How Robbie Coltrane replaced Edinburgh chimney pots
HE HELPED shape millions of childhoods as Hagrid in the Harry Potter films; but Robbie Coltrane has revealed he also had a hand in shaping Edinburgh’s iconic skyline.
Coltrane, one of Scotland’s best-known actors, has admitted that in the early days of his screen career, rather than accept mediocre acting roles, he would work on building sites.
One of these involved replacing the chimney pots of the capital’s historic Milne’s Court in the early 70s.
He remembers it as precarious work: “If you look up to Milne’s Court, on the Royal Mile, there’s about half a dozen chimneys that I put in myself.
“When I got the job, I asked what had happened to the last guy. They said “he fell off” in that morbid way they have on building sites.
“They put a rope around my middle and tied the other end to the next chimney, which is set in. It was thought a wee bit jessie because in those days nobody wore hard hats and there was no health and safety [regulations]. People laugh at health and safety, but there’s a good reason for it.”
Built in 1692, Milne’s Court was the first open court or square of its type in Edinburgh. Built by Robert Mylne, Master Mason to the king to replace dilapidated tenements, it became a fashionable place to live.
Refurbished at the end of the 1960s, it is now a hall of residence for Edinburgh University.
Euan Leitch, assistant director of the Edinburgh civic trust, the Cockburn Society, said: “It doesn’t surprise me that Robbie Coltrane was sent up with a rope around his waist. It was the 1970s, when health and safety wasn’t what it is today.
“The late 1960s and early 1970s was a time when Edinburgh really upped its game in terms of conservation. The Royal Mile wasn’t in the best of conditions at the time.
“Milne’s Court had been partially restored in 1914, but then it was reconstructed by Lindsay and Partners between 1968 and 1970, with concrete floors installed and replacement chimneys. It was A-listed in 1970, and they became halls of residence for the university after that.”
Coltrane, who recently appeared in the Scottish Pixar hit cartoon Brave, said he had no regrets or qualms about taking work outwith his own acting career.
He said: “It was jolly good money on building sites, and I also worked as mechanic.
“I rebuilt a sewage system in Livingston, and I was quite happy to do that, it gives you experience too, you know what you’re talking about when you play a working man, unlike a guy who’s just gone to drama school.”
The 60-year-old, who is a long-standing Labour supporter, added that he believed politicians could benefit from taking a similar career path: “We seem to have a government that is completely out of touch with what people’s lives are actually like and what people actually want. Some of these guys should have worked down a sewer themselves for a year, I think.”
The Harry Potter star also spoke about the challenges involved in playing the character Hagrid.
“There was a lot of pressure there because JK Rowling said I was the only person who she wanted to play Hagrid, because she’d thought of me while writing the book,” he recalled.
“But the script was wonderful and what I loved about Hagrid was he was a good man. I’d played murderers, gangsters, and transvestites – but it’s the first time I’ve played a man that young people could totally trust. A bit of acting was required there!”
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Tuesday 21 May 2013
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