Gordon Brown reveals ‘petty criminal’ past

Gordon Brown talks to writer Val McDermid. Picture: Walter Neilson
Gordon Brown talks to writer Val McDermid. Picture: Walter Neilson
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FORMER Prime Minister Gordon Brown has admitted dabbling in “petty crime” as a youngster - to get more books from his local library.

The Kirkcaldy MP revealed he had impersonated his brother in order to breach strict rules over the borrowing of books while he was a schoolboy in the town.

He was speaking at the unveiling of the new-look “Kirkcaldy Galleries” complex, which incorporates the town’s library, after a £2.5 million makeover.

Mr Brown, described the centre - which has been closed for the last 18 months - as one of the nation’s great cultural icons, and said it was a huge influence on his life.

He was one of three famous Fifers who were guests of honour at the unveiling, accompanying crime writer Val McDermid and best-selling artist Jack Vettriano, who also spoke of how much they owed to its collections.

The gallery and museum date back to 1925, when they were paid for by linoleum tycoon John Nairn as part of the town’s vast war memorial. He wanted to make a major cultural contribution to Kirkcaldy in memory of his son Ian, who lost his life in the First World War.

Its first ever exhibition was highly ambitious, featuring the work of Van Gogh, Renoir, Degas and Monet, and a library extension was added within three years.

The library has been properly merged with the gallery and museum for the first time in the building’s history as part of the revamp.

The attraction is home to the largest collections of work by SJ Peploe and William McTaggart outwith the National Galleries of Scotland, the only Vettriano works held in a public collection in Scotland and a large number of paintings by the celebrated “Glasgow Boys”.

New displays feature a first edition of Adam Smith’s “Wealth of Nations,” a visit by The Beatles to the area, and pistols from the last fatal duel in Scotland, as well as work by Joan Eardley and LS Lowry.

Mr Brown said: “I have no hesitation in saying that, outside the national galleries and libraries, that are obviously funded by the government, this is the best cultural institution that our country has.

“For a town of this size to have this great culture within the reach of people locally is a tremendous achievement.

“I am very grateful to this great library, gallery and museum for part of my education when I was growing up and I want everybody else who is growing up in Kirkcaldy today to benefit from that later.

“I was one of the people who, when growing up and staying not far from here, used the library.

“I learned about books for the first time, learned about the rest of the from the museum, galley and library, learned a bit about finance, because I had to pay quite a lot of fines to the library, and like Val, learned a bit of petty crime, because I had to impersonate my brother to get access to more books when I wanted to do so.

“I had forgotten, until Val reminded me, that you could only borrow two fiction and two non-fiction books.

“They wanted you to be more literate by reading non-fiction. That was the whole point of it. You were supposed to read for more than pleasure, your were to red for your erudition, that’s what it was all about.

“I would get books for him and he would get books for me. It was a funny business. Because there was a limit you were always coming back for more, so we had eight between us.

“I stayed in Kirkcaldy from the age of three. I can’t remember when I starting going to the library but I can remember using it at primary and then at secondary school.

“We should not under-value the importance of libraries, not least because they are places where people meet as well as where they can borrow books. At a time when libraries, art galleries and museums are being closed in other parts of the country we should take some pride in the fact we are reopening a library, art gallery and museum here.”

Meanwhile Mr Brown had his say on the ongoing row over the funding of arts and culture in the UK, days after Scottish culture secretary Fiona Hyslop said there were clear differences in the policies being pursued in Edinburgh and London.

In a keynote speech earlier this week, Ms Hyslop said a plea from her Westerminster counterpart, Maria Miller, for the culture sector to make the economic case for funding, reduced the arts to nothing more than a commodity.

Mr Brown said: “I’m not going to say any more than Jack Vettriano and Val McDermid ARE the case for investing in the arts.

“The answer to those people who criticise investment in culture or demand it meets their imposed criteria are the genius that has come from people that have used libraries and museums and art galleries.

I think all nations in future will depend on their creativity and their inventiveness and the development of skills that include people learning about their culture and their art.”

Speaking at the Kirkcaldy Galleries unveiling, McDermid said: “This building means a great deal to me personally. I feel I’ve come full circle.

“Many years ago, when I was a kid, my parents moved right across the road and it was probably the best thing they ever did for me. I was encouraged to come to the library as much as I wanted to. It became a home from home. I devoured the books on the shelves.

“I’m a writer because first and foremost I’m a reader. It was through books that I learned to love the written word, that I learned about the world and the books in Kirkcaldy Library literally changed my life.”

Vettriano, who was famously inspired to paint after visits to the gallery, added: “This building is where it all started for me. I owe my whole career to its outstanding collection of Scottish art.

“I was 30 when I realised I had a bit of a talent. At the same time, I’d moved to West Albert Road and discovered that the gallery was only five minutes away.”