2nd November 2013: Peter Jewell and Kenny Munro on Bill Douglas


Born in 1934, Bill Douglas was brought up by relatives at Newcraighall and then in care in the circumstances depicted in My Childhood and My Ain Folk. While doing National Service in Egypt - the subject of the third part of his trilogy My Way Home - he met Peter Jewell, and the two of them developed a love of collecting optical toys, tickets, leaflets and other cinematic memorabilia. Bill studied at the National Film School in London, and it was the British Film Institute which funded his trilogy after Scottish funding was refused.   Moving to Peter's home town of Barnstaple, Bill retained links with Scotland by supporting the Craigmillar Festival Society founded by Helen Crummy  and by lecturing at Strathclyde University, but made only one other film, Comrades about the Tolpuddle Martyrs starring Alex Norton, before dying of cancer in 1991.

Today his reputation is growing as a result of the greater awareness of him arising from their collection being publicly accessible at the University of Exeter. It now comprises over 75,000 items, mostly acquired at bargain prices, which recall the origin of magic lanterns and panoramic photographs, the birth of cinema with Poole's travelling dioramas and such pioneers as Michael Powell with his Edge of the World portrait of Foula, Hollywood's greatest Scot Sandy McKendrick and the father of documentary John Grierson who rightly condemned the London perspective of Scotland that prevailed on the big screen until McKendrick's Whisky Galore and much later Bill Forsyth's Gregory's Girl. The Trilogy is being relaunched in France as a boxed DVD set.

Scotland's cultural history needs to be democratised : the BBC has some way to go, but Scottish Screen is more accessible now that it comes under the National Library of Scotland, and the collection at Exeter will be relaunched as the Bill Douglas Museum of Film in January 2014. Kenny Munro's sculpture A Place of Dreams commemorates Bill Douglas at Newcraighall Railway Station, and he is proposing another to be called Reflected Vision at Exeter.