Like many of those born outside Scotland to avowedly Scottish families, Dugald Bruce-Lockhart has a complicated relationship with the mothership.
“WITH a name like Dugald Alastair Roddick Bruce-Lockhart, you must be Scottish,” says the casting director, studying my CV with a frown.
It’s a good question – and one I’ve never known quite how to answer.
“There’s not a single drop of English blood in my veins…” so begins my great uncle Bertie, also known as RH Bruce-Lockhart, in his autobiography, Memoirs of a British Agent, an account of his time as British consul in Moscow during the Bolshevik Revolution, where he ended up being framed, along with Sidney Reilly, for an assassination attempt on Lenin (“The Lockhart Plot”, as it is still known in Russian history books), subsequently pardoned in an exchange for the release of the Russian spy Litvinov, and sentenced to death in absentia. (The book was turned into a film by Warner Brothers in 1936, starring Trevor Howard, and was Hollywood’s biggest budget film of its day).
And yet, despite this and the fact that several of my Scottish relatives played international rugby, cricket and indeed squash for Scotland (at one time a Bruce-Lockhart family squad took on the US national team at real tennis and resoundingly beat them), despite the fact they were headmasters of numerous Scottish educatory establishments – such as Loretto in Musselburgh – I, alas, can’t confidently claim to be Scottish.
First of all, the maths doesn’t tally.
My father was half Scottish – my mother, English (there is also a little Irish, Spanish and German in the equation), and when I open my mouth, I happen to sound about as Scottish as Marlon Brando. Add into the mix the fact I was born in Fiji, schooled first in Cyprus and then at two boarding school establishments in the UK, and grew up in Vienna, Lagos (Nigeria) and Bonn, I honestly couldn’t tell you where I am from.
I’m an actor and a writer – and I am based in London. Voila.
But I can’t say that to the casting director – they’re looking for a Scot for the role.
Then I remembered the words of my paternal grandfather – “But your spirit is Scottish”.
Ah. Now this may be true.
I learned to fly fish when I was nine (taught by Geoffrey Bucknall – okay, not a Scot, but considerably closer to the Highlands than the M25), tied my own flies at 13; was a confident with a shotgun at 15, (I went on to shoot Browning 303s for my school, Sedbergh, in Cumbria, where my great grandfather – a Scot – was headmaster during the war) and love nothing more than to ramble for hours across moorland and heath, cleansing my soul of its misdemeanours under a wind-blown, rain-swept sky. And to top it all, like my grandfather JM Bruce-Lockhart, who was number two in MI6 during the Second World War, I also studied at the University of St Andrews, home of golf. (No MI6 for me, I hasten to add. One of the scouts for the secret service who worked in the university’s international relations department had deemed me “unsuitable” – so my parents told me, when they came up to visit one winter).
That’s all good – but then, how come I don’t like whisky (despite a founding Bruce-Lockhart ancestor, James McGregor, setting up his own Speyside distillery, Balmenach)?
The casting director is waiting.
Hang on – what about my two defining moments as a fisherman?
The first, was in fact my very first stab at the art (possibly my first ever real memory), when I was four years old, trying to catch minnows in a net on a tiny stream off Loch Sunart near the village of Strontian. I remember not catching any fish, I remember sucking on a green popsicle, and I remember taking a speed boat out over the loch with the family to picnic on a little island, humming the tune of Kumbaya for some reason, petrified that the boat was going to sink.
The second, equally formative, was many years later when I filming an episode of Rockface (a mountain rescue drama) for ITV in Fort William, and the helicopter we were using for the action sequences kept being called out to Ben Nevis for real, to pick up errant climbers who gone astray in the fog. Having been stuck in my hotel room for three days with no suggestion as to when I’d be on set, I checked in with production (who didn’t want to incur the expense of flying me back south for a day or two – fair enough) and told them I’d be off for a spot of fishing – on the other end of my prehistoric mobile phone, of course, in case of need.
So I hired a car, bought myself a cheap spinning rod and a couple of Mepps lures (it was August – past the fly fishing season, and in any case I couldn’t afford a day ticket on a river) and studied the map for a suitable loch. Unbelievably, I found one after my own name – albeit in its original Gaelic form – Loch Dughaill. (Pleasingly – for a professional actor who likes to maintain an air of mystery – the name Dugald/Dughaill means “dark stranger” in Gaelic) and so I set off, arriving two hours later where I parked up and began to fish.
A couple of hours passed and no joy. I then realised the Isle of Skye was only a further hour’s drive away, so I set off to see what I might chance upon on that most famously Scottish jewel.
After driving, gobsmacked, around the barren majesty of the island, continually throwing backwards glance to the mainland where the mountains fell sheer to the sea, I noticed it was getting late and conceded I’d have to think about heading back.
I’d given up on the idea of fishing – the landscape was reward enough – but as I headed for the bridge I spotted a tiny tarn by the side of the road. Fuck it – I thought. Pulling up, I sprayed myself with midge repellent, stuck a hat on my head and rolled my sweater up to my eyes for extra protection, then stepped out of the car and began to fish.
My second cast in, I hooked a fish. Then the midges launched their own attack. It took nearly ten minutes to bring the poor thing in – not because it was of any size (it wasn’t even half a pound) – but because the midges were so vicious I had to keep putting the road down to slap my hands and face and rub the buggers out of my eyes. And by the time the perfectly formed brown trout was in the heather flapping at my feet, I was swearing blind and stamping like an enraged bull. I cut the line, threw the fish back in the water and stumbled for the car. Once in, I looked in the mirror and saw my eyes had swollen to become a pair of squash balls.
Still – I’d caught a fish. Job done. Or so I thought. When I got back to the car hire the next morning, the assistant pointed out the dashboard had melted. Nothing to do with me, I exclaimed. But he insisted it wasn’t there before, and was therefore going to have to charge me £150. I was furious – all I had done was drive to Skye and back and spray myself with midge repellent. He apologised but he had no choice.
Reluctantly I paid and grumbled my way back to the hotel, which was when I checked the spray bottle: “Fine to spray on the skin, but may melt plastic”.
Dugald Alastair Roddick Bruce-Lockhart went to bed feeling very English.
“Are you Scottish?” the casting director asks me a final time.
“Does it matter?” I reply finally. “After all, the label maketh not the man.”
I believe they gave the role to David Tennant.
Dugald Bruce Lockhart will appear at the Bloody Scotland International Crime Writing Festival on Saturday 19 September at 3pm in “Crime in the Spotlight” and at 7.30pm in “Crime at the Coo”. All events are free and run from Friday 18 to Sunday 20 September 2020. Watch the festival at bloodyscotland.com/watch
The Lizard by Dugald Bruce Lockhart is published by Muswell Press (£12.99).