I Robert Burns: A Pageant

Other names

  • Burns Bi-Centenary Pageant

Pageant type

Jump to Summary


Place: Green's Playhouse (Ayr) (Ayr, South Ayrshire, Scotland)

Year: 1959

Indoors/outdoors: Indoors

Number of performances: 6


16–20 June 1959, 7.30pm

There was an additional performance on Monday 15 June 1959 at 7.00pm; old age pensioners were admitted to this, with tickets priced 2s.1 This was not described as a dress rehearsal. In the event, the bulk of the audience was made up of schoolchildren.2

Name of pageant master and other named staff

  • Director [Pageant Master]: Notman, Jack
  • Stage Director: Charles Summers
  • Director of Music: Henry Neil
  • Programme Illustrator: James Clark3

Names of executive committee or equivalent

  • Pageant Convener: Alex. MacMillan
  • Booking Convener: David G. Carroll
  • Publicity Convenor: John Gray
  • Programme Editor: A.L. Taylor
  • Hon. Treasurer: W.C. Berry
  • Other members: Tom Limond, John D. Scott, Charles Summers and Henry Neil

Production Committee:

  • Chairman: John D. Scott
  • Secretary: David G. Carroll
  • Area Producers: Anne Boyd, Jack Ireland and William M. Galloway
  • Make-up: Jack Ireland and George M. Paterson
  • Stage Manager: James Gilmour
  • Assistant Stage Managers: Robert S. Burns, Patricia Dobson, John Donnelly, Helen Donnelly, William Mackay, Margaret Davidson, Belle Irvine, Irene Neil, Ninian Johnstone, Mary Scotland and Walter Linton
  • Electrician: Ian Duff
  • Depute Electrician: Tom Faulds
  • Assistant Electricians: Samuel Moore, Robert Campbell and Ian Shand
  • Wardrobe Mistress: Kirstie Colam
  • Assistant Wardrobe Mistress: Bunty Paterson
  • Dances arranged by: Frank Dunbar
  • Dance Instructress: Grace McArthur
  • Dancers: The Royal Scottish Country Dance Society
  • Non-specified roles: M. Thomson. S. Russell, P. Wallace, P. Shannon, A. Rodger, M. Stewart, A. Wallace, M. Southie, D. Edgar, A. Mullin, M. Currie, P. McRobert, M.S. McRobert, J. Kirk, A. Kirk, M. Lymburn, I. Redmond, M. Redmond, H. McCann, J. Limond.


Many with production roles were described as part of the 'Production Committee'. It is unclear whether those listed within this as 'others taking part' were performers or organisers.

Names of script-writer(s) and other credited author(s)

  • Ross, Sandy Thomas
  • Burns, Robert


Sandy Thomas Ross was responsible for the pageant script and was the collective pseudonym of Alexander ‘Sandy' MacMillan (an English teacher at Ayr Academy and Irvine Royal Academy), Thomas Limond (who became a noted town Chamberlain of Ayr), and A.L. (Ross) Taylor (Rector of Cumnock Academy). Together they are known for having written Bairnsangs under the name of Sandy Thomas Ross. This was a volume of children’s poetry written in the Scots language and first published in 1955; it has had several imprints since then.

The poetry of Robert Burns was utilised throughout the pageant.

Names of composers

  • Whyte, Ian

The music used was commissioned for the pageant, but it is evident from the titles of musical pieces that much of it was probably new arrangements of traditional music or of songs associated with Burns and for which his poetry forms the lyrics. One notable example used in the pageant was an arrangement of ‘Ye Flow’ry Banks o’ Bonnie Doon’.6 ‘Auld Lang Syne’ was played/sung at the end of the pageant.

Numbers of performers

100 - 150

Men, women, and youths (male and female) in acting roles.It is difficult to be sure about the exact number of performers as only named characters are listed and it is clear from these cast lists that some performers played in more than one role for different episodes, but it is likely there were also non-speaking parts which are not listed. In addition to the number range stated, there was a choir of 24 voices (12 women sopranos and altos and 12 male tenors and bass). A newspaper report stated that the cast including orchestra and choir was ‘200 strong’.

Financial information

Expenditure was £3800.9

Object of any funds raised


Linked occasion

Bi-centenary of the birth of the poet Robert Burns.

