Di Cronin with Shuggie Bain author Douglas Stuart and (below) signed copies of the Booker Prize winning author’s latest book, Young Mungo.
Dear Bill and Frank,
Yesterday I attended the Brickell Avenue Literary Society luncheon and was privileged to be seated next to the guest of honor, Douglas Stuart. What a charming man. Even though he had just arrived in Miami from the UK the previous evening, he was fresh, relaxed, ebullient, and so willing to share of himself. As I said, charming; but being a Glaswegian, that was to be expected!
We spoke of A.J. and I told him that in reading his latest [Booker Prize-winning] novel, Young Mungo, I was so taken with how eloquent his descriptions were that the reader gets a very intimate picture of every single character, very much the way my grandfather wrote. His first novel, the Booker prize winning Shuggie Bain, was fabulous; but I think Young Mungo is even better. He took pride in thanking two of his English teachers, a Mr. Arthur and Mr. Archibald who were most encouraging of his interest in writing.
Sadly, Stuart grew up in a household without books. However, his Mum was a proud woman and in their parlor was a bookshelf with a few beautifully bound red leather books with gold lettering on their spines for all to see. Once opened however, they were empty of words, mere storage for video cassettes. Thus, I don’t believe he had much exposure to any of A.J.’s novels but did know of the Dr. Finlay series, as as a youngster he was glued to the telly.
While he didn’t speak directly about his homosexuality, he described the love between his 2 protagonists beautifully and also mentioned his husband several times. He was completely at ease with the subject. This, despite the difference in jacket covers for the book in the UK and the US. We were quite shocked when he showed us the photo for the UK cover…2 men kissing, whilst the American cover showed a young man under water. Not sure what algorithm his publishers were using but curiously they believed the former was not appropriate for US readers!
After his talk, I asked him to sign my copy of his book. He signed it “Douglas” and told me it was because we were now friends. As I said, it was a treat to meet him. This is a writer who is going somewhere, and your countrymen should be awfully proud.
It was wonderful to re-live my time with you and now that the pandemic has turned endemic, I hope to come back very soon with my husband, to show him my roots and then on to explore his Irish ones.
Cronin family pictures; family homes in Dumbarton and Cardross, visit to Dumbarton Library; Reception and talk at University of Glasgow; with Professors Gerard Carruthers and Frank Dunn, who is writing a thesis about the Dumbarton author; Professor Bernard Ferry and Library staff; AJ Cronin’s birth certificate and so much more.
AJ Cronin’s granddaughter bids to bring Dr Finlay’s Casebook into 21st century
By Bill Heaney
Talks are underway between a TV production company and the literary executor of AJ Cronin, the Cardross-born GP turned best-selling author, who created Dr Finlay’s Casebook.
Once a staple Sunday night viewing for millions in the Sixties, there is now media speculation that Dr Finlay’s Casebook could be set for a makeover with Bodyguard star Richard Madden as Dr Finlay himself.
Di Cronin, the great man’s grand-daughter, was in Dumbarton when she visited the old Dumbarton Academy within the Burgh Hall in Church Street, where her grandfather was once a pupil.
Cronin went on to study at St Aloysius College in Glasgow and the University of Glasgow where he graduated in medicine.
She also visited Dumbarton Library in Strathleven Place and the site of the old Hatter’s shop in the High Street, which was at the centre of AJ Cronin’s most successful novel, Hatter’s Castle.
Di was also shown photographs of Casci’s Café in Church Street, which Cronin frequented after school, and made a brief visit to St Patrick’s Church in Strathleven Place.
And then, in the company of Professor Frank Dunn, an expert on Cronin, and consultant surgeon, Dumbarton-born Bernard Ferrie, she took a stroll along the Quay where she saw Dumbarton Rock and the old Dumbarton Bridge.
And the place where the distant floodlights in the shadow of the Rock marked the new home of Dumbarton FC, which Cronin followed all his life from the days when he was lifted over the turnstiles at Boghead to support The Sons of the Rock.
Earlier, Di Cronin had met Frances Slorach, the grand-daughter of Dr Cameron Slorach, the Dumbarton GP on whom the character of Dr Cameron in Dr Finlay’s Casebook was based.
And she visited Dr Slorach’s grave in Dumbarton Cemetery before making her way to Willowbrook, the house where Cronin lived next door to Miller’s Farm in Round Riding Road.
The West Dunbartonshire Library Services heritage staff, including Jo Sherrington and Mary Frances McGlynn, had done their homework for the visit.
And had all the books, photographs, maps and other items relating to AJ Cronin on display and ready for examination by Di Cronin, who is married to Michael Platz and has two children, Christine and Andrew, both of whom have Cronin as their name.
Di and her husband live in Toronto and spend the winter in Miami, Florida.
She was first in Dumbarton in 1975 in the company of her grandfather who was “making a pilgrimage” to Dalchenna Farm in Inverary, which is where he wrote Hatter’s Castle during a period of ill health.
The Cronins stayed for the duration of their holiday at Inveraray Castle with the Duke and Duchess of Argyll.
Di’s father, Patrick Cronin, was a cardiologist who became the Dean of Medicine at McGill University in Montreal before moving to Switzerland, where he was consultant to the Aga Khan and involved in the AK Foundation, a charity for research into heart disease, and her mother was Shirley-Gian Robertson – “a good Scottish name”.
Di herself was a researcher in neurology at McGill before moving into funding with a healthcare charity.
Disappointingly, Bailie Denis Agnew, the convener, nor members of West Dunbartonshire’s the Arts and Culture Committee, were present to welcome Ms Cronin to Dumbarton, the town her grandfather repeatedly told the world he loved so well.
She told me, as we travelled around together, that talks were taking place to have Dr Finlay’s Casebook reproduced for cinema or television and was interested to know about the BBC Scotland complex at Gooseholm, where so many successful series and short films have been produced.
She later told Maggie Ritchie, of the Scottish Daily Mail, that she was “really excited about Dr Finlay’s Casebook being introduced to a whole new generation of viewers.
“I love the idea of Netflix picking it up – it would be perfect for binge-viewing,” she said. “I would love to see Richard Madden as Dr Finlay, who was played from the outset of the original series by actor Bill Simpson.”
Later, on Tuesday evening, Di Cronin attended a symposium on the life and works of AJ Cronin in the University of Glasgow hosted by the Chancellor, Professor Sir Kenneth Calman.
The speakers at the event in the Hunterian Museum were Professor Dunn, who presented a biography of AJ Cronin; Professor Dame Anna F Dominiczak, who spoke about the ground-breaking work taking place today in the College of Medical, Veterinary and Life Sciences, and Professor Gerard Carruthers, Head of Scottish Literature, who spoke about the complete works of AJ Cronin.
Di recalls her grandfather’s ‘truly wonderful gift’ – and the 800 Swiss francs he gave her to go shopping
A.J. Cronin’s grand-daughter brought some wonderful stories with her when she came from Canada to visit the internationally famous author’s home place in West Dunbartonshire.
