Poet, writer, broadcaster and conservationist
Born: 21 July, 1918, in Glasgow.
Died. 30 April, 2009, in Glasgow, aged 90.
HE WAS always a proud and enthusiastic Scot. Maurice Lindsay CBE often wore the kilt, and with his flamboyant bow tie and mane of hair he was a major figure around the arts in Scotland. Lindsay was a man of much literary distinction who, although primarily known as a poet, was involved in many aspects of the arts and heritage in Scotland. In a varied career he acted as a critic, radio and television presenter, controller of Border Television and, not least, anthologist and author. One of his abiding passions was the poetry of Burns and his compilation of the poet's works (The Burns Encyclopaedia) was hailed by scholars and Burns lovers alike. One critic wrote: "Fascinating. An immediate treasure-house of information on every person or place involved in Burns' works."
Lindsay was a great lover of, and authority on, Glasgow. His prose poem Portrait of Glasgow (1972) explores and captures his native city with a sympathetic and refined air. In 1979, Lindsay, a noted agnostic, published Glasgow Orange Walk in which he wrote of its religious divisions: "Spread women, ugly men, and little children Dressed in the Sunday best of bigotry, Suffered to come unto intolerance Down orange miles of bannered frippery; The gadfly flutes, the goading fifes, The yattering side-drums of expended wars Forcing sectarian division through Our public streets choked with fuming cars."
John Maurice Lindsay attended Glasgow Academy where he wrote, and had published in the school magazine, his first poem. In 1936, he studied music, specialising in the violin, at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music. During the war, he served in the Cameronians and was in command of a pill box on the south coast awaiting a German invasion after Dunkirk. When the news came that Hitler had invaded Russia, Lindsay later wrote movingly of his immense relief. An injury to his wrist during military training put an end to active service and Lindsay was seconded to the Asian desk at the War Office. The injury also ended aspirations of a musical career. A personal moment of pride, however, came at the Edinburgh Festival of 1955 when the Saltire Society gave the premiere of a work by Thea Musgrave. She used poems by Lindsay and Alexander Hume as the basis of her Cantata for a Summer's Day.
During the war, Lindsay proposed to TS Eliot (then editor at Faber and Faber) that an anthology of Scottish contemporary poets be compiled. In an interview with The Scotsman in 2005 when he published The Edinburgh Book of Twentieth-Century Scottish Poetry (which he co-edited with Lesley Duncan) Lindsay recalled that meeting with the author of The Waste Land. "So he said 'Come and have tea with me'. We had cucumber sandwiches, as I remember, and Eliot said. 'Yes, we'll do it.'" The result, a seminal work of Scottish renaissance giants like Hugh MacDiarmid, was published in 1946.
Lindsay then returned to Scotland and worked as the drama critic with the Scottish Daily Mail and then music critic for 16 years on the fondly remembered Bulletin. During that time, he became a familiar face on BBC Television and a well known broadcaster on the radio. Primarily he was involved with cultural and media affairs, but Lindsay was adept at providing an informed opinion on current and social affairs. He was always an articulate advocate of Scottish nationalism. His arts programmes, Counterpoint and Scottish Life and Letters, were both highly regarded.
In 1961, he went to Carlisle for seven years at Border Television becoming their programme controller. Then, in 1967, Lindsay was offered the post of first director of the Scottish Civic Trust: it brought him back to Glasgow and allowed him to get involved in a subject dear to his heart: the preservation of Scotland's heritage. In 1969, the trust was invited by Glasgow Corporation to run a campaign to brighten up the city. "Facelift Glasgow" cleaned up the city and removed the grime on the elegant houses and monuments: the first beneficiary was the statue to Sir Walter Scott in George Square. Lindsay was keen to include smaller towns and improvements were made in Biggar, Lesmahagow and Haddington. Another early beneficiary was Papdale House, in Orkney.
A project that gave him particular pleasure was in New Lanark: the sight of the innovative social planning of Robert Owen in the 19th century. Thanks to the Scottish Civic Trust's restoration, this is now a World Heritage Site.
The publication of The Edinburgh Book of Twentieth-Century Scottish Poets with Lesley Duncan was a culmination of Lindsay's great love of the Scottish tongue and poetry. It includes 158 poets and celebrates the wealth of Scottish talent that Lindsay had done so much to enhance and foster. The list of distinguished contributors includes the most eminent of Scottish poets – Edwin Muir, Norman MacCaig, Sorley MacLean, George MacKay Brown and Iain Crichton Smith. But there is one poet whom Lindsay especially revered: Hugh MacDiarmid.
In The Scotsman interview, he acknowledges his respect for MacDiarmid: though not, typically, without some critical reservations. "He was a genius, but he could also be a hell of a bad poet. He thought that everything he wrote was genius, and the older he got, they all started to get political. He got terribly angry if anyone dared criticise what was obviously awful work. But for about ten years he was a genius, which is not bad."
Lindsay's writings ranged from Pocket Guide to Scottish Culture through Victorian and Edwardian Glasgow to the Chambers Guide to Good Scottish Gardens. Lindsay made a telling contribution to literature in Scotland and enhanced its heritage with a dedicated and passionate zeal. He was an honorary governor of Glasgow Academy, received an honorary degree from Glasgow University and was awarded a CBE in 1979. Lindsay married Joyce Gordon in 1946. She and their three children survive him. A daughter died in 2006.