Audience information

  • Grandstand: Not Known
  • Grandstand capacity: Approx. 2400
  • Total audience: n/a


A newspaper report states that sales were slow for this large theatre and that by the day of the third performance it was clear that it was running at a loss. Attendance was at its worse on the first night on Tuesday 17 June 1959.11 However, the performance was almost sold out for the finale on Saturday 20 June 1959.12

Green's Playhouse in Ayr was, when built, the second largest cinema in the UK in terms of seating capacity: it had 3116 seats. 13 Though this number of seats was greatly reduced in order to accommodate the larger than usual stage required for the pageant.

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest

10s. 6d.–2s. 6d.

10s. 6d., 7s. 6d., 5s., and 2s. 6d.14

Associated events


Pageant outline

Episode I. Born in Kyle, 1759

The opening scene contains the following characters:

Narrator (played by Kenneth Brice)
William Burnes (the poet's father played by Ian Nicholson)
The Neighbour: (played by A. W. M. Watson)
The Wife: (played by Irene Watson)
A Serving Woman: (played by Marjory McKinlay)
A Midwife: (played by Susan Bowman).15

The programme of the pageant gives little further information about the action. An extract from the poem Rantin' Rovin' Robin (1787) is quoted at the head of the cast list as follows:

Our monarch's hindmost year but ane
Was five and-twenty days begun,
'Twas then a blast o Janwar win'
Blew hansel in on Robin.

It is likely that the scene describes events as William Burnes awaits the birth of his son. A review of the pageant states that the scene takes place as an 'effective storm breaks over the stage'.16 Neighbours ‘gossiped about the baby.’17

Episode II. Mount Oliphant; Alloway in Retrospect, c. 1766-77

The following named characters take part:

Factor (played by Robert Barclay)
William Burnes (the poet's father played by Ian Nicholson)
Nell (Burns's first love played by Joyce Edgar)
Young Robert (played by Brian McGillvray)
Will (played by Iain Rutherford)
Mall (played by Pat Shannon)
Andrew Bell (played by Peter Macdonald)
Merran (played by Valerie Watson)
Jock (played by James Wilson)
Jean (played by Gail Watson)
Jenny (played by Stella Morton)
Gib (played by Mackenzie Grant)
Mrs Burnes (played by Isobel Cummings)
Fiddler (played by Wallace Galbraith)
Jock (the ploughman played by John Millar).

The cast list is headed by the opening line from the poem ‘My Father Was a Farmer’ as follows, 'My father was a farmer upon the Carrick border O'. The episode enacts the 'struggles Burn's father had at Mount Oliphant Farm'.18 In the scene ‘the typical frugal Scottish supper table of Burns’s day, the family Bible holding pride of place’ is shown.19 There is some romance to lighten the dark mood, however, as it is well known that it was during this time that Burns first fell in love as a teenager with a local girl called Nellie. It is presumed that this is the character of 'Nell' in the episode.

Episode III. Irvine, 1781

In the programme this episode is headed with the words, 'My 23rd year was to me an important era'. It is not known whether this is a direct quote from Burns or simply announces that Burns was aged 22 when he moved to Irvine in North Ayrshire in order to learn flax dressing. The programme contains no further information about the scene although the characters are again listed. This is the first scene in which the actor Andrew Keir makes an appearance as Burns, having been played in Episode II by another younger actor. The actor who acts as narrator plays the part of 'Brown' in this episode. The characters are as follows:

Burns (played by Andrew Keir)
Brown (played by Kenneth Brice)
Sillar (played by Alex. Wands)
1st Reveller (played by Robin Boyd)
2nd Reveller (played by Ann Hunter)
3rd Reveller (played by Margaret Hood).

Episode IV. The Holy Fair, c. 1784

The extract of verse by Burns included in the programme outline for this episode is from the poem of the same name (The Holy Fair,1785) as follows:

Then in we go to see the show
On ev'ry side they're gath'rin;
Some carryin' deals, some chairs an' stools,
An' some are right busy bleth'rin'
Right loud that day.

It is presumed that this episode enacted Burns's satirical poem which was based on the Mauchline Holy Fair; this was a mass communion service. In the poem, Burns pokes light-hearted fun at religious hypocrisy. The appearance of three singing elders suggests that within the pageant it was enacted in this comic style as well. In addition to Burns, the characters from the episode are listed as follows:

Fun (played by Esther White)
Superstition (played by Netta Baird)
Hypocrisy (played by May Young)
Preacher (played by David Brown)
Three Singing Elders (played by Alasdair Gordon, Colin Gordon & Robert Rogerson)
James Armour (Jean armour's father played by James Sharp)
Jean (played by Annette Crosbie).