Di Cronin told a gathering of distinguished physicians and academics at a symposium in the University of Glasgow what happened when, as a young neurology intern, she visited her grandfather at his home in Switzerland.
She recalled: “Every day, he would begin a new story with me as the protagonist. I will never, ever forget the ease with which the words seemed to pour from his lips without once pausing to figure out where his story was going.
“His prose was so beautiful, so elegantly descriptive and completely extemporaneous.”
Ms Cronin was welcomed to the university by Professor Kenneth Calman, the Chancellor, and joined by Cronin enthusiasts, Professor Frank Dunn and Professor Gerard Carruthers, who spoke about the author’s life and work.
Professor Dame Anna F Dominiczak, Regius Professor of Medicine, Vice Principal and Head of College of Medical, Veterinary and Life Sciences, spoke of the ground breaking medical work that had been done at Glasgow University since Cronin’s time there.
The university was recently named by The Lancet, a globally respected medical journal, as one of the best universities in the world.
Glasgow was placed second in the top ten, one place behind Oxford, which leads, and one ahead of Cambridge, which was placed third.
Di Cronin said it was an honour to be invited to the symposium and to hear that her grandfather’s literary works are still appreciated so many years after their initial publication.
A.J. Cronin wrote voluminous novels including The Citadel which is said to have been a catalyst for the founding of the National Health Service 70 years ago.
He also wrote Dr Finlay’s Casebook, the popular television serial about a GP in a small Scottish town, which was a huge hit in the 1960s and later when it was reprised in the 1990s.
He is believed to have left a legacy amounting to millions of pounds when he died.
Di Cronin said: “We are a family of storytellers. This may be the result of some specific storytelling gene in our DNA, but I can assure you that my adult children, Christine and Andrew – and yes, their names are a nod to the central characters in The Citadel – are absolutely superb storytellers. I just try to do my best.
“For as long as I can remember, people from all walks of life have asked me if I was related to A.J. Cronin … teachers, shop clerks and just two weeks ago, a repairman with a broad Scottish accent, who couldn’t wait to tell his Mum back home, that he had fixed A.J. Cronin’s granddaughter’s dishwasher.”
She added: “This same sort of experience has continued with the next generation. My adult children have been asked the same question dozens of times.
“Most recently, actually just two days ago, my honeymooning daughter was asked out of the blue, by the concierge of a hotel in Marseille, if she was a relative of the famous author.
“Apparently this 30-something gentleman told Christy that A.J. Cronin was his mother’s favourite author and therefore was also his.
“Now, admittedly, this admission may have been a practiced ploy for a big fat tip but it does illustrate that my grandfather’s reach is very wide and lasting.”
Di Cronin, who lives in Toronto and Miami and has been married to husband, Michael Platz, for 30 years, told the large audience: “I had known that my father-in-law, Martin, who had died before I met my husband, had been a tail gunner flying a Wellington, when he was shot down and captured by the Germans and subsequently spent four years as a prisoner of war.
“Only recently did a cousin cleaning out his late mother’s house uncover a letter sent to her from Martin while in enemy hands. In this letter he describes his life as a prisoner.
“What was most interesting to us was to learn what he was reading at the time: he writes he was ‘deep into Cronin’s Hatter’s Castle’.
“Who could have predicted that 45 years later, his son would marry the grand-daughter of the author of that book?”
Di said that her father, Patrick, A. J Cronin’s second son, was a cardiologist, a professor of medicine and Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at McGill University.
“For years he longed to be able to take a sabbatical, but with three children in private school, it was not financially feasible.
“When A.J. died in 1981, my father and mother moved to Switzerland for what was to be a two-year sabbatical – which ended up lasting more than 25 years.
“Incidentally, when A.J. died in early January of that year, there was a one-line sentence in The Lancet on the 17th of that month. The British Medical Journal ignored his passing entirely, and yet the New York Times devoted an entire page to his obituary.”
Di Cronin said she became her grandfather’s literary executor “more by necessity than decree”.
She added: “A.J. was both canny and extremely parsimonious. There was absolutely no mention of his literary legacy nor any destination for future royalties in his will.
“My father, after having moved into A.J.’s home in Montreux, took on the job of overseeing his literary estate by convenience
“Curiously, upon Dad’s death and Mum’s passing two years later, the family found no mention whatsoever in either of their wills directing who would administer the Cronin literary legacy, not to mention who would benefit from the income it generated.
“At that time, my children were fully grown, university educated and had good jobs, or as my husband likes to say ‘Off the Family payroll’.
“So, I volunteered for the role, not realizing what I was getting myself into.
“One of the first things I did was to legitimize my executorship and make clear that any and all royalties would forever be equally distributed amongst the families of A.J.’s three sons.”
The business of publishing has greatly changed in the past 75 years, Diana added, especially the last 10 years, thanks to Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos.
She revealed: “Contracts were outdated and of course all of them were typewritten on paper and only, if lucky, were filed and stored correctly.
“With the help of a wonderful London-based author’s agent, I set about bringing A. J’s works into the 21st century.
“He was and continues to be published all over the world and in more than two dozen languages.
“Contracts had to be renewed to include electronic books, spoken-word books, new adaptations of television series, streaming on demand, films and radio serials or podcasts. It has been a busy five years.”
And what of her own writing skills or aspirations to produce a novel?
She said: “Many, many people ask me if I have ever written anything myself or had the urge to write. The answer is no and yes.
“For as long as I can remember there has been something slowly brewing inside me but I seem to lack the imagination it takes to write anything worthy, and here’s why:
“I was 18 years old and was interning for a neurologist at a research institute in Montreal. While on my way to a Neurological Congress in Amsterdam, I stopped to spend a few days with my grandfather in Switzerland. “He had aged quite a bit by then and led a quiet life. My stay was magical (and not only because he gave me a whopping 800 Swiss francs to go shopping.)
“Every day after lunch, we would position ourselves in chaise lounges on the stone terrace taking in the sun while gazing at the beauty of Lac Leman and the snow-covered French Alps in the distance.
“And every day, he would begin a new story with me as the protagonist.
“I will never, ever forget the ease with which the words seemed to pour from his lips without once pausing to figure out where his story was going.
“His prose was so beautiful and so elegantly descriptive and completely extemporaneous.
“The cauldron inside me still simmers, but anytime I try to put pen to paper, I am reminded of that time so long ago and realise that my grandfather had a truly wonderful gift that many aspire to, but to which few succeed.”
- Di Cronin was in Glasgow and Edinburgh for talks about the possibility of Dr Finlay’s Casebook being made into a film or an updated television serial.
How Cronin survived ‘challenging childhood’ to become best-selling novelist
Professor Frank Dunn, one of A.J. Cronin’s greatest admirers, spent a memorable two days with Diana Cronin exploring her grandfather’s roots in the Dumbarton area.
