Obituary: Douglas Gray

In the history of Scottish culture in the 20th century, Douglas Gray's name deserves more than just an honourable mention. Without him, many of the major figures - actors, musicians, poets, writers - would have remained unrecorded or at most sadly under-represented in the sound and vision archives. However, in truth, he would not have appreciated his efforts being celebrated; he was very modest and preferred to be as inconspicuous as possible - not easy for a large man, well over 6ft tall and frequently kilted.

Born into a successful timber business in Aberdeenshire in 1922, Gray was a high achiever academically both at Aberdeen Grammar School and at Aberdeen University, where he obtained a first class honours degree in Economics. Even before he took his degree, his intelligence and his technical ability had led him to an unspecified role (certainly he would not talk about it) in the development of radar in the latter years of the Second World War.

His lifelong passion, however, was for all forms of Scottish culture and from 1946 onwards he set about making recordings, initially on sound discs and later on film, of the great performers of the day. From very modest beginnings in his parents' house in Aberdeen, he set up Park Film Studios in Glasgow before moving to Solsgirth, near Kirkintilloch, which he ran as an arts venue, and eventually to Brig o' Turk in the Trossachs.

None of these moves seemed to simplify the apparent technical chaos in which he operated. It was the hallmark of Gray's operations that from circumstances that for anyone else would have been practically impossible he would produce extremely important work. What was even more remarkable was that the most distinguished performers would be willingly recorded, in conditions that they would normally take exception to, simply because of Gray's charm and utter commitment to the material and the performance.

Unusual and often amusing hazards, such as the interruption during a take by large dogs (two Great Danes), or not infrequent mechanical malfunctions, did not deter Scotland's celebrities from making memorable, historically priceless, recordings. Hugh MacDiarmid, Norman MacCaig, George Mackay Brown, Edwin Muir, George Bruce and Sidney Goodsir Smith were among the writers; Andrew Cruickshank, Duncan Macrae, Bryden Murdoch, Tom Fleming, Jean Taylor Smith, Iain Cuthbertson, Edith McArthur, Roddy McMillan and John Grieve among the actors; the singers included Jean Redpath, Bill McCue, Joan Alexander, Duncan Robertson and many others.

It was not only a matter of securing the voices for posterity. What they performed was as vital as who the performers were and Gray always had the highest regard for the original material. So, for example, the definitive version (many would argue) of "Tam o' Shanter" was Gray's 1947 recording of Harold Wightman. Similarly, in the first volume of his History of Scottish Music series, Later Middle Ages (1975), the marvellous works realised by Kenneth Elliott were performed by a new group called the King's Singers.

Although Gray was no businessman, and his attempts to promote his own work never seemed to be adequate, he did from time to time find his products in unexpected demand. In two instances the central figure was Duncan Macrae. A recording of Macrae's party piece "The Wee Cock Sparra" proved such a hit in the late Fifties that it discomforted the actor, who felt that it damaged his reputation as a serious stage performer. Macrae was also involved when Gray got hold of a Clyde puffer to recreate Neil Munro's "Para Handy" on film in 1959.

In the 1960s, Gray turned to film to become a producer of educational and promotional documentaries. Meeting the demands of committees proved rather trying for him, even though the results were usually worthwhile. He was at his most successful when left to his own devices. In over 50 years of continuous activity he held only two conventional appointments as Assistant Director at the Scottish Film Council during the 1950s, and as a part-time economics lecturer at Glasgow University (where he met his wife, Paula).

His love of Scottish culture was by no means confined to the high arts. In his adopted home at Brig o' Turk, where he lived for the past 17 years, he was established as one of the key local figures, running the village post office (which characteristically he doubled as an art gallery), chairing the Trossachs Highland Festival, producing the local newsletter, and being prominent on the local tourist board.

Latterly, one of his principal concerns was to transfer his unique sound archive to digital recordings. His films had already been placed in the safekeeping of the Scottish Film Archive. Gray has, in effect, left his country a treasury for which it ought to be extremely grateful.

Douglas Gray had a very strong sense of culture but also of the importance of his family which was as large, vigorous and good-humoured as himself. His wife was prominent in the Riding for the Disabled Movement, of which he himself was a supporter.

David Bruce

Douglas Gray, record and film producer: born Aberdeen 8 October 1922; married 1953 Paula Cook (died 1991; two sons, two daughters); died Stirling 7 August 1997.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Have you been doing a brilliant job in an admi...

Surrey County Council: Senior Project Officer (Fixed Term to Feb 2019)

£26,498 - £31,556: Surrey County Council: We are looking for an outgoing, conf...

Recruitment Genius: Interim Head of HR

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you an innovative, senior H...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources and Payroll Administrator

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client, a very well respect...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot