John Brown

Screenwriter and film critic


John Brown, screenwriter and critic: born Burntisland, Fife 26 July 1944; married 1966 Joan Low (one son, one daughter); died Glasgow 29 January 2006.

John Brown was a splendid enthusiast for film, a fine writer, an astute critic and a great talker. He often said how lucky he was. Remarkably, he even said it when his illness was well advanced (he died of a brain tumour). It was his good fortune, he said, that he had been allowed to do exactly what he wanted to do in life. He wanted above all to get into the film business, to write screenplays, and he did.

Born in Burntisland in Fife, he went to school in Kirkcaldy and thence to St Andrews University where he graduated in English Literature. A teacher-training course at Moray House College of Education was followed by spells at the chalk-face in Edinburgh and Cumbernauld but, if this was a rather conventional progress, there was nothing ordinary about Brown and his great passion for movies, particularly if they were big and from Hollywood. His favourite film was Once Upon a Time in America.

His exit from the classroom came in 1970 when he successfully applied for a job at the Scottish Film Council (now Scottish Screen) and found himself at the forefront of film and media education. He said he was amazed to find himself being paid for what he had always assumed was his hobby, but it was largely due to his leadership that Scotland gained an international reputation for original and outstanding work in media education at school and tertiary level.

Brown was a key member of a young team led by Ronald B. Macluskie which also included Tom Clarke, later an MP and first films minister in the Blair government of 1997. Their achievements included setting up several of the most successful regional film theatres in the UK, establishing the Scottish Film Archive, the creation of the Scottish Film Production Fund, supporting the Edinburgh International Film Festival, and a wide range of educational initiatives. Brown's enthusiasm was very contagious; he loved to talk endlessly about films but never boringly and always with great knowledge, insight and good sense. His writings on Scottish cinema in Sight and Sound were consistently well balanced and never merely polemical.

His ultimate ambition, however, was to become a full-time screenwriter and in 1989 he took the risky step of abandoning the security of film administration to go freelance. By that time, he had already had success as a television writer with the series The One Game for Central Television (1988), which won the Jury Prize at the San Francisco Film and Television Festival, and The Justice Game for BBC (1989). A second series, The Justice Game - the Lady from Rome (1990), followed, and there were episodes of Morse, Taggart, Ruth Rendell Mysteries, Circles of Deceit, In Suspicious Circumstances and Bergerac in the ensuing years. Recently, he had been writing for Gerry Anderson's New Captain Scarlet series.

Unusually for a British screenwriter, he was in demand in continental Europe. Fatale Mutterliebe ("Maternal Instinct", 1995) was written for German television and in 1997 his two-part film for Danish television En fri mand ("A Free Man") won Best Screenplay at the Monte Carlo International Television Festival; he was to achieve a nomination for that award again in 1999 with another script for Danish television, Majoren ("The Major").

However, despite his considerable success in writing for television, it was on the big screen that he really wanted his work to be seen. As with so many in his trade, he wrote numerous film treatments which were never made into movies. It was therefore both wonderful and poignant that only a few weeks before his death he was able to see an advanced cut of a feature film he had scripted, The Flying Scotsman, the story of the cyclist Graeme Obree, which is to be released later this year.

John Brown was an extremely able individual and a loyal colleague and friend. As well as having provided some of the most intelligent detective screenwriting for television in the last 26 years, he was a genuine contributor to the advancement of film in Scotland.

David Bruce

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