Born on January 2nd 1922, Clark was the oldest child in a family of seven boys and three girls. He attended school at Swinhill, Shawsburn and Larkhall Academy. His father, also Alex, was a working miner, and Clarke’s mother, Annie, were both excellent singers, and many nights were spent in the home with all the family involved in a sing-song.
Clark started work first as a grain miller in 1936, then moved into mining with his father when he was about 17. In 1939, tragedy struck when John, Clark’s younger brother, was killed in an accident at Swinhill pit. When he went to collect John’s wages he discovered his brother had just been paid for half the shift that he was on when he was killed. He moved to work in Douglas Colliery, known locally as Ponfeigh, but before leaving Larkhall, Lanarkshire, had become a member of the Communist Party in 1942, and on moving to Rigside he joined many other communists in one of the biggest branches of the party in Scotland.
Alex had fine tenor voice and during the war years spent much of his spare time singing at concerts for the forces. During this period, he met and married Jessie McCulloch in 1946. Their Rigside home became famous as a centre of political activity, and also the scene for many excellent parties. Later the rest of the family moved to the area, where at one time there were five of the brothers in the same pit.
He was Branch Secretary of the 100-strong Rigside Communist Party branch from 1948. As also the NUM branch secretary, he organised outings to the theatre and even brought drama to his village at one time with the Theatre Workshop, an interest of his that would assume significance later in his career. He was also active on the board of the local Co-operative Society.
Clark became the full time Area Secretary of Stirling and Clackmannanshire CP in 1953. Then Clarke was appointed the Scottish Organiser of the Party in October 1955, effectively the number two in Scotland. He became the Glasgow Area Secretary from 1957-62 and was then the Assistant Scottish Secretary and Treasurer.
He was election agent for Hugh MacDiarmid when the poet stood in Perth and Kinross against Sir Alec Douglas-Home in 1964. A keen admirer of MacDiarmid’s work, he would later speak movingly at the poet’s funeral.
In the mid 1960s Clark was for a time seriously ill, as a result of which he had a lung removed and, while this curtailed his singing somewhat, it did not stop him working.
From January 1969, he was the full-time Scottish and Northern Ireland secretary of the acting union, Equity. There he developed contacts with trades councils, local and regional councils, churches and businesses, as well as other trades unions, to encourage young poets and dramatists and for their work to be seen and heard in the movement.
He argued in the STUC that there should be an arts officer for that organisation and when it was finally agreed, it was natural that Clark was offered the post. He accepted gladly and set about contacting unions, trades councils, churches, councils and businesses to get them involved in spreading the cultural message throughout the country.
His efforts to widen trade union interest in this field eventually led to the STUC setting up a post for arts officer. It was the most natural thing in the world for them to ask him to take up the post. In this job, he continued to work with all sorts of bodies to encourage cultural development. His favourite quote at that time was from William Morris, who said: “I don’t want art for a few any more than I want education for a few or freedom for a few.”
Clark worked with many people in the trade union movement to set up Glasgow’s International Festival of the Arts, which became Mayfest. Clark was a founder member and later became honorary president.
He was also always a willing and dedicated worker for the Daily Worker, later the Morning Star. At very difficult time for the paper in the 1980s, he took the chair at PPPS meetings and became a member of its management committee.
Clarke was the recipient of the Glasgow Lord Provost’s award for public service in 1987 but refused the OBE in 1995. He was further recognised when he won an award of £10,000 from the Goodman Awards for the Arts. He gave £8,000 to the Glasgow Film Theatre and £2,000 to the Arran Theatre Trust.
His list of directorships included Mayfest, the Jazz Festival, as well as the aforementioned GFT and ATT. He was also a trustee of the James Milne Memorial and the Hugh MacDiarmid Memorial Trust.
Clark never really retired and when he moved to Arran he became one of CalMacs best customers, travelling to meetings of the Arts Council, the STUC, and visiting the theatre whenever he could. He died on June 6, 2008, aged died aged 86,
Sources: Scottish Labour History Review Winter 1997/Spring 1998; Morning Star 11th June 2008; obituary by Andrew Clark in The Herald
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