James Ambrose Brown

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James Ambrose Brown (1919-) Journalist, playwright, essayist, critic, noveslit, short story writer and military historian.


Born in Scotland in 1919 and educated in Edinburgh and Kilmarnock, came to South Africa with his parents in 1936. Went to the front during World War II, then returned to become a well-known Johannesburg journalist.




Besides his many prose works, a number of them either historical or dealing with the Second World War, he is well known as a writer for stage and radio.

Contribution to SA theatre, film, media and/or performance

His first stage play for adults was Governor of the Black Rock, which Leon Gluckman directed for the East Rand Theatre Club in 1953, while his best known play, Seven against the Sun was based on his own novel The Anthill (1958) and was professionally staged by NTO in 1958-59. It is a gripping war story set in the desert and was filmed by David Millin in 1966.

His other plays include Evening of Grand Guignol, (1956), They Seek the East Wind (also known as Governor of the Black Rock, NELM: [Collection: BROWN, James Ambrose]: 1998. 146. 56) (1956/7), The Years of the Locust (1966), Time and the Wood, McCullough, or Travels with a Collapsible Woman (1979), The Siege of Nugget Street (1979), ***.

His prolific career as a writer for children’s theatre started when Children's Theatre Incorporated in Johannesburg staged Ambrose Applejohn's Adventure at the Wits Great Hall in 1950 and The Three Wishes in 1954 with Anna Romain Hoffman as director. In Cape Town The Three Wishes was repeated in 1955 with Hansell Hewitt as director. The Cape Town production had a "coloured" cast which played to multiracial audiences for the first time in South Africa. This play was followed by such popular plays as The Circus Adventure (translated into several foreign languages and also reworked as a musical), Amelia's African Adventure (1962), and Three Cheers for President Charlie, (The Space Theatre, 1972).

The Red Silk Umbrella is a musical play with book and lyrics written by James Ambrose Brown.

One of his stories was used as the basis for Donald Swanson's 1951 film, The Magic Garden.

Other children’s plays include Mango Leaf Magic, and The Coral King.

Brown wrote the screen adaptation of The Magic Garden, a popular South African television programme. He also wrote a number of radio plays.

Awards, etc

A number of his works have received awards. e.g. Time and the Wood, for which he received the Amstel Playwright of the Year Award in 1978 (sharing with Windmills of the Mind by John Pank).

He was awarded a Fleur du Cap Award (the Lifetime Award) for his contribution to theatre.


De Beer, 1995;

Joyce, 1999;

Tucker, 1997.

Teacher Guide, The Coral King[1]

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