Our President in 1976/7 was:
Ian Grimble BA,PhD, FR Hist Soc
He proposed the Toast to Sir Walter at our 69th Annual Dinner on Friday 4th March 1977 in The North British Hotel, Edinburgh
Read the text of his address here
Ian Grimble was born in Hong Kong in 1921 to Scottish parents. Following their divorce ten years later, each re-married. Ian remained forever indebted to his stepfather for making his adored mother happy, while providing him with a happy home. In 1949 after his mother's death, the stepfather remarried and Ian continued to enjoy the same warm hospitality. His biological father settled in The States where he married an American. While making them both welcome whenever they came to the UK Ian found conversation difficult with such pretentious rich people who shared none of his interests. They usually brought their own car with them, even for a trip of a couple of weeks or so.
Public school he hated, but he loved his years at Balliol College, Oxford. He paid for this by giving private tuition in the evenings and at weekends. He had no time for organised sports, like
cricket and football, but excelled in tennis, hurdling, swimming and playing the piano.
He was no mean actor, and aged twenty-one, had the leading part, (Thesius) in the play by Shakespeare, performed by moonlight, in the Regency gardens in Delhi. The audience were the top government officials and senior army officers. Also during the war, he taught skiing and climbing to shell-shocked troops, at an army recovery centre in the Himalayas.
Straight from university he was conscripted into the army, and being over six foot tall, was made a lieutenant in a guards regiment. If he'd ever had to lead troops in a combat situation, he wouldn't lasted many minutes.
Fortunately the authorities found a better use of his remarkable brain. Although he had no prior knowledge of the Japanese language, they reckoned that within months he would have a better mastery of it than those who had lived several years in Japan before the war. Ian was made a lieutenant in Intelligence, based on Bletchley Park, to help de-cipher intercepted enemy messages. (before long he was interrogating Japanese prisoners in their own language)
After the war Ian joined the RNVR and went on a minesweeper to the Faroe Islands, shortly afterwards giving a radio talk about the place, with examples of music by its gifted composer J. Waagstein, who was virtually unheard of in Britain. A year later the same mine sweeper and crew returned to the Faroe Islands. Seeing a large waiting crowd on the quayside, the conceited captain presumed they were there to welcome him. Instead they demanded that Signalman
Grimble be produced, so they could thank him personally for such wonderful publicity.
He studied law, but less than one week before the Bar exams he abandoned that career when offered the alternative post of Assistant Research Librarian, in the House of Commons. During his time there he made friends with numerous MP.s, including cabinet ministers from the three main parties.
Ian did lots of freelance broadcasting in London, on each of the three channels. His two talks on Stone Age Life in New Guinea commanded a phenomenal rating of 75% when the Light
Programme channel virtually did no serious talks on any subject. A Third Programme producer guaranteed that ANYTHING that Ian cared to submit would go out on air, which was pretty remarkable.
He first came to Bettyhill in 1948, staying in Mrs Ind's house adjacent to Farr Bay. In that year he met John-the-Post's parents, immediately bonding with them. Following the death of his own cousin, Robert sold Ian the house that was adjacent to his own croft, in 1949.
He became the local Labour Chairman, yet was sufficiently broad-minded to be friends with Sir David Robertson, the Tory MP, whose brickworks and small coalmine at Brora gave useful local employment.
For many years Ian collected and produced radio material throughout the north, from Fort William to the top of Shetland and from Aberdeen to the Western Isles. This was mostly of him interviewing folk together with local music. He was then running the very first local BBC radio station in Britain, which was based at Rosemarkie, on the Black Isle near Inverness.
Today's TV, recordings are in digital form, but at the time (1960s) when Ian wrote and narrated a succession of historical series going out weekly in both BBC TV and Grampian ITV, they were made on expensive emulsion film that was tricky to edit.
