David Bruce - What Sir Walter Scott did for Hollywood

On Thursday 4th October we had a talk by David Bruce. He was introduced by our Chairman, Prof. Peter Garside.

Welcome to this year’s annual Joint Scott Lecture; and on behalf of the Edinburgh Sir Walter Scott Club I’d like to thank our co-sponsors, the English Department at the University of Edinburgh, and also our hosts the Faculty of Advocates for their generosity in providing a room and refreshments. All in all it’s hard to think of a more appropriate location for this event, at the heart of an institution and building both of which were central in Scott’s literary and professional life. On your way here you’ll have passed along the high-arched Parliament Hall, home of the original Scottish Parliament, prior to its being handed over the lawyers after the Union of 1707, and where the senior advocates walked around in small groups, to avoid being overheard, copied in this by junior members such as the young Scott eager to give the impression that they too had business. Positioned near the entrance you’ll have come through into the library is the statue of a sedentary Scott, by John Greenshields, with ‘Sic Sedebat’ at the foot, ‘Thus [or In this way] he sat’—according to some the most lifelike of the multiple artistic representations of Scott. Proceeding stealthily through the reading room, occupied by present-lawyers with their laptops, one might be reminded of the great collection of manuscripts and rare books (now largely transferred to the National Library of Scotland) which provided the core of Scott’s early scholarly reading. And the room where we’re presently seated also has its Scott associations. One year for this event the Faculty exhibited the seat in which Scott actually did sit as a Clerk to the Court of Session: a particularly comfy and somewhat scratched green leather armchair, not dissimilar to the grander ones now here, where the luckier among you are comfortably and hopefully patiently sitting.

There are two things to introduce today, and I will try to be brief. The first concerns the award of the Club’s annual Prize, consisting of an inscribed medal and a cheque. This started off way back in the Club’s history as an Essay Prize, but for the last five years has been awarded to the final year undergraduate in the English Department at Edinburgh University achieving the best marks in Scottish literature.

This year’s winner is Joe Christie, who regrettably has fallen ill during the last few hours, and cannot be with us this evening. Joe graduated this summer with a first class honours degree in English Literature. Whilst at Edinburgh, he divided time between his academic career and his involvement in student theatre, serving as President of the Edinburgh University Theatre Company during his second year. Joe performed in and directed various productions at Bedlam Theatre by playwrights such as David Grieg.  His enthusiasm for Scottish writers was nurtured through a curriculum where he read works as diverse as Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe and Muriel Spark’s The Ballad of Peckham Rye. During his third year abroad at McGill University in Montreal, much of Joe’s coursework examined the cultural links between Scotland and Quebec and this inspired him, on his return to Edinburgh, to focus his final year of honours study on Scottish literature. Alongside a first-class dissertation that examined how notions of belonging sit within the queer literary canon, it is Joe’s writing on critically overlooked Scottish women writers of the 20th century, the likes of Jessie Kesson and (fellow Shetlander) Willa Muir, which has led him to be awarded the Walter Scott Medal for 2018. Joe in an email expresses his gratefulness to those involved in the award, and would also like thanks to be passed on to David Farrier, Carole Jones, Aaron Kelly, and (last but not least) Penny Fielding, who I now invite to come forward and accept the award on his behalf.

Finally it is a great pleasure to introduce David Bruce as this evening’s speaker. David is a former Director of the Scottish Film Council and of the Edinburgh International Film Festival. He is also a former Director of the British Universities Film and Television Council where he developed a particular interest in film as a resource for research and which led, during his time at the Scottish Film Council to the foundation of the Scottish Film Archive, now part of the National Library of Scotland as the ‘Moving Image Archive’.

Not only is he interested in old movies but also in old photographs. He is Chairman of the Historical Group of the Royal Photographic Society of which body he is a Fellow. His new book, written with Dr Alison Morrison-Low, on the early photographer Dr John Adamson, brother of the more famous Robert, was published by the National Museums of Scotland on Monday. His other books include, Sun Pictures: the Hill Adamson Calotypes (1973); Edinburgh Past and Present (1990, with the late Maurice Lindsay); Scotland—the Movie (1996); and Greatrex (2013) the true story of the photographer and forger pursued by a Glasgow cop to New York in 1866.

‘What Sir Walter Scott did for Hollywood’ (today’s lecture) began, many years ago, as a piece of light entertainment but gradually acquired more gravitas as it was subjected to scrutiny and comment by a succession of audiences who took it more seriously perhaps than David Bruce did at that point. It also widened out to include writers other than Scott whose contribution to cinema, and whose influence through cinema on our own culture, may have significantly affected us—for better or worse. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome our speaker David Bruce.


Above Image Copyright "Lee Live: Photographer" (Used with Permission)