‘Singing hymns to tigers’: Between McAlpine and Polaris – Holy Loch,Dunoon & Cowal, Argyll [1961 – 1976]

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Dunoon, Cowal to Glencoe in the Highlands – Distance by car

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Between McAlpine and Polaris, G, Giarchi, 1984 London: Routledge & Paul Kegan

photo (8)Recommended reading for Whitehall?

In amongst my readings on Savile (and others’ perceptions of Savile at the time through biographies and autobiographies) I came across what I thought was a fascinating book, or rather a piece of sociological research/Community Study published as a book, by one of Savile’s acquaintances during the Sixties, set in a location under 100 miles from Glencoe. Glencoe, or more specifically Alt-Na-Reigh was the location of Savile’s beloved cottage which he had first spied on a cycling trip somewhere during the 1940s as a teenager.

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BBC Report on vandalisation of Savile’s Glencoe cottage

What compelled me to purchase and read the book was the inclusion of this comment at the close of a book review featured in the Catholic Herald in 1985

“On the eve of the book going to press a local resident wrote thus to Giarchi: “The democratic structure of this nation is a hoax. The UK is ruled by the USA . . . no Parliament can control the situation.” The evidence gathered in the book makes it hard to refute such a depressing conclusion — this should be recommended as reading for those in Whitehall.” (Into a threatened Scottish Paradise, Catholic Herald, 15/03/1985, Stewart Foster)

About as heavy and hard-hitting a comment you could ever hope to evoke in response to publishing your doctoral thesis, one imagines!

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The title refers to the unenviable position of a town in Scotland on the firth of Clyde, Dunoon at Holy Loch under pressure of events beyond their control

1. The Military Invasion once the US Naval Submarine base Polaris was established in 1960

2. The Industrial Invasion with the influx of McAlpine navvies (navigational engineers – or construction workers on major projects such as canals or in this case, North Sea oil rigs) during

3. The bureaucratic take-over when the Dunoon Burg is annexed under the Glasgow administration due to regionalisation.

About the Author

Originally brought up in Dunoon as a child (during 1930s/1940s?), in 1967 George Giarchi had a brief sojourn with Savile in the spotlight as a Pop Priest (a Jesuit Scottish Redemptorist) conducting pop preach-ins and missions in London and Edinburgh. These were featured in The Tablet and The Catholic Herald. He returned to Dunoon over nineteen months, arriving in late 1974, the year of two elections, until February 1976 to conduct a unique sort of community study under a post-graduate studentship at the University of Glasgow financed by the Social Science Research Council.

From the Foreword

“George Giarchi knows Dunoon. He was brought up there as a child and holds its people in respect and affection. He achieved a long-nourished ambition when, with the support of a post-graduate studentship at the University of Glasgow, he was able to return and study the community. His project was an ambitious one but despite the cautious words of his academic mentors not to let it get out of hand, his enthusiasm was unbounded and was matched only by his energy. Community studies in Britain are something of a lost art these days. For one person to accomplish so much on his own is even more unusual. Once he escaped the confines of the Sociology department there was no stopping him.

What George Giarchi manages to convey is the way in which social changes occur in the community. Remote it may be, but Dunoon is locked into the wider military-political national and international context of the cold war and the economic context of the oil industry. In the course of his study some of the mystifications which obscure decision-making are revealed and the rhetoric with which the powerful seek to justify their actions made plain.

Between McAlpine and Polaris does not fit easily into the British tradition of community studies. With its concern to uncover the history that is made behind our backs this is a book which has definite affinities with the American muckraking tradition. There is a sharp awareness of the arbitrary way in which institutional power can shape the lives and destinies of people not only in the great metropolitan cities but also in the rural areas. This makes uncomfortable reading not least because much is done in the name of democracy, the national interest, or even Western civilisation that cannot be readily justified by rational argument. At least, however, the questions can still be asked  and the critical voice heard. So long as that remains possible the sociologist will have a public role to perform. George Giarchi has given us a book which is stimulating, sometimes humorous, sometimes disturbing and above all infused with a generous humanism.”

(Foreword, by Professor J.E.T. Eldridge, p. xi)

“George G. Giarchi is Head of Department of Social Work, Health and Community Studies at Plymouth Polytechnic. A graduate of the universities of Bradford, Leeds and Glasgow, he has had a varied career: in the 1960s he worked as a counsellor in several major British cities, and in the 1970s he was a social worker in Glasgow.”  

