HE is the maverick filmmaker who shot to fame more than 40 years ago as a member of the Monty Python comedy troupe.
Now Terry Gilliam is to be unveiled as an unlikely literary ambassador for Edinburgh – with a neon-lit quote from his favourite book set to greet thousands of visitors to the city every day.
The 75-year-old admitted he was stunned to be asked to help raise the profile of Edinburgh’s Unesco World City of Literature status – because of the city’s links with the novel Don Quixote.
But the animator, actor, writer and director has agreed to unveil a temporary landmark erected in his honour and to celebrate the city’s rich publishing history.
The 10-metre long illuminated quote from Miguel de Cervantes’ novel – which Gilliam has tried unsuccessfully to turn into a film – will become the latest new addition to the city’s literary quarter.
The area is home to Gilliam’s publisher Canongate and was also where publisher Tobias Smollett, one of the first English translators of the 17th-century Spanish novel, lived when his version came out in 1755.
The Gilliam quote will be unveiled at 6pm tomorrow on Jeffrey Street and will be clearly visible from the Bridges and trains going to and from Waverley Station.
The Edinburgh City of Literature Trust, which is behind the Words on the Street project, chose the site as Jeffrey Street is named after literary critic Francis Jeffrey, co-founder editor of the 19th-century Edinburgh Review.
The run-up to Valentine’s Day was chosen for the unveiling of the quote, which reads: “I shall tear up trees with my bare teeth! I shall crush mountains with my fists! I shall go crazy – for love!”
The quote – the first of a series to appear in public places around the city in the near future – will remain in place for a month before moving to a new home in the literary quarter, which has a publishing heritage dating back to the creation of Scotland’s first book in 1508.
Gilliam said: “I had an approach about this a couple of months ago and started digging around for quotes from Don Quixote.
“I actually thought it was going to be part of a bigger project and mine would be one of many quotes to be unveiled, although I am told that over the longer term that’s exactly what is going to happen all around town.
“It’s a really nice idea – there’s nothing better than having little interesting quotes from great authors dotted around the place. I was being rather casual about the whole thing – I might have designed the lettering myself if I’d thought a bit more about it.
“But I’m bringing most of my family with me to Edinburgh, which I haven’t been to for a long time. I love the city. I walk everywhere, especially up the Royal Mile and into those little back streets and courtyards.
“I’ve always been intrigued by the fact there is a Georgian city, which is very pretty and orderly, at the base of what is effectively a medieval city. I love the contrast of those two worlds.”
The quote chosen by Gilliam will be unveiled close to the home of the UK’s biggest printed poem, Spiral by Elizabeth Burns, erected on the construction site of the New Waverley development, which is helping to fund Words on the Street.
Ali Bowden, director of the Edinburgh City of Literature Trust, said: “It’s fantastic to have Terry Gilliam working with us and sharing his love for Don Quixote with the people of Edinburgh. This is truly unique way to mark Valentine’s Day, and the perfect way for this city of literature to celebrate its amazing publishing heritage.”