They travelled to Rosebank, a humble agricultural cottage in rural Cardross, where Cronin was born, and to the old Dumbarton Academy within Dumbarton Burgh Hall, where he was educated after primary school in Helensburgh.
Cronin was then sent to St Aloysius College and the University of Glasgow where he graduated in medicine.
He said later that he visited Dumbarton Library after school and enjoyed coffee and ice cream in Casci’s Café in the town’s Church Street.
Professor Dunn, a distinguished retired consultant who is a past president of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons in Scotland, and a former pupil of St Aloysius, invited Diana Cronin, the author’s granddaughter, to the college with Professor Gerry Carruthers, to meet some sixth year pupils specialising in English.
He said: “My interest in A J Cronin arose when I was researching the history of Stobhill Hospital in Glasgow.
“Osborne Henry Mavor aka James Bridie was a consultant physician in charge of wards at Stobhill before he became a full time author and playwright.
“Because of my well known passion for Stobhill, I was very keen to establish a similar link with Cronin but was unable to do so.
“However, I became fascinated by many aspects of this man, his talents and his family.
“My previous contact had been limited to reading The Keys of the Kingdom and The Citadel as a teenager. “We were steered away from Hatter’s Castle at that age as it was felt to be too bleak.”
Professor Dunn said Cronin had strong links with Glasgow University. As a student, he attended the Western Infirmary and was taught by Sir William McEwan.
“Cronin mentions in Adventure in Two Worlds the considerable surgical skills of McEwan and recalls Sir William saying that his most important instruments were his hands.
“Once, when called as an expert witness in a high court of law, he was asked by the presiding judge if he boiled his instruments.
“He replied holding up his hands. “How could I boil these? Cronin received honours from McEwan.
“Cronin also mentions Ralph Stockman, Regius Professor of Material Medica, who was a major attraction for young doctors in training and a giant in his field.
“Cronin’s M.D. on the history of aneurysm was awarded a high commendation by Stockman.”
Professor Dunn said A.J Cronin was born in Cardross and lived in Rosebank Cottage till his father died when A.J. was just seven.
He added: “His childhood life was initially challenging. His father was Irish and Catholic and his mother from a strong Presbyterian background.
“After his father died he and his mother lived with her parents predominantly at Willowbrook in Round Riding Road, Dumbarton. This was a turbulent time for him.
“His early life in the Dumbarton area had a major impact on his writings and many of the locations around Dumbarton, although under different names, were identifiable in in his first book Hatter’s Castle and in other books.
“Deborah Kerr, pictured right, who was born in Helensburgh was the heroine in Hatter’s Castle.
“Cronin’s secondary education began at Dumbarton Academy and then, after he and his mother moved to Glasgow in 1912 for two years, at St Aloysius College. “Early signs of his literary talent were evident at both schools where he picked up numerous prizes.
“He wrote an essay shortly after the sinking of the Titanic in 1912 and received special commendation.
“His English teacher singled out the following ‘Lower and lower she sank till at last with a crack like a breaking nut and a hiss of steam on water, that slowly elaborated production of one thousand brains and hands broke completely in two’.
“He was a talented sportsman, captaining the St Aloysius soccer first eleven in Scottish School’s Cup. They were runners up.
“At over 6ft in height, He excelled at tennis and golf, playing off a handicap of three.
“In 1914, he won a Carnegie Scholarship to study at the University of Glasgow.
“Two popular options at that time were Divinity or Medicine.
“Cronin is said to have stated: “I chose Medicine – the lesser of two evils”.
Professor Dunn stated: “His career at the university was a distinguished one, and he was second in the year, graduating with commendation and a number of prizes in 1919.
“This was despite having a year out to serve as a Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve.
“Thereafter he worked in Glasgow at Belahouston Fever Hospital and Lightburn.
“He had to leave that post because of his impending marriage. He then spent some time as a GP in Garelochhead.
“It is likely that the idea for Dr Finlay originated there. The role of Dr Cameron originated either from a GP in that area – George Imrie or from Cameron Slorach from Dumbarton.
“Cronin, now married, then went to the mining town of Tredegar in South Wales, where the seeds of The Citadel were laid.
“Also working in Tredegar at that time was Aneurin Bevan [often known as Nye, Bevan was a Welsh Labour Party politician who was the Minister for Health in the UK from 1945 to 1951], who was born there and was a miner.
“Bevan was impressed by the local Medical Aid Society of the Iron and Coal company.
“The society was funded from the salary of the coal miners and a small contribution was levied some years previously to fund a hospital.
“Although there is no clear evidence that Cronin and Bevan met, it seems likely that their paths crossed because of their shared interest in pneumoconiosis.
“Bevan’s mentor, William Conway, was chair of the Tredegar Medical Aid Society, which appointed Cronin.
“Bevan was shortly thereafter appointed to the local Council and subsequently to the society committee
“He like Cronin was very impressed by the Society and was quoted many years later saying
“All I am doing is extending to the entire population of Britain the benefits we had in Tredegar for a generation or more. We are going to ‘Tredegarise’ you.”
Cronin himself said of the NHS: “This scheme can definitely be regarded as the foundation of the plan of socialized medicine which was eventually adopted by Great Britain.”
Cronin was quoted later as saying how impressed Aneurin Bevan had been by the value of prompt and gratuitous treatment in Tredegar through the medical aid society.
Cronin having spent a spell as inspector of mines, then spent four years in private practice in London before being forced to take a break due to ill health.
It was then he began to write Hatter’s Castle while recuperating in a farmhouse near Inverary in Argyll.
Professor Dunn said: “The Citadel was Cronin’s fifth book and was not written till 1937, 14 years after his appointment in Tredegar and 11 before the founding of the NHS. The book created a huge impact not only in the UK but in Europe and the USA.
“150,000 copies were sold in the UK in the first three months after publication and 10,000 copies a week for the rest of the year.
“A Gallup poll conducted in 1938 reported that The Citadel impressed more people than any other book except the Bible.
“The BBC broadcast ten readings from the novel in 1938 and, many times since then, including as recently as September this year.
“It went on to become a successful film, garnering several awards, four Oscar nominations, including best actor, Robert Dona, and best picture.
“It was the most commercially successful film in Britain in 1939.”
He added: “Towards the end of the book, Andrew Manson enlists the help of a non-medic for advice regarding treatment for a woman dying from Tuberculosis.
“Collapsing the lung was advised and carried out successfully. The patient survives but Manson is reported to the GMC (General Medical Council). “However, he wins the case.
“I only discovered yesterday that the Royal College has such a pneumothorax instrument which was widely used in the 1920s and 30s before the introduction of streptomycin.
“Cronin told one newspaper that ‘I have written in The Citadel all I feel about the medical profession, its injustices, its hide-bound unscientific stubbornness, its humbug.
