Honorary members 1987 to 1996

1987 Jack Webster, Ted Hughes
1988 Naomi Mitchison
1989 Hamish MacInnes, James Loughran, Sam K Gaw, Sir Sean Connery
1990 Kenneth McKellar, William McIlvanney
1991 Bill McLaren
1993 John Major, Terry Waite
1994 David Smith
1995 Iain Crichton Smith, Douglas Fairbanks Jr
1996 Tony Harrison, Prof. Tom Sutherland, Sir A W ('Sandy') Macara


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Ted Hughes (1930-1998) Honorary member 1987

His life & work:

In keeping with tradition Irvine Burns Club was delighted to offer honorary membership to the Poet Laureate, as all since Alfred Lord Tennyson in 1850 were so asked. Undoubtably Ted Hughes had earned the right to join the illustrious group. A Yorkshire man, born in 1930, he was, like Burns, of farming stock; his poetry was vastly different however, being characterised by dark, sometimes violent, imagery drawn from the British countryside. This can be readily found in 'Hawk Roosting''. Nevertheless he made his mark as one of the greatest English poets of the century.

He became Poet Laureate in 1984. He was often in the headlines in the 1960s after the suicide of his first wife Sylvia Plath. The American poet's devotees blamed Hughes for her death, particularly as he remained silent after allegations about their short and ill fated marriage were made. More tragedy was to follow him. He separated from his new partner, Assia Gutsmann, and she was found with their two-year old daughter dead, in her London flat. Some of his most bleak and famous poems followed, the next year, and these were dedicated to them both. He eventually released The Birthday Letters, a collection of poems addressed to Sylvia over the years, indicating that he had never stopped thinking of her. He was eventually awarded the £10,000 Forward Poetry Prize for the letters but was already too ill to attend and accept. The Queen was present at his last public appearance, when she awarded him the Order of Merit the month before he died in October 1998.


His letter, written from North Taunton, Devon, on 6 Jan., 1987:


Dear Mr Wood
     Thank you for your invitation, which honours me greatly. I would be delighted to become an Honorary Member of Irvine Burns Club.
     With my Best Wishes,
     Ted Hughes

Dr Ian Wood was President of the Club at the time.

Jack Webster (1930-2020) Honorary member 1987

His life & work:

This man's autobiography - A Grain of Truth - indicates why Irvine Burns Club offered him the honour. He is a journalist, born in 1931 in the Aberdeenshire village of Maud. He was an ill youth, having at 16 been diagnosed with a leaking heart valve and burdened with a stammer, and was told in early childhood he would have to take a desk job, and give up any thought of fulfilling his journalistic career. He gradually overcame his health problems and was able to progress from the local Turriff Advertiser through various newspapers to finally the Herald in Glasgow.

He wrote initially of his love and experiences in the north east of Scotland, but as he travelled abroad and began to mix with the rich and famous, he expanded his writings, while always observing matters from a Scottish perspective. Irvine Burns Club were delighted when he appeared in person to receive his Honorary Membership, and even more so when he spoke the following year at the 'Heckling Shed'. This was an annual event when the Directors of the club and their guests invite a distinguished personality to speak on a subject of his choice usually pertaining to Scotland, in the restored Shed where Burns worked for a time when living in Irvine.


'The Times' obituary of Jack Webster (19.3.2020) records that he sought inspiration for his fluid writing style from Lewis Grassic Gibbon (James Leslie Mitchell), whose writings he encountered in the 1950s at the 'Press & Journal' in Aberdeen, where Mitchell had worked. Jack Webster said 'Sunset Song' "taught me more about the art of writing than any other influence". The obituary mentions his 18 books, and his meetings with Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, George Best, Pele, Elizabeth Taylor, Christine Keeler, Ginger Rogers, Irving Berlin and Richard Rogers, Charlie Chaplin, and Muhammed Ali.

His letter, written from Netherhill Avenue, Glasgow, on 6 Jan, 1987:


Dear Dr Wood,
     Your invitation to become an Honorary Member of Irvine Burns Club was as unexpected as it seemed to be unwarranted.
     However, I am prepared to let others be the judge of that - and indeed it would be an impertinence to say 'No' and a discourtesy not to say how appreciative I am of your kind thought.
     That, as you will have gathered, is a very firm acceptance and I am also delighted to take up your invitation to your Supper of 23rd January, all the more willingly since I am excused all but the briefest of address.
     I look forward to renewing our acquaintance that evening.
     Again with many thanks,
     Yours sincerely,
     Jack Webster

Dr Ian Wood was President of the Club at the time.

Naomi Mitchison, CBE (1897-1999, aged 101) Honorary member 1988

Her life & work:

Naomi Mitchison's acceptance letter (below) is one of the more interesting, so simply yet so eloquently reflecting both her own character and the human causes which, through Robert Burns, bind together people of different countries.

First and foremost, Naomi Mitchison was an author with an output formidable both in quantity and in range - 70 books in as many years – short stories, children’s fiction, science fiction, fiction dealing with race and with nuclear war, poetry, biography, travel, and three volumes of autobiography. By the time of her first novel, ‘The Conquered’ (1923), she was also politically involved - she helped to establish early birth control clinics in London and she gave a paper at the World League for Sex Reform Congress in 1929. The epic historical novel ‘The Corn King and the Spring Queen’ (1931) signalled her agonised concern at what happens when a culture collapses. A 1935 novel, ‘We Have Been Warned’, glimpsed the shadow of Hitler and discussed international socialism.

