ADRIAN THARME, August 2018
This article is based on the hand-out notes I prepared for a Community Library Exhibition in 2013 to honour Gilbert Fisher who, in the 1940’s and 1950’s, became known to a generation of children ( and to their parents, grandparents,aunt and uncles ) as the “Hut Man”. Gilbert Fisher was one of the first broadcasters to excite children throughout the country about our native wildlife. He did this in wireless programmes during Children’s Hour on the BBC Home Service from1948 to 1956 all based on his experiences in the Lochwinnoch countryside. He and
his family lived in the village from 1920 uintil 1956.
GILBERT FISHER, THE HUT-MAN
"WHO WAS HE?"
Gilbert Dempster Fisher was born in Bishopton in 1906. His father was William Duncan Fisher
and his mother, Mary McEwan Dempster. The Fisher family arrived in Lochwinnoch at the end of World War 1 and settled at West Knockbartnock, a house
just outside the village. It was here that Gilbert and
his brothers, Kenneth, Albin and Lauderdale spent
their formative years. After completing his
education,Gilbert went into the world of
business but within 10 years decided to
devote the rest of his life to the world of
nature. A career followed thereafter as
a Naturalist, Writer, Broadcaster and
as Director Secretary of the Royal
Zoological Society of Scotland.The
latter role effectively put him in
charge of Edinburgh Zoo. He
retired in 1971. In 1940 he had
married Ellen Veitch Shaw and
they had one son, Jeremy, who
lives in the USA. Gilbert Fisher
died in1985 at North Berwick
aged 78 years.
In 1936 Gilbert Fisher was elected
as a member of the British Ornitho-
logical Union. Around this time he
moved out of the family home at West
Knockbartnock and, with the help of
his brothers, built a wooden hut on a
site just half a mile away. This hut was
to be his home for many years. In design
it was similar to holiday huts prevalent in
the Calder Glen both pre and post war. Some
of these can still be seen on Stepends Road today.
The hut was located just beyond Peockstone on the
road to Kilmacolm where the house called “Kaimburn”
now stands. Facilities were basic; water was supplied to
the hut from the nearby burn using a rudimentary system devised by Gilbert.
Toddy the Fox Cub
It was here that Gilbert became immersed in the study of nature and developed the skills with which he would become a consummate communicator of his knowledge of wild life. It was here
that Gilbert Fisher became the “Hut Man“; a soubriquet by which he was affectionately known for the rest of his life. In the late 1940’s Fisher’s wife, Ellen, designed a house which they built alongside the Hut. This became the family home till 1956 when Gilbert, Ellen and their son
Jeremy moved from Lochwinnoch to Edinburgh.
THE HUT-MAN: BROADCASTER and COMMUNICATOR
Gilbert Fisher’s radio career began in the mid 1930’s. However, he became best known for his Children’s Hour programmes on the BBC Home Service from 1948 to 1956. These were entitled
“Hut Country Walks“ but later presented as “Exploringthe Hut Country". The stories were based on two fictitious children visiting the Hut Country and being introduced to different aspects of it’s wildlife. No adventure was completed without Mowgli, the Hut Man’s spaniel, or reference to “the grey house among the limes” – the family home at Knockbartnock or the Far-Away Woods.
During this period Fisher was part of a "brain's trust" programme answering children’s questions on all aspects of nature. The Hut Man’s colleagues on the panel were the founder Director-Secretary of the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland Tom Gillespie (the Zoo Man), and the well-known ornithologist Henry Douglas-Home (the Bird Man). This media activity gave Fisher some celebrity, which, with his effortless ability to communicate and explain aspects of nature, allowed Fisher to bring his knowledge into the classroom. He spent much of his time during the 1940’s and 50’s in the schools of Glasgow, Ayrshire and Renfrewshire talking about nature often to
city or town children who had no experience of the countryside. In summer, buses would bring children to see the Hut Country and Fisher spent weeks teaching at school summer-camps. An innovative progression was to “teach the teachers” and a series of residential courses were held at Galloway House, Garlieston from 1951 till 1956. His last book “The Teacher’s Book of Nature Study” was a distillation of the content of these courses.
THE HUT-MAN: AUTHOR
Another element in the communication of his knowledge of wildlife was “The Hut Man’s Club“. This club was set up in late 1930’s and survived the war years as a feature in the SMT Magazine. Fisher was serving in the Royal Air Force so the Club was supported by an enthusiastic group of volunteers including Dr John Smyth who contributed the marine section (narrative and illustrations ) in the “Teacher’s Book of Nature Study”. Members could secure badges recognising a skill or knowledge in various categories of nature study and these were proudly pinned to blazers or jumpers. The club fell victim to a reorganisation of the SMT Magazine in 1946 but was revived in 1958 in Scotland Magazine as The Hut Man’s Nature Club under the auspices of the Royal Scottish Zoological Society. Later it became the vehicle for junior membership of the Zoological Society and name changed to The Gannet Club.
Gilbert Fisher’s career as a freelance writer began in the 1930’s when he was contracted to do a weekly column for a West of Scotland newspaper. Numerous regular contributions to magazines and newspapers followed. He was editor of
“The Children’s Magazine” published by Wm McLellan of Glasgow.
His first book was of children’s verse, “A Number of Things” (Moray Press 1935) followed by the first of the books written in Lochwinnoch, “The Hut-Man’s Book” (Chambers, 1938). Both these books were illustrated by his wife, E.V.Shaw whom he
married in 1940. Another book about the wildlife around
Lochwinnoch was published the next year,
“Adventure in Hut Country”
(T&H Constable/University Press,1939).
During World War 2, Gilbert Fisher served in the
Royal Air Force. His first two books post-war were
“Hut Country Days” (Sylvan Press, 1948) and
“Your Nature Book” (Sylvan Press,1949).
Fisher then added “Exploring the Hut Country”
(W&R Chambers, 1952) to the series and the same
year a number of softback booklets
“In the Hut Country” were published.
“The Children’s Book of British Birds”
(W&R Chambers,1952) was commissioned for
4 separate volumes but released in one book.
To support his work integrating nature studies into
the educational curriculum, Fisher produced
“The Teacher’s Book of Nature Study”
(W&R Chambers, 1958). The marine section was
written and illustrated by Dr John Smyth.
Fisher had completed this book in 1956 prior to his
appointment as Director-Secretary of the Royal Zoological Society.
The original notes to accompany the Community Library’s exhibition “Lochwinnoch’s Hut Man” and this updated version have been compiled by Adrian Tharme The narrative is based on information provided by Jerry Fisher (son), Helen Burns (niece) Alastair Sinclair who produced the Wikipedia entry on Gilbert Fisher and Margaret Dolan. Many thanks to all of them.
Lochwinnoch, August 2018