the Harbour Arts Centre

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The story of the Harbour Arts Centre from 1965
as published in booklet form in 1987, with an extra chapter covering 1987 – 2007, now here on the Web



The story of music events at the Centre has the same ingredients as for drama and the Gallery (see chapter 8): a welcoming performance area, receptive audiences and a generally high standard of work, easily equivalent to what is otherwise available only at some distance from Irvine.

The Centre assisted Irvine Music Club (founded in 1954) for some years from 1971 onwards and our printed programmes bore the logos of both organisations. Tom McCutcheon, soon after arriving in the area, was approached by Roddy Kennedy (of the Community Development Service) and Jim Foulds (the Centre's Secretary; both he and Tom worked at I.C.I.) to help the Music Club in its work of bringing orchestras and musicians to Irvine. Smaller events took place in the Centre, larger ones elsewhere. We assisted with them in arranging for the Scottish National Orchestra in 1970. The partnership lasted until the Music Club lost its grant-seeking independence in the New Town Arts Federation of 1979, and its own sources of finance ceased.

We also arranged our own music events, sometimes outwith the Centre, such as the Scottish Radio Orchestra and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, both in 1971. Smaller groups could of course appear at the Centre. Local musicians who have performed include Ardrossan Academy Chamber Orchestra (Feb. 1970) and the New Ayrshire Strings, who presented works by Bach, Mozart and Elgar in 1975.

A range of solo performers have appeared. The New York pianist Walter Hautzig thrice gave recitals in the Centre, during his tours of Britain, in 1974, '75 and '76. Mildred Dilling, the harpist who taught Harpo Marx the harp, came in 1974/5. Her “Instructions for local organisers” included “Miss Dilling asks if it could be arranged for the whole of the stage floor to be washed and also her route from the dressing room onto the stage” (for her long gold- and sequin-trimmed dresses) and “Miss Dilling likes to play in a delicate rosy glow mixed with pale yellow”.

Having a good piano proved a recurring nightmare, and on one occasion the leg of a hired piano went through the floor. The Centre has seen several classically-trained performers wincing visibly at unexpected notes.

Pre-classical music has also featured in programmes at HAC. In 1976 the Burgh Waits early Music Group, making the first of several visits, presented a programme of mediaeval song and dance and Elizabethan lute-song and court music using instruments such as crumhorns, cornamuses and virginals. Their work had a wide appeal, attracting people not usually interested in ‘serious’ music.

Lighter music has had its place. Jake Thackray presented his individual line in musical parody in 1974 - he was at the same time a very meticulous, yet a very down-to-earth character. Cy Grant, who used to sing calypsos on the "Tonight" program, dared to sing “Ae Fond Kiss” in Burns country, described by Sam Gaw as “one of the bravest things I've seen”. Ruth Reese, singer of Negro spirituals, used her Centre perform-ances as a warm-up for her Fringe appearances in 1974. Evenings of recorded music were tried in 1975, organised by Tom Brownridge. They had some success for a year or two, but were then discontinued.

Traditional Scottish music in its many and various forms has been presented in our theatre by the likes of Prestwick Caledonian Strathspey and Reel Society, the band Clutha and singers Jean Redpath, Alistair MacDonald and Mary Sandeman. When the first-named, the 'Fiddlers', performed to help Centre funds (charging only expenses) the stage was filled with musicians and music-stands, conductor John Mason had the least of room for manoeuvre, and the roof dirled in time to the throb of the music and audience. They visited five times over the years 1974 to 1976.

Irvine has a long tradition of interest in folk music and the centre has presented many well-known (and many less well-known) folk acts including Matt McGinn, Mike Whellans (with his own distinctive contemporary style), Iain Mackintosh, the Whistlebinkies and Ossian, as well as local group, the Vindscreen Vipers. An early event was the 1967 concert with A L Lloyd, collector and folk singer. A recent develop-ment (1986) is the launch of the Harbour Folk Club, presenting folk artists every fortnight in the intimate atmosphere of the Lounge.

The Centre’s own group, with Andy Doole as the prime mover, appeared in two Miscellanies, in the Short 'n' Curly show, in the Curt 'n' Surly follow-up, and in a show called “Strings and Own Things” in June 1972; they then adopted this as their name, and played at the reopening ceremony in 1974. The main members became Andy Doole, Andy Baird, Pat Baird, Marie Rowe, John Hunter, Colin Giles, Denise Scott and Mike Halpin, and their main inspiration was found in the music of The Incredible String Band, the Eagles and Joni Mitchell. Taking the name “Legend” in 1976, they invested in their own equipment, started playing outside the centre at various functions, and entered and reached the final of the Sunday Mail’s Popscot 1976 competition. That in turn led to being offered recording contracts (which they turned down!) and to Andy Park of Radio Clyde helping with advice, which in turn led to five of the group doing the jingles and name-checks for Radio Clyde (one of which is still used by Dougie Donnelly), the band getting a spot as warm-up band to Sydney Devine, and Pat & Marie getting jobs as backing singers to Christian and Kelly Marie. The band spent summer of 1977 recording songs to offer to London recording studios but the punk upsurge was just taking off and all approaches were in vain. A revival concert at the Centre in 1979 was sold out for three nights; “Strings and Things” held a final re-union concert in May 1983. The Centre can still boast its own group, the R & B band “Up 'n' Running”, comprising Iain Brown, John Doole, Linda Macdougall and Malcolm Rae. A re- re-union followed in 1983.

Afficionados of jazz have also been catered for at the Centre. In early years, jazz evenings were very ad hoc, depending on who turned up and when. In 1976, Scotland's top modern jazz group Head won only average audiences. In more recent years enthusiast George Hewitt has made jazz a regular feature of the programme. The theatre has been filled to capacity for performances by the George Penman Jazzmen, the Louisiana Ragtime Band and the Kit Carey Jazz Band, all of whom have made welcome returns. Other appearances have included Al Fairweather, Jim Petrie and Bob Wallis. Another notable jazz event was Ralph Laing's demonstration of the difficult and fascinating "Art of Jazz Improvisation" in 1980.

Live rock and pop music has only recently become a feature in the HAC programme, but has already proved a welcome and popular addition to Centre activities, providing bands and fans with a much-needed small and intimate local venue. Appearances organised by Jim Carnie have included local bands The 11th Hour, Up 'n' Running and The Penetrations, and touring groups the Groundhogs and Raider.


