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Hollywood meets the Highlanders as Dougray Scott helps Aberdeen museum project

Dougray Scott has close links to the Gordon Highlanders and has been moved by the stories of its many heroes.
Dougray Scott has close links to the Gordon Highlanders and has been moved by the stories of its many heroes.

He’s the man who locked horns with Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible, made regular appearances in Desperate Housewives, tackled the Triffids in a big-budget TV sci-fi series and starred in the movie adaptation of the Robert Harris novel Enigma.

But now, Dougray Scott is helping the Gordon Highlanders Museum in Aberdeen to welcome back the public next month by providing the voiceover for a new film which chronicles the history of the world-famous regiment.

It’s a cause which is very close to the Glenrothes-born actor’s heart; after all, his grandfather, Lance Corporal John Patterson Morrison was in the 7th Battalion The Gordon Highlanders which fought at Arras, Passchendaele and the Somme during the First World War.

Dark days

The battalion suffered grievous losses during the hostilities in the worst days of the conflict, particularly in the latter battle in 1916.

And his involvement in the project at the popular Aberdeen visitor attraction – which, with the exception of 10 days in October, has been shut for well over a year – is just one of the myriad innovations which will greet visitors when the museum re-opens its doors on June 12.

The Gordon Highlanders museum is looking forward to welcoming back visitors following lockdown.

The Press and Journal has been given a sneak preview of the major refurbishment which is taking place at the venue, including an update of the museum reception area, shop and cafe – which will now be run in partnership with Aberdeen’s Cafe Cognito – and the installation of a new cinema and audio guide in nine different languages including Gaelic and Doric, the latter of which has been narrated by Gordon Hay of the Doric Board.

The amenities have undergone an extensive upgrade in recent months and it was a case of all masks on deck when we walked through the doors and were greeted by the museum’s chief executive, John McLeish, curator Ruth Cox and head of visitor experience Ian Pithie.

This trio and their colleagues might have had to respond to a difficult environment in the last 15 months, but there were plenty of signs that they are looking to bounce back with a vengeance on June 12.

The staff at the Gordon Highlanders Museum have refurbished the popular Aberdeen tourist attraction.

It’s a date which carries a poignant resonance for many of the families associated with the Gordon Highlanders because it was the day in 1940 when the 51st Highland Division surrendered to the Germans in impossible circumstances after a heroic rearguard action at St Valery-en-Caux in France.

POW camps

This led to the incarceration of hundreds of men from every part of the north and north-east of Scotland in POW camps scattered across Europe.

Mr McLeish said: “The last year has been a challenge for everyone and, for us, it has meant taking some difficult decisions as well as reflecting on how we operate in the future.

“We decided to take the bull by the horns and create an ambitious transformational plan, the first phase of which will be complete by the beginning of June.

John McLeish, Ruth Cox and Ian Pithie are looking forward to the museum reopening on June 12.

“We are so grateful to Dougray for generously giving up so much of his time to record the voiceover for our new introductory film.

“He and many others are helping us to create a new and re-energised visitor experience while retaining the important family values that define the regiment and to which we all subscribe”.

The venue has received substantial funding from Museums Galleries Scotland to assist its recovery from the devastating impact of the Covid pandemic.

In addition to supporting the development of the innovative multi-language audio guide, the National Development Body for the Scottish museums sector is funding the creation of a high-quality temporary exhibition hall that will allow the GHM to attract items of national significance to Aberdeen as part of a seven-year exhibition programme.

Mrs Cox explained that this will use the Highland credentials of the regiment as a starting point – in its early days, almost all the troops spoke Gaelic – before broadening matters out to take a wider view of popular and traditional Highland culture such as piping and dance.

A further six-figure grant is being provided by the Common Good Fund in Aberdeen to conduct essential repairs to the historically important St Luke’s building which houses the museum and was once the home of one of Aberdeen’s most famous artists, Sir George Reid.

The Gordon Highlanders Museum will feature a range of different languages, including Gaelic and Doric.

Mrs Cox said she was excited at the prospect of life returning to something approaching normality at the facility on Viewfield Road and has been at the forefront of implementing plans for new exhibitions and other events.

She said: “We are really looking forward to welcoming back visitors after so long and all of us can’t wait to hear what they think about our newly transformed spaces.”

Award-winning museum

The museum has won a number of awards in recent years and was praised for initiatives such as the opening of the Moffat Trench in 2019, which highlighted what life would have been like for soldiers such as Mr Scott’s grandfather in the Great War.

The museum is looking to the future, but retaining its many links with the past.

Mr Pithie said: “We’re really hoping that local people will want to come and see what we have been up to during our enforced closure.

“We have a wonderful museum, cafe and gardens and I would urge everyone to become tourists in their own town this summer.”

Return visit from acting hero

Dougray Scott in Mission: Impossible 2.

This isn’t the first time that Dougray Scott has been involved with events at the GHM in Aberdeen.

In 2016, he was the special guest at the museum when officials there launched the evocatively-titled exhibition Sacrifice at the Somme: The Gordons and the Blood-soaked Standoff.

The Hollywood actor was clearly moved by the different accounts which were featured in the commemoration to one of the war’s most notorious battles.

He said: “The people at the museum keep the stories alive and it is incredibly important that we remember what went on.

“The research I do when I’m playing soldiers would not be possible without the curiosity and hard hard work of writers, journalists and museums.”

Battle of the Somme

Mr Scott worked with staff at the museum to trace the military service of his grandfather and he signed a panel dedicated to Lance Corporal Morrison in the exhibition room during a special ceremony.

The Gordon Highlanders suffered grievous losses at The Somme in 1916.

He added: “He was just one of thousands of other soldiers who fought in the First World War.

“The plaque has his name on it, but for me, it signifies all the sacrifices of all the soldiers who fought in that war.”

More than 58,000 British casualties were declared during the 141-day battle which turned into one of the worst periods of death and destruction in any conflict in modern history.

The Gordon Highlanders are close to Dougray Scott’s heart.

Mrs Cox said: “A lot of the stories in this exhibition are quite heart-breaking. They are heavier hitting than what we are normally used to, but they are stories which need to be told.”

The museum will re-open on June 12 and all visits must be pre-booked. Tickets will be available online from Friday June 4.

Further information can be found at