Myles Bourke

Jump to navigation Jump to search

Myles Bourke (1898-1969) was a military officer, businessman, arts administrator and cultural activist.


Born Myles Esmond Bourke in Pretoria on 29 October, 1898, and was the son of Edmund Francis Bourke, the first elected mayor of Pretoria (1903-1904), and Eleanor Griffin. He was educated at Harrow School in London and in 1917 was commissioned in the Brigade of the Coldstream Guards from Sandhurst Military College. In 1926 he married Marguerite Niemeyer and settled in Pretoria, where he became a successful businessman and director of companies. Their house in the suburb of Muckleneuk, called Clogheen, which boasted an impressive garden of indigenous plants, was subsequently bought by the University of South Africa to serve as a home for its Principal.

He died Pretoria, 20/04/1969

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

He became President of the resuscitated Pretoria Repertory Theatre in the late 1930s and 1940s and was the producer for the Pretoria celebratory production for the Voortrekker Centenary in 1938 (A rare bound text, donated by Myles Bourke, called "Twee Episodes. Voortrekkereeufees 1938 by Bourke, Myles (producer)", exists as a record of the production in Pretoria.)

He joined the Union Defence Force with the rank of major at the start of the war, becoming the commanding officer of the Union Defence Force Entertainment Unit (often simply called the U.D.F. Entertainment Unit). In November 1941, Major Myles Bourke flew from South Africa to Cairo to investigate the possibilities of sending South African concert parties to the Middle East. He was accompanied by Lieut Mrs Sybil Gaiger. In this capacity he organised the entertainment for troops, including skits, revues and cabarets. In this he was assisted by a number of other officers, including organisers such as Frank Rogaly, performers and directors - many of whom would emerge from this unit, to have an impact on South African theatre (see U.D.F. Entertainment Unit). Numerous also worked with him.

One of the foremost proponents of a state funded professional theatre, he worked with Anna Neethling-Pohl, Steve Naudé, Donald Inskip and others to engage with the government in the 1940s, and was a member of the delegation which went to see the Administrator of the Transvaal about a state theatre on 19 February, 1942 (led by P.P.B. Breytenbach). In January 1947 was made a member of a sub-committee of the National Council for Adult Education, intended to study theatre matters. It further consisted of P.P.B. Breytenbach, Anna Neethling-Pohl, Donald Inskip and Steve Naudé (secretary), and submitted a proposal for a state-funded theatre, based on an outline by Bourke, to the government. This evenually led to the establishment of the National Theatre Organisation (NTO) in 1947, with Bourke a member of the first board. *

In his only film he appeared as Piet Retief in Die Bou van 'n Nasie (1938), directed by Joseph Albrecht and Andries A. Pienaar.

Also an author, publishing Golden Grass: A Volume of Short Stories (Hutchinson, 1939), Badoli the ox (Stories based on Bantu legends . H.B. Timmins, 1950) and a book of original poetry called The Koppie on a Plain( a limited edition, with two plates of J.H. Pierneef paintings, 1951).

Awards, etc


Cliff Goodwin. 2011. Sid James: A Biography. Random House

Neville Phillips. 2008. The Stage Struck Me! Leicester: Troubador Publishing Ltd.

Swift, M.1974. "The Union Defence Force Entertainment Group in South Africa (World War II)". Scientia Militaria - South African Journal of Military Studies, [S.l.], feb. 2012. ISSN 2224-0020. Available at: <>. Date accessed: 24 May. 2015.

Percy Tucker. 1997. Just the Ticket. My 50 Years in Show Business. Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press: p.32.

Temple Hauptfleisch (ed.). 1985a. The Breytie Book: A Collection of Articles on South African Theatre Dedicated to P.P.B. Breytenbach. Johannesburg: The Limelight press.[1]

Return to

Return to ESAT Personalities B

Return to South African Theatre Personalities

Return to The ESAT Entries

Return to Main Page