The booming membership after the 1972 renovation provided a wide enough range of interests to allow some success to dance performances at the Centre. Cycles Dance Company from the East Midlands Arts area were booked on in 1976 and '77 - a young company finding its feet and appearing annually at that time at the Edinburgh Fringe. More recently, the small Edinburgh group, Rotating Dancers, appeared in 1987.

The most respected solo performer in Scotland in the 70's was certainly Annie Stainer whose slight figure could express the greatest exuberance or the deepest sadness. A Fringe First winner, Annie presented her utterly captivating "Moon" at the Centre in 1975.


The Centre's first mime ‘experience’ was Lindsay Kemp’s “Turquoise Pantomime” in 1970, held in Ravenspark Academy. An excellent show, but requiring a tremendous amount of organisation and patience. In 1982, we brought Julian Chagrin, with an international reputation, to the Centre.


Puppets have also had their place in our programme, often in December as an early Christmas treat. In 1979, after the Trinity Centre opened, and various organisations were 'trying it out', we organised the appearance there of the Da Silva Puppets. The most memorable Puppet performance we have ever hosted was that of the Edinburgh Puppet Company presenting “Tam O'Shanter” in 1987. For many at the two performances, the production, using 45 puppets, contributed tremendously to our appreciation of the Bard's most famous poem.


One of the earliest poets to appear at the Centre was the prominent Liverpool poet Adrian Henri, in 1971. In years since then many of our own Scottish poets have amused and enlightened us, sometimes in double bill, sometimes singly. They include Edwin Morgan, Liz Lochhead, Norman McCaig, and Tom Leonard, mostly on more than one occasion. We have to mention, too, the visit of Walter McCorrisken, 'Scotland's Worst Poet'.


Talks in the early years took the form of debates, as Centre members enjoyed participating in the cut and thrust of good-natured argument, and those debates have been mentioned in chapter 2.

Our main entry in this category has to be art lecturer Eli Prins of Bath, who toured on behalf of the Scottish Arts Council annually for many years. His first lecture at the Centre was in 1971 on “Art and the Table” and his almost annual visits thereafter covered Van Gogh, Vermeer, Rembrandt, Chagall, even (so brave was he) “Scottish Art - Past and Present”. Using two screens, and a depth of knowledge informed by many years of research and lecturing at home and abroad, he pointed out trends through the ages, or examined the differing moods of a complicated artist, with a riveting attention to detail and an ample leavening of wit. While in the area, he was also prevailed upon to do lectures for senior Art pupils from North Ayrshire academies, of which he did three. His most recent lecture at the Centre was in 1984.

Other talks have included Tom Weir (1977), the well-known writer on the Scottish countryside, Martin Moran, who spoke of his bagging of 277 Munros in aid of the charity Intermediate Technology (1985), and Hamish Brown, who described a Himalayan expedition (1986). Kit Campbell's “Images of USA” well represented that complex country. Anthony Hopkins, of “Talking About Music” fame appeared in 1979 and enjoyed a round of golf with Jack Ramsay the next morning. There have also been talks on railways, on history, on steamers, on art (from Gallery Directors and others), and even on wine.

Our own members have also contributed, with Iain Campbell, known now for several enjoyable evenings, regaling us with informative but light-hearted travelogues, being asked back most often.

The almost improbable variety outlined in this chapter, where the selection omits as much as it includes, is indicative of the Centre's role in seeking out the widest range and perhaps suggests a reason why everyone who has known the Centre has found something to inspire their interest.


Towards the end of 1972 it was felt that the existing premises were no longer adequate, particularly in view of the expected rise in the population of Irvine New Town and an expected rise in the number of people wishing to use the Centre. Noticeably lacking in the building were dressing rooms for the theatre, a cloakroom, sufficient toilet accommodation and storage space for stage and other property. Moreover the electrical system was partly obsolete and in need of upgrading. If the Centre was to continue functioning, it needed to be completely renovated. The Chairman, Brian Tutchener, saw what could and should be achieved and put a tremendous amount of effort into convincing outside bodies and putting together a financial package to see the project through. Committee expressed the general need as follows:
“The Centre lies in a highly attractive and key position in the plans for the development of the Harbour area. A few hundred yards from it a new leisure centre [Magnum] with a 300-seat theatre will be built in 1973-5. Unless the Harbour Arts Centre is improved as a building and is seen to be a viable concern, its future would be a matter of doubt and controversy.”

The main problem in carrying out the renovation work was finding the necessary finances. A number of organisations promised to help. Irvine Development Corporation, who owned the building and had a large degree of authority in planning the harbour area, agreed to spend up to £20,000 on the alterations. The Clement Wilson Foundation, who had assisted with the setting up of the Centre, made a donation of £1,000. Finally, the target figure of £28,000 was reached in March 1973 when Ayrshire Education Committee approved a grant of £7,000.

The first stage of rebuilding began in June 1973 under the guidance of IDC architect Doug Stonelake, Chief Architect David Gosling, and planner Digu Nerurkar, the first IDC person to be involved at the Centre. The additions and changes to the building can be seen in the plans. The old entrance was sealed off and two new entrances built, both leading into the new foyer (the old West Gallery). The theatre seating and stage were switched around, with the stage now on the west side. Behind the stage an extension was added, housing new dressing rooms and a prop store as well as a box office. Inside the theatre a lighting and sound control gallery was added. This work was carried out not only by contractors but by the voluntary efforts of members led by the chairman, Brian Tutchener - a blackboard listed jobs currently requiring tackled, and each arriving volunteer checked the list, picked up the appropriate materials and tools, and started work. Work finished each evening by 9.40 (to have time for a refreshment in the Ship by 10.00 pm. The theatre seating was brought from a Paisley cinema by a work party led by Brian Tutchener.

Only a few programme items were organised during the rebuilding in 1973. These included “Jock” with Russell Hunter, and the John Wright Marionettes, the former in the Parish Church Hall, the latter at Ravenspark Academy.

