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TOBIAS WHO?; pounds 100k `hero' baffles town.

Byline: NICHOLA WORKMAN

A PUZZLED town is being urged to celebrate its most famous son even though most residents have never heard of him.

Civic leaders in Renton, Dunbartonshire, are spending pounds 100,000 to honour the name of 18th century author Tobias Smollett. They hope to make him as famous in the area as Robert Burns is in Ayrshire.

Smollett's portrait has appeared on signs in the tough working-class town, and a statue of the writer has been refurbished and given a new protective wall.

But the plan by the local housing association has residents scratching their heads.

Shown a photo of Smollett, local shopkeeper Manzar Azeez said: ``He could be Rabbie Burns, Robert the Bruce or Bob the Builder for all I know.''

John Kelly, 36, said: ``I've lived here all my life, and this Tobias guy is certainly not a local hero as far as I am concerned.

``I've heard his name, but I haven't a clue why his mugshot is on the signs.

``It's a scandal all that money being spent on commemorating a guy that no one has ever heard of or probably cares about.''

Engineer Richard Riddell, 53, said: ``They are trying desperately to find someone anyone connected to the town who has done something impressive.

``It seems that the only vaguely famous person they could find was this Smollett guy, but I haven't a clue why he's famous.''

For the record, Smollett was born a landowner's son in Renton in 1721. His first book, Roderick Random, was published in 1748.

He wrote four other novels as well as travel guides and journal articles. His sarcastic wit is said to have influenced Charles Dickens.

Archie Thomson, chairman of the Cordale Housing Association, is spearheading the Smollett campaign. He insisted the pounds 100,000 spent would help restore ``civic pride''.

Mr Thomson added: ``It's absolutely shocking and disgraceful that more people in Renton do not know about their heritage. But we hope that will change.

``Renton might not be the most beautiful place but we have produced some amazing people. Tobias Smollet is our local hero, despite what some people might say.''

CAPTION(S):

SMOLL WORLD: Renton's ``hero'' is now on signs
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Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Oct 11, 2003
Words:367
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