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Laureation address – Murray Grigor

Murray Grigor OBE BSc
Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters

Laureation by Rev Dr Ian Bradley, School of Divinity
Friday 30 November 2012


Vice-Chancellor, it is my privilege to present Murray Grigor for the Degree of Doctor of Letters honoris causa.

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ong the most evocative and iconic legacies of this university’s 600th anniversary celebrations will surely be the film ‘Ever to Excel’ narrated by Sir Sean Connery. From the opening sequence at a Graduation like this one where the camera zooms in on the exquisite detail of the University maces to the wistful closing scene of the pier walk to the accompaniment of Cavafy’s poem Ithaca, it wonderfully captures the unique atmosphere of St Andrews.

‘Ever to Excel’ is full of imaginative images and stories which bring both the past and the present of this University vividly to life. Among my own favourites is that stunning sequence shot amid the green ferns of Dunino Den which stands in for Kilrymont and whose watery stone basin dissolves into a pool of water in front of the west wall of the Cathedral symbolising the primal rites of paganism giving way to the new religion of Christianity. And there is the marvellously graphic illustration of how our distinguished Senior Governor scaled the drainpipes of this building and broke in through the open window of a ladies’ toilet so that he could greet his girlfriend as she came down from the stage after graduation and propose to her.

Murray Grigor was an inspired choice to be the writer and director of this film which explores and celebrates both the seriousness and the quirkiness of this University. As a graduate himself he knows and loves it. He also brought to the project a wealth of cinematographic experience having more than 50 films to his credit, many of them with a focus on art and architecture.

He developed his film-making skills with the BBC, which he joined after graduating from here with a BSc in 1962 and left five years later to become director of the Edinburgh Film Festival. His own first film, made in 1968, was a documentary on the then neglected Glasgow architect and designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh. It won five international awards and helped to re-establish Mackintosh’s reputation as one of the leading figures in the Scottish art world in the early twentieth century.
Subsequent films covered the work of the Scottish architects Alexander Thomson and Robert Adam, the Italian architect Carlo Scarpa and the American architects John Lautner and Frank Lloyd Wright.

The film on Lloyd Wright gained a citation of excellence from the American Institute of Architecture, the first ever to be awarded to a film maker. There were also significant television documentaries on the work of the sculptors Henry Moore, Eduardo Paolozzi and George Wyllie.

A son of Inverness who has lived much of his life in Fife, Murray Grigor has a particular feel for and fascination with the landscape of Scotland. His film ‘Clydescope’ featured Billy Connolly taking a journey down the Clyde from Biggar to Brodick and another documentary explored Edinburgh through the eyes of the city’s most famous ex-milkman, Sean Connery.

I first came across Murray in 1988 when I was making a documentary for BBC Radio 4 called ‘Mists, Mountains and Balmorality’ about changing images of the Highlands. He was an obvious interviewee for the programme having recently devised and curated a travelling exhibition called ‘Scotch Myths’ which explored and questioned the way Scotland has so often been portrayed in terms of kitsch images and stereotypes of fatigued romanticism. I still vividly remember his contributions about the cult of romantic ruins in the post-Clearance Highlands and the images of tartan and Jacobitism on a thousand tins of shortbread.

I can also personally testify to the fact that Murray Grigor is a wonderful director with whom to work – blessed with boundless enthusiasm, huge creativity and a rare combination of superb visual imagination and a real feeling for words. It was a joy to work with him on the historical parts of ‘Ever to Excel’.

His work over the last forty and more years has been rightly honoured by many international prizes and with the award of an OBE in this year’s New Year’s Honours List. It is wholly appropriate that it should now be recognised by his own beloved alma mater.

Vice Chancellor, in recognition of his major contribution to the art of documentary film making, I invite you to confer on Murray Grigor the Degree of Doctor of Letters honoris causa.

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