Edinburgh’s Greatest 100 People: Debate begins

Robert Louis Stevenson. Picture: Getty Images
Robert Louis Stevenson. Picture: Getty Images
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WELL known and some not so well known, household names and a few that might yet become them, inspirational personalities and amazing characters . . .

Our search for Edinburgh’s 100 Greatest is under way – and already it’s got everyone talking.

Dr Simon Gage. Picture: Ian Georgeson

Dr Simon Gage. Picture: Ian Georgeson

Help us find Edinburgh’s Greatest 100 People>>

Yesterday we launched our search for Edinburgh’s leading characters, the personalities and figureheads, historic and modern, fictional and real life, who together have helped make this city great. And we asked you, our readers, to help us find them.

Already the responses have been as varied as they are fascinating. There have been the obvious ones, the famous ones, the forgotten ones and a few never-heard-of-until-now ones.

Each has a fascinating story, a unique slot in Edinburgh life, that someone, somewhere reckons deserves to be heard.

Jack Kane

Jack Kane

But we still want more.

Finally we will deliver all the nominations to our distinguished panel, whose mammoth challenge will be to sift through the wide range of names you’ve suggested in the hope that they can eventually settle their difference and select 100 of the very best.

To give you a taste of who is 
already making a bid for a coveted Edinburgh’s Greatest 100 slot, here are just a few of the names that are already getting people talking.

And then it’s over to you . . .

Chrystal Macmillan

Chrystal Macmillan

Former Simple Minds manager Bruce Findlay has a string of ideas for nominations, Edinburgh people who helped fill his young mind with adventurous stories, who thrilled him with their sporting prowess, who entertained and who gave him support as he tried to make his way in the music industry.

“The first person who springs to mind is RLS – Robert Louis Stevenson – just for bringing some magic into our lives,” he says. He also singles out former lord provost Jack Kane as another worthy of a place in the coveted top 100. Dr Kane (1908-1988) was a miner’s son who became a councillor for Craigmillar for 38 years, Labour’s first lord provost and a champion for one of the city’s 
poorest areas. “He was a proper man of the people,” says Bruce, whose record shops were favourite places for a generation of music fans. “He encouraged me to put on the first ever Edinburgh Pop Festival in 1973, he told me that he wanted it to be a part of the official Festival, something for the young people, more populist. He is one of my Edinburgh heroes.”

His top suggestion is for two musicians that many may never have heard of – Robin Williamson and Mike Heron.

“Their Incredible String Band were the inspiration for the likes of Led Zeppelin,” he explains.

Gavin Hastings. Picture: Gettty Images

Gavin Hastings. Picture: Gettty Images

Williamson and Heron, along with Londoner Clive Palmer, released their first album in 1966, earning praise from, among others, Bob Dylan. When Palmer left, the Edinburgh duo continued and the band evolved, releasing a string of influential albums and going on to play Woodstock in 1969. “They were the original hippies,” adds Bruce. “So Edinburgh was the cradle of ‘hippy-dom’.”

Dr Bunhead, also known as Tom Pringle, is the wacky blend of fun and science that has kept kids and adults entertained with explosions and experiments. He could have chosen from any of Edinburgh’s rich collection of brilliant scientific minds – from the likes of chloroform pioneer Sir James Young Simpson to Dolly the Sheep scientist Ian Wilmutt. Yet for him, the man who gets his vote is a behind-the-scenes figure whose impact is helping inspire the next generation of scientists – Dr Simon Gage, director of the Edinburgh 
International Science Festival.

“He’s taken the Edinburgh International Science Festival template and made it a model for science festivals all over the world,” says Tom. “He gets my vote.”

A more traditional science choice – although certainly radical at the time – comes from 
Edinburgh East MP 
Sheila Gilmore.

She nominates Chrystal Macmillan (1872-1937), a pioneering woman in a discipline which, until she shattered the glass ceiling, was largely “men only”.

She was born in Edinburgh in June 1872, the only daughter in a family of nine children – and in 1892 was among the first women to be admitted to study at Edinburgh University. There she studied science, graduating with a Bsc in April 1896, the university’s first woman science graduate.

But, as Sheila explains, there was even more to Chrystal. “She was very active in the movement to get women the vote in Edinburgh and nationally,” she says. “She was one of those involved in the very large 1909 suffrage procession in Edinburgh.

“She and other women like her fought for so many of the things – the rights to vote, for education and for careers that women now are able to benefit from, in circumstances which were very difficult. Her views and aims remain relevant today, both in the fields of women’s rights and the peace 

Another female figure – much younger but every bit as inspirational – was nominated via Twitter by Edinburgh Libraries’ (@talesofonecity), little Bessie Watson. Born at The Vennel in 1900, she was only nine years old when she joined the suffrage movement.

A frail child, Bessie had learned to play the bagpipes when she was eight, primarily to help strengthen her weak lungs. When the Women’s Social and Political Union advertised details of a pageant, Bessie and her mum became members so she could perform.