Burns met his future wife, Jean Armour about this time; this meeting may also have been dramatised in the episode.

Episode V. The Brigs of Ayr, 1786

The programme information for this episode is headed by a line from the poem The Brigs o’ Ayr composed by Burns in 1786 when a new bridge had been built to replace the Auld Brig (still standing) which leads into Ayr High Street. The line ‘And down by Simpson’s wheel the left about’ refers to a noted tavern that once stood at the foot of the Brig. The content of the poem is supernatural and describes the poet overhearing a conversation between the old established bridge and the new upstart replacement. Burns plays a part. Although there is no description of this, it might be assumed it is he and/or others who exit Simpson’s Tavern as in the poem:

Twas in that season, when a simple Bard, 
Unknown and poor-simplicity's reward!- 
 night, within the ancient burgh of Ayr, 
By whim inspir'd, or haply prest wi' care, 
He left his bed, and took his wayward route, 
And down by Simpson's wheel'd the left about.

In addition to Burns, the characters and performers in the episode are mostly water sprites are described in the original poem. These are as follows:

Newton Freeman (played by Andrew Currie)
Auld Brig (played by Robert Wallace)
New Brig (played by Harry MacMillan)
Genius of the Stream (played by Michael Lahore)
Beauty (played by Fenella Wallace)
Spring (played by Moira Henderson)
Rural Joy (played by Alan McKnight)
Summer (played by Janet Taylor)
Plenty (played by Marsha Kellock
Autumn (played by Sheena Goudie)
Winter (played by Iain Bowie)
Hopitality (played by Sheena Mckellar)
Courage (played by Robert Dick)
Benevolence (played by Mary Auld)
Learning (played by Lawrence Mitchell)
Worth (played by Ian Duncan)
Peace (played by Denholm Reid)
Agriculture (played by Alisdair Shand).

Episode VI. Parnassus Hill, 1786

This episode has two scenes. The first is entitled ‘John Wilson’s Printing Shop, Kilmarnock’; the second, ‘The Highland Lass Greenock’. This suggests the action covers the printing of Burns’ first volume of poems and the death of ‘Highland Mary’ in Greenock, she being one of his lovers and another famous subject of his verse. In the programme for the pageant, an extract from the preface to Poems Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect is included:

Though a Rhymer from his earliest years, at least from the earliest impulses of the softer passions, it was not until very lately…

The characters in scene I include Burns and some of his acquaintances:

Davie McHenzie (played by David Johnstone)
John Wilson (the printer played by Thomas Melrose)
Robert Aitken (Burns’s first patron played by Eric Rankin)
Gavin Hamilton (played by Peter Dunlop)

In scene II, there are only two players in a deathbed scenario:

Mary Campbell (‘Highland Mary’ played by Gwyneth Guthrie)
Doctor (played by Robert Barclay).20

Episode VII. The Duchess of Gordon, 1786-87

There is no description for this in the pageant programme; but the title and opening quote (‘[a]t Edinburgh I was in a new world’) suggests it covers Burns’ arrival in the city where he was feted by Edinburgh society. A newspaper article states that the episode takes place ‘at a ball’.21 The drama likely took the form of a conversation between Burns and the characters of The Duchess of Gordon (played by Dorothy Miller), Sir Adam Fergusson (played by Bruce Montgomery), and ‘Mr Robb’ (played by William Auld).

Episode VIII. Crochallan, c. 1787

Burns was a member of a social club in Edinburgh called ‘The Crochallan Fencibles’, and it is assumed that the episode consists of conversation between the members and recitation of his poems by Burns. The illustration that accompanies the cast list in the programme suggests drunken conviviality and shows the poet reading from his verse. Six of his fellow members take part in the scene including:

Robert Cleghorn (played by James Sharp)
Peter Hill (played by Ian Blair)
Charles Hay (played by John Kelly)
William Dunbar (played by David Brown)
Daunie Douglas (played by John Paterson)
William Smellie (the founder if the club played by Robert Wallace).


There was an interval during the production but it is unclear exactly at what point in the performance this took place, but it is most likely to have been following episode XIII.