By March 1974 the new extended Centre was ready to admit the public. The actual re-opening ceremony took place on Saturday 23rd March, with actor Iain Cuthbertson as special guest; while associated with the Citizens Theatre, he realised the importance of small theatres. The programme was in two stages: the afternoon saw the wine reception, with Iain Cuthbertson's opening address followed by “Strings and Own Things”, the Centre's own musicians; in the evening was the 7:84 Company’s performance of “The Game's a Bogey”.

The Irvine Herald reported the day’s events fully under the headline “NEW CENTRE OPENS TO CHEERS AND SURPRISES”. Over 100 local dignatories, invited guests and HAC members congregated in the theatre. In his opening address the Chairman, Brian Tutchener, praised the work of the founder members of the Centre, saying that the debt owed to them was enormous. Honorary President, Walter Shields, in turn thanked the vigour and confidence of Brian Tutchener and his wife, Shelagh, “who had practically lived at the Centre” in bringing it to its present state. He also congratulated the IDC architects, the contractors and the many members who had voluntarily helped to finish the Centre, paying tribute to the general atmosphere of “participation and involvement” and the enthusiasm of the members.

at the 1974 re-opening:

Brian Tutchener, Chairman, speaking, with
(on left) founder chairman Walter Shields
and (on right) guest Iain Cuthbertson and Hon. Secretary Jim Foulds

It was then Iain Cuthbertson’s turn to speak. The actor, star of the popular TV series “Budgie” and “Sutherland's Law”, immediately caused a stir when he expressed the hope that the Centre wouldn’t be turned into “another snobs’ fitba' pitch”. The Irvine Herald takes up the story:
“And just as the cheers of the audience’s youth contingent died away at this remark, a young member [John Bett] of the 7:84 Drama Company streaked across the theatre wearing only a bowler hat! Mr Cuthbertson was not lost for words long as he said, ‘How do you top that? It's a pity he's the wrong sex!’”
He went on to say that the new Centre was a “fantastic achievement”, but he warned once more against elitism and the interpretation of the word ‘arts’. Now that the Centre had extended to its present size, if it wanted a wider and larger audience, it must be open-minded: “You've got to keep an open mind if you don’t want to ‘stick in the craw’ of the community.” He finished: “This is a time of festivity and joy. So I take pleasure in declaring the Centre open.”

The vote of thanks was proposed by Jim Foulds, secretary of the Centre. He said that in spite of delays in the opening date, Iain Cuthbertson had still come along and wished them well: “So we wish him well in his career too and hope he will come to see the Centre from a different angle some time.” The guests were then entertained to a champagne reception and a musical interlude by Strings and Own Things (see chapter 6). The opening ceremony thus concluded, the new improved Harbour Arts Centre was in business.

Borderline was a direct result of the same impetus that led to the renovation. This now established theatre company was the brainchild of Brian Tutchener, chairman of the Centre at the time. He persuaded the committee that there was an absence of live professional theatre in Ayrshire and that the Centre could house a small touring company to do community theatre.

An approach was made informally, initially, to the Scottish Arts Council and the response was encouraging. They were later officially approached and we were informed that they were prepared to support the project to the limit of £10,000, provided that we could match this with a similar amount of public money. Ayrshire County Council were then propositioned and without hesitation agreed to fund the other £10,000. Thus Borderline was born.

A sub-committee of the Centre committee was formed in 1974 to oversee the company and appoint a director. This was done in May 1974 and the first production "The Knack" was the result. Rehearsals were run at the Centre during the day, and the office was shared between the Borderline and the Centre administration. In September 1974 the Centre won an STV award of £500 to assist towards an adaptation for Borderline of William McIlvanney's “The Attic” (1975).

From that small beginning the company has expanded until it is now one of the leading touring companies in Scottish theatre. After an initial period in Ayrshire venues, it began to take shows further, most notably to the Edinburgh Fringe, where it won a Fringe First award. Touring has allowed its work to become nationally known, and allows Borderline to attract quality actors who can let their talents become widely recognised. Phil McCall, Alex Norton, Maurice Roeves (as Burns), Sandy Morton, Anne Myatt, and Greg Fisher have all worked for Borderline.

Their work has included touring local Ayrshire venues, Theatre In Education projects, annual Magnum pantomimes, Fo farces, revues and much else. The first Artistic Director, David Hedley, was succeeded by Stuart Mungall, Campbell Morrison, and Morag Fullarton. Visiting directors are in charge of occasional productions.

Borderline was formed into a limited liability company in March 1978 and moved from the Centre to premises in Montgomerie Street later the same year.

In 1986 the company moved to the Darlington Church, Ayr, which provides a suite of offices, rehearsal facilities, workshop and costume facilities.

Chapter 8: Harbour Gallery

The three showcases constructed in recent years by Pat Jack have greatly expanded our opportunities to display applied arts and crafts through the secure display of pottery and jewellery, wood carving and other smaller items on a regular basis. The results are a heightened awareness of good design, an appreciation of the variety and quality which can be achieved in these media, and a great deal of extra interest in the exhibitions.

The Centre has attempted to start its own permanent collection for the people of Irvine, but so far this consists of only a few works. Displayed in the lounge, they consist of: “The Gannet” (1976), purchased with the grant given to the Centre by Irvine District Council in order to initiate the collection; “Feel Free to be Free” (1977) by George Wyllie, now making news with his straw locomotive for Glasgow's Garden Festival; the stained glass window commissioned by the Centre from Town Artist Susan Bradbury in 1982; and Jim Butler’s “Rouen” presented by the late Charles Balcombe’s daughter Margaret in 1985.

Finally, the one that got away. The Centre's biggest scoop, though billed, never took place. An exhibition by John Bratby, A.R.A., his first North of the Border, was arranged for 1972, after months of negotiation regarding insurance and transport arrangements. Legal difficulties at the last minute, resulting from the artist's divorce at the time, led to the artworks not being available!

The Gallery has played an important part in Centre development, in early days because the rota involved members in taking their turn of duty, and since then in the interest that Irvine's own (and indeed only) permanent gallery has created in our regulars and the pleasure it has given casual visitors.

