In July of 2017 I was contacted by Spike Geilinger, director of the BBC 4 program, Britain's Lost Masterpieces. The program was investigating a painting at Hospitalfield and the director's researcher had brought to his attention my website. This website. Would I be willing to be interviewed on camera about Patrick Allan-Fraser?

I was told that the program's presenter, Bendor Grosvenor, reckoned that the unattributed
Portrait of a Man was in fact by Antonis Mor, an accomplished Dutch painter of the Sixteenth Century.

It's now November 2017 and the program has recently screened. With the forbearance, I hope, of the film's copyright holders, I'm going to use stills from it to tell a story which is partly the production team's, partly Patrick Allan Fraser's and partly mine.

First point. The painting had been hanging very close to the John Phillip self-portrait that I looked at closely in 2013/14. (Right in front of Bendor Grosvenor in the picture below.) I just didn't give
Portrait of a Man a second glance back then. Beauty is in the oh-so-subjective eye of the beholder.

Screen shot 2017-10-31 at 11.11

I spent a few days getting up to speed with the life of Patrick Allan-Fraser. I'm glad I did, as I soon found that talking on camera is not as easy as the professionals make it look. Mumbling "...errr..." as you search your memory banks for something vaguely relevant to the question you're being asked simply does not cut it.

On my arrival at Hospitalfield, Spike Geilinger put me at my ease (by telling me that he was familiar with my Evelyn Waugh website!), and introduced me to Emma Dabiri, the presenter who was responsible for going into the historical and social side of the program's subject. Emma is Irish on her mother's side, Nigerian on her father's, a glamorous and bright presence on screen and in person. Currently, she is writing
A History of Hair, which will be more political than its title suggests and which Penguin will publish in 2018. Though she told me on the day of filming that TV opportunities have been making it difficult for her to concentrate on her writing. A woman with the world at her feet but with choices to make, I would surmise.

Screen shot 2017-10-31 at 12.27

So it was Emma I actually met, not Bendor, who may have been in London having the painting cleaned, or at the Prado Museum in Madrid, looking at a whole roomful of Antonis Mor portraits. These last make for fascinating scenes in the finished program. But what was my own small contribution to be?

Spike wanted to set up something quite ambitious with regard to
An Unpopular View of Our Times. He wanted to use P.A.F.'s painting of the housemaid as a way into it.

Screen shot 2017-10-31 at 11.19.02

On the day, it took Spike ages to set a copy of
An Unpopular View of Our Times on its edge in the same way it was in Patrick's painting. The poor thing kept collapsing in on itself. But the director persisted and soon it was in position A. Just as I was. In the still below, my shoe can be glimpsed resting on a red footstool. Stamped BBC.

Screen shot 2017-10-31 at 11.19.55

As directed, I was feigning sleep, sitting in the same position as the housemaid. Emma was to say: "Duncan," and tap me on the shoulder. I was to wake up and Emma would then ask me about Patrick's literary endeavours. Maybe the waking up bit was eventually thought to be too contrived. Anyway, that ended up on the cutting room floor. Instead, more conventionally, Emma's voice tells the viewer: "Someone who has tested the books’s ability to send you to sleep is writer Duncan McLaren."

Screen shot 2017-10-31 at 11.20.14

I like the way Spike has framed the above shot. With a fellow member of the Clique providing a tableau of his own. So much creativity going on! With quite a few different individuals adding a layer to the scene.

"So could this be seen as an anti-capitalist tract?" asks Emma, while the camera (as well as her own penetrating eye) pins me to the red fabric of a Hospitalfield chair.

"Oh definitely. Yes," I say hastily. "Although we have to remember that Patrick was a rich man living in a big house. But nevertheless his views were socialist, humanist and religious."

Screen shot 2017-10-31 at 11.24.01

As I say, on the day, my reply was quickly given. But considering the scene a few months in retrospect, I want to take my time and say more about my situation.