Episode IX. Sequence of Love Songs

The following songs by Burns were sung in turn by the choir, and professional singers—a tenor (Charles Greville) and a soprano (Eileen Price):

Tenor ‘O luve will venture in’
Soprano ‘I’m owre young’
Tenor ‘Bonnie wee thing’
Soprano ‘O Whistle and I’ll come to you, my lad’
Tenor ‘My love is like a red, red rose’
Choir ‘Duncan Gray’
Tenor ‘Of a’ the airts the wind can blaw’
Soprano with choir ‘John Anderson’

Episode X. Poet Laureate, Lodge Canongate Kilwinning No. 2, Edinburgh, c. 1787.

Again taking place in Edinburgh, this episode describes Burns’ relationship with freemasons in Edinburgh. Burns was a member of this lodge and legend has it that they made him their Poet Laureate. It is assumed the episode enacts some sort of ceremony where Burns is appointed. The characters within the episode were all members of the Lodge, and, together with Burns, listed in the pageant programme as follows.

Lord Monboddo (played by Robert Barclay)
Hammond (played by Robin Boyd)
Mercer (played by William Auld)
Erskine (played by A. W. M. Watson)
Master of Ceremony (played by John Miller)
Grand Master (played by Ian Nicholson)
Lord Torphichan (played by Brian McGillivray)
Earl of Eglinton (played by Kenneth Brice)
Earl of Glencairn (played by Alex. Wands)
Patrick Miller (played by Stanley Paton)
James Dalrymple (Played by Mackenzie Grant)
Sir John Whiteford (played by Harry Macmillan)
Alexander Fergusson (played by Bruce Montgomery).

Episode XI. Ae Fond Kiss, c. 1787-88

This episode enacts the drama surrounding Burns’ relationship with a married woman, Agnes Maclehose, known in correspondence with Burns as ‘Clarinda’ and to whom he dedicated several poems including the well-known song of the episode’s title. In the pageant programme the following extract from correspondence is included in order to suggest the difficulties that existed for the couple; in letters to Agnes, Burns took the pseudonym ‘Sylvander’:

Sylvander: Don’t you see us hand in hand, or rather my hand about your lovely waist…

Clarinda: I would have given much, Sylvander, that you had heard Mr Kemp, this afternoon. You would have heard my principles…22

A newspaper article describes the content of the scene as follows:

set in the home of Mrs Maclehose, Milly Harvey plays the maid and Anthony Currie is Lord Craig who comes to warn Clarinda of the damage to her social standing in Edinburgh that an association with Burns can bring.23

Episode XII. Homecoming, Mauchline, 1788

In this episode Burns returns home to Ayrshire from Edinburgh having married Jean Armour. It is described in a review by the Ayr Advertiser as ‘lively’.24 Together with Burns and Armour (Annette Crosbie) are well-known Ayrshire characters from Burns’s life, Gavin Hamilton (played by Peter Dunlop) and Saunders Tait (Eric Rankin).Several others took part in the action including, ‘Dyke’ (Thomas Melrose), ‘Jamie’ (Inglis Thomson), Hughoc (Robert Paterson) and five unnamed women (played by Sheila Black, Mary B. Gibb, Milly Rankin, Netta Denham and Vina Wilson). No further details of the episode have been recovered.

Episode XIII. The Peck o'Maut, c. 1789

Although the pageant programme gives no details about this episode, it may be assumed from the title that it enacts Burns’ reputation for drinking. With Burns are the characters of his friend, William Nicol (played by Ian Blair) and the composer Allan Masterson (Alex Wands) who wrote the music to Burns’s ‘Willie Brew'd a Peck o'Maut’. The remaining character is that of ‘a serving maid’ (Catherine Gould) suggesting that the scene was set in a tavern.

Episode XIV. Ellisland; Dumfries (2 scenes), c. 1790

This episode covers the end of the poet’s life when he had moved to Dumfriesshire, initially to farm at Ellisland in 1888. It features two scenes; the first entitled ‘Tam o Shanter’ and the second, ‘The Inn’. Alongside Burns, appearing in the Shanter scene is:

Jean Armour (Burns’ wife played by Annette Crosbie)
Captain Grose (played by William Auld)
Gib (played by John Miller)
Tam (played by Stanley Paton)
The Deil (played by Robin Boyd)
Cutty Sark (played by Margaret McQueen).