Ian had a fantastic memory; and was known as `One Take Grimble' among the technicians, as no expensive filming of him ever had to be repeated, and no editing was required. On some days
he recorded two separate programmes, each lasting forty minutes, always without need of notes or prompting, and was always able to guarantee finishing within seconds of the appointed time.
On occasion, during a recording session, due to limited access to a special location, such as Holyrood House, or adverse weather, he recorded bits of two or three different programmes, again without needing to refer to the scripts.
People seeing him wandering along the beach had no idea that he was actually hard at work; in his head writing, or learning new scripts.
Once the BBC team was filming Ian on the streets of Paris, at a time of extreme political unrest in that country. The producer had not taken the sensible precaution of notifying the authorities
beforehand. The gendarmes, pounced on the group of men positioning up the tripod for the heavy camera on a major road junction. They presumed that these were anarchists preparing to machine-gun the President, who was due to pass in half an hour.
This producer could only speak English. Failing to make himself understood and having a slight hangover, he raised his voice to a shout. This naturally made the gendarmes very angry, and they planned to cart the entire group off to gaol. Ian in excellent idiomatic French, saved the day by making the officials burst out laughing.
These historical TV programmes commanded a fantastic audience, despite often being shown very late in the evening. The Glasgow Herald once had a rave review on its front page. In
colossal lettering it said, HISTORY AS IT OUGHT TO BE TAUGHT.
This was more than a certain rival historian could stomach, and professionally jealous, he contrived to get Ian's historical programmes axed, on the grounds that the British public was fed up with serious documentaries and wanted only quiz and chat shows. The official recordings were also destroyed (Grampian ITV told John More in 1999 that they had no recollection of several highly acclaimed series)
Ian had researched for a brilliant new series, based on Scottish rivers and the towns and industries positioned along their banks. The producer (not the one involved in that Paris fiasco) had already passed the scripts and arranged shooting locations for the first, which was to be about the River Tay, this including Perth and Dundee.
Ian's producer was so disgusted by this underhand action that he took early retirement.
Having lost his Scottish livelihood, Ian immediately moved to London, where being short of cash for some weeks, until his Be hill home was sold, he cleaned office toilets in the City, starting each working day at 5 AM. He thankfully returned to giving radio talks and writing books.
Eventually he became a leading guide with DATOURS, a firm based on Culross, that organised specialist tours with about twenty people, to numerous parts of the Highlands and Islands, various places in Scandinavia and the North Atlantic.
Having sold his beloved home in Bettyhill in 1969 he now bought a new one there.
On these trips he was able to discourse on relevant historical and social matters without notes, often saying how fantastic it was to be paid to visit his friends.
With new work based on the Highlands, and no longer having his former home, he bought a replacement one in Farr.
He was a very lucky man. In 1940 during the Blitz, he was with his mother and stepfather in the Cafe de Paris, in the West End. Being below ground level, with a five-storey building above, it was considered pretty safe. He and his mother had been dancing. As they returned to their table beside one of the concrete pillars, bomb with a ten second delay ploughed through the entire building to explode on the dance floor. Much of the concrete ceiling fell in, killing those still dancing and the well-known band. While Ian and his party were pretty shaken and covered in dust, they were among the very few who were uninjured.
With Japanese forces occupying Burma, and threatening to invade India, Ian was posted to Delhi. Already seated in the RAF transport plane with the engines running, he was ordered out so his place could be given to a Major. Thirty minutes later the plane was shot down and everyone on board was killed.
Within days, Ian was in a Sunderland flying boat that suffering engine failure, crashed in the Dead Sea. Two nights later he was in the Hotel David, in Jerusalem when it was blown up by terrorists. Those sleeping in bedrooms on either side of his were killed but he was uninjured.
While working as the Rosemarkie producer, he was driving a BBC car in snow, that skidding off the road, striking a huge boulder. The car was wrecked but he was OK. Another time in his own Ford Popular, he was travelling down Strathnaver when a bumble-bee buzzed near his face.