I'm struck by how much
older I look in July 2017 than I did in summer of 2013. What accounts for this? Several things, I have to admit. Let me list them:

1) Loss of parents. In 2014 my mother died. In 2016 my father followed her into oblivion. Both in their 90th year.

2) Loss of partner. Kate is no longer living with me in Blairgowrie and has moved to a flat in Glasgow. We are still together in some ways, but not in others.

3) Loss of health. It was when I was resident at Hospitalfield I picked up a UTI, recurrences of which plagued me until the autumn of 2016. That's three years of getting the most sinking of feelings and reaching for antibiotics.

4) Loss of authority. My latest book,
PEN PALS, which took eighteen months to write, was dropped by its would-be publisher and now exists exclusively as a website.

5) Loss of sobriety. Yes, I've been drinking. More than I used to? Just as much. And over time the body copes less well: witness weight gain and vein dilation.

Fuck it, I know one reason why I didn't feel the presence of Patrick Allan-Fraser on the day of the filming. It's because I'm turning into the old bastard! And here's the proof:

2564 - PATRICK ALLAN-FRASER 1875Screen shot 2017-10-31 at 11.24.38

My next move must be to grow white mutton chop sideburns to hide my burning cheeks and quadrupling chin.

But back to the interview with Emma/Spike. I go on talking about
An Unpopular View of Our Times. (Or is it PEN PALS of which I speak?)

"The book is hugely long and unreadable. And perhaps in some ways its author was aware of that at the time. The fact that the housemaid is finding the book difficult to get through, hence the picture... "

There is a slight stumble in the sense of what I'm saying there. This is because the painting of the housemaid was in another room and it was an effort to bring it to mind - together with the book - for Emma Dabiri, sitting opposite, and Spike Geilinger, behind the camera. However, I pushed on:

"Although Patrick was a knowledgeable and intelligent man, he hasn’t been able to communicate to an audience in this particular book."

Screen shot 2017-10-31 at 11.24.18

"He sent copies to other members of the Clique and got, in reply, very polite thank-yous: I’m sure I’ll get round to reading it some time."

Look at Emma, listening to my facile words! What does she care if the person she's interviewing is falling apart before her eyes? What it is to be young and vibrant, with publisher, agent and a readership, as well as so much life itself, to look forward to.

Screen shot 2017-10-31 at 11.25.00

Ah, but I can't look inside her head. So it can only be my story that gets told here. Principally, my story, at least.

Actually, I've just noticed the redness of my neck as it emerges from my shirt collar. This blotchy blushing tends to happen when I get self-conscious. So perhaps my appearance is the result of what I've always been prone to since childhood. This 60-year-old may not be showing dramatic signs of ageing after all!

Screen shot 2017-10-31 at 11.39.06

Spike asks Emma and me to stand up. And wonders if I could say something about the triptych by the hand of Patrick Allan-Fraser that dominates this room.

Screen shot 2017-10-31 at 11.41.45

As I do so, the sheer abundance of riches of this place strikes me. I mean the abundance at this very moment in the summer of 2017... Spike and his two technical accomplices, me and Emma, Patrick and Elizabeth.The latter pair in both painted and white marble form. But let me say what Spike Gellinger has asked me to:

"We have Patrick on the left."

I let that sink in.

"Elizabeth on the right."

This is easy. I could do this kind of thing all day!

"With Elizabeth’s mother in the middle."

Yes, that was the simple bit. Now is where Emma could ask something challengingly abstract... Something to do with the socio-economics of the NIneteenth Century that would explain why a man and his wife would choose to have themselves portrayed in this way?

Screen shot 2017-10-31 at 11.42.51

On the day, Emma probably did ask that, and my answer has not made it to the final cut. Instead, something suitable was contributed by Emma via voice-over as follows:

ménage may seem odd, but it was the start of a period of true happiness for Elizabeth. A widow at 28, her first husband had only been after her money."