We thank Bob Smith for many items of artwork over many years; they include the motifs in chapter 3, the building sketch used in several places, the graphic on page 23, and the Gallery symbol on the following page. [omitted from this web version]

The Gallery chapter described the Centre's embryonic art collection in the lounge, but there is also a collage of photographs on the inside of the bar servery door, which the customer can study as he or she is served. They portray some of the actors who have enjoyed the Centre's hospitality, from the cast of Duet For One (Sue Holderness & Alex Heggie), to a scene from "Eat Me" (Natural Theatre). Elsewhere in the lounge hangs a Borderline memento and a plaque presented in 1982 by Old Kilpatrick Bowlers; their annual post-Magnum parties began after a chance look-in by four of their members, after which the rest of the busload followed!

The social side provides its own stars, many of whom have already been mentioned in previous pages. The Bar Conveners set a tone and play ‘Mine Host’; the staff (paid until May 1986) make everyone welcome, whether regular or chance visitors; of the paid staff, we should mention, at the risk of serious omission, Katrina Smith, Jan Taylor, Maureen James and Jean Prince. Bar duty is now carried out by committee (and other) volunteers. The longest-serving Bar Convener (at one stretch - at times it must seem like a sentence) has been Jim Greer, who still does his turn on bar duty. The customers have always kept us right, such as Charlie Balcombe (quarter-gill campaigner) and Frank Reid (a past property convener) and some do their best to keep us smiling, such as John McCaffrey (he of the cap and the ready song). Intruders such as Space Invaders, Bandits and Trivial Pursuit machines provide entertainment and revenue until the fashion passes or the regulars outwit them. Currently a Trivial Pursuit (the real version) meets monthly in the lounge.

The social side of the Centre's activities is in its way as central as any other sphere. Those involved in the arts need a restful and friendly atmosphere to refresh their spirits for the next endeavour, they inspire and infect others with enthusiasm, and many of those who came purely for the social side have returned to attend a theatre show, join an interest group, or enjoy an exhibition.


The Centre's sociable atmosphere prompts social events of all kinds. The early years started things going. A McGonagall Supper in Jan. 1971, “an evening of fun and wit with music, jigging and dancing”, honoured Scotland's other bard - and Willie Smith avoided a speeding charge on his way to the Centre by pointing out to the officer the need to get the 50 fish suppers down to the Centre while they were still hot.

Other early social nights included three in 1968 - a Jazz Barbecue, a Carnival Night, and a Halloween Night. The Halloween Night was a multi-media event, organised by Ian Clark, when the hall decorations included spooky things to touch and the fun included various strange happenings. There were occasional Christmas Parties in the old Centre. For all licensed functions before renovation, a special licence was required. Matt Brown organised these one-night bars, getting supplies on a sale or return basis. On some occasions a local publican would do the bar for us.

Some events have become annual favourites, such as the Christmas Parties. The first one in the new Centre was in 1974, organised by Jean Doole, who continued to run them for about 10 years until she decided enough was enough. From 1975 the music was provided by a jazz band, either the George Penman Jazzmen or George Ogilvie’s Jazz band, and since 1984 by a dance band, in either case with spots featuring Centre members. Much of the atmosphere is a direct result of the time spent by social committees on preparing the supper and decorating the theatre.

Another function which has become annual is the Burns Supper, of which the 1987 one was the eighth in the series. The first, in 1980, was organised by Eric Park. Not one has been missed by Sam Gaw, nor by our piper Jim Butler, nor by several of our members. The Toast to The Immortal Memory has been given by the Rev. James Currie (1980), Don Whyte (of the “Daily Express”) (1981), Rod MacCowan (1982), David Smith (Burns Club steward) (1983), Sam Gaw (Past President of the International Burns Federation) (1984 and 1987), George Watson (1985) and Bill Nolan (1986). Artistes who have given, and gained, pleasure in those years include Nan Whyte (violin), Eileen Ballantyne and Pat Baird. Special guests have included journalist Cliff Hanley (1982), John Toye (STV) (1984) and artist Malky McCormick (1985).

Fancy Dress parties, in both old and new buildings, have produced many memorable sights, three being Digu Nerurkar in grass skirt, Harvie Smith as a bright-striped bee (his panto Quasimodo tolling the bell for Dick Whittington was also a treat), and Andrew Stirrat with parrot. There was an extra attraction at dances in earlier years - the challenge of avoiding the holes in the floor.

Centre members have always enjoyed a challenge. The Quiz team took on all comers in and around 1982, winning a trophy in the Stanecastle challenge that year; they currently hold the Junior Chamber Quiz Trophy, won by Jean & Eric Park, Jim Cripps and Jim Tannock. An in-house Mastermind was launched in 1986, the trophy provided by Venture Cargo; Mastermind 1986 was John O'Donoghue. The annual car Treasure Hunt began in 1978, with Jean Doole researching a route and writing cryptic verses. Jim Duff's reward for several wins was to do the organising himself!

Many other types of social activity have sprung up from time to time. Dick Adrain and Eric Park started Sunday morning jogging one season, ending up in the Centre in time for the bar opening. Douglas Greenwood organised an outing to Auchentoshan Distillery, and at other times organised disco evenings on otherwise blank weekends. Earlier years saw a coach outing to the musical "Hair" when it first shook the entertainment world.

Fund-raising events bring members together. The secret of success seems to be that the new ideas, organised by fresh members, stir the greatest enthusiasm, with the moral being to change the format regularly. When sponsored walks were popular, we walked to Barassie and back (1979). Bazaars (organised by Eric Park) saw a three-year life, in three different locations (1979-81), and Auction Sales (masterminded by May Evans) in 1983 and '84. The 100 Club began as the Lucky 13 Club in 1977 and, after a name-change and revival in 1979, and regular infusions of enthusiasm by its organisers, provides a very useful addition to income. Christmas Prize Draws have been run in 1977 and 1984-86. New energy-saving lightbulbs were installed in 1985/6 with the aid of members' sponsorship. There have been times when to meet Angie (Crockett) was to lose £1 on buying raffle tickets, or to meet Jim (Duff) was to sign up for sponsoring a new energy-saving lightbulb. In the end, no-one minds - it's all part of the fun - isn't it?

Participation in preparing and running Marymass stalls, stalls at other local events, and Gala parade floats when everything including a drum kit, panto outfits and an upright piano were fixed to a 40ft trailer have also brought their social side - such as Callum McLennan painting a float sign into the early hours so that the paint was dry (just!) by 10.00 am. The Centre won the best-dressed float award in the Trades Gala of 1981, with Eric Park as Caesar, and took part again in the following two years. Even the local Raft Race had a Centre team. Harbour Theatre organised a Centre contribution to the Irvine Charter Sescentenary in 1972.

