Alistair Moffat

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Alistair Murray Moffat (born 16 June 1950, Kelso, Scotland) is a Scottish writer and journalist, former director of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and former Rector of the University of St Andrews.[1]


Moffat graduated from the University of St Andrews in 1972 with an honours degree in medieval history.[2] He also attended the University of Edinburgh and the University of London, where he earned a Master of Philosophy degree in 1975.[3][4]

Moffat was also active in student politics throughout his time at St Andrews, playing a leading role[citation needed] in the rectorial campaign of John Cleese,[5] who went on to become one of St Andrews' best loved rectors.[6]

At Edinburgh Moffat continued his involvement in student politics, campaigning with Gordon Brown,[citation needed] the second student elected rector of the University of Edinburgh.[7][8] Moffat and Brown went on to campaign on a number of social and political issues including gay rights and the 1979 Edinburgh South by-election.[citation needed]


Edinburgh Festival Fringe[edit]

Moffat found early success after university, becoming Director of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 1976. Moffat's five-year tenure saw the festival grow into the largest arts festival in the world.[9]


Moffat left the Fringe in 1981 and joined STV, where he rose to become programme director, Chief Executive of Network Production and finally Chairman of STV.[citation needed] In 1989 he was appointed to the NSG, the group that controls UK wide scheduling for ITV. He left STV in 1999 to focus on writing.[citation needed]


During the 1970s and early 1980s Moffat wrote a number of papers focusing on education policy.[citation needed] His approach, recommending a renewed focus on primary education as the key to widening participation at secondary and higher levels, has since formed parts of the education manifestos of all three major parties in Britain.[citation needed]

Moffat's writing since 1999 has been focused mainly in the field of social history. Beginning with The Edinburgh Fringe (1978), he has written over twenty books including the bestselling Tyneside, The Reivers and The Wall, all of which have since been remade as television series.[10]

Career after STV[edit]

Since leaving STV in 1999, Moffat has served as Director of the Borders Book Festival and Lennoxlove Book Festival, both of which he also founded. He has also maintained his interest in education, serving as Director of "Book Nation", a Scottish national literacy initiative, working alongside Sir Robert Winston and Margaret Drabble to improve literacy in Scotland.

On 28 October 2011, Moffat was elected Rector of the University of St Andrews. He was appointed for a three-year term, his period of office spanning the university’s 600th anniversary celebrations which ran from 2011 to 2013.[11]

BritainsDNA Controversy[edit]

Moffat was the chief executive of the company BritainsDNA, which offered genetic analyses of the mitochondrial DNA and Y chromosomal DNA of customers who interested in their ancestry. Moffat's management and promotion of the company generated some controversy and criticism from some of the scientific community due to certain scientifically unfounded claims,[12] and his use of legal threats to stifle scientific criticism.[12] Ultimately both the University of St Andrews and the BBC upheld complaints against him.[12]

On the BBC Today Programme, Moffat made some incorrect statements, including that 97% of men surnamed Cohen share a common genetic marker.[13] Geneticists at University College London including David Balding and Mark G. Thomas criticised these claims [14] as having no scientific basis and being little more than genetic astrology.[15] Balding and Thomas wrote a series of emails to the chief scientist at BritainsDNA, encouraging him to retract these inaccuracies. This was met by a legal threat from Moffat at their use of the term "fraudulent".[16] The content of these messages has been since published.[17] Moffat's claims about the Cohen genetic marker were ultimately retracted by the chief scientist of BritainsDNA.[14]

BritainsDNA was the trade name of one of several commercial companies that comprise The Moffat Partnership Limited, founded by Moffat and partners in 2012.[18] The other Moffat companies providing genetic testing included ScotlandsDNA (the first), IrelandsDNA, CymruDNAWales and YorkshiresDNA.[19] BritainsDNA ceased trading in 2017.[12]

Great Tapestry of Scotland[edit]

Moffat was co-chairman and historian for the Great Tapestry of Scotland, a community arts project which produced the embroidered tapestry, designed by Andrew Crummy with contributions from around 1000 stitchers from across Scotland. It was unveiled on 3 September 2013 at the Scottish Parliament.[20]

Personal life[edit]

Moffat met his wife Lindsay while both were students at the University of St Andrews. They were married in 1976 in the university's ancient St Salvator's Chapel, a privilege and tradition commonly reserved only for alumni, staff or their offspring.[21] The couple have three children, two of whom also attended St Andrews.

