Bill MacLellan, publisher; born March 20, 1919, died October 16, 1996

THE publisher, Bill MacLellan, aged 81, has died of a cerebral haemorrhage at Kello Hospital, Biggar, Lanarkshire. He leaves behind a widow, the concert pianist Agnes Walker, and two daughters.

Between the start of his firm in 1941 and its bankruptcy in 1969 he had published original poetry by Hugh MacDiarmid, Sorley MacLean, W S Graham, George Campbell Hay, George Bruce, Sidney Goodsir Smith and Maurice Lindsay: also fiction by J F Hendrie, Edward Gaitens and Fionn MacColla: also plays by Ewan MacColl and Robert McLellan (no relative): also books of Scottish history, art and folklore, the most notable being the Dewar Manuscripts.

This would give Bill MacLellan a place in any thorough history of Scottish letters, but no such history exists. Though he is mentioned in biographies and bibliographies of MacDiarmid, hardly anyone under the age of 35 remembers him and he has no entry in Chambers Scottish Biographical Dictionary or Who's Who in Scotland.

There are two reasons for this neglect. No prominent people in Scottish public life notice him - all that they read was published in London because they had no faith in the local products. The other reason was his own absent-minded, unbusinesslike character.

His father was a Glasgow city councillor with a printing business at 240 Hope Street, in the same block as the Theatre Royal.

Bill's father died when he was 14. His mother continued the family business until he took it over at the age of 20, by which time he had attended Glasgow High School and the London School of Printing. Throughout the thirties his firm specialised in shade cards for J & P Coats and Paton & Baldwins, the thread and yarn manufacturers.

His pacifism made him a conscientious objector in 1939, but after a spell in prison the authorities let him return to his useful and harmless profession in a city which was quite unlike the industrially depressed Glasgow of the inter-war years, and even less like the post-industrial Glasgow of today. The government was responsible for this.

It had united the country behind its war effort by taking control of all productive industry and land. It had abolished private competition by deliberately paralysing the money market, restricting wages and rents and prices, and by controlling manufacture through agreement with the trade unions. It was a promising new era of social equality and full employment.

This Tory initiative was the foundation of the post-war welfare state, which led to the swinging sixties, which is now widely advertised as the cause of everything wrong with Britain, but while fighting Hitlerism it seemed a good idea: especially in Glasgow which was again the centre of vigorous mining, steel-producing and shipbuilding communities. It was also Britain's main transit port. English, American and Polish soldiers were billeted there. This was how MacLellan met Jadwiga Harasowski.

All I know of her is her name and that she got Bill to print Polish classics and newspapers for the Polish troops. It was through her that a commercial printer discovered he had resources to publish books - and in those days he was surrounded by people who wanted them. Without official backing, many little arts centres had sprung up in private houses and forces service clubs near Sauchiehall Street, and Bill's office was one of them.

The best account of it can be found in Joan Littlewood's autobiography, Little Me. Wishing to start a people's political theatre in 1945, Joan despaired of London and sent scouts around Britain to find somewhere better. I will quote her.

``Jimmie and Bill Douglas skipped to Glasgow one weekend and came back born-again Scots. They'd undergone conversion in a river of whisky at 240 Hope Street.

`What goes on there?'

`It's William MacLellan's place.'

`A pub?'

`A publishing house.'

`Not only is there a poet on every street corner,' said Bill, `but they're all sleeping at MacLellan's, among the presses, wrapped in their own galley proofs'.''

The Unity Theatre started the professional careers of Duncan Macrae, Roddy McMillan and other fine actors. Its The Gorbals Story was taken to London, filmed and inspired a Sadler's Wells ballet, with decor by Colquhoun and MacBride who had recently graduated (with Joan Eardley) from Glasgow Art School. The Unity production of Uranium 235 anticipated Oh What A Lovely War and McGrath's The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black Black Oil. The text

was published by MacLellan.

The painter J D Fergusson and his wife had returned to Glasgow. MacLellan published Fergusson's study of modern Scottish painting: Fergusson designed the covers of MacLellan's magazine Scottish Arts and Letters.

His publishing successes were never commercial successes and I suspect the thread manufacturers' shade cards let the firm last as long as it did. The advertising and distribution of the books was often left to the authors, who resented getting little or no money for them. Ian Hamilton Finlay's first book contains a story about a hungry young writer failing to get paid by a kilted publisher with clear blue eyes and an absent-minded manner.

Bill would describe this story in detail to acquaintances who pretended not to have read it, ending with the remark ``. . . and then I realised this publisher was meant to be me!'' The similarity inspired him with a slightly bewildered amazement which was, I think, his main attitude to life.

Working in a confused and turbulent period, when no other publishers knew that Scottish art and letters existed, Bill MacLellan did the best he could for them and lost his family's profitable little business in the process. We must wait for a thorough history of our native culture before his part in it is properly recognised.