“The horrors and iniquities detailed in the story I have personally witnessed. This is not an attack against individuals, but against a system.’”
Cronin did not do equivocation.
Professor Dunn said: “To say this book did not go down well with a number of key figures within the NHS would be an understatement.
“However, Cronin did not flinch from the criticism and the success of both the book and the film spoke for themselves.
“The reaction to the book among the general public is likely to have been a factor in their support of the NHS albeit after a lengthy lapse of time, partly due to the Second World War.”
He added: “As well as emphasising inequity of care, the book highlights two additional key points which greatly concerned Cronin.
“The first relates to the lack of post graduate education. “Young doctors like Andrew Manson in The Citadel were thrown into the forefront of medical care without any preparation or training.
“The arrival of the NHS allowed structures to be put in place to permit an effective trainee programme.
“The Goodenough report in 1944 added much strength and drive to this issue.”
Professor Dunn said Cronin would have been as delighted with this as he would have been with his son Patrick, Di’s father. Patrick Cronin, a cardiologist who was the undergraduate Dean of Medicine at McGill University in Montreal from 1972-1977.
Patrick Cronin worked effectively with the Canadian International Development Agency in setting up student and graduate fellowship exchange programmes in developing countries, especially Kenya.
And so he was able to take forward the deficiencies in Post Graduate Education identified in his father’s writings to a global level.
Professor Dunn said: “The third key point about The Citadel from the medical standpoint is the exposure of non-medically proven treatments which were to result in huge profits for the medics and no clinical benefit and sometimes harm to the patient.
“The NHS provided an ideal template to test treatments in a scientific way in collaboration with universities. There is no better example of this than with the University of Glasgow.”
He added that A.J. Cronin was arguably more famous for his creation of Dr Finlay, the hugely successful BBC series which ran from 1962-1971.
At one point during that time, the possible ending of the show led to demonstrations in the UK.
Dr Cameron, who was played by the actor Andrew Cruikshank, was so impressive in his role as the curmudgeonly senior partner was the guest speaker one year at the BMA Conference.
One memorable scene from Dr Finlay’s Casebook depicts Dr Cameron with his leg elevated due to gout. Janet the housekeeper is surprised, saying that she has never seen him drinking port wine.
He advisers her that Alexander the Great and Kubla Khan also had gout and that they did not have port wine in those days. He then proceeds to pour himself a generous whisky.
Professor Dunn summed Cronin up – “He was a most distinguished alumnus of this university, one of a long line of medical doctors who made a substantial impact through his novels.
“He could relate a story in a most effective and absorbing way and in parallel highlight many of the key social issues of the day.”
- Professor Frank Dunn was awarded CBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List in recognition of his services to cardiology and the community. Professor Dunn has been President of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow since December 2012. He is also a consultant cardiologist at Stobhill General Hospital and Honorary Professor at the University of Glasgow. Dr Dunn has a long history with Stobhill. AS a child he lived in the grounds of the hospital, where his father worked as deputy medical superintendent. And, after spending the early years of his medical training in Glasgow and the USA, returned to Stobhill in 1983 as a consultant cardiologist. Dr Dunn continues to see patients at Stobhill today and indeed has cared for some patients for more than 30 years and has seen some second and third generations of families as patients. Dr Dunn has dedicated much of his life to caring for patients and advancing the field of cardiology. He has published 150 journal articles and 15 book chapters, principally in the areas of hypertension and coronary artery disease He is a Fellow of the American College of Cardiology and holds Honorary Fellowships from American College of Physicians, the Singapore Academy of Medicine and the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland. He is a Deputy Lord Lieutenant for The County of Dunbartonshire and Freeman of the Barony Burgh of Kirkintilloch. He was Vice President of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow from 2007-2010 and was elected President in December 2012. Throughout his career, Dr Dunn has contributed to his community. He served on the board of governors of St Aloysius College and was Chair of the Board from 2007-2013. He has had a lifelong association with Clyde football club and served as a director of the club from 2004-2012.
Far from the Kailyard
By Professor Gerard Carruthers
A good way to gauge the reputation of A.J. Cronin at the height of his writing career is to turn to America, and to look specifically at a set of publications: the Armed Services Editions. These were produced between 1943 and 1947, and comprised 1,322 books amounting to nearly 123 million copies distributed to American military personnel. Generally, these 1.3 thousand books: novels, plays, poetry and some non-fiction were thought to be conducive to entertainment for GI Joe during the long periods of boredom or worse convalescence from wounds during the Second World War and its aftermath. The list, overwhelmingly fiction, included westerns, whodunits, historical fiction and thrillers, with some classics such as Melville’s Moby Dick (abridged) or Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Mostly the works were 20th century ones. The selections were made with some care, nothing that advocated totalitarianism of the right or of the left, but works, generally of a mildly liberal, in line with the democratic sensibility kind of thing. Nonetheless, the socialist Jack London had seven titles in the series. A.J. Cronin compares favourably to most other authors on the list with five titles, one of which, The Green Years, was produced twice. The others of Cronin’s are The Keys of the Kingdom, The Citadel, Hatter’s Castle and The Stars Look Down. The only other living Scot on the Armed Services list is Eric Linklater, whose Magnus Merriman was printed; and only one other Scot, Robert Louis Stevenson, makes the list with Kidnapped and Jekyll and Hyde. Graham Green has two titles, Somerset Maugham, like Cronin, has five titles (with one reprinted), John Steinbeck eight and Virginia Woolf, one.
Compiled, almost literally, in the heat of battle, the Armed Services Editions perhaps do not tell us all that much in a fine grained sense. What they do show, however, is that A J Cronin most certainly had an international appeal. We know this also from his large book-sales, at a time when there is only a tiny readership for his near-contemporary, the later much-vaunted Hugh MacDiarmid. We know this also via another medium – Film – which extended Cronin’s appeal even further. These days ‘popular fiction’ is all the rage in Scotland: these days there is barely a writer of whodunits who is not paraded around the streets shoulder high. But in the 1920s to 40s ‘popular fiction’ was not all right in Scotland. What was wanted according to stony-faced cultural activists was ‘condition of Scotland’ novels, preferably ones that advanced the nationalist agenda. There is an irony here in that if Cronin had set The Stars Look Down (1935) or The Citadel (1937) in Fife and Glasgow, respectively, instead of in Northumberland and South Wales and London, then likely he would have been loudly hailed as a fierce critic of poor well-being conditions in our accounts of Scottish Literature. Instead, these accounts are largely silent about Cronin, more likely to discuss Dr Finlay’s Casebook seeing the stories therein as a continuation of the ‘Kailyard’ genre, the supposedly parochial fictions peddling inconsequential capers of small-town Scotland produced largely for overseas consumption from the 1890s by the likes of J.M. Barrie. Vulgar in its supposed evasion of industrial Scotland and its corollary poor social and cultural conditions, Kailyard fiction was odious too in its popularity.
