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John Kier Cross - Author (1914-1967)

Updated: Dec 13, 2020

While Carluke has undoubtedly produced a handful of authors in its history, few will have reached the same level of success as John Keir Cross yet many, if not all, of Carluke’s residents will quietly mouth “Who?”

John Keir Cross wrote stories mainly for children as well as some ghost stories and “dark” fantasy novels for adults. He also wrote and adapted stories for television and radio.

His parents were Hugh Anderson Cross and Elizabeth James Birch who were married in Cleland on 7th June 1912. His father, Hugh, was a dental surgeon and is listed in the 1911 Census living with his widowed mother and six brothers and sisters at Broomside, Lanark Road. He is described as working on his own account at home. In 1912, when Hugh married Elizabeth Birch, he was living in Kirkton Street.

Three years later, in the Valuation Roll of 1915, Hugh and his family were living at Greenside Cottage which was described as being in Market Place. However, the cottage is listed between Ramsay’s, ham curers, and The Bowling Green so we can assume that Market Place at this time included what we now call the Wee Moss. Their son John Keir Cross was born at Greenside Cottage on 19th August 1914. He was named after his paternal grandfather, also John Keir Cross, who had been headteacher at Newmains School. He had died in 1900 in Newmains aged 42 years and it was sometime after the 1901 Census that the family moved to Carluke.

In the 1920 Valuation Roll, Hugh is listed not in Carluke but at 33 Main Street Wishaw so it would appear that John Keir Cross lived in Carluke for only a short period of time. By 1930, the family were living in Hillyland, Parish of Tibbermore, Perth. They must have moved back to this area, however, for Hugh died and is buried in Cambusnethan Parish.

Most of the literary work of John Keir Cross was for children, either under his own name or under the pseudonym of Stephen Macfarlane. As Stephen Macfarlane, he wrote several fantasies for younger children, including: The Blue Egg (1944), Lucy Maroon, the Car that Loved a Policeman (1944), Mr Bosanko and Other Stories (1944), and The Strange Tale of Sally and Arnold (1944).

Those under the name John Keir Cross are mostly for young adults, and were often science fiction. Some of these titles evoke fantasy but the first three are actually historical tales: The Man in Moonlight (1947), The White Magic (1947), The Dancing Tree (1955), The Owl and the Pussycat (1946) and The Other Side of Green Hills (1947).

His best known work is perhaps his one volume of adult tales, The Other Passenger: 18 Strange Stories (1944) released as Stories from The Other Passenger in 1961 in the US. The book is noted for itssurreal full-colour illustrations by Bruce Angrave (1914-1983). It is a very different kind of collection from his children’s stories containing the macabre and at times grisly original pieces. In 1957, one of these stories, “The Glass Eye”, was adapted for the Alfred Hitchcock TV series with Jessica Tandy as a lonely woman smitten with a ventriloquist, and also starring a very young William Shatner.

He produced many other novels or collections of short stories including perhaps the longest title and subtitle of any book in history: The Angry Planet: “An Authentic First-Hand Account of a Journey to Mars in the Spaceship Albatross, Compiled from Notes and Records by Various Members of the Expedition and Now Assembled (Together with Illustrations), edited for publication by John Keir Cross from manuscripts made available by Stephen MacFarlane” (1945) with illustrations by Robin Jacques.

This long-titled book was followed up by another in 1954: “SOS from Mars: A First-Hand Account of the Second and Third Martian Expeditions by the Space-Ships Albatross and Comet Compiled from Notes and Records by Various Members of the Exploring Parties, the Whole Revised by Stephen MacFarlane and the Now Fully Assembled and Edited by John Keir Cross” or “The Red Journey Back” to give it its shorter title.

John was also a writer for the BBC writing some episodes of “The Archers” radio serial in the early 60s and two episodes of television’s “Dr Finlay’s Casebook” in 1962.

Some of his other television work includes two episodes of the series “Sir Francis Drake” in 1962, a couple of “made for television” movies as well as adaptions of John Wyndham's “The Kraken Wakes”; Charles Dickens' “A Tale of Two Cities” and “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” and Robert Louis Stevenson’s’ “The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde”.

John Keir Cross died on 22nd January 1967 at his home, “Brushford” in Diptford, Devon. A sign of John’s success can be seen in the fact that members of “The Archers” team were among those attending his funeral.

Even after his death, John’s work continued to be broadcast of the radio. In October 1967, the ‘Wishaw Press’ reported that “The Constant Star” which was to be broadcast on the Home Service (Radio 4) had a double connection with Cleland. The play had been adapted for radio by John Keir Cross and one of the actors was Simon Lack (own name McAlpine).

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