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No Mean City: 1914 to 1950s


James Bridie

By Jan McDonald

James Bridie, pseudonym of Osborne Henry Mavor (1888-1951), was one of the leading British playwrights of his generation, the founder of the Citizens' Theatre, Glasgow, in 1943, and the first chairman of the Scottish Committee of the Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts established in 1942, (subsequently the Scottish Committee of the Arts Council of Great Britain). He was instrumental in the establishment of the College of Dramatic Art in 1950, now part of the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow.

Bridie/Mavor graduated in medicine from the University of Glasgow in 1913 and served in the Royal Army Medical Corps during the First World War, subsequently practising as a doctor in Glasgow before his increasing success as a dramatist led to his embracing that career full-time.

Bridie's first performed play was The Sunlight Sonata, presented by the Scottish National Players, directed by Tyrone Guthrie in 1928. His desire for professional production of his work, however, led to many of his dramas in the 1930s and 1940s being presented first on the London West End stage. Notable successes were Mary Read (1934) with Flora Robson and Robert Donat, The King of Nowhere (1938) with Laurence Olivier and, with Alastair Sim, Mr Bolfry (1943), Dr Angelus (1947) and Mr Gillie (1950). Edith Evans and Peter Finch starred in Daphne Laureola (1949). With the founding of the Citizens', however, he increasingly wrote for the emergent Scottish theatre and produced some of his best work, such as The Forrigan Reel (1944), The Queen's Comedy (1950) and The Baikie Charivari (1952).

Bridie's dramas may be broadly categorised as "problem plays", for example, The Anatomist (1930), contemporary renderings of biblical stories such as Tobias and the Angel (1930) and fantasies, usually centred upon a "devil" figure, such as Mr Bolfry (1943) and The Baikie Charivari (1952).

Of paramount significance to contemporary Scottish theatre is the legacy of Bridie's energy and vision, not only in creating the Glasgow Citizens', a company with an international reputation, but also in initiating the opportunity for professional training for Scottish actors, and promoting Scotland's cause in the post-war climate of state funding for the arts.

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