The Dr Finlay stories stem from Cronin’s publication of what is essentially a novella, Country Doctor in Hearst’s International-Cosmopolitan magazine in May 1935. Other Dr Finlay stories appeared in the same journal down to 1939. This was a middlebrow magazine with a cardinal aim of entertaining, a cardinal sin in the eyes of Scottish literature of the 1930s, Hugh MacDiarmid et al clearly scared that this would lead to dancing. But even Cronin did not regard Dr Finlay as among his most serious work, the stories being largely confined to Hearst’s International until the 1960s and 70s when the published books about the GP and the town of Tannochbrae (re-Christened as such by the TV version) followed in the wake of the success of the TV series. Some here will remember that original TV series of Dr Finlay’s Casebook from 1962-1971. Hugely popular, it was a major family viewing hit from the start all across the UK, with a hit song spin-off by Andy Stewart making the top 50 in 1965. Earlier in November 1963 the postponement of an episode due to JFK’s assassination led to 2,000 phone calls of complaint. Cronin made good money from his publications, unlike most Scottish writers of his era; but his motivation for allowing the Dr Finlay material to come out in books later on was not to cash in, but registered rather a degree of annoyance at the way he felt the TV series had quickly degraded in its standard of writing, and in what he disparaged as its ‘soap opera features.’
If the series was sometimes simultaneously safe and gossipy, as is the wont of the soap opera, the fiction – even for its original ‘middlebrow’ audience was not. What a shock perhaps lay in store for those who had enjoyed the heartily moral, often prurient Presbyterian-coated scenario of the TV series. For a start Dr Finlay is revealed to be a Roman Catholic, educated by the Jesuits at Stonyhurst and nephew of a diocesan Bishop. The stories feature domestic abuse, attempted backstreet abortion and Finlay even has an illegitimate son. Worst of all, Janet, the faithful house-keeper to Finlay and his senior partner, Dr Cameron, can occasionally be a right nasty piece of work. Set in the 1920s written not much later, the stories have a rather conventional outlook on gender: Janet for instance is frustrated and single because she is too ‘plain’ to attract a man. Finlay is a man’s man in a middle class kind of way, strong, good at tennis and not averse to throwing a fist occasionally at a lower class yob. He verbally bullies Nurse Peggy Angus, ostensibly because she is a woman of independent means and in Finlay’s eyes simply amusing herself for a time before she gets bored and will give up her full-time medical post. In actual fact, however, she is not only extremely competent but strikingly beautiful. Finlay fancies her and after much verbal sparring and teaming up to win a doubles tennis match, they end up in one another’s arms. Peggy has soldiered on with a broken bone in her hand because she feels she dare not show any weakness to the perpetually taunting Finlay; and Finlay eventually admits he has been prejudiced and resentful at Peggy’s privileged background.
As readers in the twenty-first century, Dr Finlay will probably shock in its gender assumptions, compared to the 1930s or even the 1960s and 70s. But, nonetheless, there are serious issues about the difficulty of malfunctioning family, of community prejudice and of uneven and even unjust medical provision in the time before the National Health Service. As with The Citadel, we see sometimes the practice of quackery, under-trained medical staff and public health policy that does not deserve the name. Dr Finlay, like Dr Andrew Manson in The Citadel is the angry voice of modernity in terms of the clinical advances that are becoming more and more available though not necessarily grasped by the powers that be, either in hospitals or in government. Manson, and to a lesser extent Finlay, also realise that there are principles of civic justice which properly ought to underlie public health provision. The Citadel is not explicitly a Socialist text, but implicitly it might as well be. Rapacious medicos charge dearly for poor and even fraudulent treatment. There is not enough generic investigation, as Manson realises when he begins to study the relationship between working conditions down the pit and respiratory illness. Albeit in more contingent ways, Dr Finlay encounters prohibitive treatment costs, doctors who are not up to date with the advances of science and naked self-interest. Like Manson, Finlay at times is more – or less than the strong-jawed hero – he is jealous, covetous and selfishly ambitious and at their best both these characters see through themselves and repent of exhibiting these traits. A J Cronin’s ‘medical fiction’ is about humans justly managing the health system for the common good, and doctors being recognised as full human beings with all the potential therein for both ill and good.
Like another medical creative writer with a strong Glasgow University connection, one of the greatest playwrights of the twentieth century James Bridie, Hollywood came calling for A J Cronin. Alfred Hitchcock wished Bridie to relocate to the US so as to work closely with him. Sadly, this never happened. Cronin, though, came to leave a large mark on both British and American film. In the first instance, his The Stars Look Down was made into a film directed by the wonderful Carol Reed in 1940. Cronin’s text was also adapted for Italian television in 1971 and for a British TV series in 1975 co-directed by one of the director-kings of gritty, working class realism, Roland Joffe. We also have the opening song in Billy Elliot, ‘The Stars Look Down’ in direct homage to Cronin. The prospect of nationalisation (more explicit than in The Citadel), questionable safety in the pits, a black economy during the First World War, and corrupt mine bosses feature in a book and a film (starring Michael Redgrave) that exhibits a gritty aesthetic: taut prose and tight camera angles. At the same time there is a poignancy (in both book and film) in this world where the lyrical is absent, but nonetheless signalled in the title. There is an attractive counterpoint to the many petty human failings in flashes of conscience from people of all classes, in the idea that we are judged – perhaps from above as the Stars look down – but also by the common morality in us all. The coal-dust morality is pierced by starlight, by the stirred, stricken conscience of humanity which is ever-present.
The cage dropped. It dropped suddenly, swiftly, into the hidden darkness. And the sound of its falling rose out of that darkness like a great sigh which mounted towards the furthermost stars.
Unsentimental, hopeful, never unrealistic but morally aspirational – this is the terrain of The Stars Look Down and also The Keys of the Kingdom (novel, 1941; film starring Gregory Peck, 1944). Francis Chisholm experiences brutal sectarianism in Scotland and goes on to priestly ordination, becoming a missionary in China. Sceptical of false miracles, experiencing apparently real ones, refusing to pander to ‘rice Catholics’ those who convert simply to receive material bounty from the church, Chisholm has an uneasy, often tortured life. His old friend from a free-thinking family and who is also a doctor, Willie Tulloch, comes to help Fr Chisholm combat disease in his mission and Tulloch himself succumbs, is martyred in a way that Chisholm is denied. Warlords and others drive Chisholm from China where he spends his retirement in the Scottish borders, investigated by his own church for heterodoxy: a failure as missionary, as a thinker. But the arc of his life is borne out of humility, of love and the refusal to judge absolutely. Chisholm is eventually exonerated and left in peace: his is the unsuccessful Christian life of love. One of the finest Catholic, indeed Christian novels to come out of 20th century Scotland, the film produced by Joseph Mancewicz won four Academy Awards and has been consistently rated highly in accounts of American cinema.
