25 things you may not know about Rabbie Burns

Robert Burns25 January is a significant date for any Scots because, of course, it is the date The Caledonian Mercury first came into being. There’s another birthday attached to some poet, who has the occasional dinner thrown in his honour.

To celebrate Burns Night, BBC Radio 2’s Friday night Arts Show hosted by Claudia Winkleman travelled to the new Burns museum in Alloway, which is being opened by Liz Lochhead today, the same day the programme airs. The report is on around 11.15pm but you can catch it on iPlayer for a week afterwards.

Here are – what other number would do? – 25 lesser spotted facts about our most enduring international sensation. Some you may know, others you may not.

1. The Soviet Union was the first country in the world to honour the man with a commemorative stamp in 1956.

2. The world’s first Burns Supper was held at Burns Cottage in 1801.

3. Burns had the “honour” of being the first person to feature on the side of a Coke bottle, the only occasion to date where Coca-Cola have designated a design to one nation.

4. At pedestrian crossings in Japan, the sound indicating that a walker can cross is a rendition of Coming Through The Rye.

5. The annual Kremlin Burns Supper is televised.

6. US president Abraham Lincoln could recite Burns’ works by heart.

7. In 1996, a musical chronicling his life called Red Red Rose won third place at a competition for new musicals in Denmark.

8. Burns was played by John Barrowman. (Do not click on this if you are easily offended … by shiny suits.)

9. Early visitors to Burns Cottage included John Keats and William Wordsworth.

10· “The awkward squad”, “Man’s inhumanity to Man”, and “the best laid schemes of mice and men” – these phrases all originate in Burns’s poetry, the last inspiring the title for John Steinbeck’s most famous book.

11. In 2008, Michael Jackson was reported to be teaming up with his mate David Gest, one of the former Mr Liza Minnellis, to produce an album of Burns poetry. It was unreleased, which avoided making countless thousands mourn.

12. The same year, Bob Dylan picked Burns’s A Red, Red Rose when HMV asked him for a lyric for their My Inspiration series. Dylanologists and Burns aficianados would have recalled the My Heart’s in the Highlands nod from His Bobness on 1997’s Time Out of Mind album.

13. Newsnight’s Jeremy Paxman is less of a fan, describing him as “a king of sentimental doggerel”.

14. Burns’s work has been translated into Mongolian, Faroese and Esperanto – among many other languages

15. Robert Burns’s wore his hair in a pony tail in defiance of his father as a teenager. No-one’s saying he was perfect.

16. Burns fathered at least 13 different children by four different women. Again, see above.

17. Burns’ foot size was a size 8 – we know that because the museum in Alloway has a perfectly preserved pair of his monogrammed socks

18. There are more public statues of Robert Burns around the world than any other writer

19. Despite being a hugely popular poet, Burns’s net worth on his death was calculated at just £1.

20. A Man’s a Man for a’ That was chosen to open the Scottish Parliament

21. In 2009 (when the Alloway Museum was originally scheduled to open), the Homecoming Scotland campaign celebrated Burns’ 250th birthday with an all-star singalong – of a song by someone else: Dougie Maclean’s Caledonia.

22. James Boswell’s son, Alexander, convened the committee to build Alloway’s Burns Monument but never saw it open as he was killed in a duel before it could be completed

23. Formed in 1814, Burns Monument Trust was the world’s earliest literary heritage organisation, predating the Shakespeare Trust by 32 years.

24. The Burns-penned Auld Lang Syne has appeared in well over 170 Hollywood films including The Apartment, It’s A Wonderful Life and When Harry Met Sally.

25. In 2009, an STV poll voted Burns the Greatest Ever Scot above William Wallace, Alexander Fleming, Jock Stein and fifth-place David Tennant.

  • Why oh why is Claudia Winkleman hosting a Burns night programme?! Is no programme sacrosanct?
    Does your ‘heritage’ section know how to spell ‘blouter’? Meaning spend/throw away wastefully? Have a Scots Dialect Dictionary (1911) where a few ‘different’ blouters are mentioned (with different spellings). Have used it this am. in my blog as I think it aptly describes the wasteful and extravagant manner in which Newlabour treated the countries finances.

    • Jimmy the One

      Pardon my ignorance, but who the hell is Claudia Winleman? Ought I know?

  • Top Cat

    Re No.4 “At pedestrian crossings in Japan, the sound indicating that a walker can cross is a rendition of Coming Through The Rye.” True, but not at all crossings. Here’s a clip of a rather jaunty Coming Through The Rye Japanese-style:


    And here’s a clip of the other, rather mournful, tune that’s also widely played at pedestrian crossings:


    That’s not the only tune associated with Burns that you’ll hear in Japan. The song Hotaru no Hikari (Light of Fireflies) is set to the usual tune of Auld Lang Syne. It tells of a student’s hardships and efforts in pursuit of knowledge, including studying by the light of fireflies. It’s a bit startling to suddenly hear this familiar tune played at a Japanese high school graduation ceremony! There’s a good explanation here:


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  • Who’s David Tennant?

  • McGyver

    Tolpuddlemartry – the Burns piece – presented by Ken Bruce – is just one 9 min element of The Radio 2 Arts Programme tonight, which I think is as an appropriate place as any to talk about Burns, no?

    For more info on what else is in the show, click here http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00xclt2


    McGyver (producer of said segment)

  • katie


  • katie

    good day