Edinburgh Companion to Twentieth-Century Scottish Literature

By Ian Brown; Alan Riach | Go to book overview

CHAPTER ELEVEN
Arcades – The 1960s and 1970s

Ian Brown and Colin Nicholson

At the 1963 Edinburgh Festival drama conference in the McEwan Hall, a naked woman was wheeled across the gallery. Following Lord Curzon’s injunction, the lady did not move; the event lasted less than a minute; the ensuing tabloid stramash was lively. Jim Haynes, Kenneth Tynan and John Calder put together this ‘sixties happening’. Calder and Haynes had organised a 1962 Festival International Writers Conference, a highlight being the mutual contempt of Hugh MacDiarmid’s (1892 –1978) calling Alexander Trocchi (1925–84) ‘cosmopolitan scum’ and Trocchi’s riposte: ‘stale porridge’. Elements of this hint at four constituent transformative strands in 1960s and 1970s Scottish literature: affront to established genii loci, new performative modes, more cosmopolitanism and domestic revitalisation.

Transformation was not, of course, just positive. Edinburgh had been a great, even a world, publishing centre. This faltered when, in 1962, the Thomson Organisation bought Nelson’s, leading to that great firm’s break-up: Edinburgh operations closed and in 1968 printing facilities were sold. This began a slow, steady attrition of old, important publishing firms that continued and worsened into the 1980s and 1990s. Oliver and Boyd, bought by the Financial Times in 1962, closed in 1990. In 1980, once-titanic William Blackwood and Sons merged with Edinburgh printers Pillans and Wilson. Large Scottish publishers were losing identity. Even William Collins was taken over by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation in 1987, and merged with Harpers of the US. Yet small independent publishers emerged. In 1973, Canongate was founded, while in 1969 Edinburgh University Student Publications was established, later becoming Polygon.1

Both literary and publishing transformation happened during globalisation’s and mass television’s first major impact. Commercial television launched in Scotland on 31 August 1957 and BBC2 started on 19 May 1964. The Edinburgh Festival’s development as a producer of influential international work was well-established. Its first, 1947, manifestation featured Louis Jouvet’s production of Molière’s L’École des Femmes, inspiring Robert Kemp’s 1948 Let Wives Tak Tent. By the early 1960s, the Festival and Fringe delivered

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