During 1967 Fr. Giarchi conducts ‘Preach-Ins’ in Manchester and Edinburgh “In Manchester 1,500 young people turned up every night for two weeks and in Edinburgh 12,000 went along to hear him.”

Screen Shot 2014-06-01 at 22.49.27 In October 1967, at the first Jesuit church in  London Church of the Immaculate Conception, Farm Street, Mayfair W1 built during the Counter-Reformation, Savile joins Father G.G.Giarchi on a Pop Mission for a variety of Preach-Ins.

“One of the highlights of the two-week “preach-in” is a 10-mile charity walk led by Jimmy Savile, the disc jockey. Fr. Giarchi had a bit of trouble over him with a girl from an international news agency. The wires got crossed and she thought Jimmy Savile had become a Jesuit.”

During the Fifties London’s Catholic High Society had worshipped at Farm Street, names such as Evelyn Waugh (father of Auberon, who would later comment of Savile that he, Auberon might as well babble of green fields because Savile had Thatcher’s ear so tightly held) and Clarissa Churchill (later to marry Anthony Eden) and Princess Diana’s stepmother Raine Spencer.

“Fr. Giarchi is a 36 year-old Scottish Redemptorist who turned trendy after a Christian education course at Corpus Christi Catechetical College. He’s already had big hits with his unusual approach. In Manchester 1,500 young people turned up every night for two weeks and in Edinburgh 12,000 went along to hear him.” (Flowers in Farm Street, Catholic Herald, 6 October 1967)

In March 1968 Giarchi has 200 nuns rocking at the Liverpool Catholic Teachers Federation’s conference on primary education- Lord Longford addresses the group and Bishop Harris receives a delegation from teenage girls on the subject of Authority and he asks them to be his links to teenagers.

*****Updated 23/07/2014******

Dan Davies’ new (and very detailed, horribly close and the more I read…haunting) biography of Savile ‘In Plain Sight‘ has this to say:

“On one occasion, [Savile] was invited to speak to a group of nuns who taught at schools in Lancashire. The event was organised by a Jesuit priest, Father George Giarchi, who Savile had worked with on a series of ‘pop missions for teenagers’.

‘Children want the chance to respect people,’ Savile told the sisters. ‘They know they’ve got to have authority, and that there must be a penalty when they do wrong.’ He explained that teenagers were ’80 per cent don’t knows, 10 per cent “right” people and 10 per cent hard cases,’ and advised the nuns to concentrate on the 80 per cent because ‘It’s better to save a load of the could-be’s, than waste time on the ones born to be double villains.’ As a parting shot he said that he would pray for them, adding ‘and I hope you’ll pray for me.’ He naturally failed to mention his own special focus on those teenagers that could not be saved.

Dave Eager told me he remembered accompanying Savile to some of Father Giarchi’s ‘preach-in’ events, which were aimed squarely at the young. ‘He was a character,’ Eager said of the priest. ‘It was all anti-drugs, anti-underage sex, live the Catholic life, that sort of thing.’ I tried on more than one occasion to contact George Giarchi, who left the clergy i nthe 1970s, for comment, but got no reply.

‘[The clergy] had never heard anything like it,’ Savile said after their first appearance together. ‘I was honest with them. I told them all about sex and drugs and the dangers. I didn’t mince words. And they believed me.'”


About the book

There’s a particular quote of Savile’s from As it Happens which conveys his creepy sense of pride as he would carefully increase and decrease the beats per minute of each record in order to lull or excite the dancing crowd before him  – which sometimes pops into my head in order to refocus my thoughts: “It wasn’t power; it was an effect.”

Professor Giarchi’s distinctly uncreepy and pragmatic approach to giving context in part manages to convey the hidden levers, influences and effects of change, and as his dedication suggests, owes much to the inspiration of Reverend Father Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844 – 1889), ‘ For Clare, who introduced me to the ‘inscape’ of Hopkins and widened my understanding of life’. Hopkins was an English poet, Roman Catholic convert and Jesuit priest who looked to describe in unique detail  moments in time or landscapes examining both the ‘outscape’ and the ‘inscape‘.