Much might be said about Cronin’s first novel, I think his best: Hatter’s Castle (1931). This is a masterful family intrigue which also recounts the events of the Tay Bridge Disaster. Like all of Cronin’s work there is searing insight into malevolence and hypocrisy in both the individual and in society. It is not too late yet to recognise A J Cronin for the serious writer and the serious cinematic phenomenon that he is. We’ve had a very good biography – by Alan Davies in 2011, it is time for new critical works to be written.
- Professor Gerard Carruthers FRSE holds the established Francis Hutcheson chair at the University of Glasgow. He is General Editor of the Oxford University Press edition of the collected works of Robert Burns and Principal Investigator of the AHRC major-grant funded, ‘Editing Robert Burns for the 21st Century’. He is Chair of the ‘Burns Scotland’ (national recognised collection) partnership, and is also co-investigator on two Carnegie-funded projects: ‘Literature and Union’ (with Prof Colin Kidd, University of St Andrews) and ‘The People’s Voice: Poetry, Song and the Franchise, 1832-1918’ (with Dr Catriona Macdonald [History] and Prof Kirstie Blair [University of Stirling]). He has written or edited 15 books and has produced more than one hundred essays and articles.
The feeling of social inferiority was immediate
A J Cronin, Novelist, 1896-1981
Archibald Joseph Cronin, the creator of Doctor Finlay, was born on 19th July 1896 in Cardross, near Dumbarton, in the midst of the area which was to provide a source and inspiration for a number of his novels, more particularly Hatter’s Castle, the best-selling first novel which catapulted him to worldwide fame in 1930.
As the son of a mixed marriage of Protestant mother and Catholic father, he was brought up as a Catholic, but attended Dumbarton Academy because of his precocious abilities.
Years later Cronin wrote: “A feeling of social inferiority was immediately … communicated to me, a sort of spiritual wound deriving from my religion.”
So, it is possible that a feeling of alienation from the West of Scotland may have contributed to his long exile.
At Glasgow University he studied medicine with some distinction and after war service as a Royal Navy surgeon – one of several echoes of another Dumbartonshire novelist, Tobias Smollett – Cronin entered general practice and went to work in Tredegar, a mining area of South Wales.
Again this experience and his subsequent move to a fashionable practice in Harley Street was to provide inspiration – most obviously for The Citadel, which was at the same time his most commercially successful and his most crusading work.
It has been said that its exposure of inequalities in medical provision contributed to the introduction of the National Health Service.
Cronin tends to be classed nowadays as being among the first of the formula writers, very dependent on the shrewd marketing skills of his publisher, Gollancz.
Certainly, his success was staggering by any yardstick. The Citadel, for example, broke all publishing records and sold at the rate of 10,000 hardback copies a week for months on end.
A “blockbuster” then, but not one without critical approval.
Hugh Walpole called Hatter’s Castle the finest first novel since the Great War, while others were quick to spot a vivid cinematic quality in the novels – indeed many were made into successful films.
Here is a scene from Hatter’s Castle, in which Brodie the bullying patriarch is cross-examining his daughter Mary about a young man:
An unconscious force drove her to say in a low, firm voice: ‘He’s not a worthless scamp.’
‘What!’ roared Brodie. ‘You’re speaking back to your own father next and for a low down Irish blackguard! A blackthorn boy! No! Let these paddies come over from their bogs to dig our potatoes for us but let it end at that. Don’t let them get uppish’.
By the 1970s, however, Cronin’s reputation was slight and later novels like A Song of Sixpence attracted fewer readers, although the new medium of television indirectly claimed new fans, through the Doctor Finlay’s Casebook stories.
Cronin withdrew to what was assumed to be a tax exile in Switzerland and died there in 1981, generally supposed to be a millionaire, in that respect a rarity among Scottish writers.
An obituary in The Times judged that his had been “middlebrow” fiction of the most adroit and telling kind.
The late Ronnie Armstrong was headmaster at Bonhill Primary School in Dumbarton and a leading member of the Dumbarton People’s Theatre group. Taken from the book Discovering Scottish writers, published by the Scottish Library Association.
Archibald Montgomerie was born in Kilmaurs, Ayrshire in 1847, the son of Robert Montgomerie, shoemaker and Ann (nee Hyslop).
In 1872 in Bridgeton, he married Margaret Perry, daughter of Francis Perry, Sewing Machine Mechanic and Jessie (nee McNaughton). The couple were married at the bride’s home, 113 Bernard Street, Bridgeton, Glasgow and Archibald’s address at that time was 20 Oxford Street, Glasgow. His profession at the time was HATTER. In 1881, the Montgomerie family was living at Levengrove Terrace Dumbarton.
Archibald Montgomerie, Head, 34, Hat Merchant, b. Kilmaurs, Ayrshire
Margaret “ Wife, 31, b. Edinburgh
James “ Son 7, b Glasgow
Jessie “ Daur. 5, b. Glasgow
Archibald “ Son, 3 b. Dumbarton
Francis “ Son, 1 b. Dumbarton
Dora or Sara Hall Servant, 13 b. Dumbarton
So, the family obviously moved to Dumbarton between the birth of Jessie and Archibald jnr. (c. 1877-78).
There would appear to have been a change of fortune prior to the next census in 1891:
1 Pointfauld Terrace
Archibald Montgomerie, Head, 44 Shipyard Clerk b. Kilmaurs, Ayrshire
Margaret “ Wife, 41 b. Edinburgh
James “ Son 17 Ship Carpenter b. Glasgow
Jessie “ Daur. 15 Telephone Operator b. Glasgow
Archibald “ Son 13 Scholar b. Dumbarton
Frank “ Son 11 Scholar b. Dumbarton
Robert “ Son 9 “ b. Dumbarton
Annie “ Daur 7 “ b. Dumbarton
Harvey Hugh “ Son 1 “ b. Dumbarton
Archibald junior, who was 13 in the 1891 census died 1n 1894 at the age of 16 .
You can see the echoes of ‘Hatter’s Castle’ here…the hatter reduced to being a shipyard clerk.
The Cronins were a large family living at 51 Alexander Street, Alexandria,
Owen Cronin, Head, 56, China, Rag & Skin Merchant Hawker b. Ireland.
Bridget Cronin Wife, 51 b. Ireland
James “ Son 25, Clerk in Turkey Red B. Alexandria
Mary “ Daur 25 Dressmaker “
Ann “ Daur 19 Yarn picker “
Thomas “ Son 16 Engine watcher “
Joseph “ Son 18 Cabinet maker “
Francis “ Son 11 Scholar “
Patrick “ Son 13 Scholar “
Edward “ Son 9 Scholar “
Margaret Daur 5 Scholar “
Both Cronin parents were dead before Patrick’s marriage (Bridget in 1894, when she was described as the widow of Owen, but I can find no death certificate for him (?)
