IT may be one of the smallest local authority areas in the country, but Scotland’s fourth largest city is justified in making a lot of noise about the locale, which has been undergoing something of a renaissance in recent years.
The city was once home to a thriving shipbuilding sector at the Caledon shipyard; a textiles industry that included Hamilton Carharrt and Levi’s; and an engineering sector that included Timex and NCR, which produced “Dundee’s first computer” more than 50 years ago – which could have set you back around £50,000.
Timex also had a fling with computers when Clive Sinclair, later Sir Clive, had his ZX Spectrum assembled at the plant in 1982.
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Now, only NCR remains a major player with around 500 employees mostly in software engineering and research and development.
The home of the three Js – jute, jam and journalism – still has the latter pair with the family-owned newspaper and comic publisher D C Thomson, and Mackays, who still produced Dundee marmalade in the area.
But the jute industry that once dominated the city is long gone, its gargantuan factories now transformed into luxury apartments and smaller industrial units.
Many say the city missed out on the North Sea oil boom that turned Aberdeen into an oil “capital” in the 1970s.
Although oil kept the port relatively busy during that time with a steady flow of supply vessels coming in to be restocked, repaired, or to change their crews, it never became the focal point of the industry in the way that its north-eastern neighbour did.
Dundee was not disheartened though, and at a time when you had to learn how to programme your own rather primitive computer if you wanted it to do anything other than blink at you, the city’s visionaries turned their talents to computer games.
David Jones, founder of DMA, was one such character. The man responsible for the addictive best-seller Lemmings was a graduate of Abertay University, formerly Dundee Institute of Technology, or “the Tech”.
The institution had a well-established computer science department and found backing for a new department for the study and teaching of computing games.
Abertay then went on to offer the world’s first computer games degree, while Jones produced the immensely popular Grand Theft Auto, which has continued to sell in the millions.
Twenty years on it still features in the best-seller charts.
Abertay’s computer science cluster also developed the country’s first degree course in ethical hacking and countermeasures, a computer security specialism that is now widely available and much sought-after.
As the games sector developed, the city turned its attention the waterfront. Whereas Dundee’s landscape is dominated by the Law – a 400-million-year-old extinct volcano – so the centre was overseen by Tayside House, a brutalist structure built in the 1970s which was also known as Fawlty Towers.
No tears were shed when that was demolished four years ago.
The dull, featureless concrete block that was the Hilton Hotel and the adjacent leisure centre also came down, opening up a panorama towards the Tay which had been hidden for decades.
It was as if somebody had lifted the curtain on a city that had quite a lot going for it, from modern dwellings down by the harbour, the mansion-like structures lining the Perth and Brought Ferry Roads, to the grandeur of Dundee High School – whose former pupils are said to include William Wallace – and the baronial towers of Morgan Academy, which keep watch over the east of the city.
Regeneration is now the watchword on Dundee’s waterfront as the V&A museum – the only one in the world outside of London – comes a stage closer to its opening date next year.
There is now a palpable air of confidence in Dundee, which many of those who live there have never before experienced.
Economically, the city may still lag behind its bigger brothers such as Glasgow and Edinburgh, but it is lively and enterprising with, last year, its biggest number of self-employed since the financial crisis of 2008 – 6700 (6.9 per cent) of people aged between 16 and 64.
There is plenty of bustle in the city centre too, with more people striding purposefully – like the 8ft-tall bronze statue of comic favourite Desperate Dan and his trusty pooch Dawg being trailed by a catapult-bearing Minnie the Minx.
Dundee was rocked by a political corruption scandal in the 1970s, but it would appear that this is only brought up by those old enough to remember the details.
The outgoing council – run by the SNP – is proud of what’s been achieved in the City of Discovery under its watch.
Its administration had 16 SNP councillors, 10 from Scottish Labour, one independent and one each from Scottish LibDems and the Tories. There are eight multi-member council wards in the city – five with four representatives and three with three.
The SNP are looking to consolidate their grip on Dundee and it would be a brave person who’d bet against that possibility.