Manning the coffee bar in the old Centre, on the weekend afternoon rotas, was a social activity, either meeting the visitors on a fair afternoon, or whiling away the time playing chess with one's girlfriend on a poor one. The renovation led to the permanent bar, initially involving voluntary bar staff such as Sheila Wyper - and now, since May 1986, we are back again to committee and others on a flexible duty rota. In 1974, the opening hours were until 11.00 pm, so Anne Hair and Louise Dickson, who had organised the equipment for the new kitchen and coffee bar, ran show-night suppers, at 30p for pastas, curries and sandwiches, to give the bar an extra hour of opening until midnight at weekends. In 1985 and '86 May Smith and her helpers ran a Sunday Bistro service of soups and a snack, which also met a need as well as encouraging the social side. Coffee bar manning continues this year, on summer weekends, as we co-operate with the Maritime Museum to provide facilities for Harbour visitors.

The one character who seemed not to stay after the renovation was the Captain - the Centre's ghost. Some odd things did happen before 1973: a piano played when no-one else was in, and . . . but he seems not to have 'visited' us since.

The renovation caused a terrific upsurge in membership, partly because of the more comfortable artistic facilities and partly because we held a club licence to 11.00 pm, an hour later than public bars. Until 1974, membership had been steady at around the 250 mark. By December '74 it was 862, by December '75 1227 (under the charge of Ian Dickson and Tom Brownridge respectively), and committee speculated as to whether membership would need to be limited. By 1981 membership had dropped to a more 'normal' 483.

Members themselves made the seat covers for the bar in 1974; they were then renewed by Pat Jack and Louise Dickson in 1978 and again, by a local firm paid with a grant from Ind Coope, in 1983. Repair, renewal and repainting are regular tasks for work parties.

Chapter 10: H.A.C. (IRVINE) LIMITED

The major change of the early 1970s was the physical one of the renovation of the building. An equally fundamental, but much less obvious, change took place in the early 1980s, when the running of the social and artistic sides were separated. The licensed part continued as the Harbour Arts Centre, but a limited company was formed to handle artistic affairs - Harbour Arts Centre (Irvine) Limited, recognised by the Inland Revenue as being of charitable status.

The question of charitable status was discussed in 1975, but the Centre was advised that there would be no advantage, and debate on that point continued on and off for a few years, to be revived again in 1981. Three years of stop-start progress followed, with preparatory work being done by Jim Wyper and Eric Park, and with assistance from Joe Gerber of the Tron Theatre Club, who operated a roughly similar split between club and company. Eventually, after Memorandum and Articles were checked and submitted, problems were reduced to: a short-lived objection to the description ‘Centre’; a letter which went astray in transit; an extra definite article; and a request for an extra signature! The company was incorporated in March 1984.

Procedurally, meetings of the Club Committee and AGM are followed, on the same evening, by those of the Company's Board of Directors. Our members are considerate enough to elect the same people to run both organisations! The Club is responsible for the bar; the company deals with the theatre programme, the special interest groups, the Gallery and the maintenance of the building and its contents.

The split has proved worthwhile, the main benefit so far being the 50% rates reduction which has been a lifeline to the Centre, saving over £1500 a year for the last three years. Another benefit should be achieved in the near future - a different subscription method which will enable members to covenant a substantial part of their contribution.

For the post-1987 story of the charitable company, see chapter 16.


For three years, from 1978 to 1980, the Centre provided a base for craftsmen in the ‘Craftsmen in Residence’ scheme sponsored by the Scottish Tourist Board in co-operation with local bodies (in our case IDC) and the Scottish Colleges of Art. The scheme aimed to provide a tourist attraction, promote Scottish crafts, give the public some understanding of crafts and their techniques, and give the craftsmen their first experience of pricing and marketing. The Harbour Arts Centre provided a perfect base for such a scheme.

The 1978 craftsmen were Bruce W Carnie and Anne Ferguson. The former, a student at Glasgow School of Art, and fresh from a course in industrial type weaving at the Scottish College of Textiles, made small woven articles for sale and larger tapestries with a view to gaining commissions. Anne Ferguson, during her art school career, had studied print design and knitwear. At Irvine she produced various machine knitted garments. These two craftsmen created an impact which their successors did not achieve. That first year attracted 3000 visitors.

Three craftsmen took part in the 1979 scheme. Ian Black produced embroidered landscape and seascape panels, while Amanda Kirk produced miniature textile pieces as well as commissioned garments. Children's clothes, romper suits and jackets were the speciality of Rhona Whittle. Graphic Design, silk screen printing and photography were demonstrated in 1980 by artist Gerald Duffy, while Rosemary Jane Cotton exhibited her designs for theatre costumes.

The Centre benefited from the scheme in two ways: it brought in visitors, so people became aware of the Centre and its activities, and the building was used during the otherwise slack summer months.

Eric Park and Chick McGeehan suggested using the summer break to mount courses in painting and drawing at the Centre. Such a scheme needed finance and an organiser. The first Summer School, in 1981, was planned and run by our first Assistant Gallery Director Carolyn Stewart and partly financed by a generous grant from I.D.C.. Following years were run by the Assistant Gallery Director of the time - Paul Lucky, Kay Nevin (1985) and Suzanne Le Blanc (1986).

In 1981 three separate one-week courses in painting and drawing were open to everyone aged 15 and over, from complete novices to skilled artists; the tutors were Chick and Carolyn, and Sharon Stirling. Participants visited the Glasgow Art Galleries and the stained glass studio of New Town artist Susan Bradbury; the latter led to Susan and fellow artist Paul Lucky becoming associated with the Centre. 55 people attended the three courses.

The Summer School then became established as an annual event, and by 1986, the number of courses had risen to 11, while the number of attenders rose to 80 (in 1983) and 96 (in 1984), settling at around the 80 level since then. The response has always been good, and uptake usually reflects the timing and impact of the publicity; many people who have had little or no connection with the Centre, or even the art or craft which they study, have gained pleasure and reward from the skills they acquire. We have also had visitors from other parts of Scotland, who have attended one of our courses as the first week of an Ayrshire fortnight. Ages go from 15 to 81!