It is evident that the scene melds real characters such as the antiquarian Captain Grose (who initially published Tam o’ Shanter) and fictional characters from the famous poem. Burns liked and admired Grose and in the programme his epitaph to him is included:

Ken ye ocht of Captain Grose?
Igo and ago
If he’s amang his friends or foes?
Iram, coram, dago.

Scene II has only three characters: an Innkeeper (Peter Dunlop); Merran (Margaret Spence) and a soldier (David Johnstone). No detail has been recovered about the scene; the drama may have been centred on a conversation between the characters, which reflected on Burns’ failure to farm at Ellisland successfully.

Episode XV. Death of a Poet, 1796

There are fourteen characters listed in the programme for this episode for which no other details have been recovered. They include:

1st Cronie (played by Alex Wands)
2nd Cronie (played by Thomson Wallace)
3rd Cronie (played by Stanley Paton)
1st Gentleman (played by Anthony Currie)
2nd Gentleman (played by Harry MacMillan)
1st Woman (played by Margaret Russell)
2nd Woman (played by Annie McKie)
3rd Woman (played by Esther White)
Wullie Hislop (played by John Paterson)
1st Lady (played by Netta Baird)
2nd Lady (played by Milly Harvey)
3rd Lady (played by Ann McKendrick)
4th Lady (Margaret McWhirter)
4th Cronie (played by James Sharp)

The single named character in this scene is William Hyslop who was the landlord of the Globe Tavern in Dumfries.25 This suggests that the scene takes place at Burns’ wake. The anonymity of the remaining characters was probably to reflect the relative anonymity of the poet at the end of his life, but to impress that he had moved in a variety of social circles and both he and his poetry had impressed many.

Episode XVI. Finale.

No details of the finale have been recovered.

Key historical figures mentioned

  • William Burnes (1721–1784) Father of Burns, Robert, poet
  • Burns, Robert (1759–1796) poet
  • Hamilton, Gavin (1751–1805) landowner
  • Armour, Jean (1765–1834) wife of Robert Burns and subject of poetry
  • Gordon [née Maxwell], Jane, duchess of Gordon (1748/9–1812) political hostess and agricultural reformer
  • Maclehose [née Craig], Agnes (1758–1841) letter writer and poet
  • Nicol, William (1744–1797) schoolmaster
  • Grose, Francis (bap. 1731, d. 1791) antiquary

Musical production

Music was played by an orchestra conducted by Henry Neil in which there were: 6 violins, a viola, 2 cellos, a double bass, 2 trumpets, a trombone and percussion. There was, in addition, ‘a string quintet of Louis Carus’.

Music for the pageant overall, is outlined in the programme; other than in Episode IX (see episode synopsis), it is unclear which items appeared in individual episodes but it is assumed that the music was played/sung in the order that it appears in the programme, as follows:

Part I
  • Chorus. ‘There was a Lad’.
  • Chorus. ‘November Chill’.
  • Chorus. ‘O Happy Love’.
  • Chorus. 23rd Psalm (Martyrs).
  • Chorus. ‘O Scotia’.
  • Solo. ‘A Rosebud by my Early Walk’.
  • Chorus. ‘Ev’n as a Bird’.
  • Chorus. ‘Holy Willie’s Prayer’.
  • Chorus. ‘The Lea Rig’.
  • Orchestra. Fairy Train Music; Minuet; Strathspey.
  • Solo. ‘A wha my Babie Clouts will Buy?’

Part II
  • Solos. Song Sequence.
  • Fanfare.
  • Solo. ‘Clarinda, Mistress of my Soul.
  • Chorus. ‘There was a Lad’.
  • Chorus. ‘The Winter it is Past’.
  • Solo. ‘It was a’ for oor Richtfu’ King’.
  • Solo. Charlie is my Darling’.
  • Trio. ‘Willie Brewed’.
  • Chorus. ‘Ken ye ocht ‘Captain Grose?’
  • Orchestra. ‘Mrs Alex. Macmillan Reel’.
  • Chorus. ‘The Deil’s Awa’.
  • Solo. ‘Ye Flow’ry Banks’.
  • ‘Auld Lang Syne’.

Newspaper coverage of pageant

Ayrshire Post
Ayr Advertiser
Glasgow Herald

Book of words


No Book of Words recovered (it is unlikely that this was produced).

