Obituary from The Herald

Tom Buchan, poet and dramatist;

born June 19, 1931, died October 18, 1995

herald tom buchan pic


ON Wednesday a friend phoned to tell me that the poet and dramatist, Tom Buchan, had been found dead, out in the woods, up in Forres. As my friend said: "He had all that energy. He contributed so much. Whatever he did, it wasn't nothing ...."

We need to mark his passing, and perhaps we will be able to do so through some kind of get-together in the months ahead. In the meantime, I cannot give a full picture of the man and his work but offer the following based on my personal irnpressions.

I first got to know Tom Buchan in the early seventies when he joined up with a group of us to read poetry in the Glasgow streets. His book of poems, Dolphins at Cochin (1969), was already published and at first it seemed surprising that someone already accepted by the Scottish literary establishment should come forth and read with us. Had he not been an English teacher? Didn't he live up on Hyndland Road? He turned up to read with a Fidel Castro cap on his head and satirical mischief playing around his long-jawed face.

Tom made no secret that much of his life was lived in rebellion against his father, a Protestant minister with repressive attitudes. None the less he had a mystic sense of life, which led him on the one hand towards the Iona Community, on the other to India whem he lived and worked for a while presenting travelhng theatre - fragments from the Mahabharata. The memory of India, particularly its land mass, its surrounding hills, the sense of it as "mother", never left him.

Glasgow-born, he had been educated there and at Aberdeen Grammar School, before going on to Glasgow University where he graduated in 1953. He taught in Scotland and India before becoming a full-time writer in 1971.

In 1972, his first play, Tell Charlie Thanks for the Truss, was presented at the Traverse Theatre, directed by Michael Rudman. It told the story of a revolutionary army who instead of guns used sexual power gathered from an orgone box strategically placed in the Highlands of Scotland. It was a great blast at Scottish male uptightness, including a wonderful portrayal of Mad Mitch. With a band an stage and the aetion moving from dialogue to song and dance, quirky humour to social comment, he had invented a new stage format. This came to full fruition some time in the following year when he was teamed up with the then emerging Billy Connolly to create the legendary Great Northem Welly Boot Show for Clyde Fair International, a Glasgow arts festival. The show filled the King‘s, and, though Billy was undoubtedly the star, there was no doubting the sturdy power and inventive liveliness of Tom Buchan's writing.

Later the Welly Boot Show was performed at the Edmburgh Festival by a co-operative company. It received great acclaim and was an inspiration to many people. Tom Buchan did not manage to follow up on the success, however. To do that he would have needed to form a theatre company, and this was not easy for him. As it was, John McGrath and 7:84 (Scotland) inherited the Buchan format and used it to further legendary effect.

Writing to me in 1993 about the various manuscripts of his plays, Tom Buchan said: "The one thing that doesn't exist is a proper script of the Welly Boot Show and if you ever laid hands on one I‘d be interested to hear about it. Probably has some historical interest. I notice commentators seem to think that modern Scottish agitprop started with The Cheviot - not that I give a f***. My own debts are really to Joan Littlewood's productions of Brendan Behan's plays, which never get put on, of course."

lf only someone in the theatre had been willing to take him on and keep him occupied! As it was, Tom Buchan, finding no response by which he could survive, either physically or spiritually, not in established culture, began to move off into exper!ments with psychedelics and UFO mysticism.

His short period as editor of the literary magazine Scottish International showed how far he had travelled from the cultural squares. For better or for worse. There were new influenees on him then. He seemed to have imbibed some political paranoia. He came to tell me that he and I were on a CIA hitlist. What on earth for, said I. It is difficult. Some people say of Tom Buchan that he was a great promise that was never fully realised. But perhaps it depends how you look at it. Here are his own words from his letter to me of June 1993:

"I'm just off with a posse of ex-Glasgow Findhorn freaks to my spiritual home on the Scoraig peninsula (where I lived for some years and where Alice-Emma now Sundara forsooth has a meditation centre and my eldest Lawrence a house) for a laidback midsummer rave-up in the middle of nowhere.

Baldy, 60 Grandpa Buchan still has a great (mainly theoretical) fondness for sex, drugs and live state-of-the-art rock’n‘roll! To tell you the honest truth, Tom, I‘ve never been so bouncy. Findhorn keeps me up to scratch in all departments and when I get pissed off with it I head for the hills as always."


Back to Scottish connections

Back to homepage