Screen shot 2017-10-31 at 11.43.07

Looking at the scene now - in my own editing suite, as it were - what comes to mind is another cynical perspective. Patrick, Elizabeth's second husband, portrayed with the two individuals who granted him fortunes. First, Elizabeth, whose wealth became Patrick's when they married in 1843. Second, Elizabeth's mother, whose wealth became his when she died in 1856 (if I remember correctly).

For the next scene, we have to walk a few hundred yards. Or rather, the whole filming team get into a van and we are driven down to the sea. Emma and I are asked to walk together up onto the railway bridge. Which we do...

Screen shot 2017-10-31 at 11.48.13

In the editing room, Emma added a voice over:

"When Elizabeth divorced, her estate was looked after by a board of trustees who made some ill-advised deals on her behalf. There was the matter of sale of land between railway and the sea."

On the day, she and I allowed the camera crew to walk past us. And then we walked up the stairs again so that we could be filmed walking towards the camera.

Screen shot 2017-10-31 at 11.48.38

In a sense, making the film was not that different to putting together this blog. In particular, giving some thought to the points of view is pertinent to telling a story effectively in either medium. Spike gave it some thought; I'm giving it some thought. Just as Patrick once did.

OK here goes. I've been given my cue...

Screen shot 2017-10-31 at 11.50.15

“The railway wanted to build a line up from Dundee to Aberdeen in the north. When Patrick came along, he realised that there had been a conflict of interest. That his uncle had been the lawyer for both Hospitalfield and the railway."

The shot cuts away to the railway line, and to Emma saying: "The loss of access to the shoreline had severely affected the fertility. Patrick was able to sue the railway company on her behalf."

Me again: “Part of his case was that the railway line going through here had stopped the farmers from getting the seaweed from the shore."

Screen shot 2017-10-31 at 11.53.07

"...And that, apparently, was extremely important in terms of the productivity of the land. I think Patrick became quite an expert on maximising yields."

Apparently, Emma is agreeing to this, Though really I'm pretty close to just making it up as I go along.

Screen shot 2017-10-31 at 11.54.22

Emma: ”So a man of real practical concerns as well as noble aspirations."

Screen shot 2017-10-31 at 11.54.44

Me: “Yes, practical concerns... and very clear-minded he must have been.”

As soon as I said that, I knew why I'd used the phrase 'clear-minded'. Because on that morning of filming, I'd come to realise that above all what you need to talk to camera is a clear head. With a bit of experience, confidence and clarity would come. On that first day it had been a struggle. Twice I'd stood on the bridge and botched my relatively simple piece to Emma and camera. But on the third occasion I'd pulled myself together. So that was good. But I'd rather have breezed through the work as Emma did.

Here, in my editing suite, I'd like to round this scene off with a Munch moment. May I be so self-indulgent? I don't see why not.

Screen shot 2017-10-31 at 11.51.47

Not a full-blooded scream; something is being held back. Oh well, if that's the best I can do I'll just have to settle for it.

Back to Hospitalfield. Emma tells the viewers: ”The money Patrick won from the railway company paid for the construction of the picture gallery at Hospitalfield. And a final token of his affection for Elizabeth is this love seat built below the gallery windows."

Screen shot 2017-10-31 at 12.18.15

On the day of filming, Spike outlined quite a long scene. I told Emma about the genuine love that Patrick seemed to have for his wife. First, as indicated by a letter from her to him when he was in England on business. Second, his habit, once Elizabeth had died, of going for a long, solitary walk every year on the anniversary of their marriage, the walk taking in the picnic spot that they'd regularly celebrated their anniversary together while she was still alive.

The story was told several times. Not because of fluffed lines though. Emma stepped out of her love seat so that Spike could get in there and film me telling the story to camera. Then I stepped out of my niche so that Spike could film Emma sitting in hers asking me the questions and listening to my answers. Maybe the sequence will appear one day in
Britain's Lost Masterpieces: The Director's Cut.

But for today, November 1, 2017, apart from the above, I only have at my disposal photos taken on June 29, 2013, which I'll reveal in a minute.

