* BARBARA Kinghorn was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, of Scottish

parents. In the early sixties, at the age of 17, she became South

African Highland Dancing Champion and travelled to Scotland to compete

in the Highland Games. On her return home she began a very successful

career in the theatre, winning the Actress of the Year Award in 1973. In

1975 she left South Africa and came to live in Britain, where she very

quickly made a name for herself on the West End stage, on television and

as a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company. In 1985 she started her

own company, Stage by Stage, which she now runs as well as travelling

extensively in the United States lecturing on the theatre and giving

master classes. The following is an edited extract from the opening

chapters of her first book, the remarkable autobiography Miss McKirdy's

Daughters Will Now Dance the Highland Fling, in which she tells the

compelling and heart-rending story of an eccentric, tragic and

indomitable Scottish family.

MISS McKirdy lives with her three daughters, Jilly, Annie and me, in a

Dutch-gabled house on the outskirts of Johannesburg. The corrugated iron

roof is painted red and the bricks are the colour of dried blood. The

house is guarded by four strong palm trees and surrounded by a perimeter

fence of stone and spiky steel. Our father lives with us, sort of.

The most important thing in our house is Highland dancing. My mother

and Auntie Edie teach it and we three girls are champions at it. (I won

my first medal when I was three years and four months old.) We practise

every day and go to classes three times a week. My mother has founded

the Highland Dancing Association of the Transvaal and is on the South

African Official Board of Highland Dancing (which is affiliated to the

Scottish Board of Control). She also teaches elocution. My father is

bored to death by it all.

Jilly's dancing reminds me of the way Daddy eats his porridge. Neat,

measured mouthfuls -- but instead of sprinkling sugar on top he insists

on salt. Jilly is what Mummy calls a ''technician''. She likes to get

her foot in exactly the right position on her leg and her precision

placing in the Sword Dance is famous. She says the Sword Dance is her

favourite because it's logical like maths, which is her best school

subject. One thing she absolutely refuses to do is smile. The Highland

Fling is about joy, so when you dance it you should show people just how

happy and victorious you are. Showing facial expression is something new

they started doing in the colonies; the purists in Scotland don't

believe in it.

Jilly and Annie and I must have won over a thousand medals and

trophies between us. When Mummy used to dance she won hundreds, too. In

those days in Johannesburg, the medals she won were made of 18-carat

gold, and she also won tea-sets, tortoise-shell hairbrushes, leather

suitcases, clocks, and all sorts of things that go in display cabinets.

I love the way Annie dances, everyone does. Mummy and Auntie Edie

shout: ''Be more accurate with your positions!'' But when Annie gets

going she couldn't care less about technique, all she thinks of is

having a wonderful time. She smiles and flings her legs and leaps. She's

like a young buck running free. Maybe that's how they danced the first

Highland Fling. I don't know how I dance. Mummy says I'm a jelly, which

makes me cry, and then she says: ''What do you expect -- bouquets?''

We go to Highland dancing on Wednesdays and Fridays after school from

two until six, and Saturday mornings from eight until 12. There are

other dancing studios in Arts House but ours is the only one teaching

Highland and Irish dancing. The others teach exciting things like

ballet, tap and Spanish. They have pretty costumes and learn lots of

different dances. We just practise the same ones over and over again. I

get so sick of it all.

I'm also so sick of the lectures about ''sacrifice'', ''the family

name'', and ''duty''. Mummy is always telling us how ''dancing sprang

from man's natural emotions''. It doesn't feel like that when you're

doing the toe and heel step for the twentieth time. She says the

conquering Highlanders crossed their swords in triumph and danced over

them. I'm sure it wouldn't have mattered to them if they'd kicked their

swords. But if we so much as even touch ours we're disqualified from the


In the afternoons and at night we have private lessons at home. Mummy

teaches us in the front room or the kitchen. When we're learning to

smile Mummy always says: ''Copy Annie. People love that smile.''

Jilly can't and won't do it. Jilly's a great giggler but only when it

comes naturally and not to order. I can do it but it makes my lips


GRANNY MAC is my mother's mother. She lives in a mine house on

theRobinson Deep gold-mine with her daughter, Aunt Edie, and her son,

Uncle Rob, and his wife, Betty. They have a son who's already grown up

and gone away.

Granny hates Betty and Betty hates her. They've stayed together in the

same house for over 20 years without ever talking to each other.

They live separate lives in their bedrooms. Nobody ever goes into the

sitting-room. The bathroom isn't used very often either. Granny thinks

cleanliness is next godliness but too much washing destroys the natural

oils in your skin. Betty never washes because she hates to waste money

on soap. Granny thinks she's disgusting. Uncle Rob washes in the

gold-mine after work.

WE ARE Scots. Mummy and Daddy were born in Scotland. We are

Presbyterians, Calvinists, living in a Calvinist land. But Mummy earns

her daily bread working for Catholic nuns. And Daddy earns his working

for Jews. We three Protestant girls are educated at the convent where

Miss McKirdy started teaching when she was 18 years old. We have to be

grateful that Mummy teaches there because the nuns give her a special

rate -- three for the price of one.

Mummy is very good at lying to the nuns. ''Remember you are

Protestants,'' she always says to us. ''You're not to believe all that

Catholic nonsense. Just do as the nuns tell you, because you're well

brought-up girls.''

In my photograph album I have a Kodak snapshot of Jilly, Annie and me

-- Daddy's three smart girls. We are standing in the miniature Japanese

gardens in Durban dressed in our McGregor tartan kilts, white

hand-crocheted socks, cream satin blouses and black patent-leather

shoes. Our hair is clean and shining and cut-in the page-boy style. We

are smiling.

