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Robert Kemp (1908-1967) - Dramatist

He was born on 25 February 1908 on the island of Hoy, Orkney, the son of a minister of the Church of Scotland. His family had their roots in Edinburgh where they had a long involvement in the weaving trade, and it was in Edinburgh that Kemp was to settle in 1942 and to remain until his death in 1967. In 1914 his father moved to the charge of Birse near Aboyne in Aberdeenshire and Kemp completed his education at the University of Aberdeen. On graduating he took up a career in journalism with the Manchester Guardian before becoming a BBC producer in 1937. Through the medium of radio he was able to exploit his lifelong interest in Scots and he produced a number of innovatory radio dramas including a popular adaptation of the fable The Taill of the Uponlandis Mous and the Burges Mous by Robert Henryson as "The Country Mouse Comes to Town". As well as encouraging the work of other writers Kemp started writing himself, and his first play, Whuppity Stoorie, was produced in Edinburgh in 1944. There followed a series of historical dramas, the most popular being The Other Dear Charmer (1951), which dealt with the relationship between Robert Burns and Agnes Mclehose. He also wrote Scots translations of Moliere's L 'ecole des femmes (Let Wives Tak Tent, 1948) and L 'avare (The Laird o'Grippy, 1958). His most successful theatrical venture, though, was his adaptation of Ane Pleasant Satyre Of The THRIE ESTAITIS by Sir David Lyndsay, which was produced by Tyrone Guthrie at the 1948 Edinburgh International Festival. Performed in the round in the Assembly Hall of the Church of Scotland, It introduced new standards of theatre direction and proved that a 16th-century play in Scots, Scotland's first major drama, could be understood and appreciated by contemporary audiences. Kemp left the BBC in 1948 to concentrate on his own writing and to further his ambition of establishing a professional theatre company
in Edinburgh. That was achieved in 1953 with the foundation of the Edinburgh Gateway Theatre, a company set up to encourage the work of Scottish writers and actors, which remained in existence until 1965 when it was incorporated as the Edinburgh Civic Theatre. Kemp lived long enough to see the theatre gain a more certain hold in Scottish cultural life than it had enjoyed earlier in the century, and his contribution must be measured not only in terms of his own commitment to The movement but also in terms of the plays and translations that he wrote, which proved that Scots could be a valid literary language for the stage. He published five novels and was also a prolific journalist, contributing an entertaining editorial diary to the Glasgow Herald, the matter of which was based largely on his own life.

Works: The Twa Fiddlers (1932); The Saxon Saint (1950); The Satire of the Three Estates, Adapted from the play by Sir David Lyndsay (1951); The Malacca Cane (1954); The Maestro (1956); The Other Dear Charmer (1957); The Highlander (1957); The Campaigns of Captain MacGurk (1958); Master John Knox (1960); Grema Green (1961); Off a Duck's Back (1961); The Heart of the Highlands (1962).

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