Allan Little to be new Edinburgh book festival chair

VETERAN broadcaster Allan Little is to become the new figurehead of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, organisers have revealed.

Allan Little will become the new figurehead of the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Picture: Gordon Fraser
Allan Little will become the new figurehead of the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Picture: Gordon Fraser

Little, who left the BBC last year after decades as a foreign correspondent, will replace banker Susan Rice as chair of the event in October.

The Dumfriesshire-born journalist, who has been one of Scotland’s best-known broadcasting figures in recent decades, has been a regular host of talks at the book festival.

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He said he was privileged and daunted to be joining the book festival at a time when it is “scaling new heights in its ambition and reach.”

Ms Rice, the former managing director of the Lloyds Banking Group Scotland, has held the book festival post since 2001 and was one of the most long-serving cultural figures in the city.

She has also been chair of the Edinburgh Festivals Forum, which oversees the capital’s flagship cultural events, for the last seven years and launched the crucial “Thundering Hooves” report, into their long-term future, last month.

The book festival - which is said to be the biggest event of its kind in the world - began life as a biannual event in 1983, but became an annual fixture from 1997 on.

Mr Little said: “It is a privilege - if a daunting one - to follow Susan Rice as chair of this most cherished and globally-respected of festivals.

“Her wise and thoughtful leadership of the board of the Book Festival has been an inspiration.

“I’m very excited to be taking on the chairmanship at a time when the festival is scaling new heights in its ambition and reach. It is through literature that human society confronts itself, interrogates itself and comes to know itself.

“I am very proud to be associated with a festival that does so much to celebrate and explore the value and sheer joy of the written word.”

Ms Rice was at the helm during one of the most difficult periods in the event’s history when director Catherine Lockerbie was forced to step down due to ill health after overseeing a period of rapid expansion for the event.

The festival attracted criticism over her replacement. Nick Barley, amid anger over financial difficulties when he was in charge of the Lighthouse, the national centre for architecture and design, in Glasgow.

However Mr Barley has been credited with raising the international profile of the event significantly since being appointed in the autumn of 2009. It now boasts more than 700 events and attracts more than 220,000 book lovers each year.

Some 55 countries are represented in this year’s programme, which Mr Barley believes is the most international book ever for a book festival held in the UK. Guests include Pulitzer Prize-winning American author Marilynne Robinson, civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, Kenyan-born historical novelist Philippa Gregory, German’s Jenny Erpenbeck, the newly-crowned Foreign Fiction Prize winner, and Congolese novelist Alain Mabanckou.

Mr Barley said: “Under Susan Rice’s exemplary guidance, the festival has enjoyed more than a decade of sustained achievement.

“Susan has, quite simply, achieved a level of success, stability and good non-executive governance that every arts board in the world would aspire to. I am deeply indebted to her for everything she has done.

“We are fortunate that her successor brings with him such a deep, sophisticated knowledge of Edinburgh and its book festival.”

Ms Rice added: “It’s been above all a privilege to have chaired the festival board over these years.

“It gives me great pride to see it in such good heart - led and managed so well, and respected, indeed revered, around the world.”