AT THE outbreak of the First World War Miss McKirdy was nine years

old. She stood on the steps of the Johannesburg city hall, dressed in a

red velvet coat trimmed with swansdown and recited, ''You're a better

man than I am Gunga Din'' so movingly that scores of young men dashed

off to the recruiting office to join the army. Years later she would say

to us: ''In my whole life that is the one thing I wish I'd never done.''

Miss McKirdy and my father were introduced to each other at the

Johannesburg Caledonian Society. Right from the start Granny Mac

disliked him. She thought him too old, too much of a drinker and from

the wrong part of Glasgow. She tried her best to stop my mother seeing

him but Miss McKirdy, like her sister Mary, had a mind of her own. Mary

had defied Granny and run away with a Cockney bus conductor called Alf

and Granny never saw them again. She didn't push too hard because Mummy

was her favourite daughter and anyway Daddy was, at least, a Scot.

Mummy believed it was her duty to stay with her parents for as long as

she could and insisted on a five-year engagement while she saved up

enough money to pay for her own wedding. Years later she would say to

us: ''Every woman should have a nest-egg that her husband doesn't know


However, her nest-egg was only half laid when a nasty rumour spread

through the Scottish fraternity. It was whispered that her fiance

already had a wife and children in Scotland.

When the gossip reached Granny Mac, she packed a bag, took a train to

Cape Town and set sail for Scotland on a Union Castle mail ship. She

also had a nest-egg her husband didn't know about.

Granny Mac's, seven-week fact-finding mission was twofold. If the

rumour proved true she would be able to put a stop to the wedding. If

not, she would at least have cleared her daughter's name.

On arrival in Glasgow she took a taxi to the address she'd been given

and demanded to be told the truth. It turned out that it was my father's

brother, Ian, who was married with three children. Satisfied, Granny Mac

sailed on the next ship back to Cape Town and took the train to

Johannesburg. She threatened to knock the teeth down the throat of any

person who ever mentioned it again.

Right from the very beginning, Daddy loathed Granny Mac. ''A bloody

old battle-axe,'' is what he called her. In fact, the only member of my

mother's family that Daddy liked was Grandpa Mac. He was a gentle man

who dealt with Granny Mac by following a policy of passive resistance.

She punished his placidity by refusing to talk to him, sometimes keeping

up the silence for as long as two years, communicating only through

their children.

However badly he was treated at home, Grandpa Mac was respected at

work. Whenever there was a seemingly insoluble problem, the bosses would

send someone to the workshops to ''fetch Mac'' . . .

He had started work in Scotland at the age of 11 and was what was

known as a ''half-timer''; half-day at school, half-day down the coal

mines. By the age of 20 he was working in John Brown's shipyard on the

Clyde, where they were building the Queen Mary and many other great

liners. The propellers on the Lusitania were made by a team led by my

Grandpa Mac. He had no degrees after his name but, in our family, he was

always referred to as ''your grandfather -- who built the propellers on

the Lusitania''.

By the time Grandpa Mac was 30 his lungs were so damaged that he was

told to emigrate to a warm, dry climate. He left Granny Mac and their

five children in Glasgow and set sail for sunny South Africa where the

Witwatersrand gold-mines were snapping up Scots. They needed men with

the courage to go down in cages, 6000 feet below the ground, to crawl

through tunnels no more than two feet wide, to drill the rockface and

bring up the gold which was then melted, moulded and locked up again, in

vaults underground.

DADDY has a birth certificate but he doesn't have a mother He has a

stepmother who is also his aunt. His mother died when he was two and his

older brother was three. Almost immediately his father, Grandpa James,

married his mother's sister.

Daddy is very fond of saying that he was treated like a bloody servant

by his stepmother. He always calls her ''she''. While ''she'' had babies

and their father worked, the two wee boys did all the fetching and


He does have some happy memories though of those early days in

Glasgow, most of them to do with funerals. He enjoyed riding up front

with the driver on the horse-drawn hearse each time ''she'' lost another

child (six in all).

After his demob from the Royal Navy in 1919, my father couldn't find

work in Glasgow and took the boat to South Africa where he got a job

electrifying a town called Vereeniging, which means ''union''.

His letters home to Scotland were full of enthusiasm for life in what

he called ''the land of milk and honey''. So much so that his father and

stepmother packed up their few possessions and set sail, too, taking

with them their few surviving younger children.

MY MOTHER is 40 when she finds herself pregnant with me, Just when she

thought all ''that'' was over. At first she mistakes me for the change

of life. But she is experienced enough to recognise a foetal kick when

she gets one. With a sinking heart she remembers a particular night the

previous March when it had turned unexpectedly chilly and she and Daddy

had cuddled up.

On November 21, 1944, as the Allies advanced across Europe, Miss

McKirdy gives birth to a third daughter in the front bedroom of the

Dutch-gabled house. I am no beauty. Years later, Mummy will say: ''I

really can't remember when you were born, dear. It may have been in the

morning. But I do remember your Granny Mac looking at you and saying,

'This one's been here before'.''

* [CPYR]Barbara Kinghorn 1995. Extracted from Miss McKirdy's Daughters

Will Now Dance the Highland Fling, published by Black Swan at #5.99. All

Rights Reserved. Barbara Kinghorn will be reading from her work at James

Thin's bookshop, 57 George Street, Edinburgh, at 6.30 this evening.