On 19th May 1896 at 52 West Nile Street, Glasgow by Sheriff’s Warrant*, Jessie Montgomerie, aged 20, of I Allan Place, Dumbarton, daughter of Archibald Montgomery, Shipbuilder’s Clerk and Margaret (ms) Perry to Patrick Cronin, Mercantile Clerk, aged 28, of 63 Alexander Street, Alexandria, son of Owen Cronin, Glass & China Merchant (deceased) and Margaret (ms) McShane (deceased) married by declaration in the presence of William Lees, Spirit Merchant of 37 Sinclair Street, Helensburgh, and Jessie Buchan or Lees, residing there.
This marriage was what was referred to as an Irregular Marriage, for which a sheriff’s warrant was required, and in which both parties declared their intention to marry. The modern equivalent would be e Registry Office marriage, in other words involving no religious service.
Two months later:
At Rosebank, Cardross on 19th July 1896 Archibald, son of Patrick Cronin and Jessie Montgomery. (Note he is called just ARCHIBALD, no middle name)
At Tigherachan Villas, Cardross:
Patrick Cronin, Head, 33 Commercial Traveller, Dutch Products, b. Alexandria
Jessie Cronin, Wife, 25, b. Glasgow
Archibald, Son, 4 b. Cardross
On 26th September 1904, at 8 Albert Terrace, Helensburgh: Patrick Cronin, Commercial Traveller aged 37, son of Owen and Bridget died of Phthisis Pulmonalis Informant James Cronin, brother, of 52 Bridge St. Alexandria.
We next encounter Jessie in the 1911 census:
Although in later years the Montgomeries lived at ‘Willowbrook’ in 1911 they resided, in the next door house. ‘Atholl Cottage’ Both houses were owned by a William Blair, photographer
Archibald Montgomerie, Head, 64, Shipyard clerk, born Kilmaurs
Margaret “ Wife, 61, b. Edinburgh
Jessie Cronin, Daur., 35 Widow, b. Glasgow
ATHOLL COTTAGE 1911 (Cont.)
Annie Montgomerie, Daur. 27, Schoolteacher, b. Dumbarton
Harvey Montgomerie, Son, 22, Student b. Dumbarton
Archibald Cronin, Grandson, 14, Scholar b. Cardross
As indicated in the census, the Montgomeries had been married for 38 years, had 8 children, 6 of whom were still living ( I know Archibald junior died in 1884 aged 16).
Archibald Montgomery died of stomach cancer on 20th August 1912, aged 65 at Willowbrook. The informant was his son John (or James) of 8 Radcliffe Gardens, Ilford, London.
Margaret lived until 1937 when she died aged 87 at 4 Golf Street, Monifieth.
There was a Mrs Jessie Cronin living at 29 Esmond Street, Kelvinside Glasgow, from 1915-1925, may have been Archibald’s mother?
She next appears in the passenger list of the SS America on 3rd June 1947, accompanied by her grandson Vincent Cronin. She was 71 and her home address was given as Hove, Sussex,
Vincent was 21, born in Tredegar, Cornwall, and listed as a student at Oxford. Archibald (now listed as Archibald Joseph) crossed in the Queen Mary from Southampton to New York on 08/11/37 when his occupation was given as writer. His final destination on this voyage was Woodlea Hill, Canaan, Connecticut.
He served in the Merchant Navy from 1918-21. Also listed as a passenger on the SS Independence from Gibraltar to New York on 29th September 1954, with wife Agnes.
I know he spent some time in my own personal heaven NANTUCKET!
From All Our Yesterdays by Bill Heaney
Cardross-born novelist Archibald Joseph Cronin was an accomplished storyteller, who practised as a medical doctor over a decade before devoting himself entirely to writing. Cronin gained his fame initially with Hatter’s Castle (1931). This is the story of the megalomaniac James Brodie, a Dumbarton hat maker. Cronin called the town Levenford in all his books – and his foolish dreams of social acceptance. Cronin, who had his own problems with social acceptance – he was a Catholic in a strong Protestant town – produced several best-sellers drawing from his experiences as a doctor. His most famous character was Dr Finlay Hyslop, which became Dr Finlay’s Casebook. Some of his works had religious themes, like The Keys of the Kingdom (1942), which was also made into a film, starring Gregory Peck. Cronin continued to write until he was in his eightieth year.
AJ Cronin spent his leisure time between Casci’s Café in Church Street and Dumbarton Public Library in Strathleven Place.
‘In the recollections of those who, like myself, have ventured into descriptions of their early years, nothing has bored me more than those long, tedious, and particularized listings of the books the author has read and which led, in the end, to the formation of a literary tastes that was demonstrably excellent. For this reason I refrain from presenting a catalogue and state simply that I read everything,’ wrote Cronin in A Song of Sixpence.
Archibald Joseph Cronin was born in Cardross, the only child of Jessie (Montgomerie) Cronin and Patrick Cronin. His childhood was shadowed by the death of his father and poverty; his mother tried to struggle forward alone. After two years she returned to her parents’ home. Cronin was sent to Dumbarton Academy at his uncle’s expense. He later transferred to be taught by the Jesuits at St Aloysius College in Glasgow. In 1914 he entered the Glasgow University Medical School, graduating in 1919. During The First World War, Cronin served as a surgeon in the Royal Navy. After the war he worked as a ship’s surgeon on a liner bound for India, and then served in various hospitals. He married Agnes Mary Gibson, a fellow medical student, whom he had met at Glasgow University and the couple moved to Tregenny, a small mining town in South Wales, and then to Tredegar, where they spent three years, and where their first child was born. After being appointed Medical Inspector of Mines in 1924, he started to investigate occupational diseases in the coal industry.
These experiences formed the basis of the novels The Stars Look Down (1935) and The Citadel (1937), which made Cronin famous in the United States, and inspired the director King Vidor’s film version of the book. Robert Donat was nominated for an Oscar for his performance in the film. In 1925, Cronin was awarded his M.D. by the University of Glasgow and subsequently he started to practise in Wales and in London. Cronin’s health broke down in 1930 and he sold his practice. Whilst convalescing in the West Highlands, he started to write his first novel, Hatter’s Castle, which is set mainly in High Street, College Street and Round Riding Road, where he lived for a time. He once threw the manuscript away, believing it would not be good. After being encouraged by a local farmer, digging a ditch which his father had dug without finishing the work, Cronin completed his own effort. The book was an immediate success in Britain and was filmed in 1941.
Miller’s Farm in Round Riding Road, Dumbarton. AJ Cronin lived right next door.
After its publication accusations were made, that Cronin had plagiarized George Douglas’s novel The House with the Green Shutters (1901). However, the book allowed Cronin to give up practising medicine in favour of writing. The Stars Look Down was a socially charged novel, which examined injustices in a North England mining community. Carol Reed’s film adaptation, starring Michael Redgrave, was praised by the writer Graham Greene: ‘Dr Cronin’s mining novel has produced a very good film – I doubt whether in England we have ever produced a better.’ Generally it was regarded as the first British film with social relevance.
