John Byrne (playwright)

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John Byrne
Born (1940-01-06) 6 January 1940 (age 83)
Paisley, Renfrewshire, Scotland
Alma materGlasgow School of Art
Alice Simpson
(m. 1964; div. 2014)

Jeanine Davies
(m. 2014)
PartnerTilda Swinton (1989–2003)
Children4; including Honor Swinton Byrne
2013 mural in the King's Theatre, Edinburgh

John Patrick Byrne (born 6 January 1940) is a Scottish playwright and artist. He wrote The Slab Boys Trilogy, plays which explore working-class life in Scotland, and the TV dramas Tutti Frutti and Your Cheatin' Heart. Byrne is also a painter, printmaker and theatre designer.


John Patrick Byrne was born into a family of Irish Catholic descent in Paisley, Renfrewshire and he grew up in the Ferguslie Park housing scheme. He was educated at the town's St Mirin's Academy and attended Glasgow School of Art from 1958 to 1963. His mother, Alice McShane, was married to Patrick Byrne when he was born. Byrne was conceived from incestuous abuse between his mother and her father, Patrick McShane.[1] He did not know the truth about his parentage until he was informed by his cousin in 2002. He was initially angered by the revelation, but eventually reconciled with the truth of his lineage.[1] He created The John Byrne Awards.[2]



Year Title Notes
1977 Writer's Cramp radio play[3]
1978 The Slab Boys
1979 The Loveliest Night of the Year
Normal Service
Hooray for Hollywood
Play for Today TV version of The Slab Boys
1980 Babes in the Wood
1981 Cara Coco
1984 Candy Kisses
Crown Court TV series
1985 London Cuckolds
1986 Scotch and Wry video
1987 Tutti Frutti BAFTA award-winning series for BBC Television
Double Scotch & Wry video
1988 Normal Service TV movie
Arena writer/director
1990 Your Cheatin' Heart TV series
1992 Colquhoun and MacBryde
1993 ScreenPlay writer/director
1997 The Government Inspector
2004 Uncle Varick
2006 Tutti Frutti Stage adaptation for the National Theatre of Scotland, co-produced by His Majesty's Theatre, Aberdeen
2008 Nova Scotia
2010 The Cherry Orchard
2014 Three Sisters


From 1964 until 1966 Byrne designed jackets for Penguin Books. Having had his work rejected by various galleries, Byrne had success following an exhibition of works at London's Portal Gallery in 1967. Painted under the pseudonym of "Patrick", Byrne claimed the dream-like paintings were created by his father, an alleged self-taught painter of faux-naïf images.[4] Byrne's career as a professional painter started in 1968, when he left Stoddard's.

As well as designing the scenery for his own plays Byrne, in collaboration with director Robin Lefrevre, also designed the settings for Snoo Wilson's The Number of the Beast (Bush 1982) and Clifford Odets' The Country Girl (Apollo Theatre 1983).[5]

Byrne's best-known art works are arguably the album covers he created for friend Gerry Rafferty and his former bands The Humblebums and Stealers Wheel, among them the covers for City to City and Night Owl. Rafferty's early solo song "Patrick" is about Byrne.


  • Ross, Raymond J. (1983), Directed Irony, which includes a review of The Slab Boys, in Hearn, Sheila G. (ed.), Cencrastus No. 11, New Year 1983, pp. 45 & 46, ISSN 0264-0856


  1. ^ a b "John Byrne reveals his grandfather was his real father". Herald Scotland. 19 March 2017. Retrieved 10 April 2021.
  2. ^ "The John Byrne Awards 2020 – no ticket? Watch the live stream tonight". The Edinburgh Reporter. 7 March 2020. Retrieved 20 October 2020.
  3. ^ Hampstead Theatre programme, 7 August 1979.
  4. ^ "Byrne biography". Portal Gallery. Archived from the original on 23 December 2007. Retrieved 5 February 2010.
  5. ^ Bush Theatre programme notes for Candy Kisses, May 1984.

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