Other primary published materials

  • I Robert Burns: a Pageant (Ayr, 1959) [Programme].

1 copy in Local History Room, Carnegie Library, Ayr. 394.7BUR.
1 copy in National Library of Scotland. PB4.208.207/4.
1 copy in the G. Ross Roy Collection of Robert Burns, University of South
And elsewhere.

References in secondary literature


Archival holdings connected to pageant

  • Local History Room, Carnegie Library, Ayr.
  • National Library of Scotland.
  • G. Ross Roy Collection of Robert Burns, University of South Carolina.

Sources used in preparation of pageant

  • Robert Burns.

Poetry of Burns referred to throughout the performance; Burns’ songs also used, particularly in Episode IX.


The poet Robert Burns was born in the year 1752. Two hundred years later, he had become a Scottish national icon and internationally famed for his writing, but his stature as a historical figure was especially high in Ayrshire, the county of his birth. Although celebrations of this anniversary took place across Scotland, and indeed across the world, throughout this year, the county town of Ayr undoubtedly felt special ownership of the poet’s legacy. Among the many commemorative events planned, this pageant recalling the life of Burns was supposed to be the highlight of the year. It was perhaps for this reason that the Scottish Burns Federation elected to work with Ayr Town Council to put on a memorable show that would take place in the heart of Burns country rather than in one of the major auditoriums that were available in Scottish cities. The town also had a track record of successful historical pageants which must have sealed this decision. The event was decided upon 18 months in advance and the efforts that took place thereafter aimed to make it a standout performance.28 In order to achieve this, professional actors and vocalists were recruited to work with Ayrshire amateurs; these included Andrew Keir in the title role of Burns and Annette Crosbie as his wife, Jean Armour. Both of these Scottish performers would later become celebrated actors on stage, film and television in the UK. This departure from the amateur tradition in pageants reflected the high status attached to this event.

However, it was perhaps the expense involved in paying professionals, together with the elaborate alterations that were required to stage the performance in an auditorium which usually served cinema audiences, which undermined the success of the pageant. Although figures have not been recovered, it is almost certain that the event incurred huge financial losses, which the Scottish Arts Council was obliged to underwrite.29 The pageant cost £3800 to produce but had only been guaranteed £700 by the Burns Federation and £500 by Ayr Town Council, with the remaining sum to be achieved through ticket sales.30 The Pageant Convenor is recorded as stating that ‘we would have required full houses every evening to put the pageant in the clear.’31 Unfortunately, of the six shows, attendance was poor on the opening night, about two thirds capacity on the next night and only achieved a near capacity audience for the closing performance.32

It also received somewhat mixed reviews. The local paper, the Ayr Advertiser, was the first to offer an opinion and stated that it was ‘an ambitious production’ but that the setting in Green’s Playhouse, despite expensive modifications, lacked atmosphere, the script had a sombreness that ‘Burns could hardly have wished to be remembered by’ and ‘too little use’ was made of ‘the lyrical qualities of Burns’s verse’.33 Its rival, the Ayrshire Post, was no more enthusiastic, stating that the pace was too slow and the pageant too long.34 Both reviews noted the drabness of the stage which was dressed only with original eighteenth-century articles on loan from a local museum in Kilmarnock, with the Post snidely commenting that since the production had ‘one Robert S. Burns as an assistant stage manager’ this ‘perhaps explains the authenticity of the settings.’35 On the other hand, it was the performances which did impress reviewers, particularly that of Andrew Keir as the poet which was hailed as ‘a boldly drawn portrait of Burns in various moods’.36

At 16 episodes, it may be imagined that the pageant was overlong; there was an interval, although it is unclear exactly where this occurred in the performance. Each episode followed a chronological route and weaved known aspects of the poet’s life with some of his best remembered poems which themselves reflected his life experience. Yet despite excellent acting by professionals and amateurs, and the enthusiasm of amateur dancers and singers from across Ayrshire, it was the lack of colour and spectacle that audiences associated with pageants that appears to have undermined this event.

