Obituary from The Scotsman

Tom Buchan, poet, playwright


Born: 19 June, 1931, in Glasgow
Died: 15 October, 1995


TOM Buchan, who came to prominence in the thriving Scottish literary scene of the Seventies along with John McGrath, Alasdair Gray, Tom Leonard, Edwin Morgan, and many others of the Glasgow school, was a giant among men, both physically and intellectually. A literary figure who was archetypally Scottish, but totally beyond definition, pigeon-holing, or Even reckoning, Tom would often say: "It boggles the mind!" about something when he was really talking about himself.

Tom was a great friend at the Findhorn Foundation on the Moray Firth back in the early Eighties, and since. He went there to live with his son, Lewis. When he first arrived be gave a somewhat scandalous poetry reading in the Universal Hall about "orgones", gorillas in Glasgow, and such which threw the New Agers into a tizzy. He revelled in being thrown off stage during a reading.

His theatre was total and prolific. He wrote a play, Happy Landings, that was performed at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh around that time starring Russell Hunter. I remember the record playing over and over Walk on the Wild Side. That was Tom all over. He worked with Billy Connolly in The Great Northern Welly Boot Show, a 1973 comedy rave which they co-wrote. Bunker was a superb piece of theatre which had one performance only at Findhorn's Little Theatre during the early Eighties. Although he wrote and starred in the show, he never went on after the dress rehearsal. People turned up anyway just for the "crack".

Recently, he had written an astonishing play, King Brude of the Picts, that was deemed too expensive and too complicated to perform by the Eden Court Theatre in Inverness, to whom it had been offered. It is a wild, decanted frenzy of Pictish lore and legend. He must have been a Pict at heart (he lived at Pittville Street in Portobello for many years). One night he entertained a throng of worthies during a conference party at the Findhorn Comunity with his story of meeting Pan, the god of Nature, on Iona. Tom was involved with the Iona Community at the time, and was entering the abbey late at night. An enormous, tall figure with a hood was kneeling at the altar. He turned around and looked at Tom in the candlelight, and his yellow eyes glowed.

Tom's life was a complete drama; from the Scoraig peninsula to Puna to Findhorn to Dingwall to Forres, Edinburgh and Glasgow in between, before and after - but his life ended in a peaceful forest above the cliffs of the Moray Firth, where his children have planted a Scots pine to remember him. His life was a ritual, a wild ritual, and he was always larger than life. He was an angry young man, I think, who only got angrier. He was last writing The Magic Cats of Findhorn, something he began working on in the Eighties at Findhorn ... a life work, probably yet unfinished, but brilliant.

Tom never seemed to get enough attention or appreciation from Scotland's literary community, and eventually gave up on them and stopped writing poetry. A damn shame. I always liked his poems the best. In retrospect, they seemed to be somewhat in the tradition of Norman McCaig. At this time, the particular lines that come to my mind are from Secret Ones in Forwards (1977);

Secret ones who live apart
submerged in anonymity
and service
Humanity, transparent
filtering through the
mindstuff of the world:
Your time has come.

Tom graduated from Glasgow University in 1953. A member of the Iona Community from 1956 to 1960, he took up the post of assistant professor of English literature at Madras University and was co-director of Kalachaitanya Madras, a touring repertory theatre company, from 1957 to 1958. He was warden of Community House, the Glasgow headquarters of the Iona Community, from 1958 to 1959. In 1968, he was appointed senior lecturer in English and drama at Clydebank Technical College, serving in the post for two years. He was artistic director of the Craigmillar Festival in Edinburgh in 1973 and in the same year became editor of the magazine Scottish International . In 1975, he was director of the Dumbarton Festival.

In addition to those already mentioned, his publications include Dolphins at Cochin (1969), Exorcism (1973), and Poems 1969- 72. His other plays include Tell Charlie Thanks for the Truss (1972) and Knox and Mary (1973). A number of unpublished works, several novels and poems, remain.

He is survived by two sons, Lawrence and Lewis, a daughter, Leonia Catherine, and his former wife, Sundara Forsyth. It might be said that Tom Buchan launched Billy Connolly's career, that he created a style of theatre which he never received credit for, and that he was an underrated literary talent and genius whose time will come for recognition of his contribution. But for all that, Tom Buchan was a powerful man of great spirit, great humour, and great literary skills. He will be sadly missed by all. He was ahead of his time.

I will always think of Tom Buchan and the god Pan in the same way - and somehow they have become one. As Mike Scott sings: "The Great God Pan is Alive!" Tom Buchan, a deeply spiritual and a deeply anarchic creature, was a master of words and a player on the stage of life whose last act stole the show. Lang may his lum reek.


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