Only Connect!

A story of discovery in the collection, by Susan Gardner, curator at the Museum of Childhood.

Christine and Robin Stark. I’ve read their names many times in the museum’s inventory and often wondered who they were.

Generous supporters of the museum, they donated over 300 items between 1962 and 1964. Patrick Murray (the museum’s founder and first curator) recorded no details of the history of these objects or their connection with the Starks. Not unusual unfortunately but, in this case, the lack of information almost seems to hint that Christine and Robin were well known.

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While looking for exhibits to illustrate family life in the new gallery we’re planning, I came across some sheet music for a song called Radio Playtime, broadcast by “Uncle Dudley” on Children’s Hour.  This was one of Christine and Robin’s donations, along with a set of photographs of a Children’s Hour broadcast at Edinburgh Zoo.

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An accompanying note from Robin politely suggests that this material might find a place in the museum as children’s radio was so significant in the 1920s and 30s. He says,

“For many, many years “Auntie Kathleen” was a personality known to Scottish children almost as intimately as a favourite aunt of the family. Even one single large photograph of this lady in action at the microphone would delight all present day parents.”

All the Children’s Hour presenters were known as Auntie or Uncle. Auntie Kathleen (Kathleen Garscadden) was based in Glasgow and was the presenter on the Edinburgh Zoo broadcast. And ‘present day’ was the 1960s.
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Looking again at the photographs, I discovered helpful notes on the back and realised that Robin Stark actually appears in some of them. He is described in the notes as a journalist, sometimes employed by the BBC.  I turned to the internet to see what else I could find.

Robin’s name is mentioned as a journalist working on the Edinburgh Evening Dispatch in 1935. It turns out he also wrote plays, some of which were performed on Children’s Hour in the 1940s, such as The Flying Trunk and The Golden Sail. His work is included in a theatre archive belonging to Glasgow University.

His name also appears on a website describing all the people who once lived at 40 Albany Street, Edinburgh. This is where I started to get excited!

According to this site, Robin wrote plays in the 1930s for The Edinburgh Children’s Theatre which were performed at the Little Theatre, at the Pleasance. The site then goes on to describe his wife Christine’s writing talent.

Christine Stark, nee Orr, published 14 novels and numerous volumes of poetry and was the editor of Great-heart, the Church of Scotland’s children’s magazine. An unattributed quote describes her as ‘the last of the New Town Literary Group’. Like Robin, she wrote plays and in 1932 founded an amateur theatre group called The Makars. Meanwhile, she was appointed Organiser of Scottish Children’s Hour – presumably where she met Robin.

Together, Christine and Robin formed another theatre group in the 1940s called the Unicorn Players. When the first Edinburgh International Festival took place in 1947, theirs was one of the seven amateur theatre companies who decided to stage a play to complement the classical music on offer. So, they are credited as being amongst the people who created the Festival Fringe!

Once well-known names in the Edinburgh art world, Robin Stark and Christine Orr are unknown to most of us now. But, students of Postgraduate Publishing Studies at Edinburgh Napier University set out to re-establish Christine’s reputation as a significant author. In 2013 they published a new edition of her novel, The Glorious Thing, which was first published in 1919 when she was only 20 years old. Set in Edinburgh in 1916, the main characters are an injured soldier, David Grant, and Marion Sutherland who meet by chance at the National Gallery on the Mound. I tracked down a copy courtesy of Ebay and I’m really looking forward to reading it.

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Read about their project here.

The novel also features in a BBC radio programme called World War One At Home.

From knowing nothing at all about Robin and Christine Stark, I was amazed to uncover so many details of their lives in one afternoon. I’m sure there are more fascinating discoveries and connections to be made.

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