Monday, January 03, 2011

Mary Cathcart Borer

Mary Irene Cathcart Borer was born in London on 3 February 1906, the daughter of Archibald James Borer (a hospital secretary) and his wife Florence Mary (nee Edmonds), who were living at 106 Kyverdale Road at the time of their daughter's Christening on 29 April at St. Andrew's, Stoke Newington.

She was educated at Skinners' Company's School for Girls and University College, London, where she graduated with a B.Sc. in 1928. She then worked as a senior research assistant in the ethnological department of the Wellcome Historical Medical Museum until 1935 when she married archaeologist Oliver Humphrys Myers (1903-1966). With him she went on the Egypt Exploration Society's archaeological expedition to Luxor in Egypt under Sir Robert Mond (1935-37) but the marriage did not last and she separated from her husband after three years. She was still listed in the London telephone book as Mrs. Mary I. C. Myers in the early 1950s, when she was living at 51 Victoria Drive, Putney, and remained Mary Myers until her death.

Her first novel, Kilango, about a Kikuyu boy in East Africa, was written whilst she worked at the Welcome Museum and her experiences in Luxor inspired Taha, the Egyptian. Two further novels, The Highcroft Mystery and The House with the Blue Door, followed quickly before the outbreak of World War II.

Molly Myers, although usually credited as M. Cathcart Borer, became a scenario writer for British National Films, her first screen story credit appearing in 1940 with the comedy Old Mother Riley in Society starring Arthur Lucan and Kitty McShane.In 1942 she joined Gaumont-British Instructional Films, writing propaganda films for the British Council and the Ministry of Information, her credits including Surgery in Chest Disease, Tom's Ride and Sports Day (1943-44). She then became a script editor and writer for the Rank Organisation's children's film department in 1944-51. Her credits included Circus Boy (1947) starring James Kenney as a young boy who gains the confidence to win a swimming race for his school after spending the summer with some circus friends (many of the cast were real performers from Bertram Mill's Circus). Fortune Lane, based on a story by Gunby Hadath, was about a young boy (played by Douglas Barr) who uses his savings to visit his grandfather in Ireland.

Most of her children's movies were highly moralistic, with her young protagonists somehow earning a reward for their thoughtfulness or honesty. Borer later explained, "Towards the end of the war, conditions for children in London were at their worst. Many who had been evacuated to the country, on the outbreak of hostilities, had come back. Fathers were away, mothers working; schools were disorganized and under-staffed and there was not nearly enough discipline. The Odeon and Gaumont Saturday morning cinema clubs were re-opened and managers complained that the children were badly in need of some form of moral training. The comptroller of the Odeon group suggested that a one-reeler film be made, showing that stealing by finding was as bad as any other kind of stealing, and I was asked to write the script. When it was shown, the effect was astonishing. Managers reported that their cinemas had come to look like lost property offices with all the things children found and brought to them. It was the effect of this film, which today would seem unbelievably corny, which made me realize how we have wasted and misused the enormous potential of the screen. I have for long advocated the harmfulness of indoctrinating children (or adults either, for that matter) with scenes of crime and violence. Much has been said and written about the harmful effects of television on morals and outlook, but very little about the good it could do. It obviously does have an effect, so why not a good one instead of a bad one?"

Her other credits include Under the Frozen Falls, The Last Load, Castle Sinister, The Little Ballerina, Three Bags Full, Trapped by the Terror, The Mystery of the Snakeskin Belt, The Dragon of Pendragon Castle and The Case of the Missing Scene.

In 1950 she adapted Kenneth Grahame's The Reluctant Dragon for the BBC and, in 1951, went freelance, maintaining a prolific output of screenplays and television plays, her TV credits include The Poachers (1956), the first episode of the Gerry Anderson puppet show Four Feather Falls (1960), The Secret of the Nubian Tomb (1961) and the series The Fifth Form at St. Dominic's (1961), the latter based on the novel by Talbot Baines Reed.

