Obituary

26th November 2010 at 00:00

Sinclair Aitken, who died this month at the age of 85, was a gardener of people who saw and nourished their creativity. As head of educational broadcasting in Scotland for the BBC from 1963 to 1982, he contributed hugely to cultural education in Scotland.

Born in Glasgow in 1925, he was an outstanding scholar of Latin and Greek at Hutchesons' Grammar School. After call-up to the Army during the Second World War, he graduated with an MA in English language and Latin from Glasgow University. He used this expertise to produce the first pronunciation dictionary of its kind for Penguin and later taught at King's College London, and at George Watson's College in Edinburgh.

It was in his role as head of educational broadcasting that his talents found their fullest fruition. The driving force of his work, in the high ideals of the BBC of his day, was to serve Scotland's young people with the best of their culture, to reconnect with what was often lost.

In the schools' output, he introduced them to the country's neglected history and literature, inaugurating radio and TV series about the rich folklore and literature of the past, while they also heard the voices of contemporary literary luminaries. Programmes celebrated the various voices of Scotland and scotched the widely prevalent belief that Scots dialects were gutter English. He championed the language and culture of Gaeldom, not only by taking Gaelic classes himself and co-opting staff to do the same, but by establishing the influential radio and TV Can Seo programmes.

When he turned to Scotland's health record, the poorest in Europe, he formed an alliance with the Scottish Health Education Group to finance a daily radio drama series dealing with every Scottish malady, from bigotry to bulimia. This series, Kilbreck, modelled on The Archers, attracted the cream of Scottish writers and actors.

Sinclair was in the BBC but was not a corporation man or a stooge. When the BBC management proposed to cut education and music to save money, he formed and promoted an underground resistance. Many sympathisers, including BBC staff, became secret agents, gathering members of the press, academics, literary figures and cultural icons to the cause. He was the cunning and dexterous Che Guevara of the campaign. The powers were shamed and the battle won.

At the heart of his work and innovative programme ideas was his love of Scotland. A nationalist, he believed a robust autonomy would give proper dignity, identity and pride to the Scottish people. His agenda was the resurgence of a proud Scottish nation led by the realisation of its own rich cultural heritage.

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