Award-winning author inspired by condemned man

Robert Douglas never expected it, but the time he spent on "death row" in Bristol prison paved the way for the former miner to carve out a new career as an award-winning author.

The 66-year-old, who had also spent some time living in doss houses in the centre of Glasgow, was not a condemned man.

He was one of three prison officers charged with providing round-the-clock company to a 23-year-old convicted murderer, Russell Pascoe - the last man to be hanged at the prison in 1963 before capital punishment was abolished.

It was only years later when he spotted an article on the 25th anniversary of the abolition of hanging that he wondered whether anybody would be interested in his story. He rang up his local paper and it was. He wrote it in ballpoint, sent it to the paper, got it published and was paid the handsome sum of £100.

That opened up a whole new chapter in his life. His success prompted him to go on a creative writing course to improve his writing skills. Now, three Book of the Month awards later, he is being honoured with a senior learner award at the annual adult education awards - organised by the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education - to be announced on Monday.

Douglas was born and brought up in the tenement blocks of poverty-stricken Glasgow. His mother died of cancer, aged 36, when he was 15 and - on the day of her funeral - his father gave him an ultimatum.

"He told me I could go and live with him and his fancy woman or join the boys' service of the Royal Air Force [where he could live in]," he said. "He knew it was no choice. He knew the loyalty I had to my mother."

In fact, his first book, Night Song of the Last Tram: A Glasgow Childhood, dismisses his father in its first paragraph - in which he says that, if he had died in the Second World War in the north Africa or Italy campaigns, he could have looked at the plot where he had been lain to rest and pondered about a loving, lost relationship. "Unfortunately, he survived and came home," it continues.

That book was awarded the book of the month award from Publishing News when it came out in November 2004 - and won Scottish book of the month awards from Waterstone's and WH Smith.

He is now on the second part of his autobiography - which will deal with the time he left school and his early years as a miner, living in a Glasgow doss house and his work as a prison officer. A third part is in the pipeline.

He recalls how a primary teacher, Miss Ivy Ross, gave him a love of learning. She was his "Miss Jean Brodie" - telling stories of how she had spent her summers on a tramp steamer touring Africa.

His algebra teacher at secondary school, however, had the opposite effect, dishing out lashings of his belt to anyone who he perceived not to have understood his lessons.

He left school with no qualifications and soon discovered the RAF Boys' Service was not for him. So he went to work at Polkemmet Colliery in West Lothian - going down the pit as soon as he was old enough at 17.

He spent two years on national service, returning to Glasgow afterwards only to find it was "fair fortnight" when the city shut down for the summer holidays.

With no money, he had little option but to lodge at the Great Eastern Hotel - a doss house. "The rest were all drinkers and tramps - but it was the cheapest place I could find," he said. "I stayed there for two months - just sleeping there - until the mother of a friend found out where I was and insisted I stayed with them."

It is these memories that are being vividly brought out in his books. He spends three hours a day writing now and finds that - even if he is not in the mood to start with - he can soon get into his stride as the memories come flooding in.

It was his recalling of the time he spent with Russell Pascoe, who - with a friend - had murdered a Cornish farmer, though, that set him off on the writing path.

Pascoe converted to Christianity in the last three weeks of his life and one of those protesting outside the prison on the day of his execution was the local Labour MP, Tony Benn.

Douglas, who lives with his wife and has two children from a previous marriage, showed the published article to a neighbour who was a writer. "She asked me: 'Did you write this yourself?'" he said. "I said: 'Of course I did.' She said I should keep it up as it was good. I signed up for the Workers' Education Association's creative writing course. I owe a lot to them. They helped me improve my story structure. They told me dialogue is my strong point."

The awards ceremony has been endorsed by the actor Christopher Eccleston who said: "It provides the opportunity to salute the hundreds of adults that have overcome barriers to achieve through learning."

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat

Arts and Entertainment

film

Arts and Entertainment
A sketch of Van Gogh has been discovered in the archives of Kunsthalle Bremen in Germany
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
books
Arts and Entertainment
Fake Banksy stencil given to artist Alex Jakob-Whitworth

art

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
    Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

    The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

    Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
    Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

    A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
    How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

    How books can defeat Isis

    Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
    The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

    The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

    The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
    Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

    Young carers to make dance debut

    What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
    Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

    Design Council's 70th anniversary

    Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
    Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

    Dame Harriet Walter interview

    The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

    Bill Granger's winter salads

    Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
    England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

    George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

    No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
    Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links