harry diamond's memoir


Glasgow Garden Festival in 1988 was a marvellous event for the city. It gave Glaswegians such a tremendous boost of morale, attracted so much favourable publicity to the city, brought so many visitors, and generally gave the city an air of excitement and buoyancy.

can you get me into the papersEight years later much of the festival site is still derelict although various offices are awash with reports, maps and plans for the 60-acre stretch of land on the bank of the river Clyde.

In 1995 Miller Developments were given outline planning consent to build a leisure and business complex, national science centre, millenium tower, and Imax theatre on what is now called Pacific Quay and is owned by Glasgow Development Agency.

Whether or not any of this comes to fruition depends on the Milleninium Commission who, at the time of writing, are considering an application for millions of pounds for the development. All is not lost, though, as BBC Scotland has announced its intention of moving to Pacific Quay by 1999.

The GDA plans have met with considerable opposition over the years. Various organisations, Clyde Festival Gardens, New Glasgow Society, Clyde Maritime Trust, and Glasgow Chamber of Commerce all wanted to see the site transformed into something like the famed Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen but with a maritime heritage centre to reflect the Clyde's one-time great shipbuilding industry.

I have often been asked why Glasgow didn't keep the garden festival. There are a number of answers to that. Glasgow claims to have more parks and open spaces than any other city in Britain, perhaps Europe, and has a difficult enough job finding the money to maintain what it has without having to look after another vast acreage. Nevertheless the city council does own 11 acres of the site which has been designated a park but as the rest of the site is so unttractive no-one goes there.

Glasgow Garden Festival was never meant to be anything than temporary. The buildings were not built to last and the vast number of exhibitors could not have maintained their presence for any length of time. The landscaping could not be maintained and even the drainage on the site could not have sustained a lengthy festival. Besides, the owners of the site, Laing Homes Limited, wanted it back afterwards although they didn't develop it as they originally intended.

In return for the 'loan' of the site Laing were enabled to buy seven offset sites throughout the city so that they could continue their house-building programme. Laing had acquired the site from Clydeport just before the Secretary of State announced it was to be the site of the garden festival. In 1992 Laing sold it to the Glasgow Development Agency. All that has happened on the site is that Laing have built 63 houses and 76 flats there. There is still the highly-expensive Bell's bridge, which links the festival site with the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre, but regrettably no-one uses it.

In 1994 the aptly-named Govan Initiative, a publicly-funded body established in 1986 to regenerate the local economy of Govan, opened a £2.1 million Festival Business Centre on the ground occupied by the garden festival administration building. The centre included a purpose-built nursery to serve the 27 units, all of which were quickly occupied.

Many people were astonished that a place like Glasgow was even considered as a locale for a garden festival. They still had an image of the city as a place of grime, drunks, razor slashers, and gang fights, a perception that was decades out of date although astonishingly there are people in London even now who think Glasgow is a place to avoid.

Glasgow was told in 1984 that it was to host Britain's third National Garden Festival and being the independent thinkers they were my council hierarchy quickly changed the name to Glasgow Garden Festival just as two years later they changed the official title of European City of Culture to Cultural Capital of Europe.

A Garden Festival Company was formed by the Scottish Development Agency (forerunners of the Glasgow Development Agency) principal funders of the festival, and a great deal of work behind the scenes followed. Imaginative plans for environmental improvements to all the approaches to the festival site were devised by city planners led by director James Rae and John Watson, one of his deputes.

Eighty buildings and bridges were nominated for floodlighting, British Rail were asked to clean up embankments and even the Scottish Gas Board agreed to paint a gas holder blue instead of the usual depressing slate grey.

By September 1985 we were ready to tell the world about our plans for the great event. The announcement was to be made in London by Lord Provost Robert Gray and Mr George Younger, Secretary of State for Scotland, much to the annoyance of Mrs Jean McFadden, leader of Glasgow City Council, who said later, "I refused to go because I thought the launch should have been in Glasgow, and I didn't see why I should spend more than five hours travelling to London just to be an adjunct to George Younger (Secretary of State for Scotland) doing his thing."

Mrs McFadden was by no means the only one who thought that if Glasgow was good enough to be Britain's garden festival city it was important enough for the announcement to be made there. After a great deal of murmurings from the City Chambers and elsewhere it was decided to have a simultaneous announcement in London and Glasgow.

Mrs McFadden duly took her place at the top table in the City Chambers with Mr Allan Stewart, Minister for Industry and Education in the Scottish Office, who made the announcement.

