Friday, 5 August 2011

Iain Crawford

Iain Crawford
Iain Crawford was a Fleet Street columnist
Iain Crawford, who has died aged 89 after suffering from Alzheimer's disease, was the first publicity director of the Edinburgh festival. He was a festival fixture in his own right, from the first gathering in 1947, when he was a reporter on the Edinburgh Evening Dispatch as well as a stand-in Banquo in a fringe production of Macbeth, through to last year's opening concert in the Usher Hall, which he attended in a wheelchair.
Crawford was a vigorous and charismatic figure: tall, often kilted, handsome, usually bearded, with a permanent twinkle playing around his blue eyes. He wrote two dozen books, was a versatile Fleet Street columnist and indulged his sporting enthusiasm on the rugby field with Bordeaux – he was making radio programmes in France just after the second world war – and over many rounds of golf with his friend Sean Connery. He lost out in an audition to be the BBC's Scottish voice of rugby to Bill McLaren.
But Crawford was best known as the imposing publicity director of the Edinburgh international festival, appointed in 1973 when the festival society ended its practical relationship with the Scottish Tourist Board. For nine years, he worked alongside the festival's long-serving artistic director Peter Diamand and his ebullient successor, John Drummond.
Crawford persuaded Princess Grace of Monaco to meet the press when she came to Edinburgh in 1976 to give a rare public performance – an evening of prose and poetry readings. He fixed the festival's first major sponsorship deal (with BP) in 1977 for Carmen, conducted by Claudio Abbado and starring Teresa Berganza (singing her first Carmen) and Pl├ícido Domingo. This "hot ticket" event demonstrated how Crawford operated best: as heavily involved behind the scenes – as support system, intermediary and translator, thanks to his full command of Italian and French – as he was up front with the media.
He had told the critic Andrew Porter, then writing for the New Yorker, that the production would be something special, but Porter had delayed his response. The minute Carmen opened, and word was out, Porter was on the line asking for a ticket. Crawford found a single spare return, from Abbado's wife, bought it for £20 (a huge price in those days) and Porter flew across. Crawford was rewarded with a four-page rave review for Carmen in the New Yorker, but he never got his money back.
This and other stories are recounted in Crawford's wonderful scrapbook history of the festival, Banquo On Thursdays, published in 1997. Drummond was a noisier director than Diamand, and Crawford did not get on with him terribly well, but his profile of him in the book, like those of every festival director from Rudolf Bing to Brian McMaster, is absolutely priceless.
The Scotsman's music critic Conrad Wilson was a cantankerous monitor of Drummond's music programme, and took to "dressing down" for concerts, often sporting a brightly coloured ballpoint pen on a chain. Crawford reported how the acerbic Drummond was asked at a concert interval: "What on earth is Conrad wearing around his neck?" "His deaf aid, I should imagine," came the reply.
Crawford was born in Inverness, raised in Glasgow and educated there at Jordanhill college school. Too young to join the Royal Navy at the outbreak of the second world war, he signed up with the merchant navy. His ship was torpedoed while on the way from Sierra Leone to the US in 1942, and he spent 10 days in a boat with a few survivors, rowing 560 miles to reach Trinidad.
He took part in the allied invasions of Sicily, Italy and Yugoslavia and entered Venice on the last day of the war in Europe, remaining to help clear mines in the lagoons and acting as a liaison officer for the French and the Italians. Crawford was twice mentioned in dispatches for his bravery during the war. His journalism took him to London, as travel editor of the Sunday Express and leader writer for the Evening Standard. He wrote widely on many subjects, and in 1964 stood unsuccessfully as a Liberal candidate for Stroud in Gloucestershire.
He was married to Maya Querini, the actor Norah Laidlaw and, finally, the publisher and choral singer Kathy Hay, who survives him, along with four children, three stepchildren and 13 grandchildren.

• Iain Padruig Crawford, arts publicist and writer, born 21 January 1922, died 12 July 2011

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