FEATURES Jimmy Bone, Archivist of the Byre theatre, pays tribute to
Alexander B Paterson – Man of St Andrews and Founder of the Byre Theatre hurried down to where a small group had ARP in St Andrews, based at Kinburn House. I first worked with A B Paterson at the gathered round the Lifeboat shed. Volunteers Then he was conscripted into the Royal Air Byre Theatre in 1970 when Andrew Soutar were asked to launch the boat and Alex found Force, most of his service being carried out at introduced my wife Maureen and me to the himself on the rope; in the confusion, the ropes Swinderby in Lincolnshire, repairing combatSt Andrews Play Club to take part in one were pulled too early and a man was killed damaged aircraft. He continued using his of Alex’s plays, “Reunion in St Andrews”. falling under the caterpillar wheels. Alex was so journalistic skills, editing the air station’s daily I had known “well-kent” Alex long before shocked that he never took the ropes again. news sheet entitled, “Swinderby Searchlight”. that. A B Paterson and the Byre Theatre are Demobbed in 1946, he again took over Until 1937, St Andrews had no locally synonymous, but I would like to tell you more the Byre Theatre, run successfully by Chas produced newspaper of its own, the Citizen about Alex Paterson, the man. Marford during the war years. Alex was director, being printed and published in Cupar, but Alex Alexander Brown Paterson was born in playwright, and unpaid administrator of the with local colleagues and a few businessmen St Andrews during the latter part of King theatre for over 40 years. He was Chairman of launched the Edward VII ‘s reign. the Byre Board until the day he died in 1989. “St Andrews Times”, Alex’s formative Alex’s formative years were in Alex gave freely of his talents, particularly to the a successful weekly, years were in a small a small compact St Andrews University’s Kate Kennedy Club. Almost from which became a compact St Andrews of the revival of the Kate Kennedy procession around 8,000 people, of around 8,000 people, where casualty of Second in 1926, he was called upon to make up Kate World War financial where everybody knew everybody knew everybody and the other characters in the pageant. The stringencies. everybody. His mother Club recognised this service by making him an Alex fostered and grandparents honorary member. a real passion for drama and was a leading lived in the tenement called Peddie Buildings, Twice Chairman of the Federation of member of “The Hope Park Drama Group”. He now better known as Bowling Green Terrace, Scottish Theatres, and an Adjudicator of drama said that he would bore his fellow members to then surrounded by farmland. Alex recalled the festivals from Orkney to the Borders, Alex had tears by continually propounding his theory of University comprising 500 students, known to far-reaching interests: a founder member and one day having a little theatre in St Andrews. most people in the town by name. Honorary President of the Step Rock Swimming He wanted a means of providing performing Schooling was at the West Infant and the Club; a life-long interest in the Scout Movement; space for all the operatic and drama groups in Burgh School, but Alex left at 14 despite being a founder member of the St Andrews the town, thereby reducing the overhead costs advised by the Headmaster that he was leaving Educational Association, and St Andrews Film of renting church halls or the town hall. too early. His reason was simply that he felt Society; a founder member of St Andrews Lawn Out walking one Sunday with a group of he should contribute to the family finances. Tennis Club, also of St Andrews Preservation friends, one casually mentioned that the old His first job was junior clerk with Mr J Cargill Trust (and its chairman for 5 years). Alex was cow byre of the Abbey Street Dairy Farm was Cantley who, as well as running a law business an active Rotarian; a member of the St Andrew up for rent. Hearing this, Alex insisted that single-handed, was also the Town Clerk. Society of St Andrews; a past President and they turn around and go immediately to view Alex went to night school, learning shorthand honorary life member of the St Andrews Burns these premises. A quick assessment from the and accountancy to such a high level that he Club; a member of the New Golf Club and life outside, and Alex announced, “this is the place became a night school lecturer in book-keeping. member of St Andrews Golf Club; a former for us”. He submitted an application to the In 1925, aged 17, Alex began work as trustee of the Scottish Fisheries Museum in Town Council on the Monday morning to rent a local journalist. At that time, newspaper Anstruther, and the Hamada Trust in the premises as a Studio Theatre. The Council work was carried on by Mr Henry Henderson, St Andrews. He was accepted, and the bookseller; Mr William Provan, tobacconist; St Andrews Play Mr Alex Louden, Secretary of St Andrews Golf A quick assessment from the a life member of the National Union of Club was formed in Club; and Mr David Hardie, editor of St Andrews outside, and Alex announced, Journalists and a past December 1933 with an Citizen. Taking over from the first three, he chairman of the Union’s annual rent of £10. The became a full-time freelance. Colleague of “this is the place for us” Fife branch. He also Council warned the Club Mr Hardie and another freelance journalist, served on the board of management of Hope that they might have to move out on one year’s Mr Arthur Symon, he also worked alongside Park Church. notice, as Abbey Street was to be widened, George Cowie, Alex writing the reports and Alex’s work did not go unnoticed – in but that only came about in1969! The cow byre George providing the photographs. Alex and was subsequently equipped and licensed as 1958 he was awarded an MBE, and in 1970 his wife Millie (Bridges), whom he married in a theatre, earning an international reputation. he became the first recipient of the Honorary 1936, and George Cowie and his wife Beatrice, All this through the enthusiasm and direction Degree of M.A. from the University of became great friends. Alex reported on almost of Alex Paterson. To avoid the new company St Andrews, and was holder of the Queen’s every event that took place in St Andrews and paying royalties on plays, Alex decided to Jubilee Medal. In 1970 he was awarded an District for over 50 years. One event in 1931 write his own. Written principally around the Oscar from Scottish Television for services to left him with an abiding memory; the launching Scottish Theatre. people he knew so well, these reflected the of the lifeboat at the East Sands. During the The Byre Theatre is Alex’s legacy to the pathos and humour of his day – The Open; night, when the distress rocket was fired, Alex town. He was always proud of the fact that the Three’s Company; Time is theatre had grown from within the community, All; Reunion in St Andrews; not something that had been imposed from Paw’s Awa; Witching Women of St Andrews; and The Last outside. Provost, to mention but a few. I close with an extract from an obituary The last play that Alex wrote written in 1989 by his former journalist colleague and directed was “Young of 43 years, Tom Jarrett. Tommy Morris”, the sad tale of the short, eventful life of four“The death of Alex Paterson brings an end to times Open Golf Champion, an era in the annals of the town, for he was Tom Morris Jr. Ironically, this without doubt the St Andrews citizen of the play completed the loop, so to 20th Century. His life, and its influence on the speak, as it was performed in community, will be remembered alongside 1988 by the “The Hope Park Sir Hugh Lyon Playfair, Andrew Lang, and Drama Group“, the group Dr David Hay Fleming. There was hardly an Alex had begun with some 55 aspect of St Andrews community life in which years earlier! A.B.Paterson had not been actively involved During the Second at one time or another. The motivation in Alex and Millie being given a resounding send-off on their World War Alex was Area everything he did was the welfare of his native honeymoon at Leuchars Station by work colleagues and fellow town which he loved so dearly.” Communications Officer in the St Andrews Play Club Members in 1936”. (Courtesy Jimmy Bone).