Distracted, he ploughed through the wooden railings of a small bridge. The car landed upside down and he was left hanging by the safety straps, in a stunned condition.
The stream was virtually dry. By chance a tractor appeared and the driver rescued Ian and towed his car out. Immediately there was a thunderstorm and the stream became a raging torrent, five foot deep. A quarter of an hour later and he would have been drowned for certain.
He taught English throughout the Iranian revolution in The College of Translation, in Tehran, during which period the principal and all the foreign staff save Ian fled the country. Khomenie, then exiled in Paris, declared a day of National abstention. Joining an American journalist, Ian entered a cafe that was still open and willing to serve alcohol. An angry crowd appeared, intending to burn the place down with Ian, the journalist, and the owner inside. The three men somehow managed to worm their way up a ventilation shaft to the flat roof. They were saved from a horrible death by the arrival of troops, still loyal to the Shah, who opened fire on the rioters.
A week later, armed troops were chasing a crowd that engulfed Ian who was forced to turn round and run with them. Folk vanished left and right into houses.
Ian followed one group into a cul-de-sac, but when he became the only one out in the open, the troops concentrated their fire on him. One final door was closing and he threw himself against it and was allowed to achieve sanctuary within.
At times when it was just too dangerous for him to venture away from his small flat, he spent the time reciting poems and humming piano sonatas by Mozart and Haydn. Lacking books of poems or musical scores, he relied on his quite exceptional memory.
An Iranian friend used Ian's bank account in Tehran to get much of his own money out of the country. He'd assured Ian that in the chaos of the Revolution, the authorities would never notice.
They did and they'd been watching Ian closely. He booked a return flight to Malta, pretending he was merely taking a weekend holiday there. He said goodbye to none of his friends and left all his things behind, save the manuscript of his observations of the Revolution, and his toothbrush.
He got away with it. Marie Antoinette tried to escape from the French Revolutionaries, taking masses of expensive silver in a splendid carriage drawn by four magnificent white horses. She paid for her greedy error with her life.
Ian's `1001 Days in Iran' radio talk was awarded a prize as being the second best in the UK for the whole year.
He concentrated on just one thing at a time. Thinking of his writing, he walked off the pavement a thousand times or more without looking, but being so tall the motorists always managed to notice him in time.
He enjoyed excellent health until asked to lift a friend's garden roller up some steps. Seven discs in his spine were painfully damaged. He was certain that he had spinal cancer, having seen his mother die of this. The surgeon told him that there was a 50% chance he would lose the permanent use of his legs.
The operation was successful and when at occasionally after long periods of driving his back hurt him, he would swim a mile in a powerful crawl at the nearest pool. He never noticed, but in the course of swimming with his face immersed, he swamped innumerable folk who happened to be in the way!
Surely few folk had quite so many friends, such diverse friends, in quite so many countries as had Ian. He had the ability to talk to anyone, and had friends from cabinet ministers in both the
Labour and Conservative parties, to cleaners, postmen and dustmen. Robert Mackay and his wife, Babs, who lived in Newlands, Bettyhill, were extra special, the former being just like a brother.
For a number of years he judged the annual Pentathlon. As an indication of his broad-mindedness, while having a number of pals in the Mounted branch of the Metropolitan Police, he befriended two youths who had fallen foul of the law, in an attempt to set them on the right road again.
One would hardly expect a junior lieutenant, newly arrived in wartime India, to show astonishing maturity. Aged twenty, Ian immediately formed life-long friends with extremely distinguished Indians. Sir S.N.Roy was the only Hindu holding a high position in the English administration at the time of the Raj. After her husband's death, Ian often took me to the home of Lady Roy (also an Indian). Another similar enduring friendship made when Ian was 21, was with Begum Ikramullah who later ran the new country of Pakistan, one of whose daughters married the King of Jordon. She followed the Islamic faith.
