16th February 2018
There no mony faimlies in Scotland wi sic a pruid history as the Grahams. The faimly can trace theirsels richt back tae the Wallace in the 1200s. They’ve popped up ilka century or so daein either something kenspeckle an historic, or just cutting aboot alangside the great an the guid o the dey. Ane o the Graham faimly palled aboot wi big Rabbie Burns, fir example, wi Burns screivin ‘First Epistle to Robert Graham of Fintry Esq’ fir him.
A Graham wha marriet baith the tradition o bein in wi the influencers o his dey, whilst also changing the warld in his ain richt, wis the great R B Cunningham Graham, whiles also kent by his by-nemme Don Roberto.
This kenspeckle figure is getting a weel-deservit radio series exploring his bauld adventures aa owre the globe in his younger years afore delvin intae his political life as baith foonder o the Naitional pairty, precursor tae the SNP, as weel as advocate o closing doon the Hoose o Lairds.
Billy Kay, producer an presenter o the series haes a lang history producin quality braidcasts that highlight unsung heros fae Scottish history, or ignored pairts o oor heritage and culture. They are aye weel-telt tales an worth a listen. This 5 pairt series is nae different. Alistair Heather sat doon wi Billy this week tae hear mair.
The series traces his life fae his younger years as pairt o the Scottish aristocracy, then his later education doon in England at Harrow, through his unlikely gap-years straviagin aboot Argentina as a Goucho, a rebel cowboy. As Billy pits it:
“Political turmoil swept him away. He becam pairt o the revolution. He survives aw that, which a lot o people didnae, but steyed on as he fell in love wi the lifesyle o the Goucho. There’s a photae o Graham dressed as a Gouco, an ye talk aboot gallus, this is the personification of gallus.”
The series follaes him back tae Britain, tae his proclamation o bein the first socialist MP at Westminster then bein the Honorary President o the Scottish Naitional Pairty in 1934 just afore he deid. Ilka episode haes chunks o material that baith unravel some o the mystery o the man as weel’s gie gleg insights intae the changing warl o the later nineteenth an early twentieth centuries.
There’s a new brent-new episode that leads intae this refreshed series, featuring mony varied voices that strive tae sum up the great man.
Ane o the stories that staun-oot is that o his adventures in Argentina. He went owre originally as a teenager tae get hissel wark experience on the ferm o the Ogilvies – thon doyens o the Scottish east coast. But he fund that the faimly there had turnt tae the drink, an the young lad got hissel carriet awa insteid on the shouders o a revolutionary airmy.
He jyned up wi the Goucho, a group o cowboys that warked the grand expanses o the Pampas, the great plains o Sooth America. This group hae aa the mystique o the cowboys o the auld American frontier further north, an amangst their mythologists an fans the day, R B Cunningham Graham hauds a special place in their history. Thanks tae him, their story is gied an international, romantic flavour. That a Scottish aristocrat could sae easy be caught up an spend mony happy times wi them is as much their story as oors, an they haud on tae it till the day. They cried him Don Roberto, and there’s a scuil nemmed efter him there. When Graham deid, the President o Argentina led the tributes, sic wis his lasting fame.
For aa that the story of Don Roberto became an Argentine fable, Graham equally took the stories an the lives o the fowk o the Americas as his ain. Their cause wis his cause, and their experiences shaped his ootlook an his politics baith.
Somethin o the imprint that his journey tae the America’s left upon him is revealed in an extract fae a letter Graham scrievit tae a London newspaper, a letter entitled The American Indians Ghost Dancing. This is an extract “I wonder if the British public realises that it is the Sioux themselves that are the ghosts dancing. Ghosts of a primeval race, ghosts of ghosts for 300 years, through no crimes committed by themselves, except that of being born, if it be not a crime to love better the rustle of the grass than the shrieking of the engine.”
The transience o the life owre there, the drunken fechts that’d see ither Goucho’s getting chibbed, killin each ither, shakin up wi hooers an aahin else he experienced inspired the young laddie but also infused him, seemingly, wi a deep sense o whit life wis tae the lower classes o his dey. As Billy Kay explains:
“He was aware o revolution politics, o the landowner haudin doon the tenant, an haudin doon the native people. He cared aboot warkin men, an cam tae unnerstaun them. This added tae his unnerstaunin o the warld, a perspective he brought back tae Scotland. When he got hame, he stood for the miners, an the warkin people o Scotland.
“Him an Keir Hardie set up the Labour Pairty thegither. Graham got sterted doon in Westminster as an MP, but quickly became disillusioned wi it. He cried it ‘an asylum fir incapables’.
The life o R. B. Cunninghame Graham wis colourfu an varied, sae ilka episode o this new series by Billy Kay pops wi fascinatin sketches o the man, interestin backgrun tae his life an a wheen gey knowledgable voices tae gie insichts intae the birlin warld o the 19th an 20th centuries.
Don Roberto a five–pairt series sterts on February 20th at 1.30pm, an is available fir 30 deys efter braidcast on the iPlayer.