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Margaret Tait (1918-1999)

November marks the centenary of the birth of Margaret Tait, the Orcadian medic turned film-maker and poet.

Margaret Tait
Margaret Tait in the projection room at the Filmhouse

Born in 1918 in Kirkwall on Orkney and schooled in Edinburgh, Margaret Tait qualified in medicine at the University of Edinburgh in 1941, before joining the Royal Army Medical Corps in 1943 to serve in India, Sri Lanka and Malaya. She returned to Britian in 1946 and began a career as a doctor.

Film studies

In a pronounced departure from her medical career, in 1950 Margaret decided to study film at the Centro Sperimentale di Photographia in Rome. It was there that she began to forge her own distinct style of film-making, inspired by cinematography movements of the era but mainly rooted in her own dogged vision.

Returning to Scotland she established Ancona Films in Edinburgh's Rose Street, while also becoming a friend of the renowned group of Rose Street poets that included Hugh MacDiarmid. She continued to work on both mediums and often decribed her films as "film poems".


The 1950s was an extremely productive period for Margaret's poetry, and she produced several books including three of poems. Several of these dealt with scientific subjects matters, showing the influence of her time at the University, and also paid homage to other poets.

Return to Orkney

In the 1960s Margaret moved back to Orkney where over the following decades she made a series of films inspired by the Orcadian landscape and culture. All but three of her thirty two films were self financed.

Screenings of her films included at the National Film Theatre (London), Berlin Film Festival, Centre for Contemporary Art (Warsaw), Arsenal Kino (Berlin), Pacific Film Archives (San Francisco), Knokke le Zoute, Delhi and Riga. Margaret was also accorded a retrospective at the 1970 Edinburgh Film Festival.

'Blue Black Permanent' - her only feature length film - opened the Edinburgh International Film Festival in 1993, while her final film 'Garden Pieces' was completed in 1998.

Margaret Tait died in Kirkwall in 1999.

The kind of cinema I care about is at the level of poetry - in fact - it has been in a way my life's work making film poems.

Margaret Tait

Additional sources

Scottish Poetry Library biography (external)

Related links

Margaret Tait 100 is a year-long centenary celebration of the film-maker and poet, which started this month.

Margaret Tait 100 (external)