Since 1982, visits to other galleries have continued, as to the Burrell Collection in 1984. Another development has been the use of other workplaces, such as stained glass (from 1982) and batik (1984) classes meeting in Towerlands Studio, and the use of a Maritime Museum workshop kindly lent to us for the sculpture class.

New subjects and new tutors have appeared. In 1982 screen printing and stained glass were offered. Andy Hopps taught screenprinting and Susan Bradbury took the stained glass course. Art teachers Paola McClure and Bob Smith tutored the painting & drawing.

1983 saw the addition of photography, fabric work and mixed crafts, and new tutors Jack Anderson, Frank Devlin, Paul Lucky and Linda Smith. A short-lived spin-off was a winter embroidery group meeting once a month. Four new subjects were introduced in 1984 - sculpture, taught by Irvine Town Artist Nigel Lloyd, calligraphy tutored by graphic artist Marjorie Faulds, watercolour painting (Jim Faulds), and batik (Susan Bradbury). For the sculpture class, the sun shone all week, most of the work was done outside, and carving chunks out of plaster blocks while acquiring a sun tan proved very enjoyable!

1985 saw expansion to ten courses. Ceramics taught by Rosann Cherubini proved very popular as did Paul Lucky's stained glass. Elaine Wilson introduced tapestry and Frank Paterson ran a laugh-a-minute painting course. Jim Fauld's watercolour course again proved hilarious, as the paint was brushed, dripped, sponged and poured across the paper. Many of the regular tutors were in action again in 1986, with new tutor Ian McLintock taking a painting and drawing week. Nigel Lloyd, who had been ill for some time, hoped to be well enough to run a sculpture course. However, when Nigel's illness became more serious, Rosann Cherubini took over the class at short notice.

During the 1986 Summer School, news of Nigel's death shocked and saddened everyone. Arts Centre members, Summer School participants and many others who knew Nigel remember his enthusiasm for everything he did, his contagious sense of fun and his love of life.


CHAIRMEN [updated to 2005]
HONORARY MEMBERS [updated to 2005]
Walter B Shields 1965-72
Brian Tutchener 1972-75
Ron Alexander 1975-77
Jim Wyper 1977-79
Jean E Doole 1979-81
Eric L Park 1981-83
Ian J Dickson 1983-85
James S Duff 1985-87
E S O'Donoghue 1987-89
Malcolm M Rae 1989-91
Fiona Lee 1991-93
Derek Murdoch 1993-95
Caroline Monagle 1995-96
David McLaughlan 1996-97
Ian J Dickson 1997-2003
David Williams 2003-05

Walter & Moreen Shields (in 1972)

Brian & Shelagh Tutchener (in 1974)
Doug & Mrs Stonelake

Ian & Edith Clark (in 1984)
Jim & Jane Foulds
Jack & Ina Ramsay
Jim & Sheila Wyper

Pat & Jean Jack (in 1990)

Ian & Louise Dickson (in 2004)

This chapter was originally intended to mention many of our Centre characters, but they have quite correctly gained their mentions in the annals which precede. This chapter will instead acknowledge our honorary members, our chairmen, and our current caretakers.

Walter Shields, founder member and first Chairman, steered the committee with foresight and tact until 1972. He was then elected as Honorary President, which he held until his death in 1977. The fact that, as he wrote, the Centre became “an accepted part of the cultural scene in Scotland” was in great measure due to Walter and Moreen. We are delighted that Moreen wrote the foreword for this booklet.

Brian Tutchener, managing director of a local firm, used his considerable drive to organise first the funding, then the implementation, of the Centre renovation and the establishment of Borderline. His position as Honorary Vice-President reflects that major achievement. His wife, Shelagh, with her theatre background, was a leading light in the drama section. They now live in Herefordshire, but Brian is spotted in Irvine from time to time.

Doug Stonelake, architect of the renovations, was given honorary membership at the time of reopening. He has recently gained awards for innovative community architecture in Glasgow.

Jack Ramsay, District Clerk, was at the Irvine Art Group's first function in the Dunlop Memorial Hall in 1965 and from that time assisted the Group in persuading the District Council to give that first, crucial, local government support. Both Jack and his wife Ina have been great supporters ever since.

Ian Clark, supported by his wife Edith, was the ‘doer’ of the original group. It was Ian who found the building, who organised all productions and exhibitions for several years, who fostered relations with the District Council and with the Burgh, who won assistance from other local sources, and who worked long hours doing everything from assisting with exhibitions to turning the hall into a magic den for a Halloween Night, until he was forced to give up when his health became affected in 1968. He returned to do exhibition work in 1969-71. Ian showed that enthusiasm could achieve success, and he still assists if called upon.

Jim Foulds responded to an approach for someone to succeed Ian Clark as Secretary, and held that post for almost nine years, until 1977. During those years, Jim brought to the Centre his quiet and unassuming, yet meticulous, way of working, initially having the programme to arrange and print as well as other duties. His annual Centre reports are a masterful combination of succinct summary and forward vision. He also found time to assist in the launch of the Association of Arts Centres in Scotland, an organisation which reflected and sought to encourage the infectious energy being shown in reviving the arts in many corners of Scotland at the time. He and Jane provided much welcome hospitality for visiting artistes. They have also shared their artistic talents in the Art Group and at Summer Schools since then.

Jim Wyper's association with the Centre began when the Camera Club arrived in 1968 and he joined the main committee that year. He and Sheila have since been involved in many roles, and interested in all aspects of the Centre's work, Jim being Chairman from 1977 to '79, always showing enthusiasm, and dealing with problems calmly and effectively. When Borderline became a limited company, Jim became their first chairman, a position which he still holds, controlling their affairs with tact, experience and good humour. Sheila's main assistance was with voluntary bar duty in 1975 and with implementation for some years.

Ron Alexander, Chairman 1975-77, was one of the cast of the drama section's first production in 1968. He went on to take a wider interest in the Centre, being Programme Planner and Vice-chairman in 1973-75, then Chairman. Since his retiral from committee, he has devoted much time to his other hobbies, especially bridge.

