Scotland

The man who has been to every Edinburgh festival

The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Bruno Walter, 1947 © Paul Shillabeer's daughter Pauline Grierson.jpg Image copyright Pauline Grierson
Image caption The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Bruno Walter in 1947

George "Jock" Dewar has been to every Edinburgh International Festival in its 70-year history but he has never been to the Fringe.

The retired Classics teacher had just been demobbed from the Army after serving in World War Two when the first Edinburgh Festival took place in 1947.

He told BBC Scotland: "It was a double delight.

"I was four years in the army, I'd been more or less starved of live music, and I had the good luck to be demobbed during the first festival."

The idea of a cultural celebration to provide a new "platform for the flowering of the human spirit" came from Rudolph Bing, an Austrian Jew who had fled the Nazis.

Image caption Jock Dewar has been to the Edinburgh International Festival every year since 1947

Bing, who was the general manager of the Glyndebourne Opera, had sought Oxford and Cambridge as his first choices but it was Edinburgh that rose to the challenge of hosting the best of European culture while still recovering from a devastating war and the austerity that continued.

The first Edinburgh International Festival of Music and Drama featured The Glyndebourne Opera which presented The Marriage of Figaro and Macbeth as well as Margot Fonteyn dancing in Sleeping Beauty with the Sadler's Wells Ballet and a 33-year-old Alec Guinness in an Old Vic production of Richard II.

For Mr Dewar, it was the reuniting of conductor Bruno Walter with the Vienna Philharmonic that was the most amazing example of the festival's healing mission.

He says: "Above all I remember Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde. That was outstanding for several reasons.

"Firstly, it was Bruno Walter's first meeting with the Vienna Philharmonic since 1938."

Walter was a German by birth but he was also Jewish.

He conducted in Berlin before Hitler came to power but left for Vienna in 1933.

Image copyright Norward Inglis
Image caption Bruno Walter and Kathleen Ferrier at the first festival in 1947

Walter was then forced to flee Vienna in 1938 at the time of Anschluss, when Germany annexed Austria, and he ended up in the US.

Edinburgh was the first time he had been reunited with his old orchestra.

Mr Dewar, aged 21 at the time, says the concert was also remarkable because they played Mahler and Bruckner "who were more or less frowned upon and hardly ever performed in this country".

He says Bruckner was described by one critic as a "symphonic boa constrictor", showing the contempt British critics had for him at the time.

Mr Dewar, who is now 91, has had a lifelong love of classical music.

Image copyright Pauline Grierson
Image caption The Queen Mother & Princess Margaret at the Usher Hall in 1947

During the first festival he took the train from his home in Inverkeithing in Fife and tried to attend as many concerts as he could.

He says he went to the performances on his own and was transported by the music but did not register the emotional feelings of others in the audience at the resumption of normal life after the war.

"I did not feel that myself," he says.

"I don't get very emotional myself ever and I was so taken up by the music myself."

The first festival was a huge success and Mr Dewar, who later taught Latin at the Royal High School in Edinburgh and was a rugby coach, made a point of returning year after year to indulge his love of music.

He says: "I've seen virtually every top orchestra in Europe and the US and the top conductors, pianists, violinists, singers, you name it."

However, one disappointment was not getting to see legendary opera singer Maria Callas in 1957.

He says he had tickets to see one of her later performances but she was unwell and had to be replaced.

Nowadays, Mr Dewar books his tickets well in advance and often manages to get his "own" favourite seat in the Usher Hall.

Having struggled for many years to afford the best seats for concerts, he decided when he retired that he would "treat" himself.

He used to go to 25 performances in each festival but has cut it back to about 15 in recent years.

"I don't have the stamina or the money," he says.

While the international festival has given him many years of pleasure, its rowdy and larger sibling The Fringe has never interested him.

Mr Dewar says: "At the very first festival a handful of people came to chance their arm.

"Now of course there are thousands.

"I wish the festival and the Fringe would separate and run at different times. The place is too crowded."