She wore the WSPU colours and a sash declaring “Votes for Women” as the parade made its way through town. Later Bessie – already an unusual sight in town as one of the country’s very few female pipers – wore the distinctive purple, white and green colours in ribbons in her hair, much to the annoyance of her teachers.

She took her bagpipes and played outside Calton Jail, where WSPU women were held, inspiring them with her rousing music.

Some children prefer a good book to campaigning for women’s rights – for them, writer Aileen Paterson’s Maisie the Morningside Cat character might well be worthy of a spot on the Top 100 list simply for helping to encourage them to pick up a book. The author has her own suggestions, however. “Chris Hoy, what a nice man who has achieved such a lot,” she suggests. But her vote goes to Celine 
Sinclair, chief executive of The Yard in Eyre Place and everyone involved in the playground facility for children with special needs.

“It’s such a wonderful place,” she says. “I know that it is a paid job, but the people who run it go beyond the call of duty to make it very special for the youngsters. And, of course, the parents of the children are exceptional, too.”

Some might debate the possible inclusion of comedy writer and actor Gordon Kennedy for our exclusive group of 100 Edinburgh Greats.

His comedy show Absolutely went on to gain cult status, playing it for laughs with a whole generation of fans. More recently, he’s appeared in a string of television roles and has developed a series of radio plays.

He, however, prefers to make two suggestions of his own as worthy contenders for a slot. A lifelong rugby fan, it’s perhaps no surprise that he’d like to see a giant of the sport included. “Gavin Hastings, Scotland Grand Slam winner British Lions captain and winner,” he suggests.

His other nomination stretches the Edinburgh boundaries just a little, across the water to North Queensferry, where author Iain Banks – who did live for a spell in the Capital – has churned out a string of bestsellers. “The jolliest man and the darkest writer . . . brilliant combo,” says Gordon.

Immeasurable impact on lives

Well, it’s certainly got you talking . . . and tweeting.

Since we called on you to help us gather together a definitive list of Edinburgh personalities for our panel to sift through, the suggestions have come thick and fast.

Of course many are names we’ve all heard of, such as Alexander Graham Bell, who brought us the telephone, writers Sir Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson, Sherlock Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle and even dastardly duo Burke and Hare.

Some suggestions may not be quite the same household names. Yet for many, the impact they have had on their lives is immeasurable.

Women – and men – across Lothian and beyond will be grateful to Professor Mike Dixon, one of the country’s leading breast cancer experts, described on Twitter by

@jamesjopling as simply: “leading breast cancer surgeon, researcher and lifesaver.”

Charity fundraiser Lynne McNicoll, right, who has raised more than half a million pounds for good causes, has also been named as worthy of a Top 100 slot.

And @CabbageandRibs will have one of our panellists blushing – their nomination is for Independent MSP Margo MacDonald, along with arts doyen Sir Richard Demarco, businessman Sir Tom Farmer, Hibs legend Pat Stanton and Arthur Oldham, for 30 years the master of the Edinburgh Festival Chorus.

Edinburgh World Heritage has a particular fondness for architects Robert Adam and William Playfair, who “helped Edinburgh become the Athens of the North,” while the organisation would also like to see a place for James Craig, the man who designed the layout of the New Town.

For @ArchHistDarling, the choices are three unique women, Drs Sophia Jex Blake, Elsie Inglis and Isabel Venters: “Pioneering medical education for women and medical care for working-class women.”

Few will have come across the Trellis Trust, but the counselling and therapy organisation’s counsellor, Ruth Pettigrew, has been described as “fantastic” and “guardian angel” by one grateful supporter.

Of course, the wonderful thing about Edinburgh is the diversity of its characters, and few oozed more character than Leith MP Ron Brown.

As @TheLeithman tweeted: “Sometimes a nutter, but gave his all for the people of Leith. Ask for his help and he would give it. Man of the people.”


So who do you think is worthy of inclusion on our top 100 list?

You might take inspiration from our montage of Edinburgh legends showing JK Rowling, Dave Mackay, Sir Sean Connery, Mary Queen of Scots, Miss Jean Brodie, Eddie Turnbull and Allan Wells. Or you may have very different ideas of your own.

There are only two rules governing nominations. Firstly, your nominees must have a strong association with Edinburgh, regardless of where they were born or lived large parts of their life. So, for instance, JK Rowling and Professor Peter Higgs, who were both born in England, but are long-term residents of the city, would be included. Secondly, you must give a reason why you think the person you are suggesting deserves to be included in our final list.

Your suggestions can be as personal as you like, and, with 100 places up for grabs, there is no reason why you must limit yourself to putting forward just one name. However, if you are sending in a list of heroes, do tell us why each deserves recognition and who you think should be top of the pile.

You can send us your nominations by e-mailing greatest@edinburghnews.com, posting on our Facebook page, tell us on Twitter by using the hashtag #edgreats or write to us at Edinburgh’s Greatest, Edinburgh Evening News, 108 Holyrood Road, EH8 8AS.