Thursday, December 27, 2007

Hamish Henderson and Walter Elliot

I'm currently reading the first volume of an excellent new biography of the late Hamish Henderson by Timothy Neat. It recounts Hamish's visit to Paris to see Picasso's Guernica, the centrepiece at the Spanish Pavilion at the World Exhibition in 1937. At the British Pavilion, says Neat, he met a man with whom he was to strike up an important short-term relationship:

'This man was Sir Walter Elliot, Secretary of State for Scotland. Sir Walter was in Paris to get ideas for the British Empire Exhibition being planned for Glasgow the following year, and for which he was responsible. Hamish got himself invited to lunch, and the conversation soon turned from smoked salmon to Scottish literature, the politics of MacDiarmid and Yeats, to fascism, communism - and 'next year, in Glasgow!'. Before they parted, Hamish tried to persuade Elliot to view Picasso's masterpiece in the Spanish Pavilion but the Minister declined. All the same, Hamish had been greatly impressed by the old Tory's courtesy and was never to forget his insistence that 'whatever is done in Scotland's name should be done well'.

The following year Hamish visited the British Empire Exhibition in Glasgow. A small quibble, Elliot was never knighted so was never 'Sir Walter'. Nevertheless, an interesting account of a previously unknown encounter between two great Scots.

Volume I of Timothy Neat's biography, The Making of the Poet (1919-1953), is available from the Birlinn website.


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