WHITTON and RITCH -Surname Studies and people from the Island of GRAEMSAY, Orkney

Margaret Tait

Margaret Tait

Female 1918 - 1999  (80 years)

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  • Name Margaret Tait  [1
    Born 11 Nov 1918  [1
    Gender Female 
    Died 16 Apr 1999  Kirkwall, Orkney Find all individuals with events at this location  [1
    Person ID I10400  My Relatives
    Last Modified 16 Oct 2019 

    Father Charles William Tait,   b. 11 Nov 1883, Kirkwall, Orkney Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 28 Nov 1967  (Age 84 years) 
    Relationship natural 
    Mother Mary Isbister,   b. 1883,   d. 11 Nov 1964  (Age 81 years) 
    Relationship natural 
    Family ID F4027  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

    Family Living 
    Last Modified 16 Oct 2019 
    Family ID F4026  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

  • Notes 
    • [Pirie Orkney.FTW]

      Arts Journal film reviewer CATRIONA PAUL takes a retrospective look at the films of Orcadian poet, artist and film-maker Margaret Tait

      Born in 1918 in Kirkwall, Orkney, poet, artist and film-maker Margaret Tait spent much of the next eighty years studying, travelling or working overseas – both in the UK and further afield. However, there is little doubt that she always regarded the island as home, basing her studio there, and choosing Orcadian people and places as the subject of much of her work. A retrospective of her films at this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival reveals an artistic and cultural collection of enduring interest.

      Educated in Edinburgh where she qualified as a doctor, later serving in the Royal Army Medical Corps in the Far East during the war, then working as a locum around the UK, before living as an artist in Edinburgh and a film student in Italy – all this time, Buttquoy House in Orkney remained her “permanent address” and somewhere she returned regularly. The remoteness of the island provided an environment in which her creativity flourished independent of the male-dominated, traditional film industry. However, distance and independence meant that Tait’s 30-odd films have not been widely seen beyond screenings at a handful of film festivals.

      The retrospective of work shown at the EIFF represents the culmination of a long-term project to restore original film stock which have deteriorated over the years. A film exhibition will launch in London on 16 November before going on tour nationally and internationally. Two programmes of films will show – the first including film portraits of Hugh MacDiarmid, amongst others, and film poems, made both in Rome and Orkney. The second programme focuses on people and the places they live.

      The collection continues with Happy Bees (1955), “intended to be an evocation of what it was like to be a small child on Orkney; when, one (wrongly) remembers, it was sunny all the time and everything was bursting with life” (MT). Both pieces are accompanied by traditional music, performed by the Orkney Reel and Strathspey Society, adding to the evocative nature of the films.


      "The remoteness of the island provided an environment in which her creativity flourished..."


      The significance of Margaret Tait’s work is two-fold. Her willingness and ability to explore the medium of film to communicate and create meant an alternative stream flowed alongside commercial film-making. But perhaps her most enduring legacy, especially for the people of Scotland, will be her work as an ethnographer – recording and honouring a way of life that has already changed.

      Landmakar (1981) and Big Sheep (1966), (shown at the EIFF but unfortunately excluded from the touring programme), are two of Tait’s longer works. The former focuses on the Orkney crofter Mary Graham Sinclair, Tait’s neighbour at Aith. Big Sheep was filmed in Sutherland, (where Tait lived for a time), and echoes with the memory and impact of the clearances whilst documenting life there in the 60s. Other work records changes in Edinburgh, On the Mountain, and back in Orkney, Aspects of Kirkwall: Some Changes is a series of five films made between 1954 and 1981.

      Margaret Tait died in 1999, aged 81. Her husband, Alex Pirie, deposited her films and negatives with the Scottish Screen Archive. Their subsequent restoration and screening reveals both a remarkable artistic and cultural legacy and a fascinating individual.