The success of two previous pageants in Ayr (1934 and 1952) had depended to a great extent on having a heavy emphasis on the literary and historical legacy of Burns, and the character of the poet had featured greatly in both of these. However this particular commemorative pageant, which concentrated solely on Burns’ life, was not able to build on these achievements. Very little detail about the episodes has been recovered: the programme gives scant information about the drama that unfolded, and this is also largely absent in press reviews, suggesting that reviewers were perhaps underwhelmed. Talented and knowledgeable local enthusiasts wrote the pageant, but it is easy to imagine that it was this high level of Burnsian erudition that perhaps made for an over-worthy script. There is no evidence that some of the more controversial aspects of the poet’s conduct, his womanising and drinking, were tackled critically, or, with the possible exception of episode VIII, even humorously. If this had been the case, it may have created a bit more dramatic excitement. One press report commented on the fact that four of the sixteen episodes were concentrated on the poet’s experiences in Edinburgh and was of the opinion that this was hardly justifiable.37 It seems to have been left to the actors and musicians to carry the day, but, on the evidence available, the colourful life of Scotland’s national poet was rendered into pretty dull fare in this pageant that was meant to be a magnificent celebration of the life and work of Ayr’s most illustrious historical figure.


  1. ^ Advertisement, Ayrshire Post, 12 June 1959, 1.
  2. ^ ‘Keir’s Burns Portrayal a Masterpiece', Ayr Advertiser, 18 June 1959, 9.
  3. ^ Named within pageant programme, I Robert Burns (Ayr, 1959), 7.
  4. ^ I Robert Burns, 8, (Ayr, 1959).
  5. ^ I Robert Burns, 7, (Ayr, 1959).
  6. ^ Ayrshire Post, 19 June 1959, 17.
  7. ^ I Robert Burns, 19, (Ayr, 1959)..
  8. ^ Ayrshire Post, 19 June 1959, 17.
  9. ^ Ayrshire Post, 19 June 1959, 17.
  10. ^ Figure quoted in Ayrshire Post, 19 June 1959, 17.
  11. ^ Ayrshire Post, 19 June 1959, 17.
  12. ^ ‘Ayr Pays Pageant Tribute’, Ayr Advertiser, 18 June 1959, 1.
  13. ^ See http://www.scottishcinemas.org.uk/scotland/ayr/playhouse accessed 11/1/16.
  14. ^ Advertisement, Ayrshire Post, 12 June 1959, 1.
  15. ^ Unless otherwise stated, all information and quotations in the synopsis are from I Robert Burns (Ayr, 1959).
  16. ^ 'Keir's Burns Portrayal a Masterpiece', Ayr Advertiser, 18 June 1959, 9.
  17. ^ Review, Ayrshire Post, 19 June 1959, 17.
  18. ^ Ayr Advertiser, June 1959, 9.
  19. ^ Ayrshire Post, 19 June 1959, 17.
  20. ^ I Robert Burns, 16, (Ayr, 1959).
  21. ^ Ayr Advertiser 9.
  22. ^ Mr Kemp was Clarinda’s Minister.
  23. ^ Ayr Advertiser, 18 June 1959, 9.
  24. ^ Ayr Advertiser, 18 June 1959, 9.
  25. ^ See website, accessed 11/1/16: http://www.robertburns.org/encyclopedia/HyslogMrsMeg.464.shtml.
  26. ^ Detailed in I Robert Burns, 19, (Ayr, 1959).
  27. ^ Detailed in I Robert Burns, 19, (Ayr, 1959); see also Ayr Advertiser 18th June 1959, 9. Carus was a well-known violinist and then member of the Scottish National Orchestra; see obituary in the Daily Telegraph Online, 13 September 2012, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/culture-obituaries/music-obituaries/9542004/Louis-Carus.html.
  28. ^ The Ayrshire Post, 19 June 1959, 17.
  29. ^ ‘Burns Pageant Loss’, Glasgow Herald, 19 June 1959, 4.
  30. ^ Ayrshire Post, 19 June 1959, 17.
  31. ^ Ayrshire Post, 19 June 1959, 17.
  32. ^ Ayrshire Post, 19 June 1959, 17.
  33. ^ Ayr Advertiser, 18 June 1959, 9.
  34. ^ Ayrshire Post, 19 June 1959, 17.
  35. ^ Ayrshire Post, 19 June 1959, 17.
  36. ^ ‘Extensive Tapestry of the Life of Burns’, Glasgow Herald, 16 June 1959, 9.
  37. ^ Ayr Advertiser, 18 June 1959, 9.

How to cite this entry

Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘I Robert Burns: A Pageant’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1101/