He had charm, humility, unshakable principles, great integrity, and the ability to take infinite trouble to help those in trouble if this was at all possible. While in Iran he often spoke up for the much persecuted Kurds and Armenians. He was a brilliant conversationalist, this being greatly helped by his prodigious memory for facts and dates, but people never felt that he was talking
down to them. Above all he took trouble to retain valued friends.
Aged 73, in 1994, Ian was found in with his feet on the bottom stair of his home, in Farr, with a portable radio in his hand. He'd apparently died instantly, either from heat attack, stroke, or from striking his head on the stone floor of the hall. This is exactly the way he wanted to go; before his creative faculties had begun to run down.
It is highly relevant that Ian's details be displayed in this museum. After the congregation of this Established Church of Scotland combined with that of the United Free Church, up then hill, this building was left unused for some years. The Commissionaires of the Established Church of Scotland, eventually decided to save on the rates by having the roof removed.
Ian conceived the idea of the museum and had friends in Inverness willing to provide free legal help and the valued gift of glass-topped showcases. Two Bettyhill residents, one being the headmaster, grilled Ian on the details, before telling the authorities in Edinburgh that the whole project was their sole idea, with the implication that they should be in charge.
Both men were incomers, but considered themselves the most important dignitaries within the village. Neither commanded any general respect.
To circumvent two very unpopular people taking over the museum, it was decided that seven local-born trustees should be in charge. While this, in theory, precluded Ian, he was friends with all seven and sat in on the meetings.
Ian's other legacies in the area include :
a) Memorial stone, near Ribigil, to Ewan Robertson, a gifted Gaelic poet.
b) Memorial stone, beside the hall in Stratnaver, to mark where the Fifty-First Sutherland Highland regiment was raised. In the course of the subsequent campaign none of its soldiers
were charged for using bad language, being late on duty or being badly dressed. Surely this must be unique?
While these worthy, loyal troops were fighting for the Queen, their homes were being deliberately destroyed by fire, along with much of their contents, so that the land could be made over to sheep. When the Duke of Sutherland tried to raise a second regiment at the selfsame place, not a single man enrolled.
c) He prevented the Royal Forestry Commission bulldozing the remains of former eviction villages, and planting the area with Sitka spruce. These sites have been saved for the public to visit, with parking areas, maintained paths and information notices.
If my memory is correct, Ian had more than a little to do with the decision to build the secondary school in Be hill, and also the construction of local retirement homes.
I hated the ghastly class-structure and snobbishness at Public School, where I was beaten for talking to children who attended the local State school. I hated the organised games, where I was expected to fully co-operate with senior boys I wasn't allowed to speak to. These hostile feelings proved incredibly useful, guiding me away from my conceited school-mates, from whom I could learn nothing, towards mature adults, some being forty or fifty years older than me, who had experienced and surmounted life's problems. From the Latter I learned a fantastic amount. This was real education.
I have no hesitation in suggesting that much of Ian's remarkable broad-minded maturity was brought about by a deep hatred of the rigid class-structure experienced at the Public School that he attended; his experiences and feelings there exactly matching my own.
I'm pretty sure that Ian never struck anyone in anger in his life. While supporting the need to use military strength to oppose Hitler, he strongly objected to Christianity being brought into the equation, feeling an insult to God to presume that he condoned the bombing of countless thousands of innocent civilians. In his and my experience, Public schools, showed an outrageous intolerance towards other faiths and creeds. Rather than become an atheist or an agnostic, Ian leaned heavily towards Buddhism; this being virtually only religion that had never resorted to murder and torture to spread its beliefs.
While following its philosophy and believing in the `law of Karma' where one's sins will catch up with one, I'm not sure that he went as far as to believe in physical re-incarnation. He certainly supported the view that his acts of kindness, tolerance and compassion, by setting examples would influence others, and would thus survive his death. Surely this is some way towards re-incarnation?
Many people, including me, had good reason to be very grateful for his quite remarkable generosity. For many years he sponsored a Tibetan orphan whom he never met, and paid for her education.
Text Source: John More © (March 2006)
Used with permission