Lord Provost Gray flew to London under protest and found when he got to Heathrow Airport that the Scottish Development Agency had arranged for him and a council officer (usher) who was carrying the Lord Provost's £60,000 gold chain of office, to travel to their hotel by underground. The Lord Provost was not amused.

By a stroke of luck I also had some information which gave the festival story a great deal of additional impact. Steve Inch, head of a section of the council which kept track of investment in the city, had at my request compiled a list of developments which had recently been completed or were in the course of construction. We discovered that these amounted to a billion pounds.

They included a glass-covered shopping complex in St Enoch Square, an hotel near the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre, a shopping, leisure and entertainment development in Princes Square off Buchanan Street, a plan to convert Kelvin Hall into a major indoor sports stadium and Museum of Transport, and a plan to build what became the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall. The story of plans for the festival and the billion pounds worth of investments was sent far and wide at home and abroad.

As plans for the festival progressed the council announced the establishment of a fund of £500,000 to create 900 events throughout the city featuring opera and classical music concerts, children's projects, community events, and anything else that would give the city a festival air and provide a curtain-raiser for 1989 and culture year in 1990.

Two internationally-known figures in the British arts scene were recruited in 1987 to make Glasgow's star shine in the international arts firmament in the following three years; Robert Palmer, drama and dance director of the Scottish Arts Council, and Neil Wallace, director of Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff.

Among the productions they were responsible for bringing to the Tramway theatre in Glasgow in 1988 was the first performance in Britain of Peter Brook's trilogy of plays, The Mahabharata, billed as one of the most sought-after productions in world theatre. The three plays lasted a total of more than eight hours. Artistes from 20 countries came to the city to dance, sing and make music.

The following year the dynamic duo (apologies to Batman and Robin) brought another Peter Brook first to Glasgow, La Tragedie de Carmen, which also played to packed audiences at the Tramway.

Palmer, a slim, dark, fast-talking Canadian, was later appointed Director of the city's Department of Performing Arts and Venues, a post he still holds. Wallace became artistic director of the Tramway theatre but later left to become a freelance producer and reviewer.

In July 1987 Theo Crombie, a depute town clerk and the council's liaison man with the festival, asked me if I would go with him to see George Chesworth, the festival's chief executive, who felt there should be more international publicity for the event. Bill Simpson, the festival's director of marketing, and Rob Reid, his Public Relations manager, were preoccupied with producing vast amounts of material for the British news media but the international media weren't taking enough notice of what was going on.

Crombie knew I had developed an extensive range of contacts in foreign newspapers, magazines and the broadcast media during my years as a daily newspaperman and later as a public relations man so I went with him to see Chesworth, a retired Air Vice Marshal and the man who masterminded the first raid on Stanley during the 1982 Falklands War. He is now Lord Lieutenant of Moray.

The result of our talk was that I flew to London shortly afterwards and with the help of Martin Cole, Head of the London Correspondents' Service of the Central Office of Information, arranged for 15 foreign correspondents representing news media in America, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, France, Germany, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Spain to come to Glasgow to see what all the fuss was about.

They included Jim Perry of the Wall Street Journal, who was described by a fellow-American, Timothy Crouse, as one of the superstars of American journalism, Wolfgang Kuballa of the Rheinische Post, Dusseldorf, and five other German newspapers, and Arie Zimuki of Yediot Achronot (Latest News) of Tel Aviv. The result was millions of pounds worth of publicity for the festival and the city.

Heidi Burkline of Die Welt in Bonn told a BBC television interviewer, "Glasgow is fantastic, great! It's amazing what is being done here."

PUNCH magazine also sent two writers to take what turned out to be a two-page, good-natured poke at the festival and The Glasgow Herald recalled that the day after the opening by the Prince and Princess of Wales of the Glasgow International Exhibition of 1888 Lord Provost Sir James King was elected chairman of the Glasgow District Board of Lunacy.

My friends Emi (Kaz) Kazuko and her husband Denis Van Mechelen, publishers of EIKOKU (BRITAIN) which circulated widely in Japan and Britain, promised to feature Glasgow just before the start of the festival.

Michael Almaz of the Israel Broadcasting Authority agreed to provide stories about Glasgow for the authority's English, Arabic and Hebrew services covering the entire Middle East.

Newspapers published in Britain for the benefit of visitors from Australia, New Zealand and neighbouring islands in the South Pacific, also agreed to take material about Glasgow, as did the British Tourist Authority's "Britain Calling" newsletter.

