John Cairney, born on February 16, 1930, and passing away on September 7, 2023, was a versatile and acclaimed Scottish stage, film, and television actor. He is notably recognized both in Scotland and internationally for his one-man shows which shed light on famed personalities like Robert Burns, Robert Louis Stevenson, Robert Service, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, and William McGonagall.
Hailing from the Baillieston area of Glasgow, Cairney had a brief stint at an art college. However, he felt a stronger pull towards acting and decided to follow this passion.
He was not just limited to acting; Cairney wore many hats – he was a recitalist, lecturer, director, theatre consultant, author, and even an exhibited painter. His educational foundation in performing arts was solidified at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. He showcased his remarkable talent in roles such as Hamlet at the Citizens’ Theatre in Glasgow and Macbeth at the Edinburgh International Festival. His other notable works include playing King Humanity in Tyrone Guthrie’s Festival production of Sir David Lyndsey’s Ane Satyre of the Thrie Estaitis and James Boswell in Robert McLellan’s Young Auchinleck.
Cairney’s talent also shone bright on the silver screen with roles in movies like Lucky Jim, A Night to Remember, and Cleopatra. Television audiences remember him fondly as ‘This Man Craig’.
His academic achievements are also commendable. He earned a PhD from Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand. He subsequently became a sought-after international lecturer, writer, and consultant on notable Scots like Robert Louis Stevenson and Charles Rennie Mackintosh.
He penned down books on famous Scots and other subjects, such as football (with a focus on Celtic F.C.), theatre, and his love for his native Glasgow. Cairney spent his life with his New Zealand-born wife, actress and scriptwriter Alannah O’Sullivan.
He tied the knot with Alannah O’Sullivan in 1980. Football ran in his blood as his brother was footballer Jim Cairney. Both siblings grew up in the Parkhead area of Glasgow and had the referee Tiny Wharton as a childhood friend. John left behind a legacy that his wife and five children, from his previous marriage to Sheila Cowan, will cherish.
- Ill Met by Moonlight – Elias
- Miracle in Soho – Tom
- Lucky Jim – Roberts
- Windom’s Way – Jan Vidal
- 1958: A Night to Remember – Mr. Murphy
- Shake Hands with the Devil – Mike O’Callaghan
- Operation Bullshine – Gunner Willie Ross
- The Flesh and the Fiends – Chris Jackson
- The Edgar Wallace Mysteries – Marriage of Convenience – Larry Wilson
- 1961: Victim – Bridie
- Cleopatra – Phoebus
- Jason and the Argonauts – Hylas
- 1964: The Devil-Ship Pirates – Harry
- Spaceflight IC-1 – Dr. Steven Thomas
- A Study in Terror – Michael Osborne
- 1999: Nightmare Man – Trapper
John Cairney‘s vast and diverse contributions to the arts have left an indelible mark on Scottish and international audiences alike. He will always be remembered as a stellar performer and multifaceted talent.