from the country, with creations such as Jessie and Jennie – ‘the fat yin and the thin yin’ – and Lord McGurk, who had risen to riches by way of his black pudding factory, became a neighbourly accompaniment to the lives of tens of thousands of fellow Scots who, like them, were stuck in the daily round of holding down jobs, of understanding the younger generation, of social snobberies and neighbourly warmth, all interspersed with the occasional trip to exotic Aberdeen or off to Rothesay, as they kept on seeking out the laugh and the warm touch that would pull them through life’s long haul.

Although his removal to Aberdeen in 1961, and the duties of a college principal, curtailed such ventures, the new setting also encouraged him into an eager return to his origins in the amateur theatre. Even during his professional scripting days, Jimmy Scotland kept his feet upon the common stage. At Jordanhill he was a leading member of the Torch Theatre Club, founded by college staff and ex-students to bring ambitiously serious work to the Glasgow stage. In the absence of suitable Scottish titles, it had tended to concentrate on the European and the American – Pirandello, T S Eliot and Thornton Wilder.

Jimmy Scotland determined to refresh its repertoire with a more ethnic character. In 1954, he wrote A Surgeon for Lucinda, in which he transposed the situation of Moliere’s L’Amour Medecin to the Tobacco Lords’ rule in 18th century Glasgow. It was quickly taken up by the Citizen’s and given a run there. This stimulated a series of dramas which showed how Scottish history, and the pungency of Scots speech, could be exploited to renew the scenarios of the classical theatre.

The following years saw The Honours of Drumlie, set in a small Lanarkshire town as it unwillingly awaits the arrival of Prince Charlie’s forces in 1746. Over the years it enjoyed more than 250 performances, including ones on both radio and television, and was performed by such names as Fulton Mackay, Hannah Gordon, Roddy Macmillan, Una Maclean and Walter Carr. Other titles followed: Oh Whistle and I’ll Come to you my Lad, a stage version of Compton MacKenzie’s Whisky Galore, Baptie’s Lass, The Deacon and The Daurk Assize.

Each of these works was neatly crafted, crisply written, shrewdly paced and readily accessible. If these qualities limited the extent to which Jimmy Scotland was able to play a creative part in the revitalisation of the Scottish theatre – and thus keep pace with the more innovative work of those who were to follow such as Liz Lochhead, John Byrne, Bill Bryden and the 7.84 Company – they also satisfied the need of amateur groups for lively, well made material that acted out human situations within a distinctly Scottish setting.

It was the Scottish Community Drama Association which was to provide his most appreciated, home. Founded in 1926 to offer a structure and, through its regular festivals and competitions, an incentive to the scatterings of local dramatic groups that were by then covering the whole country, it had more, by 1950, more than 500 membership groups.

The extent to which he served the SCDA over the next three decades is demonstrated by its establishment of the commemorative James Scotland Trust Fund, set up in 1990 in order to provide assistance to emerging young talent. This was a recognition of the way in which the man had, for year on year, supplied a series of attractive one-act plays, with topics that ranged from the impact of the oil exploration on a small Highland community (A Hundred Thousand Welcomes) to pre-war slum street life (The Girl of the Golden City), each considerately designed to allow the thoughtful amateur company to test its skills before appreciative live audiences.

By the end of the 70s, it was reckoned that at any one time a performance of a James Scotland play would be going on in a village hall or inner city community centre somewhere across the land. More than that, he had become a highly popular adjudicator, a genuine enthusiast who was prepared to tour the country from Kirkwall to Stranraer, bringing to all the local companies of WRIs, of ex-servicemen, of sewing circles and Transport Union members, the same wealth of constructive, well balanced and utterly fair minded criticism.

All this while he maintained his own practical involvement. One of the earliest steps he took on arriving in Aberdeen was to enlist in June Gordon’s – Lady Aberdeen’s – Haddo House Choral & Operatic Society. Over the next 22 years, he was to give it indefatigable service, both as a producer and actor. In his own institution, he established the public performance of a work from the canon, most notably Shakespeare, in the College Theatre at Hilton, as an annual Aberdeen tradition.

It is this achievement which reminds us where, ultimately, the mainspring of Jimmy Scotland’s lifelong involvement in drama lay. When, in 1969, the Scottish Education Department architect set the plans for the new campus before him, he crossed out the reference to ‘assembly hall’ and substituted ‘Theatre’. He then made sure that it was to be equipped to fully professional standards- ‘three more lights than the London Palladium’ was the rumour that ran through the city at its opening – and that it was positioned within what was to be called the Students’ Life Building, with the refectory as neighbour, the bookshop across the way, the Union above and the Music Department below.

‘Drama’ was to be built into the very fabric of the place. It was also integral to its curriculum. When the SED was searching around for the most productive location for its new Diplomas in Drama and Music, he made sure that, in 1972, they would come to Aberdeen. Over the next decade he established a formidable team of tutors, several of whom, such as Charles Barron, Tom Johnston, George Crossan, Alan Nicol and Annie Inglis have continued to play a powerful role in the region’s cultural life.

James Scotland, you see, was first and last a teacher: not simply an educationist or a theatrical, but a teacher. His whole career was driven by his search for the most effectively human way of involving the next generation in the ideas, the knowledge and the experiences that best define our humanity. For him, theatre, and the concept of performance which it embodied, was both a content and a means. It was the most compelling, the most versatile, the most truly vital educator society possessed. The theatre that he lobbied for, and which he designed at Hilton, was his most cherished expression of what was both a personal pursuit and an educational philosophy.

The decision by His Majesty’s Theatre to move itself here for the year of its refitting is a handsome recognition of the scope and the power of Jimmy Scotland’s conception. It will, however, be a fleeting one. By the end of 2005, when the developers move in and his old college has been moved down the road to King’s, it will, as a physical entity, have disappeared completely. Fortunately the plaque which stands on the far wall of its auditorium, and which commemorates the list of ‘Scotland Productions’ which were housed within it, will, it is understood, accompany that flitting.

But the final word need not be of memorialisation at all. As an educator and, through articles such as Shakespeare and the Dominies and Scottish Education Looks Ahead, in combat with the rooted Presbyterian suspicion of the theatre as a frivolity and with the nation’s desk-bound academic culture, he would insist that the theatre’s power lay in the simple coming together of people and performance, that it was a jointly creative endeavour that could be shared there and then on the classroom floor.

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