Glasgow Garden Festival opened on Thursday, April 28, 1988. The sun shone and Glasgow quivered with excitement. The world's most talked about, and perhaps envied, husband and wife, the Prince and Princess of Wales, had come to open what newspapers and the promotors described as Britain's biggest consumer event of the year...... the most spectacular and exciting event of 1988.....a celebration symbolising the continual quest for improved standards of living.

Just before I left the office to attend the opening a woman phoned my office to complain about the festival's official slogan, "It's a Day out of This World." The woman had recently had a bereavement in the family and she thought the choice of words were unfortunate in that once you were out of this world you stayed out permanently, not just for a day. I tried to persuade her not to take the slogan too literally as it was merely a figure of speech meant to convey something exciting and extraordinary, but she was unconvinced.

Attractions of the festival included the Coca Cola Thrill Ride, in which no amount of money in the Bank of Scotland could persuade me to ride, a 250-foot tower celebrating the Clydesdale Bank's 150th anniversary, the Bell's Bridge, the first significant footbridge to be built over the Clyde for 120 years, the biggest tea pot in the world, the return of tramcars for the first time since 1962, a railway, 112 gardens, 24ft metal and glass fibre irises, tea towels made in Pakistan, and six major theme areas; health and wellbeing, water and maritime, recreation and sport, landscape and scenery, science and technology, and plants and food. Who could ask for anything more?

Figures relating to the cost of setting up Glasgow's festival, the benefits that accrued to the city in terms of investment, creation of jobs, and the redevelopment of the post-festival site rain down like confetti from a variety of sources, including the Glasgow Development Agency, Glasgow City Council, consultants and journalists.

According to An Evaluation of Garden Festivals compiled by PA Cambridge Economic Consultants, Cambridge, in collaboration with Gillespies Dudley and published by HMSO the festival cost £69 million, but after the sale of residual assets, disposal of the site, and festival income this figure came down to £30 million.

I have to admit I didn't much care about the finances of the operation. That wasn't my responsibility. My own feeling was that as long as it gave the people of Glasgow a new pride in their city, enhanced its image nationally and internationally, persuaded people that Glasgow was a good place to invest in, to visit as a tourist, or to live and work in and bring up one's family, it was worth whatever had to be spent.

The Evaluation of Garden Festivals said that although Glasgow had been hailed as a great success it should be recognised that conditions were favourable for image-building and exploitation of tourism. The festival was used to promote Glasgow and the longer term benefits should become apparent through further initiatives such as the city of culture designation.

Glaswegians were asked if they were aware of improvements related to the festival and whether these had affected their attitude to living in the city. Sixtyfour per cent gave a favourable answer.

Some reports have claimed that the festival injected £100 million into the local economy. Glasgow City Council announced that £170 million was to be spent in the area in the five years following the festival, £110 million on the festival site and £60 million by private house builders and other developers. The evaluation also pointed out that the festival had resulted in substantial reclamation gains on the offset sites.

Glasgow was lucky to have a festival at all. When the subject was first mooted some council leaders did not want to become involved because they did not know how the festival was to be funded. Nor did they see what the long-term benefit to the city would be. They believed it would be a short-term Disney-like spectacular that would come and go and leave no permanent mark on the city. The politicians' attitude changed when the Scottish Development Agency said they would fund the event.

Other parts of Scotland complained because, they said, the SDA was spending all its money on Glasgow leaving nothing for them. The answer to that was that the festival would be a gateway to Scotland as a whole.

The opening day of the festival was not the happy day for me it might have been. Many evenings during the previous two years when I sat in a small upstairs room in my house writing stories about the festival Jackie used to tell me how much she was looking forward to the opening. She never lived to see it, having died a few months earlier.

The world's first garden festival took place in Essen, Germany, in 1937 and after the 1939-45 war the idea spread throughout Europe to Vienna, Nice, Nancy, Berlin, and finally to Britain. Its concept was to take a derelict site and build on it in such a way that it could be further developed into something permanent and viable afterwards.

Britain had four garden festivals, Liverpool (1984) Stoke-on-Trent (1986) Glasgow (1988) and Ebbw Vale (1992). In terms of visitors Glasgow's was the most successful with 4,345,820, beating its nearest rival Liverpool by nearly a million, although income fell short of the target. The Scottish news media compared the festival with the great Empire Exhibition in Glasgow in 1938 when 13 million people, including me and my mother, visited Bellahouston Park between May 3 and October 29.