She was also an occasional playwright, her most famous play co-written with Arnold Ridley, who achieved late celebrity status as Private Godfrey in Dad's Army but was, before that, a well-known playwright. Tabitha (1955) was a comedy thriller about three old ladies who decide to poison their odious landlady; the impulse to murder her deserts them at the last minute, so they are somewhat taken aback when the woman dies anyway.

In the 1960s she began to concentrate on writing non-fiction and produced dozens of popular books, many of them relating to the history of Britain, especially London and some of its boroughs.

Mary Myers lived at Robin Hill, 4 Station Road, Tring, Hertfordshire, in later life. She died on 2 December 1994, aged 87, her death registered at St. Albans, Hertfordshire.


Kalingo, illus. P. E. Fawkes. London, Sir I. Pitman & Sons, 1936
Adventure in August. London, Sir I. Pitman & Sons, 1937.
The Sinclair Family. London, Sir I. Pitman & Sons, 4 pts., 1937.
Taha the Egyptian, illus. Kathleen M. Blair. London, Sir I. Pitman & Sons, 1937.
The Highcroft Mystery. London & New York, F. Warne & Co., 1939.
The House with the Blue Door. London, Sir I. Pitman & Sons, 1939.
Bush Christmas (novelisation of the film). London, Sir Isaac Pitman & Sons, 1947.
The First Term at Northwood. London, Sir Isaac Pitman & Sons, 1948.
The Valley of the White Lake. London & New York, Frederick Warne & Co., 1948.
The Little Ballerina (novelisation of the film). London, Sir Isaac Pitman & Sons, 1949.
The Secret Tunnel (novelisation of the film). London, Sir Isaac Pitman & Sons, 1950.
Distant Hills. A tale of pioneering days in Africa. London, Sir Isaac Pitman & Sons, 1951.
The Mystery of the Snakeskin Belt (novelisation of the film). London, Sir Isaac Pitman & Sons, 1951.
The Last Load (novelisation of the film). London, Sir Isaac Pitman & Sons, 1952.
The Mysterious Poacher, and The Lone Climber (novelisations of the films). London, Sir Isaac Pitman & Sons, 1952.
Trapped by the Terror (novelisation of the film). London, Sir Isaac Pitman & Sons, 1952.
The Birthday Present, illus. Sheila Connelly. London, George G. Harrap & Co., 1954.
The Boabab Tree. London & New York, Frederick Warne & Co., 1955.
The Dog and the Diamonds, illus. W. White. London, Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1956.
Tim's Donkey, illus. Sheila Connelly. London, Longmans, 1956.
The Dragon Remembered, illus. Val Biro. Leicester, Brockhampton Press, 1956 [1957].
The Quest of the Golden Eagle, illus. Robert Hodgson. London, Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1957.
Aesop's Fables, retold by Mary Cathcart Borer. London, Longmans, 1959.
Don Quixote, some of his adventures retold by Mary Cathcart Borer, illus. Pauline Baynes. London, Longmans, 1960.  Sophie and the Countess, illus. W. F. Phillips. London, George G. Harrap & Co., 1960.
Tales of King Arthur, illus. Will Nickless. London, Longmans, 1961.

