Tom Gallacher: Playwright and author

The Arts
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tom_gallacher420 A GARELOCHHEAD man rose from draughtsman and amateur actor to journalist and then a playwright whose work was produced across Europe and in America.

Tom Gallacher, born in Alexandria on February 16 1932, was the third son and one of five children of Edward and Rose Gallacher, who moved from the Vale of Leven to Linn Walk in the village when he was one.

He always regarded Garelochhead as his home, and he died there in October 2001 at the age of 69.

His first job was framing pictures at the Macneur & Bryden Ltd. shop in East Princes Street, and also making deliveries on a bicycle.

He then trained as a draughtsman and worked at Denny’s Shipyard in Dumbarton, but decided on a career change and served as a reporter for the Helensburgh Advertiser until he was 31.

He also wrote a series of articles for the County Reporter about old Dumbarton and the Vale of Leven which was later published as a collection under the title ‘Hunting Shadows’. Years later the BBC produced two half-hour programmes made up of these articles read by an actor from Dumbarton, Robert Trotter.

During this period he gained his early theatrical experience as an amateur actor and producer with Dumbarton People’s Theatre and Helensburgh Theatre Arts Club. It convinced him that he wanted to be a playwright.

He gave up his reporting career in 1965, then spent two years working as a draughtsman before moving to a similar job in Montreal, Canada. He then decided to take the plunge into full-time writing and settled in London, where he lived for four years.

During that period, several of his plays were performed in London theatres, notably ‘Mr Joyce is leaving Paris’, ‘Bright Scene Fading’ at the Royal Court, and ‘The Only Street’ at the Kings Head Theatre.

Of these the most successful was his play about James Joyce, which created a sensation amongst Irishmen at their Dublin Festival and was also presented in Canada and Italy, filmed by a London company, and broadcast on radio and TV.

Other works such as ‘Our Kindness to Five Persons’, ‘Revival’, ‘Schellenbrack’ and ‘Personal Effects’ were staged in Glasgow, Dublin and Pitlochry. He also translated or adapted ‘Deacon Brodie’ from Henley & Stevenson, ‘An Enemy of the People’ and ‘A Doll’s House’ from Ibsen, ‘The Father’ from Strindberg, and ‘Cyrano de Bergerac’ from Rostand.

In 1975 he decided to return home to Garelochhead. He said at the time: “It seems to me that the climate of theatre in Scotland is such that it has a new sense of enthusiasm and urgency.

“This is partly due to the Scottish Society of Playwrights, of which I was a founder member, who in the last 18 months have done a great deal to advance the benefits and possibilities for Scottish playwrights.

“It is also due to the Scottish Arts Council, who have taken a very enterprising attitude to new writing in Scotland. The theatres too — perhaps the most difficult area in the past — are now eager to present new plays by Scottish writers or writers living in Scotland.

night_must_fall“In fact the whole atmosphere has changed radically in the past two years. Theatre in Scotland seems on the brink of taking a big leap forwards. I want to be part of it, and share the excitement of it.”

He certainly was, and he moved in exalted drama circles as more of his plays were produced in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Perth, Pitlochry, Dundee, St Andrews and Montrose.

He had spells as writer in residence both at Pitlochry Festival Theatre and, briefly, at Edinburgh's Royal Lyceum Theatre, although most of his later work was prose fiction.

Tom gave a lot of credit for his success to his parents. “I think a lot of it comes from my father, who had a great sense of theatre and a great love of drama,” he said.

“From my mother I got this particular precision of language which many people have commented upon. She instilled into me the value and precise meaning of the spoken word.”

In his later years he resumed contributing to local newspapers, at various times writing comment columns in the two Dumbarton weeklies, the Lennox Herald and the by then renamed Dumbarton and Vale of Leven Reporter.

Tom’s brother Phil is an electrical contractor who lives and works in Helensburgh.

  • Tom is pictured with Jill Grattidge (centre) in a Helensburgh Theatre Arts Club production of 'Night Must Fall'.