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Giarchi is a powerful lens in adopting such an interesting perspective, not just by looking for the inscape of Dunoon and the effects of change on people uniquely as well as a whole, but also in his choice of quote for Chapter 1 Setting the Scene. Karl Mannheim was a Hungarian refugee and Sociology lecturer at the London School of Economics who was briefly before his death, the Chair of the Institute of Education during 1946-47, and is perhaps best known for being a founding father of the sociology of knowledge:

“It is not to be denied that if the point of view from which the analysis is made were pressed further there would be much more to be explained. The extent to which a concept explains something can never be absolute; it always keeps step with the expansion and intensification of insight.” (Karl Mannheim 1936, Ideology and Utopia London: Routledge & Kegan Paul p.175 (1960 edition))

Preamble, Between McAlpine and Polaris, (1984)

Preamble, Between McAlpine and Polaris, (1984)

The holistic and thorough approach with which Giarchi takes care to piece together a snapshot in time makes for compelling reading and ultimately describes a perfect storm for increasing criminality and volatility in the local community not least which became the pressing issue of…

Underage Sex, Brothels and how to cater to the influx of US Navy and McAlpine Navvies

Amongst all the other drastic effects and changes, not least the annexation of the Dunoon Burgh into the Glasgow administration decimating local democracy, the influx of US Naval Ratings and McAlpine Navvies created a demand for young females that was to cause persistent tensions. In Giarchi’s book he charts the build up through excerpts from the local newspaper the Dunoon Observer to which he had access to the archives.

From the inception of Polaris in 1960 underage sex had become a problem, with illegitimacy rates doubling and questions being asked in Parliament.  Giarchi’s research charts glimpses of a burgeoning sex trade in the form of local brothels being forced further out of town, pushed ‘on the other side’ of the Clyde ,nearer Glasgow until more formalised arrangements spring up whereby the US Naval Sponsor would rent a flat to hold sexy parties to the essential role of taxis in ferrying punters and prostitutes, elevating them to an essential source of information on the goings on which Giarchi taps most successfully.

Singing hymns to tigers

A letter to the Dunoon Observer (5th May 1962):

“Disgruntled American would do well to remember that Scottish upbringing and education differs substantially from their own and that such a document as the Kinsey Report is unlikely to make us feel that their methods produce results we would like to see in this country.”

There was growing “local unrest over what many people regarded as sexual exploitation of Cowal girls by US sailors. Women locally had had a lesser place in cultural terms within a male-dominated society, none the less the sailors’ ‘dollie’ image of girls, and their US brand of male chauvinism (projected in their ‘hello baby’ attitude towards girls) troubled many local parents, especially the Presbyterians.”

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-Autumn 1961: Disturbances caused by the USN men ashore had forced the Captain of Proteus to introduce a curfew

On 1 April 1962 The Sunday Mail reported a deputation to Proteus to ask ‘Don’t date our girls call to Proteus’. ‘Presbyterian residents complained that USN personnel were dating girls who were under sixteen years of age.’ Local magistrates had grouped together to tell the Captain of the Proteus “Stop your men from dating schoolgirls under the age of 16.” The ship’s spokesman had replied: “Our men are expected to behave like gentlemen, but whom they date is a matter of personal preference.” “An irate father had complained about the typical American sailor who would court a schoolgirl under sixteen as someone beyond control, stating: ‘anything the Captain would say to this type of man would be as ineffective as singing hymns to a tiger’.

“But something more serious than the dating habits of the USN personnel had been raised. A young girl had written in the issue of 16 June 1962 stating that ‘there are brothels in Dunoon.”‘ (Dunoon Observer, 16 June 1962)

In August 1963 a VD clinic was announced as opening soon at the local Dunoon Cottage Hospital and following a police raid in August 1963 a Dunoon “call-girl” facility consisting of at least 22 girls was exposed (Dunoon Observer and Argyllshire Standard, 29/06/1963)

Chapter 10, p.234

Chapter 10, p.234


1967….Enter Peter Dorschel and Nicholas Fairbairn…

Giarchi doesn’t appear to mention one other consequence of Dunoon becoming caught in an axis of geo-political-military-oil tussling: like moths to a flame came wannabe spooks and real spooks.