Aged 56, I looked so damn young. And now? Let me get into the niche that I imagined Patrick occupying back in 2013. And let me listen to what my younger self has to say. Let me be with the presence of the stone and the passage of time:


“You are old, Father Duncan,” the green 'man said,
“And your face has become bright with drink;
And yet you incessantly stand on your head –
Does that really help you to think?”

Screen shot 2017-10-31 at 12.18.15

“In my youth,” Father Duncan replied to his guest,
“I feared it might injure the brain;
But, now that I’m perfectly sure I have none,
Why, I do it again and again.”


“You are old,” said the youth, “as I mentioned before,
And have grown most uncommonly fat;
Yet you turned a back-somersault in at the door –
Pray, what is the physics of that?”

Screen shot 2017-10-31 at 12.18.15

“In my youth,” said the sage, as he shook his grey locks,
“I kept all my limbs very supple
By the use of this ointment – one shilling the box –
Allow me to sell you a couple?”


“You are old,” said the youth, “and your jaws are too weak
For anything tougher than suet;
Yet you finished the goose, with the bones and the beak –
Pray, how did you manage to do it?”

Screen shot 2017-10-31 at 12.18.15

“In my youth,” said the elder, “I took to the law,
And argued each case with my wife;
And the muscular strength, which it gave to my jaw,
Has lasted the rest of my life.”


“You are old,” said the youth, “one would hardly suppose
That your eye was as steady as ever;
Yet you balanced a book on the end of your nose –
What makes you so awfully clever?”

Screen shot 2017-10-31 at 12.18.15

“I have answered three questions, and that is enough,”
Said the older; “don’t give yourself airs!
Do you think I can listen all day to such stuff?
Be off, or I’ll kick you upstairs!”

Screen shot 2017-11-01 at 15.42.36

That was me done for the day. But Emma wasn't finished. She was off with Spike and the crew to the extraordinary funereal monument that Patrick designed and had built by his estate workers. It's like a miniature Hospitalfield, but miniature is surely not the right word as the Mortuary Chapel (as it's called) dwarfs all the conventional gravestones in Arbroath's Western Cemetery. It's Arbroath's Taj Mahal, as Emma breezily puts it to camera.

Elizabeth died in 1873 and the Mortuary Chapel was finished a couple of years after that. The Chapel was available for services of any denomination and was used extensively in the decades after its erection. However, today it is no longer in use.

Screen shot 2017-10-31 at 14.49.35

It's well-maintained though, by Hospitalfield Trust, and, to put it mildly, well worth a visit. The same skilled stone-workers who decorated Hospitalfield were commissioned by Patrick to decorate the interior as well as the exterior of the building

Screen shot 2017-10-31 at 15.31.36

The whole thing seems extraordinary - and a bit weird - to a 21st Century eye, but the combination of fervent religious belief and technological ambition that was found in the 19th Century, meant that grand visions could be accomplished then. Also in Scotland, in the grounds of Hamilton Palace in Lanarkshire close to where I was brought up, the 10th Duke of Hamilton designed a mausoleum - an enormous classical-Roman style dome, guarded by stone lions - which was completed in 1858, five years after his own death. The Duke was interred in an Egyptian sarcophagus of the Ptolemaic period in the main chapel, while 20-odd of his ancestors were interred in the crypt below. Thus guaranteeing the Duke and his forebears everlasting life?

Screen shot 2017-10-31 at 15.31.12

I think it's just Patrick Allan-Fraser and Elizabeth Allan-Fraser that are interred in the Arbroath monument, though her parents may be as well. Patrick and Elizabeth didn't have children. Once Patrick was buried here in 1890, there were no further burials.

Emma directs the viewer's attention to the two elaborately carved stone coffins.

Screen shot 2017-10-31 at 15.33.20

I can't help thinking of my own parents' remains, half of which were sprinkled on a mountain while the other half remain in wooden caskets on top of a shelving unit in the lounge of my house. The plan was to erect a gravestone in Blairgowrie cemetery, where my parents' parents are all buried. Am I thinking I should design something more grand, inspired by Patrick Allan-Fraser and the Duke of Hamilton's visions? No, I am not. I'll probably end up sprinkling the remaining ashes on the side of that same mountain. Ashes to ashes, Mum. Dust to dust, Dad.