Jean Park, formerly Doole, became the first lady Chairman in 1979, in the midst of many years (from 1972 to the present) of turning her able enthusiasm to all aspects if the Centre, including the Junior Section (1974), Xmas Parties (from 1974), the members newsletter (now ‘Spotlight’) (1974-75), implementation (1976-78), social events (1981-83), and doing costumes, acting and (from 1982) directing for Harbour Theatre. Jean became Chairman in one of the Centre's seemingly insoluble (not quite insolvent) crises, solved it with energy, and capped her April “Macbeth” by taking on a new role as Bar Convener.

Eric Park, Chairman 1981-83, joined committee in 1977, and applied his accustomed energy to bar organisation (twice), wine-making, fund-raising (a major contribution), folk music, social events, and development plans, but not quite all at the same time. He invented the Summer School and Art Club, and introduced the MSC scheme, and his development work covered the Centre’s recognition as a charity and the obtaining of substantial grants for rehabilitation from IDC and CDC over the last two years. Always affable (the friendliest Dragon any panto has had) and ever efficient, Eric has continued to contribute to committee and is currently serving as Secretary.

Ian Dickson, Chairman 1983-85, came to the Camera Club in 1969, helped in the Centre generally that winter, and joined committee in 1970. He has since organised anything that moves, including the Coffee Bar (the 1971 coffee bar report included a choc. biscuit stock analysis!), membership (1972-75), programme planning (1975-77), then holding the offices of Secretary (1977-79), Vice-chairman and Chairman, even directing a Harbour Theatre show. He computerised our membership files in 1982 and the ledgers in 1984. (The one thing that doesn't move, the building, he knows nothing about!) After two years in an off-committee role as Bookkeeper, Ian is now serving as Treasurer.

Jim Duff became the youngest ever Chairman in 1985, after a background which began on the technical side (with lighting and sound), developed to the all-demanding sphere of property, and continued to various other tasks which needed to be tackled and he (thankfully for the Centre) saw as a challenge. His attention to detail has throughout been a boon to the Centre, his no-nonsense dealing has been a threat to many a supplier, and his willingness to assist has helped many a social event to succeed. Burns suffered on the Centre roof have fortunately mended, and the chance he saw in a Dulux competition led to free whitewash for the building exterior in 1986. Jim is currently enjoying having some spare time and not being on the burglar alarm call-out list.

Sarah O’Donoghue, current Chairman [1987], joined committee in 1983, willing to come on, but wanting to work as well as sit and discuss, an attitude which is typical of her activities in the Centre. One year as Member-ship Convener was followed by two each as Secretary and Vice-chairman, taking a particular interest in the efficiency of the MSC-sponsored scheme and in relations with grant-aiding bodies. Always considerate yet knowing what the Centre needs, the rest of Sarah’s contribution will have to wait for volume 2 in 21 years’ time!

Three committee members seem not to have due mention in earlier chapters. Fiona Lee has modestly but efficiently run publicity, then membership, and is now in her 7th year on committee. Malcolm Rae, now Vice-Chairman after three years, has used his technical and practical expertise in the aid of theatre shows, leaky roofs and whitewashing. Fred Blower, on committee from 1970 to 1985, has contributed as Property Convener, Treasurer and Vice-chairman, and still takes his turn on the Saturday afternoon bar rota.

Pat and Jean Jack succeeded the first cleaners, Mr & Mrs McDougall, in 1978. Since then the Centre has benefited from their assistance as much as they have enjoyed our company. Pat has applied the craft of a skilled woodworker to notice-boards, showcases, shelves and, most recently, bar tables. They look after the building when the rest of us have gone, and make sure it is shipshape for our return. When our paths do meet, they are a fund of experienced advice and good stories. If Pat offers you a coffee you know you’re accepted; and he will enjoy a dram if you offer one. Just one thing: please don't drop cigarette ends on the theatre floor.

Chapter 13: M.S.C. INVOLVEMENT

The Manpower Services Commission's involvement with the Centre came about as a result of the first Summer School in 1981. It was clear that, if the Summer School were to become an annual feature in the programme, it would require more time, work and commitment than one volunteer could manage. The MSC were approached for assistance, and the first of the Community Programme schemes was set up. They have proved of benefit both to the Centre and to those employed.

The first scheme enabled the Centre to appoint its first Assistant Gallery Director, Carolyn Stewart, in August 1981. Its aims were to increase awareness of the Centre in the community and to expand the use of the Centre with particular reference to the art field. Two of the Assistant Gallery Director's main duties were to devise a varied gallery exhibition programme with advice from the Gallery Director and to tutor the afternoon art classes of the Art Club. Since Carolyn's time Paul Lucky and Kay Nevin have also held the post of Assistant Gallery Director. The present incumbent, Suzanne Le Blanc, was appointed in January 1986.

In 1984 the M.S.C. scheme was expanded to allow the employment of a Clerical Assistant on a part-time basis. Sandra Murphy was the first - her duties including typing and general administrative tasks. Since then the office has been ably manned by Teresa Bleakley and Louise Camps. The present assistant is Hazel Norrie.

It was further expanded in August 1986. Two more people were employed: Kaye Stevenson as Drama Worker and Hugh Climie as Publicity Writer. The main aims of the new expanded scheme were to improve the Centre's image locally, to make its activities better known and to invlve the Centre more with other local groups and organisations. To this end, both Kaye and Suzanne have taken art and drama workshops in local primary schools as well as at the Centre. They have also attended courses to enable them to work with the physically and mentally handicapped. On the publicity side, thanks to Hugh's weekly efforts, coverage in the local press has increased markedly and theatre reviews now feature regularly. In September, Kaye set up a Youth Drama Workshop, now attended by 25 people between the ages of 11 and 16, every Saturday morning. The emphasis is not on rehearsing and producing a play, but on activities such as exercises in movement, improvisation and role playing, to increase the participants' awareness and confidence.

[For the post-1987 story of schemes providing paid assistants, see chapter 16.]


There has been much goodwill and assistance towards the Centre over the years. The committees who have organised the Centre's activities are grateful to all those who have contributed time, materials, and money, in any way, at any time. A voluntary body may have enthusiasm, but cannot succeed without backing.

In the initial phase, even before a building had been found, a great deal of help and encouragement was given by the Irvine District Council and its Clerk, Jack Ramsay. Once premises were found, Irvine Town Council gave generous support, waiving rates, making a loan which became a grant (£1000), assisting towards heating and reducing the £360 rent to a nominal £5, to see the Centre established. The District Council also provided stacking chairs for the theatre.

