Captain Osborne Henry Mavor

Biography of Captain Osborne Henry Mavor

Better known as the playwright James Bridie, Osborne Henry Mavor was born in Glasgow on 3rd January 1888. He was the eldest son of Henry Alexander Mavor and his wife Janet. He had a comfortable upbringing at the family home at 3 Windsor Circus and attended Glasgow Academy before going up to Glasgow University, aged sixteen in 1904, to study Arts and Medicine. His father had also studied medicine but made his living as an engineer. Fortunately he was in a position to finance rather a protracted education for his son. Osborne Henry took almost a decade to gain his MB in 1913, but he appears to have had a very good time and to have been given free rein to develop his talents and enthusiasms.

His First Professional Exam testifies to a lack of application. Although he passed the Botany exam in 1905, he took two attempts at Chemistry, four at Physics and five at Zoology, finally scraping through in April 1908, despite having shown some talent in this subject by gaining a second Class certificate in Practical Zoology in the summer session of 1905. His Second Professional Exam was also a protracted affair between 1908 and 1911, and he passed Anatomy on the sixth attempt. After having failed it twice while Professor Cleveland held the chair, his hopes had risen when he retired and was replaced by Thomas Bryce. He wrote in the Magazine, "Oh Dr Bryce, Oh Dr Bryce your predecessor ploughed me twice. Oh, Dr. Bryce let twice suffice, Oh pray oh do not plough me thrice". Academically things did start to improve around 1911, however.

His Third Professional Exam was marked by only two or three re-sits and the Finals featured first-time passes in Medicine, second-time in Surgery and Midwifery. Osborne Henry Mavor graduated on 9th October 1913. University was a party that he did not want to leave early and he had made good use of his leisure hours there by writing verse, nurturing great friendships and throwing himself into student life and literature. He served on the Committee of Management of the Union and was a frequent contributor to the Glasgow University Magazine.

Mavor took his youthful enthusiasm with him when he went to war, serving first in Flanders and then in the Middle East, rising to the rank of Captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps (Special Reserve). It was a sobering experience, but sadly not his last one of war. He saw brief service again in Norway during the Second World War, a conflict in which he and his wife Rona lost one of their two sons, killed in 1944 while serving in France with the Lothian and Borders Horse.

After the First World War Mavor returned to Glasgow and worked as a general practitioner, then a consulting physician at the Victoria Infirmary. For a time he was a professor of medicine in the Anderson College. It was not as a Glasgow medic, however, that he would be remembered but as one of Scotland’s finest writers for the stage. As a student he was passionate about the theatre and wrote reviews as well as a first effort at a play about 1911. It was The Switchback, a drama about medical ethics, a theme to which he often returned, though in a more polished form than this early experiment.

It was in the inter-war period, however, that he found his voice. In 1928, his play The Sunlight Sonata was performed by the Scottish National Players. It was the first of more than forty plays which he wrote under the pseudonym of James Bridie and which played to appreciative audiences the length and breadth of Britain. His range was impressive, drawing on his insider understanding of medical ethics in such plays as A Sleeping Clergyman, and The Anatomist, but he was also comfortable in the enchanting biblical habitats of Tobias and the Angel and Jonah and the Whale. He could move his audiences to laughter, with sparkling wit and observation, but also take them to dark places, philosophical speculation and the challenge of unresolved endings — though his critics put this down to his failure to master satisfactory final acts.

As a playwright Bridie often had to weather criticism. He was an Establishment figure, and did little to encourage the Unity Theatre and its more radical productions. He was identified with a kind of humour, and a kind of audience that was ‘public-schooled, male-orientated, classically educated and biblically literate’.

Osborne Henry Mavor had a real zest for life and friendship which slowed down his progress through exams, survived the war and found expression in countless characters on stage. He was an important figure in the establishment of the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow in 1943 and worked hard for the establishment of the College of Drama. His legacy is therefore in the bricks and in the talent of Scotland’s theatre as well as its repertoire. He died of a brain haemorrhage in Edinburgh Royal Infirmary on 29th January 1951.


Captain Osborne Henry Mavor
Rank: Captain
Regiment: Royal Army Medical Corps - Special Reserve
Degree: MB ChB
Awards: N/A
Comments: N/A
Note/Press Clipping: N/A
Photo ID: N/A


University of Glasgow Registry, Faculty and General Council Records

Eric Linklater, Reverend David Hutchison, ‘Osborne Henry Mavor’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004)

Douglas Gifford, Sarah Dunnigan and Alan MacGillivray, Scottish Literature (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2002)

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