As a child she was taken to a meeting in support of the Dublin dock strike – as she decided to put her pocket money into the collection, a lifelong sense of injustice about social inequality was born, a sympathy for the political underdog. Her family, the Haldanes, were for generations influential in Scottish affairs. Her father was J S Haldane, the Edinburgh physiologist instrumental in improving safety in the mines, her mother was Kathleen Trotter, the suffragist, her brother was J B S Haldane, writer and scientist, and her uncle was the Lord Haldane (R B S Haldane) of our honorary membership list (1912), the Secretary of State for war from 1905. In 1916 she married Richard, later (1964) Lord, Mitchison, and three of their children became university professors with chairs in the sciences.

During World War II, she ran the estate at Carradale, Argyll, her home since 1937, and the local Labour party and took in evacuees. After the war she became involved in Scottish Nationalism, serving on Argyll and Highland bodies for thirty years. She took an active interest in the problems of deprived children and West Coast fishing.

On the occasion of the 100th birthday of Lady Mitchison (a title she rarely used), in Carradale, her fellow-journalist Neal Ascherson recalled her method of getting an article published – “she would appear in an editor’s office and hold his nose to the typescript . . . I was often deputed to receive her, if not actually fend her off . . she was so friendly and fascinating that I always promised that her piece would go in”.

The Bakgatla people of Botswana made her tribal mother from 1963 to 1973. The rich history of that people attracted the interest not only of Mitchison but of Alexander McCall-Smith. These and other writers have captured and preserved their history.

In 1989, she said: “So long as I can hold a pencil, let me go on.” In her 90s, she was still active, digging potatoes, milking cows, and bringing in the harvest. Her ‘Herald’ obituary noted that “she was a woman of great capability, determination, fortitutude and, above all, enthusiasm.”

Her letter, written from 115 Blenheim Crescent, London, W11 on Jan. 15th, 1988:


Dear Matthew Brown
     Of course I am delighted to think I shall belong to this Club & this bit of Scottish history. Thankyou! I think the image we have of Burns is a great help to all of us who try to break down the rule of money power, especially in Scotland. And again I think it was in his tradition that I have found it so easy to make heart-to-heart friends in Africa – especially my dear small country, Botswana – India, Bangla Desh, & for that matter Europe. I remember, in the Sixties, two Russian writers coming over, very nervous and uncertain as to what would happen. I drove them over to Carradale & got together some friends from the village, mostly fisher & forestry folk, one recited Tam o’ Shanter, others sang. It was a mad success! All the Russians know Burns. Marshak did a very good translation.
     I hope on Burns night you will remember how little “man to man” means in South Africa now. And it is not the only place. There is a terrible, increasing gap between Employed & Un-employed in our own country. I hope Burns readers will remember this.
     My youngest son Avrion, who is Prof. of Zoology at London University & his Skye wife Lorna, always has a Burns party. I am getting too old to dance & I don’t like whisky (or neeps) but it will have the right feeling.
     Thank you again.
     Naomi Mitchison
If I can find it when I am back at Carradale I will send you Marshak’s translation.




The following declined to accept honorary membership in 1988:

General Secretary Gorbachev: Matt Brown, President of the Club in 1988, offered honorary membership to Mikhail Gorbachev, President of the Soviet Union. The Ambassador of the USSR, explaining that it was not possible for him to accept, referred to the popularity of Burns' poetry in Russia.

     "General Secretary Gorbachev has instructed me to convey to you and your club his heartfelt gratitude for the wonderful gift - the complete works of Robert Burns. You are, of course, aware that the works of this great Scottish poet are very popular in our country. They are being read in both English, Russian and other languages of the peoples of the Soviet Union. We are fortunate to have an excellent translation of his poems by the Soviet poet S. Marshak. We highly value not only the beauty and lyricism of his poetry but also its internationalist nature.
     Mr. Gorbachev has also asked me to thank you and your club for your high appreciation of the Soviet initiatives towards International Peace and Disarmament and of his personal efforts towards this goal.
     Mr. Gorbachev was moved by your nomination of him as Honorary member of Irvine Burns Club but because of his official position it will be difficult for him to accept it. Mr.Gorbachev has asked to convey his best wishes to you and to the members of the Club."


Hamish MacInnes (1930-) Honorary member 1989

His life & work:

Hamish MacInnes, one of the founders of the Glencoe Mountain Rescue team, has done more for Scottish mountaineering and, in particular, for mountain rescue, than any other Scot of his generation. Hugely respected across the world by mountaineers and climbers, the irony is that the man, who is now totally synonymous with Scotland’s mountains, was born in the quiet coastal town of Gatehouse-of-Fleet on the Solway. The day that sparked his career was, while living in Greenock, at the age of 14, when a tax inspector took him on his motorbike to the Cobbler, for his first ever day's climbing. His National Service in 1948-50 was spent mainly climbing in Austria with British troops on breaks.

In 1961, MacInnes, by then a resident climber and climbing instructor in Glencoe, recognised that organised action was required to assist climbers attracted by the mountaineering challenges of the area, such as the legendary Aonach Eagach ridge and Buchaille Etive Mor. The outcome was the foundation of the Glencoe Mountain Rescue Committee (later reformed to become the “team”), which still continues to function as a registered charitable institution, operated entirely by volunteers and which has saved the lives of hundreds of climbers and hill walkers.

