In 2017, I asked my online friends to suggest candidates for a proposed book of ‘Cool Scots’. The responses were surprising; many of the names were unknown to me. In a three-part series, I’ll be introducing you to some of these notable Caledonians...

IT’S hardly news that artists are prone to eccentricity, and indeed, I myself am no stranger to peculiar behaviour.

I once started drawing a line in Edinburgh and ended up in Blackpool, confused and agreeing to host a mixed doubles tango marathon. These things happen.

Many’s the time I considered throwing in the art towel and running off to join the circus.

I even got as far as filing an initial application, but was ultimately turned down for being too freaky. I think with the circus it’s who you know.

Coming from Dundee didn’t help; Jute town’s bronze-cast heroes are figments of some batty ­cartoonist’s febrile imagination, not exactly ­encouragement to settle into straight life.

My ­fellow Dundonian Ancell Stronach, who preceded ­Desperate Dan by 30-odd years, had no intention of allowing his magnificent eccentricity to be dulled by any drone conventions. He was an artist... and ­circus performer.

Even as a young man, Stronach was an oddball of distinction. He trained at Glasgow School of Art (GSA) and could be seen gadding about town in high-winged collars, tight-cut jackets, black-and-white checked trousers and white spats, which in 1920s ­Sauchiehall Street must have taken some conviction.

The National: THE COOL SCOTS

His artwork drew heavily on early Renaissance fresco painting, though I imagine he preferred ­living in the more practical age of oil, as mixing pigment directly with plaster and having approximately 10 seconds to apply before it hardens into solid wall was never anyone’s idea of fun.

Michelangelo said ceiling work especially was a right faff.

Stronach won awards for his paintings, was ­elected to the Royal Scottish Academy and ­became Professor of Mural Painting at GSA. But all the while, he harboured a keen interest in animals and was known to keep a large menagerie.

In 1939, he took the most unusual step of resigning his professorship and setting up a circus act, Ancell And His Painted Pigeons.

“Art isn’t too good at the moment,” he said, “so I’m going on the halls with my pigeons.” Well, they didn’t call it “Variety” for nothing.

There were 30 to 40 pigeons in all, along with doves, ducks and hens, and the show promised “waltzing, tightrope walking, comedy goose, drunk pigeon etc”.

The reality of this arrangement doesn’t bear ­thinking about, and I’m pretty sure stage managers must have loathed him with a passion previously ­reserved for Le Pétomane.

One playbill describes the act as “AN IDEA THAT HAS NOT OCCURRED TO ANYONE ELSE”.

Right now, I’m sure you’re scratching your chin and wondering why you too didn’t think of quitting your job and going on tour with awinged menagerie.

Beyond performing up and down Britain with his acrobat wife Joan, little else is known about ­Stronach. I looked on YouTube, but for whatever ­reason, drunk multicoloured pigeons never seemed to make it to the 21st century.

He returned to ­painting and died in relative obscurity at the age of 80, without ever replicating his previous success.

But many of those early paintings still hang in ­prestigious places.

I was fortunate enough to ­stumble across The Annunciation in Edinburgh’s City Art Centre a few years ago, and not only appreciated his skill as a draftsman, but found the accompanying tale of a Dundee artist who gave up painting to join the circus just too wonderful for words.