Ian Finlay

From Scotland On Air
Jump to: navigation, search

William Ian Robertson Finlay, CBE (2 December 1906–10 December 1995) was a broadcaster during the Second World War and was deputy regional information officer for Scotland at the Ministry of Information. A well-known figure in the arts, he was the author of many books on Scotland and her people, and delivered many broadcast talks on art and other topics.

Early life

Finlay was born in Auckland, New Zealand on 2 December 1906, but he was no antipodean as his parents returned with him to their native Scotland when he was six weeks old. He was educated at Edinburgh Academy and Edinburgh University.

He joined the staff of the Royal Scottish Museum in Edinburgh in 1932.

He married Mary Pringle in 1933. They had two sons and a daughter.


Finlay delivered a number of talks on BBC radio between 1936 and 1962, most of them on the subject of art and often about exhibitions at The Royal Scottish Academy where he worked.

The BBC Genome project suggests his first broadcast maybe have been on 16 May 1936 when he delivered a talk on 'The Exhibition of Scottish Everyday Art' on the Scottish Regional Programme.

During the Second World War he presented four editions of the weekly review programme North of the Tweed, between January and March 1942, and again in May 1945.

One notable talk he delivered during the war was on Art and the Nazi, in which he threw 'new light on a rather dark subject' and revealed 'some amusingly interesting sidelights on Hitler's career'.

As well as being heard across the British Isles, Finlay also broadcast several talks for overseas listeners.

One of his last broadcasts on the BBC Home Service, Scots in Sweden, was broadcast on 2 September 1962 and was his account of an exhibition in the Royal Scottish Museum.

Second World War

During the Second World War, he was seconded to the Ministry of Information and was deputy regional information officer for Scotland from 1942 to 1944.

Director, Royal Scottish Museum

He became a keeper of the Department of Art and Ethnography at the Royal Scottish Museum from 1955 to 1961, when he was appointed to the directorship of the museum. During his tenure as director, many new developments took shape. He began the programme of building renewal at the museum, set up its education section, and began a programme of public lectures at the museum's lecture theatre. He retired in 1971.

He took a lasting interest in silver, and one of his books was A History of Scottish Gold and Silver Work, first published in 1956.

Positions held

Among his many positions Finlay was:

  • Secretary, Royal Fine Art Commission for Scotland 1953–61;
  • Member of the Edinburgh Festival Council 1968–71.
  • Professor of Antiquities to the Royal Scottish Academy 1971–95;
  • Awarded the CBE in 1965.
  • FRSA, 1971.


He died in Edinburgh on 10 December 1995 at the age of 89.