He is a leading authority and innovator on mountain rescue and has invented some vital mountaineering and rescue equipment, including the 'Terrordactyl' ice axe and the MacInnes stretcher. He also founded the Search and Rescue Dog Association and is a member of the Mountain Rescue Committee of Scotland.

Within Scotland, Hamish MacInnes was one of a small team to undertake the first winter traverse of the Cuillin Ridge in Skye (1965) and, internationally, he has tackled all of the major climbs in the Alps, Caucasus, New Zealand, South America and the Himalayas, including three expeditions to Mount Everest in the 1970s.

His honours include the BEM, an OBE, an Honorary Doctor of Laws from the University of Glasgow and an Honorary Doctor of Science from the University of Aberdeen. In 2003 he was inducted into the Scottish Sporting Hall of Fame, and in 2008 awarded the inaugural Scottish Award for Excellence in Mountain Culture.

Hamish MacInnes has written more than twenty books about mountains, climbing and adventure round the world, is a regular broadcaster and has been the technical climbing and mountaineering safety consultant on major films such as The Eiger Sanction, Five Days One Summer, The Mission and various James Bond movies. In 2007, he took from a drawer a murder mystery he had written in the early 70s, and had it published as Murder in the Glen in 2008.

In 1989, he accepted an invitation from Bill Nolan, then President of the Irvine Burns Club, to become an Honorary Member.

His letter, written from Glencoe on 3 November 1988:


Dear Sir
     I consider it a great honour to be invited to become an Honorary Member of your distinguished club.
     Also, as a lifelong fan of Robert Burns I find it gratifying to be associated with his memory.
     Yours sincerely,
     Hamish MacInnes

The letter is written on the official headed paper of the Glencoe Mountain Rescue Association, of which he was Hon. Secretary.

James Loughran (1931-) Honorary member 1989

His life & work:

Born in Glasgow, James Loughran graduated from the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama and first came to public notice when he won the Philharmonia Orchestra's Conducting Competition in 1961.

Subsequently, he became Principal Conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra as well as making his debut conducting operas at Covent Garden, Netherlands and Scottish Opera. In 1971, he was successor to Sir John Barbirolli as Conductor of the Halle Orchestra where he introduced new music to what had become a “somewhat tired scenario” and later became Principal Conductor of the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra.

Loughran made outstanding recordings of the Beethoven and Brahms Symphonies during those years and his recording of Holst's "The Planets" won him a Golden Disk. In September 1993, the Japan Philharmonic appointed him the Principal Guest Conductor and in 1996, he was appointed Principal Conductor of Aarhus Symphony Orchestra in Denmark.

In 1989, he accepted an invitation from Bill Nolan, then President of the Irvine Burns Club, to become an Honorary Member.

In the 2010 New Year Honours, James Loughran was appointed a CBE for his services, as a conductor, to classical music.

His letter, written from Macclesfield on 8 December 1988:


Dear Mr Nolan,
     Your letter was waiting for me on my return from being around the world since the middle of October with conducting engagements.
     I am deeply honoured to be invited to become an Honorary Member of Irvine Burns Club and delighted to accept. Thank you Mr President for your appreciation by including me in your term of office.
     Yours sincerely,
     James Loughran


Sam K Gaw (1932-2018) Honorary member 1989

His life & work:

Samuel Knox Gaw, an Irvine man, born and bred, was the youngest ever President of The Irvine Burns Club when, in 1967, he followed the late Martin Cameron into the chair of the world’s longest continuous Burns Club. He has served the Irvine Burns Club for the past four decades in various roles - as a Director, Honorary Secretary, Librarian, Visitor Guide, Curator, Historian and Reader.

A former Town Councillor in what was then the Royal Burgh of Irvine, Sam Gaw rose rapidly through the ranks to become Burgh Treasurer and would surely have held the ancient title of “Provost of the Royal Burgh” if local government re-organisation under The Wheatley Commission had not rendered the Royal Burgh obsolete.

Never one to limit his horizons locally, Sam Gaw represented The Irvine Burns Club on the Ayrshire Federation of Burns Clubs and on the Robert Burns International Federation, becoming that prestigious organisation’s World President in 1979.

A noted Burns scholar, reader and orator, he has travelled the world to address Burns Gatherings, most notably in Canada and the United States. He has had several articles on Burns published, including essays, such as Poet on a Tightrope and The Myth and the Gentle Science, both of which are contained within the Burns Federation’s website www.worldburnsclub.com .

Keen to engage in debate on anything Scottish, the outspoken and sometimes controversial Sam Gaw could almost have been in Robert Burns’ imagination when he wrote:

"Here's freedom to them that wad read,
Here's freedom to them that wad write.
There's none ever fear'd that the truth should be heard.
But they whom the truth wad indite".

In 1989, he accepted an invitation from Bill Nolan, then President of the Irvine Burns Club, to become an Honorary Member of the Burns Club that he had served so well over the years.