“You are old,” said the youth, “one would hardly suppose
That your eye was as steady as ever;
Yet you balanced a corpse on the end of your nose –
What makes you so awfully clever?”

The program ends with Bendor Grosvenor's triumphant return to Hospitalfield.

Screen shot 2017-10-31 at 14.59.25

Bendor has succeeded in getting an expert to volunteer that she's entirely comfortable with the painting being thought of as by Antonis Mor, even though there is no paper trail. The picture does look fabulous now that it's been expertly cleaned. I've rarely seen such gravitas in a sitter. Rembrandt, eat your heart out!

Screen shot 2017-10-31 at 14.56.21

Registering their approval at a private reception is a group of artists who were in residence in the summer of 2017, together with a few Friends of Hospitalfield. That's the older onlookers on the right. The Father Williams', shall we say?

Screen shot 2017-10-31 at 15.04.14

Everyone is invited to take a closer look at the picture. How did it get to Hospitalfield in the first place? Bendor reckons that the copies that Patrick Allan Fraser made of Titian paintings when he was in Rome and Paris are a clue. Antonis Mor, who also visited these cities, was also a great admirer of Titian.

Screen shot 2017-10-31 at 15.06.05

Another possibility, one that Bendor doesn't mention, is that John Phillip was the key to the painting getting to its Scottish home. JP spent a lot of time in Spain, where Mor was employed by the king. Such paintings as
The Early Life of Murillo demonstrate Phillip's interest in Old Masters. He collected many valuable and exquisite things on his travels. And when they were sold on his early death, might the picture not have been bought by Patrick Allan-Fraser in memory of his long-term friend? JP may even have gifted the painting to Patrick during one of his many visits.

As Lucy Byatt, director of Hospitalfield, points out, more may become apparent once the archive gets properly sorted out and can be made available to the public. Yes, what Patrick and Elizabeth started off is still gaining momentum.

Screen shot 2017-10-31 at 15.04.58

Things have been a little awkward between Lucy and myself since late in 2013 when she asked me to remove from this website the pictures I took of Charles Dickens' letters, in particular those in which the letters are juxtaposed against the white marble statue that one can see in the background of the above photograph. Well, I had what I thought was good reason for said juxtaposition, so I wasn't disposed to make such an edit. Especially as Lucy combined the request with the further one that I return what was left of the copy of
An Unpopular View of Our Times that I had treated in such a cavalier way on another page. A copy that had been entrusted to me by Willie Payne, the previous director of Hospitalfield.

Perhaps that was a reasonable request. Perhaps both requests were reasonable from where Lucy was coming from. And she was coming from an important place. In the last four years she has attracted an immense amount of funding and has secured Hospitalfield's place on the contemporary art world map. It's now widely acknowledged as an exquisite centre of excellence in Scotland. Which is no doubt the bigger picture. But, at the time, I was more concerned with the integrity of the idiosyncratic work I was doing.

Anyway, if I don't feel entirely comfortable at Hospitalfield, then I can't do any more work on Patrick Allan-Fraser, Spike Geilinger's kind invitation notwithstanding.

So maybe that's a wrap. Or maybe this is. Me talking to myself, as so often before:


“You are old,” said the youth, “one would hardly suppose
That your eye was as steady as ever;
Yet you balanced a 'tache on the end of your nose –
What makes you so awfully clever?”


Stills are taken from
Britain's Lost Masterpieces, a Tern Television Production for BBC4. They appear here with the forbearance (I hope) of those companies, Spike Geilinger, Emma Dabiri and Bendor Grosvenor.

Thanks to Lewis Carroll for his immortal lines, which are long out of that dreadful/wonderful thing, COPYRIGHT.

Thanks to Windsor Davies and the whole cast of
It Ain't Half Hot, Mum.