Papers of Fred Urquhart

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The Papers of Fred Urquhart contain drawings, diplomas, essays, stories, poems and early manuscripts; and, various notes, and typescripts. There are reports and correspondence from periods with Cassell, and J.M. Dent, and relating to work with other publishers and MGM and Walt Disney. The collection includes diaries and notebooks on H.E. Bates from the 1930s; and, address books and diaries covering several decades. There is correspondence with his parents between 1936-1965, and a great deal of letter and postcard communication up to 1994. Some material (for example correspondence with Herta Ryder) is restricted until 2005.

Administrative / Biographical History

The writer Frederick Burrows Urquhart was born on 12 July 1912 in Edinburgh. Although he wrote a number of novels, Fred Urquhart's strength was the short story in which his characters did the talking. He had an ear for all forms of accent and dialect and took ungrammatical yet creative liberties with the language. Although he spent many years in southern England after the war, his creative impulses were rooted in Lowland Scotland: on the Firth of Forth and Clydeside; in coastal Wigtownshire where he was at school for a while; and on Tayside, where he also spent some of his childhood . His stories generally dealt with the lives of ordinary people, and the cruelty and violence of such lives was a constant theme. He was particularly sensitive to the violence dealt out to women, and his homosexuality probably enabled him to portray the female psyche with insight and tenderness. The ugliness of war (he was a pacifist) was an extension of these concerns. The son of a chauffeur, Urquhart was educated at Stranraer High School and Broughton Secondary School. On leaving school at the age of fifteen he worked for some years in a bookshop in Edinburgh. At the same time he began to write, and from the early 1930s onwards had stories published in periodicals as well as broadcast on the radio. He left the bookshop in 1935 to concentrate on writing. His first published novel was  Time Will Knit (1938), the story of working-class Edinburgh life. When war came in 1939 Urquhart, as a declared conscientious objector, was sent to work on the land. It was at this point that his first collection of short stories appeared,  I fell for a Sailor (1940). In 1944 Urquhart was working in England at Woburn Abbey, the estate of the Duke of Bedford, which made a good base for contacting artistic and literary circles in London. He soon met the Scottish painters Robert Colquhoun and Robert MacBryde who had moved to London from Glasgow themselves only a year or two before, and he also got to know George Orwell and Rhys Davies. In these early post-war years came his second collection of stories,  The Clouds are Big with Mercy (1946). From 1947 Urquhart worked as a reader for a London literary agency and from 1951-54 was a script-reader for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Further volumes of short stories appeared, among them  The Last GI Bride Wore Tartan (1947) and  The Year of the Short Corn and Other Stories (1949). Two more novels appeared ,  The Ferret was Abraham's Daughter (1949) and  Jezebel's Dust (1951). With a decline in interest for the serious short story, Urquhart took on a number of editing tasks, and was also a reader for Cassell & Co. Ltd., 1951-74, the London scout for Walt Disney Productions, 1959-60, and a reader for J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd., 1967-71. He kept on writing too, and there was a final novel,  Palace of Green Days (1979), which drew upon childhood memories of Perthshire, where his father was chauffeur to the Earl of Breadalbane at Taymouth Castle. There appeared further collections of short stories, notably  A Diver in China Seas (1980), which was impressive for its insight into its women characters. With his companion, the dancer Peter Wyndham Allen, Urquhart had moved into a house in Ashdown Forest in East Sussex in 1958, but when Wyndham Allen died in 1990 Urquhart moved back to Scotland and settled in Musselburgh. He died in Edinburgh on 2 December 1995.

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Other Finding Aids

Handlist, H49