Ian Hay

Ian Hay was the pen-name of John Hay Beith, (1876-1952) a Scottish novelist and playwright active in the first half of the 20th century. For many years he earned his living as a schoolmaster, only gaining publication in his thirties. He served as an officer during the Great War, ending up as a major. During the twenties and the thirties he blossomed as a writer, with the majority of his work being published during this period.

He is most well known for his books The First Hundred Thousand, 1916, and its sequel, All in it K1 Carries On, 1917, but he also wrote many plays, short stories and war related non-fiction.

The First Hundred Thousand, which I read last year, does not form part of my great grandmother’s collection. It is based on his experiences as an officer in a K1 battalion of the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders. K1 was shorthand for the first hundred thousand volunteers requested by Kitchener in September 1914. It is still in print and takes a humorous look at life in such a battalion as it trained, although the slightly patronising tone towards the other ranks was not to my taste.

He is credited as articulating the difference in meaning between ‘funny peculiar and funny ha-ha’ in his 1938 play The Housemaster.

In addition to his novels, plays and non-fiction, he also wrote a number of screenplays, and acted as a consultant to Cecil B de Mille. See the Wikipedia article for more info.

My great grandmother had two of his novels, Knight on Wheels, 1914, which I rather liked and A Safety Match, 1911, which I’m not sure that I do at all. I’ll discuss them in due course.

Serious non fiction included, 9th (Scottish) Division Memorial, Arras, 1922
Getting together. (Essays on the relations between America and Great Britain.) 1917
One hundred years of army nursing. The story of the British army nursing services from the time of Florence Nightingale to the present day, 1953
Their name liveth : the book of the Scottish National War Memorial, 1931

Plays included a collaboration with PG Wodehouse, Leave it to Psmith, 1933. While some of his plays are still in print, most of them are long forgotten, the majority dating from the twenties and the thirties.

He wrote about fifteen novels, some of which were adaptations of his plays, for example, Little Ladyship, 1941 and vice versa – The Housemaster, 1936.


11 responses to “Ian Hay

  1. Sheila Rowbotham

    Iam writing a biography of Edward Carpenter. Gilbert Beith (brother of Ian Hay) was his friend and literary executor. Do you know of any papers? I saw a reference to a Mrs Beith at a conference on women’s sweated work in Glasgow in the early 1900s. Could this be their mother? Yours Sheila Rowbotham

  2. Hello Sheila,
    I am sorry I don’t know of any papers. I found all the information in this post as a result of a quick five minute google, so it’s hardly in depth research!

    I’ve no idea whether this Mrs Beith could be their mother or not, it’s not a hugely rare name.

  3. I have an original photo of Beith if you would like to add it to this page. It is upon his award of the Military Cross

  4. Kirsten Beith

    Ian Hay was, and is, my great-great uncle. If you need any more information, just let me know.

    All the best,

    Kirsten Beith

    • Hi Kirsten,

      I’m working on an archival project right now. I’m working with a manuscript called “The Laundry Book.” A woman named Joanna Giles put it together; it’s a collection of journal entries, playbills, correspondence, and other written/drawn pieces created by a group called “The Launderers” in London (area) in the 1920s and 1930s. Gilbert Beith figures fairly prominently.

      Do you know anything about this group? Or where I could find more information? As of now, I can only find that they existed.

    • R.Stiglic

      Hi Kirsten
      Do you know who possibly owns the rights on your great-great uncle Ian Hay’s stories? Are they in public domain? I’d like to write a play based on one of his stories.
      Thanks and Regards

  5. David Pittendrigh

    What was the connection between Maj. Beith & Rev.Charles Presley Smith,Dean of Argyl & the Isles. 1886. Also the name Mrs. Blackhall.

    The names were found together on some family papers

  6. Peter Symon

    Hi David,
    Charles Pressley Smith (b 1862 d 1930) crops up in my family tree as a distant relation. I don’t know the exact answers to your questions but, according to the entry about him in “Scottish Episcopal Clergy, 1689-2000” by David Bertie (2000), the second wife of Charles Pressley Smith was Elizabeth Mary Beith, who was perhaps a relation of Ian Hay. Extracts from Bertie’s book are on Google Books.

  7. P K Sengupta

    I first read Ian Hay in 1954/55 – in our school library (Sherwood College, Nainital India). I think we had Pip, Knight on Wheels, Poor Gentleman (which I suddenly found on the web and I expect to finish re-reading it today) I also once read Midshipmaid. I am happy to find that there are others, perhaps as old as I am or maybe younger who like Ian Hay

  8. In ” such, such were the joys” George Orwell ( at age 12) lists his favourite writers ; Ian Hay and Kipling

  9. When I was a medical student and later a young doctor, my mother lived at 31 Lexham Gardens, London, and I spent much time there over the years. The large house had been converted into a number of small flats and bedsits. One of her neighbours, who she introduced me to was an elderly lady closely resembling a 1920’s picture I found online of Ian Hay’s wife, and she introduced herself as “Mrs Ian Hay Beith”. She was a pleasant person but was not aging well or comfortably, and we were pleased to help her whenever we could.
    Sadly for me, although she indicated that her husband had been a successful writer, she would not talk about the past, only mundane present-day matters, so I never had the chance to her some of the great anecdotes she should surely have been able to share.

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