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Joss and Rosemary Ackland - A Pitlochry Love Story


Joss Ackland and Rosemary Kirkcaldy fell in love on the stage during their performances at Pitlochry Festival Theatre’s debut season in 1951, and it was a love that would last the ages. 

It was a time when audiences were referred to as playgoers, ladies were respectfully requested to remove their hats, and matinees cost £2.30. The debut summer season of Scotland’s Theatre in the Hills was 1951. With Mary of Scotland, Macbeth, Susannah and the Elders, Comrade the King and Brief Glory on the programme, the brainchild of visionary John Stewart, Pitlochry Festival Theatre, opened its tented doors. 

A series of programmes from the 1951 Summer Season

A signed copy of the 1951 Mary Rose programme by Rosemary Kirkcaldy, Joss Ackland and Producer, Andrew Leigh

But it was Scottish playwright J.M. Barrie’s Mary Rose production that would unite two unknown stage stars on a path towards their shared future. The haunting and moving tale would see Joss Ackland cast as Simon Blake opposite Rosemary Kirkcaldy as the titular Mary Rose. The on-stage chemistry between Ackland and Kirkcaldy may have been renowned but Ackland’s affections were at first vehemently unrequited with Kirkcaldy famously stating, ‘I wouldn’t marry you if you were the last man on earth. Ackland, however, was not to be deterred and they would marry later that August in Pitlochry’s Holy Trinity Church. 

As Pitlochry Festival Theatre grew from a tented site to a permanent home in Port na Craig, so too did Ackland’s career. From his beginnings in the Scottish Highlands, consummate actor Ackland worked across disciplines and shone for his powerful performances. He would go on to star internationally in stage productions, including as Juan Peron in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Evita as well as work with Alec Guinness on the small screen and Mel Gibson on the big screen. In all, he starred in over 170 film, radio and television roles.

But according to Joss, it was his lifelong romance with Rosemary that was his greatest accomplishment. This enduring love story would give them seven children, 34 grandchildren and 30 great-grandchildren before Rosemary’s death in 2002.  

After her death, Joss kept her memory alive by publishing a series of her journals in 2010, My Better Half And Me, interweaving Rosemary’s diaries with his commentary and revealing that despite filming around the world throughout his life, he and Rosemary, ‘were hardly ever apart’. That same year, he returned to where it all began, Pitlochry Festival Theatre, to speak of his new publication at the annual Winter Words Festival spotlighting Scottish authors and returning Joss full circle to where his lifelong romance began.  

Ackland died this past November 2023 at the age of 95. Joss Ackland and Rosemary Kirkcaldy’s story is woven into the history of Pitlochry and the Pitlochry Festival Theatre with a love story that endures, inspires and contributes to the unique landscape that make up the 73-year history of the Scottish Theatre in the Hills.  

Joss and Rosemary Ackland: My Better Half and Me, 2010, Ebury Press

Winter Words Festival 2010 featuring Joss Ackland