19 March 2020 | Blog

Did I Ever Tell You The One About Me And Kirk Douglas?

19th March 2019

In 1976 I was in Edinburgh as Musical Director of ‘The Kibbo Kift’, a musical at the Traverse Theatre that I had written with composer Maxwell Hutchinson. (Script and recordings are in the Archive section of this site, by the way.) I was in Princes Street Gardens one afternoon, in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle, listening to a pipe band, when it came on to rain. The pipers opened their packs and produced the most wonderful plastic macs I had ever seen. Long, black and silky, they had a cape instead of sleeves, an ‘Ulster’, as might be worn by Sherlock Holmes or a pre-war policeman. As well as looking super-stylish the cape enabled the pipes to be carried and played ‘under cover’.

I had to have one, and approached one piper to inquire where they came from. He asked their Quartermaster, and I was told they could be obtained from McTavishe’s ‘Heeland Ootfitters’. On my next afternoon off I located the small shop and inquired whether they had any piper’s rain capes. I was directed to the basement, which was deserted, and among the racks of clothes found a rail of the garments in question.

I found one in my size, put it on, and was admiring myself in the mirror when, without warning, a voice spoke behind me. It was a deep, resonant and American voice. ‘That’s very Holmsian’, it said. Where had he sprung from? I wondered. I turned round and there was Kirk Douglas. I goggled at him in astonishment, but it was him alright. Really tall with brilliant blue eyes, but not wearing the Valentino suit or expensive leisurewear proper to Hollywood royalty, but dressed in a rough poncho, with a six-day beard, as if he’d materialized from the set of one of his grittier Westerns, ‘Indian Fighter’ maybe, or ‘Last Train from Gun Hill’. The famous dimple on his chin looked absolutely bottomless.

I managed to gabble on a bit about Pipe bands and their rain-wear, and he was very pleasant and chatty. I asked him what he was doing in Edinburgh and he said he was competing in the Pro-Am golf tournament. I told him I had a show on at the Traverse and said I’d leave his name at the door. ‘You don’t have to come’, I said, ‘But it would be fun to leave your name at the door.’ We had a bit of a laugh and I took my cape up to the Ground Floor, leaving Spartacus alone downstairs. As I paid for my purchase, I quietly checked with the proprietor. ‘Downstairs, that is..you know?’. ‘Oh aye,’ he answered conspiratorially, ‘Mr Douglas… he’s buying a kilt!’