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69 Years Ago…….


Is Helensburgh Britain’s Most Talented Town?

Eh? I hear you say!

But this question was posed quite seriously in yesterday’s Observer by Paul Kelbie and Caroline Davis. The first thing that occurred to me was that I wondered if Paul Kelbie is related to Sheriff David Kelbie who was once a near neighbour of mine in Helensburgh. He was a bit of a  left-field judge and sometimes his decisions were not without controversy. Amongst his high profile cases was the Orkney child abuse one in 1991 – but I digress.

Our local rag the Helensburgh Advertiser has been running pieces by the quaintly named Phil Worms who has been fronting a campaign to honour ‘Helensburgh’s Heroes’. One of his ideas is to convert a building previously used as a school and community centre to a heritage centre to celebrate the likes of John Logie Baird, inventor of Television and Henry Bell former provost of the town and a steamship pioneer.

Another idea he has floated which is frankly fucking crazy is rather innovative and exciting, is to perhaps recreate Hollywood’s star walk by having famous residents (and people who once spent the day here) imortalised in paving stones on the promenade.

One wonders if Worms is a visionary or just totally barking mad.

Anyway here is the article complete with the reference to the ‘Glasgow town’

‘Stratford has Shakespeare. Blenheim boasts Churchill. And Dickens boosts the coffers of Broadstairs. But when it comes to fame by association, nowhere, it seems, can surpass a small seaside town in Scotland.

For Helensburgh has ‘Heroes’ – 75 of them at the last count, and rising. Residents believe it is the most talented town in Britain and are looking to create a Hollywood-style ‘Walk of Fame’ to shout it from their elegant Victorian rooftops.

The Glasgow town, on the north shore of the Firth of Clyde, is laying claim to a gallery of actors, poets, inventors, writers, sportsmen and women and the odd Prime Minister. Hollywood star Deborah Kerr, TV inventor John Logie Baird, the steamship pioneer Henry Bell and the least known of Britain’s PMs, Andrew Bonar Law – all have links to Helensburgh.

‘For a population of less than 20,000, we seem to have produced or inspired more than our fair share of talented and historical people,’ said Phil Worms, originally from London, who is spearheading the ‘Helensburgh Heroes’ campaign. ‘We believe no other town of a similar size could match Helensburgh for talent.’

No association is too tenuous to prevent acceptance as a son or daughter of the town, along with a bronze star on its esplanade. Charles Rennie Mackintosh, the Scottish architect, is included because he designed Hill House on Helensburgh’s outskirts. Bonar Law, the Canadian-born Tory who succeeded David Lloyd George but held office for just seven months, married there. WH Auden, who briefly taught at the Larchfield School – as did former Poet Laureate Cecil Day-Lewis – is forgiven despite writing of Helensburgh’s reputation as ‘a snob town’. Emma Sanderson, the first British woman and youngest person to finish the Around Alone, a solo round-the-world yacht race, lived in the town as a child and competed in dinghy world championships.

‘Not everyone on the roll of honour was born here, but when we drew up the list we included people who were either from here or were living here at the time they were going through their meteoric rise to fame and fortune,’ explained Worms. ‘The only one who is possibly contentious is Mackintosh. But although he wasn’t born or lived in Helensburgh, the town is forever associated with one of the best examples of his work.’

Others are hardly household names. But veterinary parasitologist George Urquhart and mathematician Horatio Carslaw were, no doubt, giants in their field.

The point of Helensburgh Heroes, Worms says, is to pay homage to all who have achieved recognition, while raising civic pride and encouraging regeneration. The £28,000 Walk of Fame is just one thought. Another is for a movie-themed diner in honour of Kerr and Jack Buchanan, Britain’s answer to Fred Astaire. Kerr was born in the town, though she went to boarding school in Bristol; Buchanan left for Glasgow aged 12. ‘The diner could contain memorabilia from Helensburgh film stars,’ Worms said. Sir William Jackson Hooker, who became director of Kew Gardens, could be commemorated with a botanic garden, he added.

Tristram Hunt, historian and broadcaster, said he ‘applauded’ Helensburgh’s attempts to put itself on the map. ‘We should salute the idea and wish them well,’ he said. But he cautioned that some of the links seemed tenuous. ‘Where it works is in places like Kirkcaldy with Adam Smith [economic philosopher], or the radical Thomas Paine and Lewes in East Sussex,’ he said. ‘Or Philip Larkin and Hull. They are examples of places having very strong credible links – a proper connection… rather than just a list of people who briefly passed through, or had a house, or went on holiday there.’

Meanwhile, Worms is intent on making it happen. ‘It would be great if road signs could be put up on the A82 into the town reading: “Helensburgh – Home of Heroes”,’ he said.’

The article appears in its original context HERE