Osborne Henry Mavor, physician, playwright and screenwriter, was born on the 3rd of January, 1888.
Osborne Henry Mavor was sometimes known as O. H. Mavor, more often than not under the pseudonym of James Bridie, for a while under the ‘nom de plume’ of Mary Henderson and, just for good measure, once as J. P. Kellock. He sounds like a man who couldn’t make up his mind, but he was no schizophrenic. As James Bridie, a pen name he adopted in the late 1920s to avoid conflict between his theatrical work and his position as a GP and consulting physician, Mavor wrote plays and screenplays, quite prolifically in fact as he wrote over forty plays in his lifetime. He used the name of ‘Kellock’ once, when he co-wrote ‘The Tintock Cup’ with George Munro towards the end of the 1940s.
Bridie was one of the leading British playwrights of his generation and his popular and witty comedies were significant to the revival of Scottish drama during the 1930s. He was also a significant contributor to ‘the Arts’ in Scotland as he founded Glasgow’s Citizens’ Theatre in 1943, was the first Chairman of the Scottish Committee of the Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts, in 1942, and was instrumental in the establishment of the College of Dramatic Art in 1950, the year before his death. He was also a Director of the Scottish National Theatre Society. Mavor’s work in bringing about ‘theatre for all’ was recognised on the 17th of September, 1956, when J. B. Priestley unveiled a bronze plaque in his memory; appropriately, at the Citizen’s Theatre.
Bridie’s first performed play was ‘The Sunlight Sonata’, but it was ‘The Anatomist’, produced in 1930 and based on the life of the 19th Century vivisectionist, Dr. Robert Knox, the Edinburgh surgeon who was supplied by the notorious body-snatchers, Burke and Hare, which really began his writing career and is considered to be his first major success. Bridie’s work included contemporary renderings of biblical stories, such as ‘Tobias and the Angel’ and fantasies, usually centred upon a ‘devil’ figure, such as ‘Mr Bolfry’ and ‘The Baikie Charivari’. He was considered to be the first Scottish dramatist since J. M. Barrie who managed to live comfortably by the pen. Bridie worked on scripts several times together with Alfred Hitchcock; notably on ‘Stage Fright’ in 1950. Bridie’s other famous play is ‘Gog and Magog’ with which he won the ‘Bernard Shaw Birthday Prize’ also in 1950. He was certainly a busy man and not just making up pseudonyms. He didn’t have time to get bored, that’s for sure and once commented that; “Boredom is a sign of satisfied ignorance, blunted apprehension, crass sympathies, dull understanding, feeble powers of attention, and irreclaimable weakness of character.” So there!
Osborne Henry Mavor was born in Glasgow on the 3rd of January, 1888. He was educated at Glasgow Academy before studying medicine for ten years at Glasgow University. It was whilst there that he developed an interest in theatre, drawn by the work of the Glasgow Repertory Company, an enterprise funded by the citizens’ subscritions. Osbourne became the Editor of the University magazine and contributed critical theatre reviews and sketches, which marked him out as a talented writer. Osborne was also a mainstay of the University Union and, with Walter Elliott, a future Secretary of State for Scotland, he co-authored the Union song ‘Ygorra’. Curiously, in 1905, Osborne ‘invented’ the annual, University social event known as ‘Daft Friday’. That is an evening in honour of the President of the Union, with a secret ‘theme’ that is kept hidden from him/her until the night. On ‘Daft Friday, students celebrate the end of the Martinmas term at Glasgow University with twelve hours of live music, dancing and general frivolity in a tradition that is now over one hundred years old! In 1955, some years after Mavor’s death, the Glasgow University Union introduced ‘The Bridie Dinner’, which is now a feature of the event.
Despite those distractions, in 1913, Osborne eventually graduated M.B, Ch.B. After that, until the outbreak of the World War I, Mavor worked as a physician and house surgeon at Glasgow Royal Infirmary. He enlisted in the Royal Army Medical Corps and served in France. In 1917, he was sent further east to serve in Mesopotamia, India, Persia and Constantinople. It was whilst stationed in those countries that Mavor collected lots of stories, and many biblical and apocryphal legends, most of which were to surface in his plays. After the Great War, Mavor began a general practise at Longside in Glasgow. Later, he was appointed extra physician at the Sick Children’s Hospital and in 1923, set himself up as a consultant. For a while, he held the post of Professor of Medicine at the Anderson College of Medicine and was a consulting physician to the Victoria Infirmary. During that time, he added to his qualifications by becoming F.R.F.P.S Glas in 1921 and graduating M.D. (with commendation) in 1929. However, in 1934, Mavor’s increasing success as a dramatist led to his abandoning medicine for literature and the theatre. He gave up his practise and moved his family to Helensburgh.
That theatrical success had begun in 1928, with the appearance of Mavor’s first performed play, written under the name of ‘Mary Henderson’ and entitled ‘The Sunlight Sonata’. It was presented in Glasgow by the Scottish National Players, an amateur company which employed professional producers, and directed by Tyrone Guthrie. Mavor adopted the pseudonym of ‘James Bridie’ for his subsequent works such as 1929s ‘The Switchback’, which was presented in Birmingham and later at the 1931 ‘Malvern Festival’. His desire for professional production of his work, however, led to many of his dramas being presented first on the London West End stage. Bridie’s success then continued throughout the 1930s and 40s until 1950 with, amongst others, ‘Jonah and the Whale’ and ‘The King of Nowhere’ in 1938 with a yet to be famous Laurence Olivier.
In 1939, as Bridie, Mavor was awarded an honorary L.L.D. from Glasgow University, which meant he was a ‘bona fide’ Dr. in both his real and assumed names. Despite his literary and theatrical success, Mavor maintained his interest in medicine. That same year of 1939, he published a ‘Study of the Umbilicus’ and when War broke out once more, Mavor returned to the fray after he managed to persuade the ‘authorities’ to allow him to actively serve. After serving on a Hospital Ship in Norway, he returned to civilian life with the rank of Major and, in 1946, he was granted a CBE. Osborne Henry Mavor alias O. H. Mavor alias Mary Henderson alias James Bridie alias J. P. Kellock, died in Edinburgh Royal Infirmary of a brain haemorrhage on the 29th of January, 1951. He was buried in Glasgow’s Western Necropolis on the 1st of February.