Twenty years prior to publishing his autobiography ‘A Life is Too Short’ – Volume One (Volume Two is yet to be published and is unknown whether it was written before Fairbairn’s death in February 1995) in June 1967, Nicholas Fairbairn found himself defending a German spy accused of passing US navy information to the USSR under cover of a local hotel at Hunter’s Quay, a spot with a good view of the US Naval base Polaris at Holy Loch. Fairbairn had become a father for the first time just over a year previously, aged 33 or 34, and was in the process of a fling with Esther Rantzen as well as playing the character of John Profumo at The Traverse Theatre. His legal and political careers were yet to take off fully – it was to be five years before being made  a QC, seven years before being elected MP Kinross and West Perthshire, and twelve years prior to being appointed Thatcher’s Solicitor General, Scotland, missing out on the position of Lord Advocate much to his own surprise and chagrin.

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But back to June 1967:

“Now a new experience entered my life: serious broadcasting on television. Although I had frequently appeared on the box I had not previously been recruited to undertake a series. I did a pilot broadcast of the series ‘Your Witness’ on television which was chaired by Ludovic Kennedy and my advisers were the barbigerous Matthew Spicer and the seductive and goluptious Esther Rantzen, whose hypersensual voice has been such a balm and stimulant to television audiences. All three have been friends ever since. Returning to Edinburgh from the programme, I played the part, at the Traverse Theatre, of John Profumo in a dramatic production of the Denning Report, directed by Gordon MacDougall, who had quietly succeeded Jim Haines as the theatre director. His gentle and unruffable character had enabled the traumas of Haines’s departure to be passed over and the wounds to heal. I inserted into the script the apt words from the Rape of Lucrece:

‘Why should the private pleasure of someone
Become the public plague of many more?
For one’s offence why should so many fall
To plague a private sin in general?” (A Life is Too Short, Nicholas Fairbairn, Fontana, 1987)


photo (13)That June Nicholas Fairbairn defended Peter Dorschel at Dunoon Sheriff’s Court, his trial for spying having been transferred from Manchester where he’d been caught near Prestwich. Dorschel was an Eastern German, aged who’d been recruited by USSR and funded to buy a small hotel which he’d chosen in view of the Polaris base. At his trial he was convicted for offences under the Official Secrets Act, although his prowess as a spy was laughed at during the trial when it was revealed he had sent his spy bosses picture postcards of locations when they’d asked for photos.

“Spying does not play a very large part in the life of Scotland, so far anyway. It would if we became, which God forbid, an independent, oil-fired, tartan ruritanian tax-haven. I next appeared for one Peter Dorschel, a German who was charged that’ he tried to solicit and induce and endeavor to persuade another person to commit an offence under the Official Secrets Act 1911 for a purpose prejudicial to the safety and interest of the State.’ He did indeed obtain certain document which were an engineer’s plans of the lay-out of the lavatory in a Polaris submarine. I hope the Russians found them useful. Would that was all the plans they ever got. Lords Grant rightly and brusquely imprisoned him for seven years.”

One wonders how far Fairbairn’s defence caused much of the mirth, more so than Dorschel’s actions themselves or whether his acting talents ever tempted him into playing to the gallery with descriptions of  Dorschel’s bumbling foray into spying, characterised as a very brief, isolated incident, quickly nipped in the bud.

“Before she had the affair with Wilcox she had one with Nicholas Fairbairn MP. What did she learn from him about the political world? ‘Nothing.’ Too young? ‘I think he was a barrister then. What I did learn about was the law. That a clever defence lawyer can run rings around the police. Nicholas was a dandy. He designed his own bowler hats.’” (Esther Rantzen, Our Lady of LutonTelegraph, 08/01/2010)

And yet when reading about Giarchi’s observation that everyone appears to have ignored brothels being run in Dunoon five years earlier and the specific concerns of parents that US Navy Ratings seemed particularly focused on pubescent but young teenage girls under 16, one has to wonder if the means for Dorschel and others to make contacts to receive documents from the US Navy base was under cover of something with more leverage than merely a hotel?

 1. Did Nicholas Fairbairn ever finish Volume Two of his Autobiography – Volume One ends as he enters Parliament and I’d like to have read more about his long parliamentary career and decisions taken as Solicitor General for Scotland?

2. Did Savile ever read Between McAlpine and Polaris? You sense he already knew the business and criminal opportunities great change wrought upon local communities when he writes about the black market created out of the upheaval during WWII and how much he clearly relished living in Leeds ‘the City of Sin’? Residential care homes located within easy distance of military bases would be of concern.

3. I have a spare copy of Between McAlpine and Polaris should anyone in Whitehall wish to take up the recommendation. No postage necessary.



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