His letter, written from 'Camasunary' in Irvine on 12 January 1989:


The President & Directors of IRVINE BURNS CLUB.
Dear President Nolan
     I take great pleasure & readily accept the kindly honour of HONORARY MEMBERSHIP, a sinecure usually reserved for those much OLDER than I. {COMPARATIVELY}.
     BURNS, writing a letter of introduction for a young friend remarked, "The goods of this World cannot be divided without being lessened:- but why be a niggard of that which bestows bliss on a fellow-creature, yet takes nothing from our own means of enjoyment."
     It will soon be a quarter of a Century since I first joined the Directorate of this, the oldest Burns Club in the World with a continuous record.
     In the Years since 1827 the Club has honoured men; and women, in the classless society of those who love and revere the Aspirations & the Works of the Poet of Mankind. IT HAS ALSO HONOURED PRIME-MINISTERS AND SIC-LIKE CRAITTURS.
     I would not count myself worthy of being included among the shining Bards, the Lairds of Academe (but I am certain that I could play Tig with the "Knights & Squires who represent our Brughs & Shires" who over the last 160 years have been so honoured) did I not take comfort from the Poet's Epistle to James Smith in which I see a little of myself.

"The Star that rules my luckless lot
     Has fated me the russet coat
And damned my Fortune, to the Groat;
     But, in requit,
Has blest me with a random-shot
     O' countra wit."

    We, members & Directors, rather take a myopic view of the value of Club(s) & the Burns Movement.
     My first reaction to the Scot abroad was distaste at their outwardly expressed hunger and enthusiasm for Burns & the tradition maintained by Clubs like ours, until with "distant" vision I realised that we fulfill their desire to belong. Scotland, the country they never got to grips with when here, became real & Burns, the Burns folk encapsulate all for them, Country, Family and Auld Lang Syne.
     A rather serious viewpoint belying the fact that such as IRVINE BURNS CLUB is a place where one can see

". . Social Life & Glee sit doon
All joyous and unthinking
     Till, quite transmogrified, they're grown
Debauchery & Drinking."

     In 1869 the Club marked the Centenary of Galt's birth by a Dinner, with a programme of 69 Toasts & Responses. I regret my absence from your board but I will be celebrating the Birthday in Niagara with inhabitants of that part of Canada founded by John Galt. Could we, FOR AULD IRVINE'S SAKE, HAVE 89 TOASTS AND RESPONSES at our respective dinners?
     Please convey my BEST WISHES and GRATEFUL THANKS.
     Yours aye!
     Samuel K Gaw

The letter is written on the official headed paper of The Burns Federation Monuments Committee, of which Sam Gaw was Convener for many years.


'Brughs' is an old spelling of 'Burghs'


The second quotation is from the "Address to the Unco Guid".

Sean Connery (1930-2020) Honorary member 1989

His life & work:

Born in an Edinburgh tenement where 12 families shared a toilet, Sir Sean Connery is probably the best-known Scot on the planet. His mother, Effie, was a cleaner, his father, Joseph, drove a lorry and worked in a factory, and Sean left school at 14 and worked as a milkman for St Cuthbert's Dairy before joining the Royal Navy at 18, returning to Edinburgh to work as a bricklayer, lifeguard and coffin polisher, moonlighting as an artist's model at Edinburgh College of Art.

In the public’s mind, he will be forever linked with Ian Fleming’s fictional character – James Bond, special agent 007 – albeit that, on first seeing him on screen, Fleming was heard to comment that “Connery is not exactly as I envisaged Bond”.

Fleming’s views didn’t really matter, for the public saw Connery as the embodiment of James Bond and Dr No, filmed in 1962, was the start of a whirlwind success that led to a litany of Bond Movies over the next few years, including several comebacks by Connery in the role on which he tried to turn his back on more than one occasion. Public demand is a strange phenomenon.

Connery has played many varied roles in films over the years, working with directors such as Alfred Hitchcock, John Huston and Brian De Palma. After a Best actor award in 1986 from The British Film Academy for his role in The Name of The Rose, he won an Academy Award (“Oscar”) in 1987 for Best Supporting Actor playing the Irish cop Malone in The Untouchables.

In 1990, Sean Connery received the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Lifetime Achievement Award and, in 1996, he received the Cecil B. DeMille Golden Globe Award for "outstanding contribution to the entertainment field", given by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. In 1997, he was honoured with a Gala Tribute by the Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York and in 1998, received the British Academy Fellowship from BAFTA. He continues to work steadily, despite suffering from various throat ailments, spending his time between the film studio and the golf course where he is a “better than average” golfer.

A Freeman of his native City of Edinburgh, he was knighted in 2000, despite having allegedly been refused the honour two years previously for political reasons, viz. his lifelong association with the Scottish National Party. He has also received awards in France, including the Legion d'Honneur, and the Commandeur des Arts and des Lettres.

In 1989, he accepted an invitation from Bill Nolan, then President of the Irvine Burns Club, to become an Honorary Member. His hand-written acceptance from his home in Nueva Andalucia demonstrates the typical Connery flamboyancy, his short reply fully filling the single sheet!


His letter, written from Casa Malibu, Nueva Andalucia, Malaga, on Friday 13th Jan., 1989:


Sean Connery bought Casa Malibu in Puerto Banus in the early 1970s and put it on the market in 1998 for $9m after tiring of the overdevelopment in the area. The land was later reclassified for flats, and a 4-storey block of 70 expensive apartments now occupies the site.

The two films Connery worked on in those months of 1988 were "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" (rel. 1989) and "Family Business" (rel. 1990), the latter being a crime drama made with Dustin Hoffman and Matthew Broderick.