Local businesses assisted. Painter Willie Hamilton donated the paint. The Clement Wilson Foundation agreed to finance the theatre gantry and lighting (£450). Ayrshire Metal Products assisted with materials. Pupils at Geilsland Approved School, Beith, constructed modules for a raised multi-purpose stage, as well as cleaning and planting outside.

The Scottish Arts Council have supported us since we opened by their guarantee against loss support, which allows us to bring touring professional events to Ayrshire, and by sharing the costs of improvements directly relating to the arts, such as Gallery lighting, showcases and exhibitions.

Irvine Development Corporation have often granted assistance in the form of advice, practical help and finance, the latter especially at the time of renovation, but also through a regular grant towards the Summer Schools.

Several organisations decided to assist the Centre in renovating the Centre. We thank Ayr County Council for a grant of £7,000, the Development Corporation for a grant of £5,000, and the Clement Foundation for a grant of £1,000. In addition IDC agreed to spend up to £15,000 on the alterations and extensions, to be recouped through an increased rent (£1,860 p.a.), which Irvine Town Council generously agreed to pay on behalf of the Centre. Monsanto assisted with £100 and Euroscot with £57. Gulbenkian granted £1500 towards the theatre.

The launch of Borderline was achieved with joint financial assistance from the Scottish Arts Council and Ayr County Council. It not only proved a success, but acted as a catalyst for many other activities.

Since regionalisation, Strathclyde Regional Council have provided financial support, while Cunninghame District Council have continued the support shown by the former Town Council.

Most recently, a grant of £420 from Dulux enabled us to restore the external appearance of the Centre, while Commercial Union agreed to waive £183, and Stevenston Community Project made us large exterior notice boards.

Publicity has been assisted greatly by the help of the local press, especially the “Irvine Times” and the “Irvine Herald”, and by the free papers which have been launched in the last year or two.

Finally, but not least, we must thank all those who have given overnight hospitality to performers and others.

Chapter 15: THE NEXT 21 YEARS
[the final chapter of the original 1987 booklet]

It is clear from this history that no single point in the 21 years can be said to be typical even of the few years on either side of it. It would be unwise therefore either to catalogue the present, representing, as it does, only a transient moment, or to make particular prophecies about the future, as very little in the field of the arts can be predicted with much certainty. The chapter title is not intended to offer the Centre as a hostage to fortune, but to reflect confidence that future enthusiasts will ensure the Centre's survival, throughout all the changes of people and of circumstances.

“It will be enough”, said Thucydides in the introduction to his History, “if these words are judged useful by those who want to understand clearly the events which happened in the past and which will, at some time or other, be repeated in the future.” I hope that this little book succeeds in a similar way - that in recording some of the many initiatives which have borne fruit, for longer or shorter periods, it will provide inspiration for any who risk being overwhelmed by the day-to-day year-to-year problems. What is there in the first 21 years which can guide us into the future?

We are a voluntary organisation mounting a professional operation, and must continue to deploy near-professional standards; voluntary labour is no justification for poor performance. The price of low standards in any area of our organisation would be to see the arts die by default.

The genuine fellowship which comes through in these pages is also an essential ingredient. Theatre-goers and Gallery visitors must feel welcome, and social events must involve regulars and newcomers alike. As Iain Cuthbertson reminded us in 1974, it is not part of our role to become “another snobs’ fitba' pitch”.

We have presented the widest programme which our budget and limited space will allow - only because many individuals, on and off committee, have kept aware, through press reports and by personal visit, of what is on offer in the way of theatre events, art exhibitors, and other opportunities. We should continue to search out the next generation of artists at Fringe shows or in city galleries so that they can inspire the cultural life of our own town before they become too famous and too costly.

We have also provided a very wide range of artistic opportunities for those who wish to develop skills. We must not sit back and admire the classes, interest groups, and social events of the past, but must cater for different and newer enthusiasms. We must continue to encourage people to enjoy the arts in our own town. We must also be enablers as well as providers; not just organising, but acting as catalysts within the local community. If the days of public debates about the arts are past, then in what new way should we seek to open up debate and discussion in this nuclear and post-industrial society, and how can we best respond to the spirit and concerns of our times?

Our role should be clear in our minds. The last two decades have seen many new facilities in the West of Scotland and a new TV channel, but the need for a small-scale arts venue in Irvine continues. The Centre's facilities, though small, are as good as larger venues - a gallery with professional standards of lighting and presentation, and a theatre fully equipped with sound and light as well as intimate in nature. The allure of Glasgow theatre or more varied armchair entertainment cannot replace the live theatre or the stimulating exhibition located near at hand.

New activists are constantly needed. The preceding pages show that as well as the long-term contribution given by some, the Centre, for others, sparks an energy of total commitment, living and thinking Centre matters for a number of years before the point is reached when that individual must rest. The far-seeing eye of the optimists, the voices of experience, and the proponents of experiment are all required to ensure the health of the Centre.

Opening the 1968 season of events at the Centre, Bernard Falk made the point that the term ‘Arts Centre’ might be off-putting; we have either disproved that or overcome it, and should have two feelings as a result: one of pride in what we offer, the other of determination that we do at least as well in the future. Jean Park, when chairing the 1980 AGM after a year of financial worry, said, “Let's not talk next year of saving the Centre; let's make it bigger and better.”

We cannot attempt too much. These pages show that some ideas have failed, but many have succeeded. In a recent Radio 4 “Kaleidoscope” programme, Ian Mackintosh, a designer of theatres, said that we should “not criticise anything in the arts as over-ambitious”; he felt nothing but admiration for those who had been ambitious.

We must follow the lead of all those mentioned in previous pages and create the future ourselves. While we recall the initiatives of the past, we must attempt to make a similar impact in years to come, via routes not yet mapped.

I will end with a quote from Gerry Mulgrew, whom Centre audiences have often seen, both as an actor and a director. In the debate following the arts programme in the 1987 TV series “Scotland 2000”, he summed up his thoughts with the following opinion: that recent developments in the arts in Scotland would be “the beginning of a future IF people who care about something developing take the responsibility for making it happen.” . . . we could almost take that as a motto.

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