James Peeble Ewing Kennaway ~ Novelist & Screenwriter


Born into a well-off middle class family in Auchterarder 5 June 1928. His father a lawyer died when James Kennaway was only 12 years of age – his father had served in the Black Watch in 1914. Brought up by his mother a doctor, James Kennaway attended Cargifield School in Edinburgh until the age of 8 and then Glenalmond College. At the age of eighteen James Kennaway was called up for two years of National Service.

Although his birthplace defined him as a Scottish writer, in a similar vein to fellow Perthshire author John Buchan, James Kennaway saw himself more as a ‘writer from Scotland.’

His National Service was taken with initially with the Black Watch and then with Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders and finally with the 1st Battalion of the Gordon Highlanders as a commissioned officer. From these experiences came James Kennaway’s first and well-acclaimed novel, Tunes of Glory (1956) – a book that describes the class confrontation within the army. Two years earlier a short story by James Kennaway was published under the title, The Dollar Bottom in Lilliput. This book was later made into a film and in fact won an Oscar for Best Short Film.

After National Service James Kennaway went up to Trinity College, Oxford to study Politics, Philosophy and Economics (1948). Here he met his future wife, Susan Edmonds, who many years later went onto have an affair with the writer John le Carre. He was twenty-three when he wed his bride Susie (Susan) of only twenty-one – just after they both left university (1951).

James Kennaway spent his evenings and weekends writing and developing his characters as he eventually produced his first novel. Tunes of Glory is set in a dismal army barracks that the model for which James Kennaway used the Queen’s Barracks in Perth. It eventually was made into a film with Alec Guinness in the lead role – James Kennaway wrote the script for the film. Success allowed James Kennaway to relocate for a short period to Hollywood, where he became a scriptwriter in the film industry.

The National Library of Scotland (Edinburgh) houses the papers of James Kennaway (these were partly gifted by the novelists’ wife in 1968 and partly purchased by the library in 2007): Accs. 5540, 5696 and 12670.

Other Novels by James Kennaway:

Household Ghosts (1961) – later a stage-play

Some Gorgeous Accident (1967)

The Cost of Living Like This (1969)

Silence (published posthumously in 1972)

The Bells of Shoreditch

The Mindbenders (1962) – later a film

Other film scripts written by James Kennaway:

Violent Playground (1958)

Country Dance (called Brotherly Love in the USA) (1969/70) – starring Peter O’Toole and Susannah York

The Battle of Britain (1969)

The Shoes of the Fisherman (1968)

See also:

The Kennaway Papers (edited by his wife Susan) – exposes the mercurial personality of James Kennaway and the turbulent marriage

James Kennaway died on 21 December 1968 after suffering a cardiac arrest whilst driving his car aged only 40.

In April of 2007, Tunes of Glory played at the Perth Concert Hall performed by the Middle Ground Theatre Company. “A classic tale of honour, betrayal and secret love.Set in a highland regiment barracks in the 1950s, acting Colonel Major Jock Sinclair, a charismatic, wild and stormy¬†war hero, has worked his way up the ranks the hard way to command his beloved regiment. His command is short lived when Colonel Basil Barrow, ex-public school boy arrives.¬†Barrow is devoted to restoring the faded glory of this undisciplined regiment. The two clash instantly. The outcome is both shocking and devastating in this sharply observed, gripping heartfelt story. James Kennaway was born in Auchterarder in 1928. Tunes of Glory was made famous by the movie starring Sir Alec Guinness and John Mills.”