My Dear Mr Nolan
     Thank you I am delighted to accept your splendid invitation.
     Please forgive delay and the brevity of this letter, but I've just returned, after 5 months, working two films back to back.
     All the best.
     Sean Connery
(PS rather ominous date)

Kenneth McKellar (1927-2010) Honorary member 1990

His life & work:

Kenneth McKellar "gained world renown for the panache and bravura of his renditions of Scottish ballads", encouraging audiences to join in with gusto and enthusiasm. He was also an accomplished singer of opera and oratorio, his tenor solo in Handel's 'Messiah' being well regarded.

He is most fondly recalled for his contributions to the BBC's 'White Heather Club', capturing the spirit of a ceilidh with Scottish dancing, songs and stories in a bothy in the Highlands. One of his most popular hits was 'The Song of the Clyde'. In 1966, he sang the British entry for the Eurovision Song Contest in Luxembourg but was placed a disappointing 9th (in the following year, Sandie Shaw won with 'Puppet On A String').

Born in Paisley, into a family keen on listening to music, McKellar was bowled over when hearing tenor Beniamino Gigli in concert in Glasgow. Though studying forestry and graduating with a BSc at Aberdeen, his singing in the university choir led to a scholarship at the Royal College of Music in London - graduating in 1947, his winning of the Henry Leslie Prize led to the title role in Thorpe Davie's ballad opera on the life of Allan Ramsay, 'The Gentle Shepherd'. After releasing several singles for Parlophone, McKellar signed for Decca in 1954. He recorded every type of Scottish song along with operatic arias - his Handel arias were particularly loved and his recordings of lighter Verdi tenor roles were much praised for their finesse.

His recordings of Burns' love songs won him a deserved international reputation and he was pleased to become president of many Burns societies both in Scotland and abroad. McKellar resisted the approaches of his friend Sir Alexander Gibson to sing with Scottish Opera, likening opera work to 'singing in a goldfish bowl", though Benjamin Britten lured him into singing Macheath in his 1965 adaptation of 'The Beggar's Opera'.

McKellar was a regular contributor to 'The White Heather Club', appearing with Jimmy Logan, Moira Anderson, Andy Stewart and Jimmy Shand. Its Hogmanay special was standard fare on the BBC for many years. He is also particularly well remembered for a BBC programme tracking a musical journey he made through the Hebrides in 1968. He did much to popularise Scottish culture and traditions, always wearing the kilt with pride and touring the US, Canada and Australia. In 2010, a week after being diagnosed with cancer, Kenneth McKellar died at his daughter's home in Lake Tahoe, California.

His letter, written from his home in Glasgow, on 20.11.89:


Dear Mr Thomson,
     I thank you for your letter of the 10th inst. and for the very kind remarks contained therein.
     I thank you also for your invitation to become an Honorary Member of Irvine Burns Club.
     It is with a great deal of pleasure that I accept the invitation and I beg you to convey my warmest greetings to the membership of the Club.
     Yours sincerely,
     Kenneth McKellar

The letter is addressed to Michael Thomson, Club President

William McIlvanney (1936-2015) Honorary member 1990

His life & work:

<biography to follow>

His letter, written from his home in Glasgow, on 2nd December, '89:


Dear Mr Thomson,
     Thanks for your letter. Forgive my delay in answering it but I've been gipsying about a bit lately and mail is sometimes slow in catching up with me.
     Your very generous invitation is both a happy surprise and an honour. To share Honorary Membership of Irvine Burns Club with some of the sonorous names already enrolled there is a bit like finding yourself picked for some Celestial Eleven on the strength of your skills with a tanner baw. But if you're game for me to line up alongside them. so am I.
     I'm especially pleased to receive an invitation of this sort from Irvine Burns Club, where I've experienced a lot of happy, if sometimes eventually confused, nights in the company of such as Alec MacMillan, Andrew Hood and Harry Gaw, among numerous others. I have particularly enjoyed speaking at the St Andrew's Nights, which were invariably attended by some spectacularly attractive women.
     It's a good feeling to be honoured by your own people. Wherever I live, the address on the heart is Ayrshire. Wherever I die, that's where the body should be posted. That's where I learned Scottishness and that's where I learned, I hope, humanity - not least from the work of the man you honour.
     For these reasons, I'm proud to accept your invitation to become an Honorary Member of Irvine Burns Club.
     My thanks.
     Yours sincerely,
     Willie McIlvanney

The letter is addressed to Michael Thomson, Club President

Bill McLaren (1923-2010) Honorary member 1991

His life & work:

Bill McLaren was born in Hawick where he still lives. He played rugby for his home town and was on the verge of a full international cap when he contracted tuberculosis, while serving in Italy in W.W.II, which nearly killed him. He was one of the first to be treated with the then revolutionary drug, Streptomycin. He went on to train as a P.E. teacher in Aberdeen, teaching until 1987 as well as coaching rugby. In 1951 he began a new career as a commentator with B.B.C. Scotland. He was to become the “voice of rugby” on B.B.C. radio and eventually television for the next 50 years and his knowledge of the game was encyclopaedic. His idiosyncratic style made him instantly recognisable. "You may never have been to Hawick, but you know they’ll be dancing in the streets when you get there."

The retirement of Bill McLaren marked the end of an era for rugby in the same way that the retirement of Murray Walker left Formula 1 a different sport.

Bill McLaren was honoured with an MBE (1992) and an OBE (1995). He finally retired from the B.B.C. in 2002 and, in the same year, became the only non-international to be inducted into the International Rugby Hall of Fame. In 2003 he was awarded the CBE.

