Author: Ros MacKenzie

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Tuesday, August 8th, 2006 at 5:37 pm
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Through a ‘Lens’ Nostalgically

In July 1963 a small article appeared in the “Edinburgh Evening Dispatch” – a now defunct newspaper – about a group of local teenagers who were bringing out an article intended to have “a youthful focus on the Festival”. The idea was that young people should have a forum in which to air their opinions about the performances on offer at that year’s Festival and Fringe. This magazine was to be called “Lens”, and the article ended by inviting any young people interested in writing for the group to get in touch.

This appealed to me immensely. Aged 16, still at school, with vague aspirations towards journalism, I rustled up my friend Halina for moral support, and we went along to offer our services. The magazine had an office – a basement in William Street, I recall. This in itself was impressive, but equally impressive was the group of self-assured young friends who were running the magazine. They seemed to have an incredible amount of know-how and professionalism, and had miraculously got all the necessary systems in place. Already arranged was advertising to back the magazine; a range of advertisers who appeared faithfully in their own slot each week – the Beehive Restaurant, Christie the jewellers, Suedecraft and Norway House among others. The printers had been chosen – Mackenzie and Storrie Ltd. in Leith. Best of all, we were to be allocated free tickets for shows we wanted to review.

LensAnd guess who was editor of this enterprise – the prime mover, the go-getter, he who got things done?

None other than one Roderick Martine, in later life editor, journalist, writer of books, articles and columns. Like me, he must also have had aspirations towards journalism, only in his case they were very sharply focussed.

One a Week

Three magazines were produced, one for each week of the Festival. Priced at 6d. (2 pence), the covers changed colour each week but kept the same lithograph – an outline of Edinburgh Castle, a camera, and the name “Lens”. The week’s Festival programme was printed on the back cover, giving us now a fascinating reminder of who was in Edinburgh 42 years ago. Julian Bream was here, as was John Ogden, Yehudi Menuhin, Larry Adler, Isaac Stern, Martha Graham, David Frost, and Richard Johnson.

“Lens” seemed to generate an enormous amount of interest, and it certainly had terrific support. The first issue had a foreword by Edinburgh’s Lord Provost, the Rt. Hon. Duncan Weatherstone. Lord Harewood, Festival Director in that year, wrote the foreword to the second edition, in which he said:

“If you can tell us what you want, and why you want it, we shall all be in your debt. A lot of critics will be envious too.”

Did we tell them what we wanted? I don’t know. I do know that Halina and I had a great time as jobbing reviewers. I covered the Martha Graham Dance Company – “Barefoot Ballet at the Empire”. Halina got “The Bubonic Plague” – “it was either a very bad comedy or an extremely subtle play”. As ballet expert (don’t ask why) I also experienced the Budapest Opera Ballet in “a Bartok triumph” and the Stuttgart State Theatre Ballet – “performed with much verve and ability” – all at the Empire (a site now occupied by the Festival Theatre).

Roddy Martine interviewed David Frost, who had failed to be inspired by the Drama Conference he was attending:

“I thought Monday was rather dull. Basically what people want is something nobody wants to do. They want people to get carried away and het up. You’re asking them to behave like clowns. The whole thing is nonsense.” Quite, David – you said it.

Robin Hall and Jimmy Macgregor were a bit more positive about their musical contribution at the Lyceum:

“We’d like a hit on our own terms. It’s no more than a musical can opener to a tin of money….. This show we’re doing with Jimmy Shand we would like to make into a kind of Ceilidh. We’ve got some Scottish Country Dancers, and we’d like to have a sort of party on stage…..”

Yehudi Menuhin was interviewed and asked if he could compare contemporary musicians with traditional classical composers. He replied that he could no longer draw a line between Bartok, Bach and Beethoven. Given his alliterative style and another two years, he might have gone on to include the Beatles.

Pull and Push

I wanted to interview Roddy Martine, to ask him how on earth he, a callow youth, had got the magazine started. The answer seems to be the usual combination of pull and push. It transpires that connections had quite a lot to do with it. The office in William Street belonged to someone’s father. Mackenzie and Storrie the printers were owned by the Crerar family, their son being one of the group. All very helpful, but the really impressive part was the initiative shown by those who went round selling advertising space, and those who persuaded John Menzies booksellers to take the magazine. A lot of youthful nerve went into convincing the Press Office that we should have complementary tickets. And there was no timidity shown in writing to Lord Harewood, or the Lord Provost, suggesting that they write a foreword.

It strikes me now, more than 40 years after the “Lens” venture, that nothing equivalent has been attempted since. There is of course blogging these days, but the sheer effort of hard copy journalism was an impressive venture. As the Hon. Lord Cameron said in his (solicited) foreword to the third edition:

“To see this Festival through the lenses of fresh and youthful spectacles is itself a stimulus and reward – a stimulus because a freshness of outlook is always an asset in framing a fair judgement, and a reward in the realisation that here is a proof that the idea of the Festival has brought so vigorous a response from the minds and pens of a growing generation….”

Indeed, or as Larry Adler said in the last edition of “Lens”:

“A young magazine should unstuff stuffings in shirts!”

Where are we all now? We know where Roddy is – he’s writing. Halina is a consultant anaesthetist, and the others – well there is a major industrialist, a film-maker, a printer and me. I became a linguist, a philosopher, an occasional writer – but above all a domestic goddess. I’d thank you not to say just a housewife.

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