Burns Bio

In 1960, JOHN CAIRNEY was asked to play Burns for the first time in a sketch performed by comedian Jimmy Logan on BBC television, in which

John had merely to be a Burns portrait which came to life. When the programme was transmitted, the viewer reaction to this brief appearance

was overwhelming. Around the same time, at Paddington Station in London, he noticed a British Railways Poster (No.b25267) depicting

the figure of Burns surrounded by the characters and places from his life and work. This gave him the idea of a theatrical one-man-show on Burns

but, in view of his many other acting commitments at the time, he was unable to do anything about it. However, in 1960, while playing Hamlet

at the Glasgow Citizens’ he invited the Scottish poet and playwright, Tom Wright, to create a one-man-show based on the life of Scotland’s

national bard and a working script was ready during 1962. By this time, Cairney was in Edinburgh for a Command Performance of

Rob Roy which was directed by Gerard Slevin, who agreed to direct the solo play, and from this point the three of them worked on the

production which was to become There Was A Man. It was ready during 1964 but no one was at all interested in presenting nearly three hours of

one man reciting Robert Burns. However, Jim Haynes, who was then running the tiny Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh, decided to take a

gamble and it was presented for the first time on 25 January 1965, for a trial week. It was an immediate sensation and ran for two months. The

production then toured Scotland triumphantly but Cairney had to return to previous television commitments for the BBC in the popular series,

This Man Craig.

It was not until 1967 that Cairney could resume as Burns, virtually picking up where he left off, touring Scotland again, as well as playing

a season in London at the Arts Theatre for Talus Productions, followed by a national tour and an appearance at the First International Solo

Festival in Geneva. In 1968, Cairney wrote and starred in a six-week television adaptation of The Robert Burns Story for Scottish Television.

He also wrote a screenplay on the subject with CP Taylor for World Wide Films, a subsidiary of Columbia Pictures but the film was never

made and Cairney returned to his conventional acting work with only occasional appearances as Burns at various festivals.

In 1975, his own company, Shanter Productions, organised the first Burns Festival in Ayr and ran it with Carrick and Kyle District Council,

until 1979. The object was to encourage new interest and new writing based on Burns and during these five years many aspects of the Bard

were portrayed on stage in the new open-air theatre at Rozelle Park in Ayr. By this time, Cairney had adapted his own solo version under the

title The Robert Burns Story, and it was with this he toured Britain, Ireland, Canada and the United States, as well as Europe (including

Moscow), India, the Far East, Australia and New Zealand from 1974 until 1981. In that year, he played it in costume for the last time at the

Scottish Festival in Norfolk, Virginia.

He adapted a further version of the Burns Story as The Burns Experience and toured this around the world with Alannah O’Sullivan

until 1985 under the aegis of the British Council and on P&O Cruises as Theatre At Sea. In 1986, with his own company, Shanter Productions,

he presented the first full-length, modern Burns Musical, Scot Free (music by Geoff Davidson and book and lyrics by Cairney). This was produced

by Alannah O’Sullivan under the auspices of the Strathclyde Region and was re-worked as There Was A Lad in a concert performance during

Glasgow’s Year of Culture in 1990 and as ‘Red, Red Rose’ in 2009. A long-playing Recording, zlp 2102, was issued by emi (London) in

1967 and re-issued by Shanter Recordings (rel 448 a/b/c/d) in 1972 and again by rel (Edinburgh) as a double album in 1974. A 90-minute

cassette version was issued in 1976 and a cd in 1996. A new solo video by John Cairney, Robert Burns: An Immortal Memory was issued to

commemorate the Burns International Year of 1996. Since then, Dr Cairney, (he gained his phd from Victoria University in 1994) has been

in demand as a lecturer, writer and consultant on all aspects of Robert Burns and his A Burns Experience is still asked for today.

Dr Cairney’s Burns writing includes A Moment White (Outram Press, Glasgow, 1986), The Man Who Played Robert Burns (Mainstream Publishing, Edinburgh, 1987)

and On the Trail of Robert Burns published by Luath Press, Edinburgh, 2000. Also The Luath Burns Companion (2001)

and Immortal Memories (2003) which he edited. In 2009 he completed a series of short plays on The Boyhood of Burns for school children.

In 2011 John exhibited his paintings, The Nine Lives of Robert Burns, at the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum in Alloway.