David Thomson (writer)

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David Thomson (1914 – 1988) was a writer and BBC radio producer.

Early life[edit]

David Robert Alexander Thomson was born in British colonial India to Scottish parents. His father served in the Indian Army and was wounded in the Great War. As a child, David Thomson lived in Scotland, as well as in Derbyshire and London, where he attended University College School. At the age of eleven, he sustained an eye injury which nearly blinded him. Unable to continue at school, he was sent to the home of his maternal grandmother in Nairn,Scotland, where he was taught by private tutors. At fourteen, Thomson returned to London and the progressive King Alfred School, London to complete his schooling.[1] As an undergraduate he studied Modern History at Lincoln College, Oxford. At this time he also started to tutor a daughter of an Anglo-Irish family, the Kirkwoods, at Woodbrook House in County Roscommon, Ireland.


From 1943 to 1969 David Thomson worked for the BBC as a writer and producer of radio documentaries.[2] Many of these programs, which covered a range of topics in natural history of peoples and places also found a place in his written work, for example The People of the Sea (1954), on the lore and life of the grey seal in the coastal rural communities of Ireland and Scotland. In 1953-4 he was seconded to UNESCO to produce radio programs in France, Liberia and Turkey. In 1952, David Thomson married Martina Mayne. They had three sons.

Among his most notable works are three moving memoirs: Woodbrook (1974), reflecting a ten-year period from 1932 when he visited Ireland regularly, tutoring Phoebe Kirkwood; In Camden Town (1983), describing his life and neighbors in London in the 1950s and 60's; and Nairn in Darkness and Light (1987), where he revisits his childhood years spent in his mother's mother's home in Scotland. In each of these books, his fine style, elegiac but never sentimental, incorporates vivid historical sketches. His acute and sympathetic approach in seeking the voice of the 'common man', whether in an urban or a rural setting, recalls the poetic documentary approach pioneered in film by John Grierson.


  • The People of the Sea (non-fiction) 1954[3]
  • Daniel (novel) 1962
  • Break in the Sun (novel) 1965
  • Danny Fox (children's story)1966
  • Danny Fox meets a stranger (children's story) 1968
  • The Leaping Hare (non fiction with George Ewart Evans) 1972 'another classic beast-book'.[4]
  • Woodbrook (memoir) 1974 [5]
  • Danny Fox at the Palace (children's story) 1976
  • The Irish Journals of Elizabeth Smith; 1840-1850.[6]
  • In Camden Town (memoir)1983.[7]
  • Dandiprat's Days (novel) 1983
  • Nairn in Darkness and Light (memoir)1987.[8] Awarded the McVitie's Prize for Scottish writer of the year in 1987, and (posthumously) the NCR Book Award for nonfiction in 1988.
  • Julian Vignoles: A Delicate Wildness: The Life and Loves of David Thomson, 1914-1988. 2014

David Thomson's papers, including BBC scripts and correspondence, are collected in the National Library of Scotland Archive.[9]


  1. ^ 'It happened, too, that 1928 was the first year in which I began to think about politics. I praised Ramsay MacDonald and the Soviet Union. As soon as I was old enough I would vote Socialist. And more.' Thomson, D. Nairn in Darkness and Light, (1987, reprinted 2003,Vintage Books)p 289
  2. ^ Tim Dee, 'Twenty Minute Talk', March 2011, BBC Radio Three
  3. ^ re-issued as a Canongate Classic by Canongate Books , Edinburgh, 1996, with an afterword by Stewart Sanderson and an appreciation of the author and Introduction by Seamus Heaney(2000)[1]
  4. ^ Seamus Heaney: An Introduction to David Thomson's 'The People of the Sea' (2000)
  5. ^ Barrie and Jenkins, London,1974; reissued by Arena Books, Cambridge, 1988; Vintage,London, 1991
  6. ^ The Irish Journals of Elizabeth Smith, Google Books
  7. ^ This portrait of a rapidly changing inner London suburb has become a classic of London literature. [2]
  8. ^ Hutchinson, London, 1987, re-issued Vintage, London, 2003
  9. ^ Inventory Acc.10129 Papers of David Thomson (1914-88)