His dedication to his wife, his family, his work and his beloved town of Hawick make him a role model for the youth of today and a very fitting and welcome Hon. Member of Irvine Burns Club.


His letter, written from his home in Hawick, on 12/1/91:


Dear Mr McGlone
     It was most kind of you to invite me to become an Honorary Member of Irvine Burns Club and I appreciate the compliment very much indeed.
     I am not much of a social type, more a kind of part-recluse who is happiest in his own home and who doesn't attend dinners or other functions unless absolutely essential so I don't see myself as much of a catch as an honorary member but if you can accept such a 'puir craitur', I happily give my consent with my thanks for such a delightful gesture on your part.
     With my best wishes for your Club's future success
     Yours sincerely
     Bill McLaren

The addressee, Dr Peter McGlone, was the 1991 President.

John Major (1943-....) Honorary member 1993

His life & work:

<biography to follow>

His letter, written from 10 Downing Street, London, on 16 December, 1992:


Dear Mr Butler,
     I was very flattered to receive your letter inviting me to become an Honorary Member of the Irvine Burns Club. I am delighted to accept and take great pleasure in wishing your distinguished club every success for the future.
     Yours sincerely,
     John Major

The letter is addressed to Jim Butler, Club President. Apart from the beginning and end, it is typed.

Terry Waite (1939-....) Honorary member 1993

His life & work:

<biography to follow>

His letter, written from Trinity Hall, Cambridge, on 26 November, 1992:


Dear Mr Butler

Thank you very much indeed for your recent letter on behalf of the Directors offering me honorary membership of the Club.

I am very pleased to accept, and my signature is included as requested.

Yours sincerely
Terry Waite

The letter is addressed to Jim Butler, Club President. Apart from the signature, it is typed.

David Smith (1921-2008) Honorary member 1994

His life & work:

Born in Barrhead in 1921, David worked latterly as a traveller for plumbers merchants including Thomas Graham and John Richmond. His love of football was one of his passions and, despite a trial for Glasgow Rangers coming to naught, he remained a lifelong supporter of the club.

His footballing ability was, however, recognised elsewhere and after seeing service in Gibraltar during World War Two (as a drummer in a Cameron Highlanders band) and, to quote him, “finishing the war without firing a shot in anger”, he was asked to sign for Burnley but declined - he had lost a 17-year-old brother through a football-related injury and did not want to put his parents through worry in that direction.

He did play for both Motherwell and Kilmarnock, finally finishing his senior playing career with Stranraer.

David was happily married to Madge, a native of Sheffield, and it was as a couple that they were recruited by Irvine Burns Club Secretary Andrew Hood in 1975 to act as curators to the Club and Museum. David, with his encyclopaedic knowledge and boundless enthusiasm for Burns, and Madge, with her practical, organisational skills, were an immediate hit with the Directors and members of the Club and the very many letters received both by David and the Club in the intervening years are a testament to the open, outgoing friendliness with which he has charmed the public ever since.

A keen golfer, a weel-kent after-dinner raconteur and performer, a man with enthusiasm and a pawky sense of humour, David also found the time, with Madge’s help, to have four daughters of whom he was inordinately proud, leading, by the time of his death, to six grand-children and five great-grand-children.

In 1993 Andrew Sinclair, the then President, felt that David’s contribution to the Club had been such that the offer of Honorary Membership was made. David accepted and continued for many years to present the public face of Irvine Burns Club with the same relish and keenness he demonstrated in the seventies.

E L Park, President 1994-95

His letter, written from Irvine Burns Club, on 22nd January, 1994:


Dear Drew,
     Please accept my most sincere thanks for the great honour & compliment you have paid me in nominating me as your Honorary Member, and to the Directors of the Club for endorsing my nomination.
     It has been an honour & privilege in itself to have served the Club as Curator along with Madge from 1975 until 1985, & more recently on a part time basis.
     Over the years I have been very proud to show & explain our Honorary Members letters and I never imagined my own letter would be included in this illustrious collection.
     I can think of no higher accolade and my thanks to all, and particularly to yourself Drew.
     Yours most sincerely
     D M Smith

The letter is on Irvine Burns Club headed paper, as appropriate, and addressed to Andrew Sinclair, the President who nominated David for Honorary Membership

Douglas Fairbanks Jr (1909-2000) Honorary member 1995

His life & work:

<biography to be added>

His letter, written on 12 June 1994 on CUNARD paper headed: Queen Elizabeth 2 - Mr & Mrs Douglas Fairbanks Jr - Cabin 8184:


Dear Mr Lovie,
    I am both flattered and honoured that you would think to invite me to join the Irvine Burns Club as an Honorary Member. It so happens that rare books, letters, poetry and writing of all kinds are a passion of mine. Indeed, I could not be more pleased to accept your invitation.
    I hope you have enjoyed the voyage as much as we have and that we might have the chance to exchange "hello's" before disembarking tomorrow.
     Again thanks -
     Douglas Fairbanks Jr

The letter is addressed to Jack Lovie, the Past President who met him on that voyage.

That year's President, Eric Park,wrote to him that August, and his reply is also filed.

Iain Crichton Smith (1928-1998) Honorary member 1995

His life & work:

One of two generations of Scots poets immortalised in Alexander Moffat's 1980 painting “Poets’ Pub”, Iain Crichton Smith was a novelist and a story teller as well as a poet though he always considered himself to be primarily a poet.

