It may be Burns Night tonight (25 January, the annual celebration in Scotland of life of the bard Robert Burns) but another poet named Robert had an equal global following.
This other ‘Ayrshire poet’ was Robert W Service who was born in Preston on 16 January 16 1874.
Robert Service wrote the biggest selling poem in history. Yet, who in Preston remembers him now?
Scots around the world celebrate Burns Night at the end of January and in the west of Canada the people of Whitehorse gather for a dinner to honour a man they call the Bard of the Yukon.
His family came from the town of Kilwinning in Scotland where his father was a bank clerk, later to be posted to a bank in Preston. Robert was born in the town but later moved with the family to Kilwinning and then to Glasgow to follow his father into banking.
Robert had a sense of adventure that lead him to explore British Columbia and the Yukon region in Canada and it was the wilderness of the countryside that inspired his poem the Shooting of Dan McGrew which went on to earn him half a million pounds.
His earnings from his published poems and articles allowed him to leave the bank and tour Europe. During the war years Hollywood had him join with other celebrities in helping the morale of troops – visiting US Army camps to recite his poems.
It was said that “no other poet, save Burns, has enjoyed such wide appeal with the common man”. Indeed, he may well have been the most widely read poet of the century. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother was known to be a fan of his work.
In the Autumn of 1958 while staying at his villa in Brittany, Robert Service “the world’s most commercially successful poet” contracted flu and he passed away at the age of 84.