Vigil in the Night, first published in Good Housekeeping in 1939, was filmed by George Stevens in 1940, starring Carole Lombard, Anne Shirley, and Brian Aherne. In this romantic melodrama, Lombard played a dedicated nurse in a provincial hospital in England, who sacrifices herself for her sister, but then finds work in a large hospital. Cronin’s stories inspired also such directors as Victor Saville (The Green Years), Philip Leacock (The Spanish Gardener), and Jack Cardiff (Beyond This Place).
In 1939, Cronin moved to the United States with his family. He wrote The Keys of the Kingdom, a story of a Roman Catholic priest, Father Francis Chisholm, who spends years as a missionary in China. Father Chisholm becomes familiar with the teachings of the Chinese philosopher Confucius, adopts a simple way of life, and advocates ecumenical cooperation between all Christians. His tolerance is viewed with suspicion within the institutional Church by his superiors. David O. Selznick had bought the screen rights to the novel in 1941 for $100,000, but he did not want to do the film with Gregory Peck. However, Darryl F. Zanuck, production chief at 20th Century-Fox, was convinced that Peck was right for the Father Chisholm role. Nunnally Johnson had written earlier the screenplay and it was revised by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. The film was shot entirely on the Fox studio lot, but with its $3 million budget it was one of the most expensive pictures of the year. Critical reaction to the film was mixed. In the New York Post Irene Thirer called the picture ‘a lengthy, highly dramatic, entrancingly photographed production. Stahl had captured a delicate spiritual quality, and at the same time managed to give the action sequences a biting tang; also he has preserved the wit and subtlety of the manuscript, with each and every performer expertly cast.’ Howard Barnes of the New York Herald Tribune saw that Mankiewicz and Johnson did not ‘succeed in packing a rambling literary narrative into the exigent outlines of a satisfactory film entertainment.’
Cronin himself was satisfied with the result and praised both adaptation and Peck’s performance. The actor later said that he had been helped by a Catholic missionary, Father O’Hara, who had lived eight years in China. Peck, who was voted for an Oscar nomination for best actor, is reported to have said: ‘I remember particularly in one scene, where I had to preach in Chinese, how Father O’Hara was persuaded to act out the scene for me. I hadn’t been able to catch the feeling of it somehow. I couldn’t feel natural. So we asked him to try it. And he did, walking through that crowd of Chinese extras, ringing a little silver bell and talking to each one, in Chinese, after first bowing with the greatest courtesy. He did it as he must have done a thousand times in real life. Then I realized what I had missed in the scene, that courtesy and respect for each person as an individual.’
The Catholic faith was also the central subject in The Minstrel Boy (1975). The narrator is Alec, who follows through decades of disasters and triumphs of his friend, Desmond Fitzgerald, a young priest. Alec becomes a doctor and a successful writer. Desmond wins a singing competition and his marvellous voice opens the doors to music for him, and later to Hollywood films. But he also must solve his relationship with the beautiful and wretched Claire, whom he has married, leaving his career within the organization of the Church. Again Cronin’s hero must find his true calling in life. Desmond rejects fame and glory, and also the golf club at Bel Air and the Racquet Club at Palm Springs. During his long walks on Malibu Beach he realizes the emptiness of his life: ‘Few people use this stretch, far from the swimming beach and bathing huts, and I encounter only the regulars: Charles Chaplin, too enwrapped in his own genius to be conscious of anyone but himself, and a tall, strongly built man who walks slowly, reading, but who occasionally nods and smiles to me as we pass. These apart, one can find solitude, and here I walk, struggling with myself and with my own unhappy thoughts.’
Dumbarton had its own Hatter’s Shop in the High Street, but there was no connection between the owner and Cronin’s fictional figure in his novel.
Eventually Desmond goes to Madras to work amongst the neglected and homeless children of the Untouchables. Although English books were forbidden in Germany during the Second World War, Cronin’s works dealing with mining communities were in 1943 on display in Dresden’s bookstores for propaganda reasons. After the war Cronin travelled with his family in Europe. In the autobiographical book Adventures in Two Worlds (1952) Cronin returned to his experiences as a doctor in Scotland and South Wales, and examined his religious beliefs in the last chapters. Cronin tells how he rediscovered his Catholic background in the 1930s. His father had been Catholic and his mother was from a strongly Protestant family. At school Cronin grew away from religion – he had been teased because of his Catholic faith, and he started to feel disgust for bigotry. Cronin’s own dream was brotherhood between people and ecumenical understanding between different churches, not rivalry.
This spirit of conciliation marked all his books dealing with questions of faith. ‘Now he perceived how illusory his hopes had been, how all his imaginings had been falsely based on a romantic re-creation of the past. Had he actually expected, after thirty years, to find Mary as on the day he had abandoned her, sweet with the freshness of youth, tenderly passionate, still virginal? God knows he would have wished it so. But the miracle had not occurred and now, having heard the history of a woman who wept for him late and long, who married, though not for love, lost an invalid husband, who suffered hardships, ill-fortune, perhaps even poverty, yet sacrificed herself to bring up her daughter to a worthy profession – knowing all this, he had returned to reality, to the calm awareness that the Mary he would find at Markinch would be a middle-aged woman, with work-worn hands and tired, gentle eyes, bruised and defeated by the battle of life…’ (From The Judas Tree, 1961).
By 1958, the sales of Cronin’s novels amounted to seven million in the United States. Cronin’s humanism and social realism also made him popular in the Soviet Union. Many of Cronin’s books were adapted for films or television programs. The television series Dr Finlay’s Casebook was based on his stories. In the 1960s it was one of the most popular series on British television. For the last 35 years of his life Cronin lived in Switzerland. He died on January 9, 1981, in Montreux. Research carried out by the late Ronnie Armstrong, a head teacher who was well known in the field of amateur dramatics and Dumbarton People’s Theatre, also touched on the religion question. Ronnie said Cronin had once written: ‘‘a feeling of social inferiority was immediately communicated to me, a sort of spiritual wound deriving from my religion’. Armstrong concluded that Cronin, who was the son of a mixed marriage of Protestant mother and Catholic father, and was brought up as a Catholic, attended Dumbarton Academy ‘because of his precocious abilities. It is possible that a feeling of alienation from the West of Scotland may have contributed to his long exile from Dumbarton.’ Cronin was however an ardent Dumbarton FC fan and listened for their result every Saturday at 4.40pm. A letter expressing his allegiance to the Sons of the Rock hangs on the wall of the entrance to the boardroom in the ‘new’ stadium at Dumbarton Castle.
Boghead Park, home of Dumbarton FC, where a letter pledging Cronin’s support for the Sons is displayed in the boardroom and Diane outside the Burgh Hall, below, which was at one time home to Dumbarton Academy.