Capable of writing sublime poetry and prose in both English and Gaelic, he spent a large proportion of his life working as a schoolteacher in Clydebank and Oban.

Born in 1928 in Glasgow he moved to the island of Lewis two years later where he spent his childhood and youth, being profoundly influenced by the culture of the Western Isles. He attended Aberdeen University and after National Service entered the teaching profession but, around twenty five years later, in 1977, he tendered his resignation and became a full time writer. Such was his standing in the literary world that in 1980 he was awarded the O.B.E.

Perhaps his most famous novel, “Consider the Lilies”, was written in 1968, a tale of the Highland Clearances which must have been inspired by the many deserted croft houses and empty 'ferm touns' scattered across the highlands and islands. His poetry, in English, includes “A Life”, his rhyming (mostly) autobiography “Ends and Beginnings” and “The Leaf and the Marble”.

The Scottish Poetry Library web site states that “Crichton Smith wrote poems of lyrical candour and great human understanding as well as poems that speculated on the course and meaning of human existence.” That he was a great literary figure is beyond doubt but, from personal experience, I know that he was a warm, self effacing and kindly human being who once enthralled an audience at the Harbour Arts Centre in Irvine with the beauty of his poetry and the hilarity of his stories.

Iain died at Taynuilt in 1998.

E L Park, President 1994-95

His letter, written from his home at Taynuilt, Argyll, on 15th August, 1994:


Dear Mr Park,
     When I look at the signatures of famous men you have received over the years, I feel very conscious of the great honour you have done me. Such a constellation it would be hard to beat.
     May your club continue to flourish as successfully as it has done for many years, and as your booklet so impressively shows.
     Many many thanks for the honour you have done me.
     Yours with all best wishes,
     Iain Crichton Smith

The letter is addressed to Eric Park, the President who nominated him for Honorary Membership and who wrote the appreciation above.

Tony Harrison (1937-) Honorary member 1996

His life & work:

Tony Harrison is a superb poetic craftsman, who sets the hard issues of today in verse which catches the reader or listener up in its vibrant and, unusually for today, rhyming metres. His work spans the theatre, television and film; its 'strutting energy', wrote critic Michael Kustow (1992), 'is like Kipling on speed. . where Yorkshire grit meets Attic wit'; it is strongly imbued with his Yorkshire upbringing, his classical education, and his sense of purpose, whether to verbalise the concerns of his fellow-northerners or to rage against rigid international ideologies. A 2008 interview contained these three comments: "My belief in Greek tragedy has always been a fundamental inspiration . . All Greek drama was outwardly directed"; "I turned to poetry because I grew up with inarticulate people" (his father was a tongue-tied baker in working-class Beeston, one uncle stammered, and another was dumb); and "I have spent all my life trying to find a way of filling classical forms with absolutely everyday speech".

He was a contender for Poet Laureate in 1984, when Ted Hughes was given the post. When Hughes died in 1998, Tony Harrison famously ruled himself out by publishing, in the 'Guardian', 'Laureate's Block', writing that he would rather be:
     "free not to have to puff some prince's wedding, / free to say up yours to Tony Blair, / to write an ode on Charles I's beheading / and regret the restoration of his heir . . .
free to write what I think should be written, / free to scatter scorn on Number 10, / free to blast and bollock Blairite Britain / (and alliterate outrageously like then!)"

His theatre work includes a version of Euripides' 'The Trojan Women', set on the perimeter of Greenham Common, and his film work includes 'Black Daisies for the Bride', which won the Prix Italia in 1994, and 'Prometheus' (1999), set in a disused coalfield. His TV work includes 'The Gaze of the Gorgon' (1992) for which he was awarded the Whitbread Prize for Poetry; in this extract, he wonders whether the reflecting glass towers of Frankfurt's financial world can avert the evil which 'brings ghettos, gulags, genocide':
     "That's maybe the reason why / so many mirrors reach so high, / into the modern Frankfurt sky. / Ecu land seems to prepare / to neutralise the Gorgon's stare, / but what polished shields can neutralise / those ancient petrifying eyes?"

Harrison is a classicist with a working-class background, a writer whose scholarship and craftsmanship are channelled into his abiding concerns of language, class, education and social mores. Melvyn Bragg, in the 'Sunday Telegraph', commented, in about 1999: "I am convinced that Tony Harrison is one of the few truly great poets writing in English today".


His letter, written from Gosforth, Newcastle, on 17th November 1995:


Dear Mr Dickson
     Many thanks for your letter. I am very proud and honoured that you consider me worthy of honorary membership of the Irvine Burns Club.
     As a poet, and a fervent and life-long admirer of Robert Burns, I am more than happy to accept your kind invitation. May the merry Muse bless all your occasions.
     Yours sincerely
     Tony Harrison

Tony Harrison, being a Classics graduate as well as one of Britain's foremost poets, was a natural choice of honorary member for President Ian Dickson, a Principal Teacher of Classics

Sir A W (Sandy) Macara (1932-2012) Honorary member 1996

His life & work:

Sandy Macara, born in Irvine and educated at Irvine Royal Academy and Glasgow University, became Chairman of the Council of the British Medical Association in 1993. The BMA is the voice of the medical profession in the UK and the position of chairman is its most senior political post.

