Ice skating books at the Library : The John Simpson Christie Collection

Every four years ice skating captures the attention of the world when the Winter Olympics take place. This week the world has watched Aliona Savchenko with partner Bruno Massot collapse on the ice with joy and exhaustion after winning Olympic gold at her fifth attempt. In 1984 a British television audience of more than 24 million watched Torvill and Dean win Olympic gold, skating to Maurice Ravel’s Boléro at the Sarajevo 1984 Winter Olympics. So this seems a good time to publicise an ice skating related donation that we were very pleased to accept a couple of years ago.

The National Library of Scotland is home to many world class collections. Some of these have been built up by staff at the Library and some are donated or purchased collections. In 2016 we were delighted to accept a donation of a around 300 books on ice skating. The collection had been put together over many years by John Simpson Christie an actor, singer and later an ice skating coach. After John’s death from cancer in 2014 his partner Paddy Lyon had been trying to find a home for the books. When he approached us in spring 2016 we were delighted to accept the collection and it is now available for free consultation at the Library.

It is a wide ranging and fascinating collection that Christie had built up over many years. It includes books in French, German, Russian, Ukrainian and Czech reflecting the world wide popularity of the sport. John collected any and all titles on ice skating regardless of the level or intended audience. The collection includes skating related children’s fiction, beginner’s guides, popular biographies and autobiographies, feminist academic works, art history and professional coaching manuals.

 John’s books includes many rare and unusual titles about the winter Olympics including “Athletes of Ukraine at the XVIIth Olympic Winter Games” published by the National Olympic Committee of Ukraine in 1994. Amongst other titles are a 1999 autobiography of French skater Sophie Moniotte “Les patins de la colère” and a 1993 book about Czech skater Áji Vrzáňové as well as many books on British skaters such as John Curry, Robin Cousins and Torvill and Dean. The collection also includes a book of essays from a feminist perspective on the attack on Nancy Kerrigan by Tonya Harding “Women on ice” and a beautiful art book “Holland frozen in time” featuring classic paintings of ice skating on frozen Dutch lakes and canals.

The story of why John collected the books is fascinating. John Simpson Christie was born in the mining town of Buckhaven in Fife. His father was a miner but he did not want his three sons to follow him down the mines. On leaving school John got a good job in local government but within a few years he had itchy feet. Amateur theatre took up most of his spare time and he was soon playing the lead role in amateur productions. In 1974 he got a place at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow. By the 1980s he was pursuing a steady career as an actor and counter tenor including playing principal roles with Scottish Opera. The role that would change his live though was as John Hume an ice skating coach in a much loved Screen Two play “Ice Dance” that was shown on BBC 2 in 1989. John was so convincing in the role that people approached him in the street and asked him if he could coach them. John had been an ice skating champion as a teenager but regarded skating more as a hobby then a vocation. When a colleague from Scottish Opera Joyce Fielsend asked if John could train her he agreed and he found that he enjoyed it and was good at it. He soon had a few pupils and then took a teaching job at the ice rink in Paisley. He later became skating development officer at Braehead Centre. He studied and gained formal qualifications as a sports coach and began to collect skating books. Perhaps inspired by his partner Paddy Lyons, an academic and bibliophile, he slowly built up what must be one of the best collections of ice skating books in the world.

The John Simpson Christie ice skating collection is what we call a dispersed collection. This means it is not kept together physically but the books in the collection can be identified by searching under John Simpson Christie on our catalogue. An author search under “Christie, John Simpson” will produce a list of all the books in the collection. We are delighted to make this fine collection available as a permanent part of our sports holdings