From 2009 to 2011 he served at the invitation of James Naughtie, the Chancellor of the University of Stirling, as Chancellor's Assessor on Stirling's University Court.[22] He resigned the position in October 2011 on being invited to stand for Rector of the University of St Andrews, an election which he won on 28 October 2011.[11]


  1. ^ "". Alistair Moffat. Retrieved 4 March 2014.
  2. ^ "2012 | 'The greatest university in the world' | University of St Andrews". Archived from the original on 3 October 2015. Retrieved 17 March 2018.
  3. ^ "Alistair Moffat: Scotland – A History From Earliest Times - Edinburgh City of Literature". Edinburgh City of Literature. Retrieved 17 March 2018.[permanent dead link]
  4. ^ Senate House Libraries catalogue (Thesis). University of London. Retrieved 9 July 2014.
  5. ^ United Kingdom. "University of St Andrews - Scotland's first university, founded 1413". Retrieved 4 March 2014.
  6. ^ Twiss and Chennell, "Famous Rectors of St Andrews", (Alvie, 1982), p208
  7. ^ "The University of Edinburgh". Retrieved 4 March 2014.
  8. ^ Rosenbaum, Martin (15 July 2005). "Brown's first taste of power". BBC News. Retrieved 25 May 2013. In 1972 he became the second student to be elected Rector.
  9. ^ "Alistair Moffat :: Authors :: Birlinn Ltd". Retrieved 4 March 2014.
  10. ^ "The Wall: Rome's Greatest Frontier". Archived from the original on 23 June 2011. Retrieved 4 October 2011.
  11. ^ a b "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2 November 2011. Retrieved 28 October 2011.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  12. ^ a b c d Kennett, Debbie. A. (2 November 2018). "The Rise and Fall of BritainsDNA: A Tale of Misleading Claims, Media Manipulation and Threats to Academic Freedom". Genealogy. 2 (4): 47. doi:10.3390/genealogy2040047.
  13. ^ "Today - Uncovering British 'deep ancestry'". BBC News. 9 July 2012. Retrieved 4 March 2014.
  14. ^ a b Jim Wilson (17 December 2012). "Response to "Exaggerations and errors in the promotion of genetic ancestry testing"". Genomes Unzipped. Retrieved 16 July 2017.
  15. ^ Thomas, Mark (25 February 2013). "To claim someone has 'Viking ancestors' is no better than astrology". Science. The Guardian. Retrieved 4 March 2014.
  16. ^ "The right to speak out". Editorial. Nature. 496 (7444): 137. 11 April 2013. doi:10.1038/496137a. PMID 23586093.
  17. ^ "Molecular and Cultural Evolution Laboratory". University College London.
  18. ^ "THE MOFFAT PARTNERSHIP LIMITED, TD6 9RU MELROSE Financial Information". CompaniesInTheUK. Retrieved 17 March 2018.
  19. ^ "Timeline of events". Retrieved 17 March 2018.
  20. ^ Susan Mansfield and Alistair Moffat (2013)The Great Tapestry of Scotland Birlinn Books ISBN 978-1-78027-160-6
  21. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 27 October 2011. Retrieved 1 November 2011.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  22. ^ "University of Stirling - UK Universities - Academic Excellence in Scotland". 10 February 2014. Retrieved 4 March 2014.

External links[edit]

Academic offices
Preceded by Rector of the University of St Andrews
Succeeded by