TRIBUTES were paid yesterday to the historian and broadcaster, Dr Ian

Grimble, who was found dead at his home in Bettyhill, Caithness, at the

weekend. He was 73.

He was born in Hong Kong of Scottish parents, and educated at Balliol

College, Oxford, where he developed his interest in Gaelic poetry as

well as winning the university high-jump event.

The Lord Chancellor, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, said: ''He was a

tremendous chap who made history come alive. His death is a great loss

to Scotland and to history.''

Fellow historian John Prebble said: ''There were many things in my

earlier books which I could not have written without his help and


''His contribution was immense but I do not think he got the

recognition he should have had. His scholarship was of a very high level

and, unlike other popular historians, involved a great deal of original


Lorn Macintyre writes: Before Ian Grimble Scottish history came from

books, too often in the form of dull lessons.

But from the 1960s, when Ian first stood in front of a television

camera, the tall thin former high-jumper, who looked and sounded like a

gentleman scholar, made Scottish history a compelling subject through

his eloquence and authority.

In classic series such as Who are the Scots? and The Scottish Nation,

he told us what we should be proud of, in virtuoso performances without

an autocue.

He told me once about the making of one of the series, and revealed:

''I spent three days in Edinburgh and had to do the seven programmes,

one in the morning, one in the afternoon, and on the third day, two in

the morning and one in the afternoon.

''I couldn't have looked at any of the scripts; if I'd looked at one,

I'd have been lost. They were done without rehearsals. I went straight

from one to the other.''

His interest in Scottish history grew from his childhood recollection

as a small boy in 1920s Hong Kong, when he had listened spellbound to

his expatriate parents reciting tales from Scottish history.

He developed a life-time passion for all things Highland, and pursued

his fascination at Balliol College where he was introduced to the poetry

of Duncan Ban Macintyre in seminars on the great Gaelic poet.

But his diverse career took him away from his Gaelic studies.

He was commissioned in the Intelligence Corps and served in India in

the Second World War. Then followed a stint as a House of Commons

librarian, before he joined the BBC as a producer in 1955. He helped to

set up the first VHF local radio service in Britain, for the new masts

at Rosemarkie, Thrumster and Orkney, which he saw as a vital

contribution to local culture.

To prove his commitment to the Highlands, Grimble not only learned to

read and write Gaelic, but as a ''very mature'' student went to Aberdeen

University to do his doctorate based on a study of Gaelic society of the

North of Scotland. He tried to settle in the Highlands, at Bettyhill,

but lack of work opportunities defeated him.

It distressed him to have to sell his house at Bettyhill, but he

returned often to stay with friends ''who've forgiven me my betrayal'',

as he told me in an interview for The Herald in 1986, and later he

bought another house there, in which he was to die.

One only has to read through his list of publications to see how

Highland history benefited from his knowledge and literary skills.

His books include the Trial of Patrick Sellar, the villain of the

Sutherland clearances, a study of Robert Burns, and a celebration of a

great Gaelic poet in The World of Rob Donn.

But he also wrote books about Scotland in general, including Scottish

Islands, Castles of Scotland, and a novel, A Start in Life. He sent me

an advance copy of this and asked me for my opinion on it.

I am grateful for that afternoon we spent nine years ago in the

sunlight of Tobermory, while he waited for his guests to finish lunch

and rejoin the bus tour for which he was the guide, taking people round

the islands, and giving them the benefit of his observations on history.

''I have to be careful that I'm not prosecuted,'' that mischievous but

scrupulously truthful man who regarded himself as a ''student of social

history'' told me. ''I don't say into the microphone what I think of

certain island lairds.''

Lewis was his favourite island because that was where ''Scottish

civilisation was least undermined by the attempts to persecute the Gaels

out of existence''. But in his half century of dedication to Gaelic

culture Grimble helped to contribute to its resurgence through his

television appearances, his writing, and his co-founding of Strathnaver


The Government support that Gaelic is now receiving through the Gaelic

Television Fund must have delighted him. What a pity it did not come

earlier, when he was in his prime as a television communicator.