A bout of serious illness at the age of six led to his choice of career. Otherwise, he might have followed his father's steps - Rev. Alex Macara was the well-liked minister of Irvine Old Parish Church for half a century from 1928 to 1978 (and President of Irvine Burns Club in 1939). Sandy, however, in his hospital bed, made up his mind to work for those in hospital, and made his career in medical health administration, promoting preventative medicine and influencing policies.

His political grounding was as a student at debates in Glasgow University. His career focused on World Health and National Medical Politics, the latter leading to his becoming the voice of the BMA in the media on all major issues during his chairmanship of its council.

Perhaps the most appropriate comments to illustrate his thoughts would be his own words in an 'Irvine Times' interview of January 1996, when asked what his wish for the coming year 1996 would be. He told the interviewer the BMA would be pushing for a more united NHS, and said: "Our main agenda is to return the word national to the National Health Service. What distresses us all is the way everything is being broken up and the way the amount of cash available in one area determines what people will get. It is my wish to get the Government to match their agreement on this issue with some action!"

His letter, written from British Medical Association House, Tavistock Square, London, on 3rd January 1996:


Dear Mr Dickson
     Thank you very much for your letter of 22 December last, and for the kind invitation to accept nomination for honorary membership of the Irvine Burns Club.
     I am honoured and delighted to accept, especially as I was privileged to be brought up in the Old Parish Manse and inculcated in a love of Burns (and poetry generally) by my father, who greatly valued his long and happy association with the Club.
     My best wishes to you all for 1996
     Yours sincerely
     A W Macara


The following declined to accept honorary membership in 1996:

Nelson Mandela : The following letter was sent from the Dept. of Foreign Affairs in Pretoria:
Dear Mr Dickson,
     On behalf of President Mandela, I would like to thank you for your kind words and for the invitation which you have extended to him to accept honorary membership of the Irvine Burns Club . . . .
     Although the Office of the President has great admiration for the active role which the Irvine Burns Club is taking in promoting human understanding and co-operation, as illustrated through the remarkable poetry of Robert Burns, it is regrettably not able to comply with your request. Unfortunately there are so many requests of this kind, both within and outside South Africa, that it is just impossible to accede to every request.


Tom Sutherland (1931-2016) Honorary member 1996

His life & work:

Tom Sutherland, a professor at Colorado State University, accepted the post of Dean of Faculty of Agriculture and Food Science at the American University of Beirut in Lebanon in 1983. In June 1985, Lebanese terrorists seized him. His prison for most of the following years was a dark basement. His captivity lasted over six years until November 1991.

32 months into captivity, on 25 January 1988, three captives - Tom, Jean-Paul (Kauffman, a French journalist) and Marcel (Carton, the French Embassy protocol officer) - chained by the wrist to the wall, celebrated the anniversary of the Bard's birthday with bad tea and pitta bread. In Jan. '86, Tom had introduced other fellow-captives, including Terry Anderson, to Burns. In Jan. '87, in a concrete underground cell, Tom had summoned from his memory the many poems he had learned over almost 40 years. Now, in 1988, Tom saw that "Jean-Paul's eyes lit up . . . [and soon] the chains no longer counted . . . [and we] were roaming free in the fields of Ayrshire". In 1989, Tom celebrated Burns' Day by himself, in an underground cell bear Baalbek, as he could not arouse the interest of fellow-captives John McCarthy and Brian Keenan, and 1990 and 1991 were celebrated again with Terry Anderson, who was "absolutely enchanted" by Kate nursing her wrath in Tam O'Shanter, "an image so beautifully word-painted".

Each year, Tom's wife Jean kept Burns celebrations going in their home on the campus in Beirut. Also, each Valentine's Day, birthday, wedding anniversary, Feast of Thanksgiving, and Christmas, she placed a message for Tom (many of which he saw) in the newspaper read by his captors.

Tom & Jean Sutherland have since published "At Your Own Risk: An American Chronicle of Crisis and Captivity in the Middle East", an account of his 2354 days as a hostage, and of Jean's valiant presence in Beirut throughout that time, and which places a turbulent decade in the Middle East in perspective.

Tom's first Burns Supper was in 1948, when, as a fifth year pupil at Grangemouth High School, he borrowed a kilt and "cycled the five miles back to the school with bare knees on a cold January night" and heard his friend recite Tam O'Shanter from memory. From that start, his appreciation of the works and life of Robert Burns infused his life and teaching in Iowa and Colorado, and kept up his spirits during captivity. In his own words: "Again and again, in the blackness and isolation of that cell, Burns brought me joy and comfort in my own time of trial and despair."

His letter, written from his home in Fort Collins, Colorado, on 24th January 1996:


Dear Ian
     Thank you for your letter of Jan. 15, received at brother Willie's home during my recent visit to Scotland. It was also nice to talk to you again on the phone after our all too brief meeting at the Burns Conference at Strathclyde - I was chagrined not to have re-contacted you prior to leaving the conference, but as you said, things got rather hectic towards the end!! 'Twas truly a great conference though, and I am glad I was allowed to register!
     I am most honored to be invited into Honorary Membership of the Irvine Burns Club, and am delighted to accept your gracious invitation.
     I am enclosing as promised a copy of the article I wrote for Sunday Times. It tells essentially "the whole story"! Hope you enjoy it. Meantime, my best wishes to you and the Club.
     Tom Sutherland

The letter is written to Ian Dickson, President 1995-1996, who personally offered Tom Sutherland Honorary Membership at the 1996 Strathclyde University Burns Conference

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