Robert Kemp

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Robert Kemp (1908–1967) was a Scottish playwright and a gifted features and drama producer at the BBC in Scotland.

Early life

Kemp was born at Longhope in the Orkney Islands where his father, the Reverend A. L. Kemp, was the minister.

He lived at one time in Orkney, at another in Buchan.

He was educated at Robert Gordon's College and the University of Aberdeen.

He lived in London and then in Edinburgh (in Warriston Crescent).

BBC career

Kemp went to the BBC via a successful journalistic career at the Manchester Guardian.

Along with other Guardian colleagues, Kenneth Adam, Donald Boyd, and E. R. Thomson, Kemp was hired by the programme director of the BBC's North Region, E. A. F. Harding in the early 1930s.[1]

In 1937 he was appointed assistant public relations officer to George Burnett and, within a year, was transferred from Edinburgh to the new BBC building at Queen Margaret Drive, Glasgow.[2]

He was well-known for the plays and programmes he wrote for broadcasting.[3]

After moving to London in 1938 to work in the features and drama department(?), he was replaced in his job by Archie P Lee. Immediately prior to the Second World War he was seconded, along with 38 other BBC staff, to the Ministry of Information.[4]

The journalist Kenneth Roy wrote in 2011 that he wanted to know why Kemp left the BBC.

War time

The first anniversary of Dunkirk was commemorated by Operation Dynamo, adapted for broadcasting by Robert Kemp from John Masefield's Nine Days' Wonder.[5]

Kemp's St. Andrew's Day broadcast of 1942, Pioneers, was one of a number of programmes which reevaluated national heritage.[6]


In the post-war period, Kemp was the BBC's features producer in Edinburgh (with Archie P Lee his Glasgow counterpart).

1945? feature programme by Kemp on the Forth Bridge.

On 26 march 1946, he presented a programme on The Guid Scots Tongue. This was an anthology of voices with their typical words, idioms, pronunciation and accents to be found in various parts of Scotland from Moray to Galloway, excluding the Industrial belt. It concentrated on the speech of the country districts, and the Scottish recording car went out and collected authentic voices which illustrated the difference of dialect. The programme also included the reading of passages from Scottish literature of historical and contemporary writers.[7]

Around this time, Kemp edited Chapbook.

Another highlight around 1946? was his feature production, The 45.

In 1947, Robert Kemp went to France to make a programme about the twelve French towns which have been adopted by twelve towns in Scotland.[8]


In 1952 he was a contributor to the programme Festival Magazine.

In 1955? he wrote the play The Honours of Scotland specially for television.[9]

In 1956 he devised a TV comedy about Edinburgh at Festival time, Festival Fever, starring Stanley Baxter, Mairhi Russell, and Michael Dennison.[10]

in 1956, Kemp left the Church of Scotland as a result of Ayr Presbytery's criticism of his TV play, The Asset.

In 1979, the Scottish adaptation by Robert Kemp of Moliere's comedy The Miser was networked on BBC 1.[11]


In an article on Scottish writing for The Spectator magazine, Moray McLaren wrote that "Robert Kemp is easily the most fertile as well as versatile of our playwrights. How excellent is his command of Scottish dialogue and situation! A large part of his considerable energies, however, have to be devoted to running the affairs of the Gateway Theatre in Edinburgh."[12]


He produced Walls of Jericho for the Scottish National Players in on 4 April 1947.

In 1948, working with Tyrone Guthrie, he staged a revival of Scotland's first Scottish play, David Lyndsay’s Ane Pleasant Satyre of the Thrie Estaitis and, also in 1948, he coined the phrase “Edinburgh Festival Fringe”.


His son, Arnold Kemp, edited the Glasgow Herald between 1981 and 1994.

External links


  1. Briggs, 306.
  2. 'BBC Scots Moves', Scottish Daily Express, 20 May 1938.
  3. 'Scots at the BBC', Press and Journal, 10 March 1943, 4.
  4. Briggs, Vol. III, 79.
  5. BBC Handbook 1942, 38.
  6. BBC Handbook 1943, 34.
  7. 'Notes on Forthcoming Programmes', Falkirk Herald, 20 March 1946, 6.
  8. BBC Year Book 1948, 88.
  9. BBC Handbook 1955, 125.
  10. Walker, 201.
  11. Minutes of a meeting of the Broadcasting Council for Scotland, 5/6 April 1979.
  12. Moray McLaren, 'Scottish Writing', The Spectator, 23 June 1955, 30-31.