Actor Mark Bonnar revisits his dad's famous concrete hippos

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Image source, BBC/Objective Media
Image caption,
Stan and Mark Bonnar in Glenrothes with concrete hippos made by Stan in the 1970s

When Scottish actor Mark Bonnar was growing up he thought it was normal to have a dad whose job was making concrete hippos for new towns.

His father Stan Bonnar was one of Scotland's first artists specifically employed to make art for the brand new towns sprouting up across the country in the 1970s.

"It was a fascinating way to grow up," the actor, who recently starred in the second series of the BBC's Guilt, says.

"My memories are of wide open space and unusual objects."

In the years after World War Two, Scotland planned five totally new towns in an attempt to move people out of the over-populated slum conditions in parts of Glasgow and other cities.

Media caption,
Artist Stan Bonnar visits his hippos for the first time in nearly 40 years.

East Kilbride, Glenrothes, Cumbernauld, Irvine and Livingston were grand planning solutions which would completely rethink how towns looked.

In 1968 Glenrothes in Fife became the first new town anywhere in the world to take on a dedicated town artist, when it appointed David Harding.

Harding was an "environmental artist" whose motto was "no plinths". His art was down on the ground for people to touch and climb on. It was as much part of the environment as the trees and the lampposts but it was also art which could move and inspire.

Image source, Objective Media/BBC
Image caption,
Mark Bonnar in East Kilbride with one of the sculptures he used to play on as a child

In his final year at art school, Stan Bonnar became Harding's apprentice and his first work was a set of concrete hippos which are still in the town to this day.

Mark and his dad returned to the hippos for the BBC Scotland documentary Meet You at the Hippos.

Stan says it was amazing to see them again after all these years.

"I had not seen them really since they came out of the mould and were bright and shiny," he says.

Five decades of Scottish weather has darkened their colour but Stan says they are still beautiful if you look at them correctly.

"To go back and see them with the skies of Glenrothes embedded in their backs was quite incredible," he says.

Stan says he is "chuffed beyond words" that the hippos have become something of a town mascot for Glenrothes.

Image source, BBC/Objective Media
Image caption,
Mark Bonnar in Glenrothes with one of the concrete hippos made by his dad

Mark, who has also starred in Line of Duty, Unforgotten and Catastrophe, says it was "very special" to see his dad's reaction to it all.

After a year in Glenrothes in the early 1970s, Stan Bonnar went to East Kilbride to be their new town artist.

Stan and Mark revisited the concrete elephants he made during his time there. They are still in position but each one has lost its trunk.

"I see them now and I know why they broke," Stan says in the documentary.

"I should have thought that the trunks need to be a wee bit stronger so that people, if they wanted to, could jump up and down on them.

"But I made them a bit too thin so I'm awful sorry about that."

Ever the artist, 72-year-old Stan says the broken trunks now form part of East Kilbride and the elephants are now even more part of the environment.

Image source, BBC/Objective Media
Image caption,
Mark Bonnar in the village of Stonehouse in Lanarkshire with two of his dad Stan's concrete elephants.

After East Kilbride, Stan became a member of the primary design team for a planned new town at Stonehouse in Lanarkshire.

In 1976, Stan moved into the first houses built in the town with his children but just days later the massive plans for Scotland's sixth new town were cancelled and it was never built.

The concrete elephants that Stan made are still there and their trunks are broken too.

Looking back at what his dad tried to achieve, Mark says he has a new found respect for his work.

"If nothing else I hope it draws people's attention to new way of looking at art," he says.