In more than the one elegy, Sorley MacLean, another long-time citoyen working and living in Wester Ross, praised the late departed for what translations render as their 'fun'. This word belongs in any tribute to Ian, who has left us aged 92 within a couple of years of the phone call when he mentioned absenting himself from a country walk due to a heart problem – only the physical heart, for past 90 he'd been working with a friend in computing on an energy-saving problem.
Around that time, the jazz clarinetist Evan Christopher was bowled over to be told that the audience he had played to in a Scottish village hall had included an aficionado to whom he'd brought back recollections of Nick's, the famous New York venue that the teenaged Ian had attended offshore from work as a deckhand on a wartime convoy in 1943-44.
Ian had attended Kirkcaldy High School, and on behalf of himself and the earlier alumnus Adam Smith, asked in the presence of a friend who'd been a classmate there of Gordon Brown, what had been done to their alma mater. At least I could tell him about Kenneth Ross. If Mr Ross had taught the same in Fife as he did when I was his pupil in Lanarkshire, there had been somebody for a time at Ian's old school teaching his hero Patrick Geddes.
On his website Ian cites a fascination with the development of Scottish architecture from the earliest times to the present day. A complete collection of his drawings would include student work as draughtsman for archaeologists, which made clear to him the lack of any need, all other factors considered, for attempted improvements motivated only by impatience.
At school, Ian's art teacher was George Bain, of sometime Celtic Art fame, and after wartime service which rose to training in the Fleet Air Arm he studied architecture at Edinburgh College of Art and after an apprenticeship to a Kirkcaldy firm joined one of the immigrants he so admired, a man he revered and came near to publishing a book on – Robert Hurd. It's fitting that after all Hurd did for Scotland, his ashes are interred in Greyfriars Kirkyard.
Ian's recollection of student travels in the USA and across Europe had set him back on the open sea, and as junior and then senior of Neil and Hurd, and then Robert Hurd Partners, Ian braved local storms to prevent a major case of the collusion between money and politicians despoiling Edinburgh's Canongate. Meticulous ingenious attention to the then ruinous buildings preserved a distinctive representation of the historical fabric.
The concrete innovations then threatened had their advocates, and a fairly dim film by Murray Grigor was the least of the nonsense against Ian's project for a major housing development which had to be redesigned as a hotel, the Radisson Blu. Ian was not unhappy when a former colleague complained it was two storeys too tall, they'd had to be added to match the change from original devising. When someone in the Scotsman letters page observed that the longtime gap site should never have been bulldozed in the first place, Ian hardly disagreed – he was the last man a messing-up of the site would please. He was not unhappily startled when a friend of mine, who'd studied art history at Glasgow and hardly knew Edinburgh, referred to the building as a case of excessive stone cleaning. No: it was new.
The commission came, Ian was delighted to know, from severe remarks he'd made about some attempts by the city to build in a historical style. Kitsch, said Ian – who was at the time delivering lectures and presentations with references to Charles Rennie Mackintosh as scholar of historical Scottish architecture (see Ian on the 'Scottish House' on YouTube, from a 1970s BBC Scotland series).
After the Edinburgh project turned hotel, and with a great deal of restoration work elsewhere, there was the Glasgow commission for what after numerous financial problems became the Museum of Religious Life, across a redeveloped/restored Cathedral Square in Glasgow. Ian's eyebrows had ascended at mention of there being money enough to reconstruct a West End of Glasgow cathedral, two asymmetric towers that one might suppose inspired the church architect working beside the early Mackintosh work at the Martyrs' school south of the motorway desert. The West End of Glasgow cathedral, which Ian could talk of as the best building in Scotland, lost its towers to an authentic mediaevalism strictly of the Victorian period, when it gained windows from Bavaria paid for by the same financiers who cleared the island of Raasay.
The biggest horror in Ian's life was the death in an accident in Glasgow of his one son, Robin, of genuinely film star looks and a rising figure in the Scottish theatre, and a wonderful human being withal. I've been out of regular touch long enough not to know of grandchildren born to his daughter, Fiona, or of his later daughters, or Ruth, now his widow. Ian prepared for his long and busy shift called 'retirement' by taking up various chances which enabled him to build and live in a residence modelled on a mediaeval tower house.
I went with him on one of his field trips with students from Strathclyde University and elsewhere. I once even gave him a singing lesson, when he was required to croon a few verses as part of a presentation of non-kitsch Scottish delivered at various venues across the country. One voice teacher said that I'd had a lesson in return, in the architectural thinking pattern, seeing things apart and seeing things together, integrating and working toward integration.
We disagreed on some points, but nobody ever had a better friend than Ian Begg.
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