      A Margaret Tait Chronology
      1918 11th November, born Margaret Caroline Tait, Kirkwall, Orkney, Scotland. Parents Charles Tait (d.1967)
      and Mary Isbister Tait (d.1964), brothers Maxwell (1917-1979), William Isbister (1920- ), John A.S.
      (1922-1990), Harald I. (1924-1958)
      Family home in Broad Street, Kirkwall
      1923-1926 Kirkwall primary school
      1924-1954 "Permanent" address, Buttquoy House, Kirkwall, re school years, university, war years, post war
      1926-1934 Esdaile School, Edinburgh
      1930's Taking photographs of family and friends and places, Scapa, Eynhallow, Skaill, Ingsay, Redbanks,
      Longhope, Skara Brae, Yesnaby, Eday, Kirkwall
      1935 Experiments with different exposure times for several photographs (interiors, two self portraits)
      1936 Studies medicine Edinburgh University. Staying at 59 North Castle Street, Blacket Place, Bank Street,
      Cambridge Street
      1941 Qualified in medicine, MB.CH.B, at Edinburgh University
      1943 BSc, Edinburgh University
      1943 Joins the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC), serves in UK
      1943-1945 Serves in India. Visits Kashmir, Agra, Delhi
      1945 Serves in Ceylon (Sri Lanka). Subsequently compiles photo album of visits to Kashmir, Agra,
      Delhi, Kandy
      1945-1946 Serves in Johore, Malaya, visiting Singapore
      1946 26th March sailed for home from Singapore on the "Winchester Castle"
      April on Orkney
      Visits Adelaide Petersen, Stavanger, Norway
      Working in Bristol (hospital duties)
      To Edinburgh, living at Ormidale Terrace, no. 46 where "I was an ex--service H.P. [House Physician] at
      "Sick Kids" Royal Hospital for Sick Children"
      1947 Summer holiday in Paris, and then Italy visiting Florence, Assisi, Perugia, Venice, Como, Milan
      1948 Visits Lake District
      Lives in London staying at at 36 Parliament Hill NW3 while "job--hunting"
      Working in Shoreditch, living at 93 Shepherdess Walk
      In the USA. Visits Washington DC (with parents)
      July home on Orkney
      1948-49 Locums in South of England including spell as assistant to uncle's practice, Windlesham, Surrey
      Living at Holly Cottage, School Road, Windlesham
      1949 July/August locum in Pontrhydyfen, Glamorgan
      1950 April returns to Perugia. Studies at Universita Italiana per Stranieri
      1950-52 Studied film at Centro di Cinematographia, Rome, Italy
      1953 Founds Ancona Films with Peter Hollander, Rome, Italy
      1954 Tenant at 91 Rose Street, Edinburgh (until 1973), The Rose Street Film Festival, August
      1954–62 Locums UK
      1955 August, 2nd Rose Street Film Festival, Edinburgh. Films screened Calypso, A Portrait of Ga, Happy
      Bees, Orquil Burn, The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo, by Margaret Tait, Sometimes a Newspaper,
      and Shapes, by Peter Hollander, Affisioni (Posters) by Luigi Bazzoni and Mario Fenelli and, Dimitri
      Works in Black Wax.
      1960's Living in Edinburgh, East Sutherland, Kirkwall
      1964 A Poet In New York, sequence of pictures based on Lorca's poem exhibited as a small independent
      show at 91 Rose Street, during the Edinburgh Festival
      1965 Living at Slow Bend, Helmsdale, Sutherland (until 1973)
      1968 Living at Buttquoy House (until 1975)
      Marries Alex Pirie, 9th December
      1970 Retrospective at the Edinburgh International Film Festival
      1975 Moves to Aith, Sandwick, Orkney
      Work exhibited at the First Festival of Independent British Cinema, February, Bristol
      Mike Leggett and Annabel Nicholson visits Orkney, September, (Buttquoy House).
      1977 Tour of South West England organised by Mike Leggett. Screening at London Film Makers Co-op
      1979 Poet With a Camera, Spectrum, BBC Scotland arts series, 30 minute programme about her work
      Work screened at Third International Festival of Avant -Garde Film, London
      Late 1970's to 1990's a small number of showings at the Pier Arts Centre, Stromness, Orkney
      Aerial, Colour Poems, Place of Work, Tailpiece, enter distribution with London Film Makers Co-op
      (listed in Distribution Supplement no.3)
      1982 Work screened at 3rd International Festival of Film and Television in the Celtic Countries, Wexford,
      1983 Margaret Tait; Film Maker, television documentary directed by Margaret Williams televised with
      Where I am Is Here, Channel Four Television
      1984 March - 1999 Orquil Studio. A place of work
      1987 Films By Margaret Tait, compilation, transmitted on The Eleventh Hour by Channel Four
      Television, includes Hugh MacDiarmid – A Portrait, A Portait fo Ga, Colour Poems, and Aspects of
      Kirkwall; Some Changes
      1994 Living at Cruan, Firth, Orkney
      1995 Ute Aurand visits Orkney, July
      1998 Hugh MacDiarmid A Portrait, and Ariel, included in the film programme Film Poems, National Film
      Theatre, London, which subsequently tours
      1999 16th April dies at home, Firth, Orkney
      4th July A Tribute To Margaret Tait, film programme, Lux Cinema, London
      2000 26th April Visionary Histories: Maya Deren, Marie Menken, Margaret Tait, film programme, Lux
      Cinema, London
      May. Alex Pirie deposits films and negatives with the Scottish Screen Archive.
      October, retrospective with three programmes of short films, Places of Work, Land Makar, Film
      Poems, and Blue Black Permanent, National Flm Theatre, London
      2001 Garden Pieces, included in a film touring programme taking the name Garden Pieces
      Compiled by Peter Todd with thanks to Alex Pirie. November, 2002.

  • Sources 
    1. [S8] Pirie Orkney.FTW.
      Date of Import: 30 Aug 2007