Tributes paid to ‘truly one-off’ Jim Haynes after death of Traverse Theatre founder aged 87

Tributes have been paid to Jim Haynes, one of the founders of the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh who also opened Britain’s first paperback bookshop in the city, after he passed away at the age of 87.

Jim Haynes during a visit to the Edinburgh Festival in 2009. Picture: Neil Hanna
Jim Haynes during a visit to the Edinburgh Festival in 2009. Picture: Neil Hanna

Haynes has been credited as one of the most influential figures in the history of the Edinburgh festivals and in transforming the city’s reputation as a ground-breaking cultural destination in the 1960s.

Haynes, who had lived in Paris since 1969, where he was renowned for his dinner parties, continued to make annual visits to Edinburgh’s cultural events each summer.

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He was awarded an honorary degree three years ago at Edinburgh Napier University, which described him as “a legend of the arts underground.”

The Traverse, which was originally launched in a former brothel off the Royal Mile, would go on to provide the launchpad for the careers of Robbie Coltrane, Billy Connolly, John Byrne, Simon Callow, Tilda Swinton, Steven Berkoff and Bill Paterson.After relocating to London in 1966, Haynes set up his own cultural centre, Art Lab, on Drury Lane, where David Bowie, Andy Warhol, John Lennon and Yoko Ono all staged work.

Born in Louisiana, Haynes first came to Edinburgh while he was was serving in the US military, stationed at Kirknewton. He attended his first festival season in 1957, started studying in Edinburgh and requested permission to be demobbed in Scotland.

He opened his Paperback Bookshop in George Square in Edinburgh in 1959 used its basement for events and exhibitions. The shop became a venue and box office for Fringe shows.

Haynes was one of the organisers of an international writers’ conference in Edinburgh in 1962. The event, which featured Norman Mailer, Henry Miller, William Burroughs, Hugh MacDiarmid, Muriel Spark, Edwin Morgan and Alexander Trocchi is said to have provided the inspiration for the city to have its own book festival.

Jim Haynes was awarded an honorary degree at Edinburgh Napier University in 2018.

Haynes was one of the founders of the then Traverse Theatre Club in 1963, along with John Calder, Kenneth Tynan and Richard Demarco. Within three years, it had produced 110 productions, including 28 British premieres and 33 world premieres.

Linda Crooks, executive producer of the Traverse, said: “We’re heartbroken to hear of the passing of the legendary internationalist, serial entrepreneur and one of our founding spirits. Jim Haynes was truly a ‘one-off.’

"We’re honoured to be a custodian of Jim’s legacy and his pioneering spirit which lives on through our work, and in our commitment to creating opportunities for boundary-breaking new artistic voices.

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"Jim’s ambition and artistic vision, significantly helped shape Edinburgh’s outward-looking, contemporary cultural landscape, bringing a ‘Festival City’ to the world and the world to Edinburgh.”Joyce McMillan, The Scotsman theatre critic, said: "Jim Haynes brought a real warmth, genial and international energy to the Traverse project and made it the social and cultural hub that it became.

Jim Haynes pictured at the Traverse Theatre in 1984.

"He was the host and the spirit of the Traverse that made it the centre of radical and counter-culture life in Edinburgh that the city maybe needed at that time.

"Without that at the heart of Edinburgh life, and keeping the spirit of the Fringe alive, throughout the year, it is just hard to imagine what the Fringe and the Scottish theatre scene would now look like.”

Playwright David Greig said: “So very sad to hear of the passing of Jim Haynes who shaped Scottish theatre culture, Edinburgh culture and frankly created a global culture of mischief, invention, joy and connection. Jim was a gift to Scotland from America - he will be greatly missed.

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