Rennie Mackintosh locked up as 'German spy'

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CHARLES Rennie Mackintosh was locked up during the First World War on suspicion of being a German spy, a new book claims.

The celebrated artist was living in self-imposed exile in Suffolk with his artist wife Margaret Macdonald, when locals reported to police what they saw as the couple’s strange behaviour.

Fearing they had a spy in their midst, police called in the army. When soldiers arrived at his home, they were convinced Mackintosh was German after failing to understand his strong Glaswegian accent.

The insight into Mackintosh’s life forms part of a new book, The Quest for Charles Rennie Mackintosh, by the actor and writer John Cairney.

For the past 30 years, Cairney, famous for his on-screen portrayal of Robert Burns, has tried to unravel the myths surrounding Mackintosh.

In his exhaustive investigation into the artist’s life, Cairney discovered he had been jailed for almost a week after being wrongly accused by villagers of being a German spy.

Mackintosh would arouse suspicion with night-time walks by the seashore near his home.

And his wife’s habit of taking long trips away at a particularly sensitive time was not viewed as normal behaviour.

According to the book, on one occasion, Mackintosh was having trouble with a lantern. Locals took the intermittent light to be a signal to a German ship at sea and informed the military.

Returning from one of his night-time sojourns, Mackintosh found a group of soldiers searching his house. Cairney claims Mackintosh was seized by two soldiers, but the Englishmen, unable to understand the string of obscenities pouring forth from his mouth, concluded he was a German and put him in the cells.

It took the return of Mackintosh’s wife several days later to convince the military that her husband was a Scot.

Cairney said: "I wrote a script on Mackintosh’s life in 1974 and for the ensuing 30 years, I have been on a quest to complete a book on this incredible man.

"I have to say I find the story about him being thrown in jail for being German as particularly funny.

"As most artists do, he walked a lot on the seashore near to his home in the tiny village of Walberswick looking for inspiration for his next project.

"But the locals found him and his wife Margaret rather strange and there the rumours began that he may be German."

Of the case of mistaken identity following the incident with the lamp, Cairney said: "When they [the soldiers] ignored his repeated attempts to tell him what was going on, he eventually snapped and went completely nuts.

"He grabbed a handful of letters he had been sent from a artist friend in Germany so, of course, they were all written in German.

"The constant stream of broad, incomprehensible Scottish obscenities confirmed to the soldiers that he was indeed German and he was taken to the nearest police cell.

"He would have faced being shot as a German spy without his wife Margaret returning just in time to convince the local magistrate that he was innocent.

"Throughout the whole ordeal, he did not say a word. I find it so amusing that he was just laughing at the silliness of it all."

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