Traders and Trappers. The story of Canada. London, Sir I. Pitman & Sons, 1938.
Wagons and Warriors. The colonization of South Africa. London, Sir I. Pitman & Sons, 1938.
Mankind in the Making. London & New York, Frederick Warne & Co., 1939; new edition, F. Warne, 1962.
Two Thousand Years Ago. Daily life in Palestine in the time of Our Lord. London, Sir Isaac Pitman & Sons, 1948.
People Like Us. A social history of Britain. London, Michael Joseph, 1960.
Citizenship. Its rights and responsibilities, illus. Sheila Bradburn. London, Museum Press, 1962.
The City of London. Its history, institutions and commercial activities. London, Museum Press, 1962.
Africa. A short history of the peoples of Africa. London, Museum Press, 1963.
Women Who Made History, illus. Moira Hoddell. London & New York, Frederick Warne & Co., 1963.
Boadicea, illus. Pauline Diana Baynes. London, Longmans (Famous Lives 1), 1965.
Joan of Arc, illus. Pauline Diana Baynes. London, Longmans (Famous Lives 2), 1965.
Christopher Columbus, illus. Pauline Diana Baynes. London, Longmans (Famous Lives 3), 1965.
King Alfred the Great, illus. Pauline Diana Baynes. London, Longmans (Famous Lives 4), 1965.
Richard I. London, Longmans (Famous Lives 5), 1965.
Julius Caesar. London, Longmans (Famous Lives 6), 1965.
Hereward the Wake. London, Longmans (Famous Lives 7), 1965.
Alexander the Great. London, Longmans (Famous Lives 8), 1965.
Famous Rogues. London, Longmans, 1966.
Britain--Twentieth Century. The story of social conditions, illus. Norman & Lilian Buchanan. London & New York, Frederick Warne & Co., 1966 [1967].
Covent Garden. London & New York, Abelard-Schuman, 1967.
People of Medieval England, illus. Charlotte Mensforth. London, Max Parrish, 1967.
People of Tudor Endland, illus. Charlotte Mensforth. London, Max Parrish, 1967.
England's Markets. The story of Britain's main channels of trade. London & New York, Abelard-Schuman, 1968.
People of Stuart England, illus. Charlotte Mensforth. London, Macdonald & Co., 1968.
People of Victorian and Edwardian England, illus. Michael Morse. London, Macdonald & Co., 1969.
People of Georgian England, illus. William Randell. London, Macdonald Educational, 1969.
What Became of the Mamelukes?, designed & illus. Denis Wrigley. Exeter, Wheaton, 1969.
Agincourt, October 25, 1415, illus. Edward Mortelmans. London, Lutterworth Press, 1970.
The First World War. London, Macmillan, 1970.
The Boar War, October 10, 1899-May 31, 1902, illus. Douglas Phillips. London, Lutterworth Press, 1971.
Liverpool, illus. Paul Shardlow. Harlow, Longman, 1971.
A Visitor's Guide to Britain. London, Fontana, 1971.
The British Hotel Through the Ages. Guildford, Lutterworth Press, 1972.
Two Villages. The story of Chelsea and Kensington, foreword by Sir Malby S. Crofton. London, W. H. Allen, 1973
A Week in London. London, Pelham, 1973.
The American Civil War, 1861-1865, illus. Douglas Phillips. Guildford, Lutterworth Press, 1974.
Background to Archaeology. London, Pelham, 1975.
Mayfair: The Years of Grandeur. London, W. H. Allen, 1975.
Willingly to School. A history of women's education. Guildford, Lutterworth Press, 1975.
Hampstead and Highgate. The story of two hilltop villages. London, W. H. Allen, 1976.
The History of Berkeley Square. London, Berkeley Square Jubilee Association, 1977. [extract from Mayfair: The Years of Grandeur]
London Walks and Legends. London, Mayflower, 1981.
The Story of Covent Garden. London, hale, 1984.
An Illustrated Guide to London 1800. London, Hale, 1988.

Tabitha. A play in three acts, with Arnold Ridley (produced Glasgow, 1955). London, Samuel French, 1956.
Shadows of the Sands, with Arnold Ridley (produced Northampton, 1956).
Sophie and the Countess. London, Cassell (Red Lion Plays 1), 1968.
The Man in the Green Cloak. London Cassell (Red Lion Plays 2), 1968.

Circus Boy by Patita Nicholson, based on the original screenplay by Mary Cathcart Borer & Cecil Musk. London, Sir Isaac Pitman & Sons, 1949.


  1. The name of that book on the Mamelukes made me realise how much our educational system lets down kids now. I had never learned about the Mamelukes but your blog entry made me go searching. At least IU had heard the name before and had the curiosity to go looking.
    Thanks again for a great blog

  2. Mary Cathcart Borer also adapted Helen Williams' 1936 children's book "Squirrel War" for Anson Dyer's 1947 3-part serial cartoon of the same name. This would be while she was working for Children's Entertainment Films. CEF, as far as I can gather, was set up by Rank, and produced films through Gaumont-British Instructional, but was funded by the government from the Eady levy. Is this correct?

  3. According to the BFI database that's correct.

  4. What about her book the First World War?



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