Alumni Services

Ian Brown

Professor Ian Brown believes his time at school and at Edinburgh laid the foundations for his long and interesting career. He talks to us about enthralling lecturers and being a playwright.


Ian James Morris Brown

Degree Course

MA (Hons) English Literature and Language; DipEd; MLitt

Year of Graduation

1967, 1970, 1975

Ian Brown

Your time at the University

When it came to applying, I entered only Edinburgh on my form. This was the place I wanted to study, both for the nature of the university – I had heard much positive from pupils from years ahead of me at school who had gone on to Edinburgh – and for the beauty of the city, and its theatres, concert halls and galleries.

My favourite memories include the second year English Literature courses. These were chiefly on Drama then, particularly Shakespeare, and led by Ronnie Mulryne who went on to be a professor at Warwick in 1977. That English department was full of stars: two-thirds or thereabouts became in time professors. The team included John Sutherland, who went on to King’s, London, Ronnie Jack who stayed with Edinburgh, Jack MacQueen, the list of fine teachers and scholars is too long to enumerate. They knew how to hold a lecture hall.

It’s been a varied career, drawing on the foundations laid at school and at Edinburgh University. 

Ian Brown 

Tell us about your Experiences since leaving the University

Last September I became Emeritus Drama Professor at Kingston University, London, but, as my aunt says, I’ve not retired; I’ve just ceased paid employment.

In the 1970s I established Drama teaching at Dunfermline College, now part of Edinburgh University, then was a British Council officer in Edinburgh and Istanbul. Encouraged to return in 1978, I organised a new Drama degree at Alsager, now part of MMU, where I also ran an arts centre. Having served on North West Arts’ Drama and General Arts Panels and as an Arts Council of Great Britain (ACGB) adviser and Drama Panel member, I was seconded in 1985 as Secretary to the influential Cork Inquiry into professional English theatre.

After this, I became ACGB Drama Director for eight years, funding and advising publicly-funded English theatre. In those times of Thatcherite stringency, I never closed a theatre building and increased the number of touring companies by fifty percent. My Chair, Brian Rix, and I kept theatre going through some tough times.

Returning to Scotland in 1994, at Queen Margaret I developed existing Acting and Stage Management courses to degree level and a new Drama degree. Becoming Professor and Head of Department in 1995, I launched the Scottish Centre for Cultural Management and Policy in 1996 and was Dean of Arts from 1999 until 2002 when I set up my own academic and cultural consultancy, joining Kingston in 2010.

Since 2007, having been General Editor of the Edinburgh History of Scottish Literature, I’ve held a honorary Scottish Literature research post at Glasgow University, and am, with Glasgow’s Professor Thomas Clancy, series editor of the Edinburgh (2009-13), now the International Companions to Scottish Literature. Having edited several collections on cultural policy, theatre and Scottish culture, I wrote Scottish Theatre: Diversity, Language, Continuity (2013), radically revising views on the history and nature of Scotlands’ lively theatre traditions.

It’s been a varied career, drawing on the foundations laid at school and at Edinburgh University. A range of complementary activities enriched that career, including establishing (1982) the award-winning NorthWest Playwrights’ Workshop pioneering play-development methods in England, chairing the Dionysia World Festival of Contemporary Theatre in Chianti, Italy in the early 1990s and chairing Highlands and Islands Theatre Network from 2005 to 2009 and the 2007 Dràma Na h-Alba Festival. This July I stood down after five years as Association for Scottish Literary Studies President, remaining Convenor of its Publications Board. For another year I’ll stay Saltire Society Convener.

All of this sustained and made possible my writing.

Even at primary school I wanted to write plays. Encouragement by Edinburgh tutors got me going. My first professional experience was in 1969 writing for the Traverse Workshop Company, fore-runner to Joint Stock. 1972 saw my scenario, Positively the Last Final Farewell Performance, for Scottish Ballet. The Royal Lyceum presented Carnegie in 1973. Since then leading companies have presented some twenty new productions including, in the UK, the Traverse, the Lyceum, the Bush Theatre, Dalier Sylw, and Perth Theatre. My work covers a range: I'm the only straight playwright beside Edward Bond to be premièred by Gay Sweatshop and the only male one beside David Edgar to be premièred by Monstrous Regiment. I was first Chair (1973-75) of the Scottish Society of Playwrights and three times again over four decades.

Throughout this time, I also wrote poetry, only recently beginning to publish it. My collections include Poems for Joan (2001) and, with Alan Riach, Lion's Milk: Turkish Poems by Scottish Poets (2012). My next collection, Collyshangles in the Canopy, is due out soon.

Alumni wisdom

Enjoy everything you can, because you don’t know what out of whatever you're doing will matter most later in life.

Related links

Collyshangles in the canopy by Ian Brown