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The footballer who won an Oscar

Plenty of players have tried their hand in the movie business over the years but only one won an Oscar. Meet Neil Paterson, an inside-forward who became a Hollywood screenwriter.

Googie Withers and John McCallum, stars of Neil Paterson's 1953 film The Devil on Horseback
Googie Withers and John McCallum, stars of Neil Paterson's 1953 film The Devil on Horseback ©Getty Images

Plenty of players have sought work in the movie business after hanging up their boots, swapping floodlights for spotlights with varying degrees of success. But only one has won an Oscar. Step forward, Neil Paterson.

Born on New Year's Eve in 1915 in Greenock, 30km west of Glasgow, Paterson trained as a solicitor at the University of Edinburgh but his heart was always set on other things. A keen footballer, he began turning out for Buckie Thistle in the far north of Scotland and then came south for a stint at Leith Athletic.

Made for warmth: football kits in 1936
Made for warmth: football kits in 1936©Getty Images

He later caught the attention of Dundee United, who signed the inside-left in 1936 and made him captain despite him turning down the chance to turn professional. After nine goals in 26 second-tier appearances, including a hat-trick, he sought pastures new as a sports journalist with another Dundee institution: publishers DC Thomson.

The Second World War and a spell in the navy precipitated another career change for Paterson as he started writing novels to some acclaim – celebrated novelist Somerset Maugham named China Run his book of 1948. Two years later came Behold thy Daughter, a bestseller, before his professional wanderlust took hold again.

Simone Signoret
Simone Signoret©Getty Images

One of his short stories, Scotch Settlement, the tale of two young boys in Canada stealing a baby when their father refused them a dog, became a screenplay and the resulting film, The Kidnappers, was a hit of 1953. It brought Honorary Oscars for its two young leads.

Six years later came Room at the Top, which picked up six Oscar nominations and won two – Simone Signoret was best actress and Paterson himself landed the best adapted screenplay award for his work on John Braine's original novel.

The man once described as "the best storyteller Scotland has produced since [Robert Louis] Stevenson" returned home soon after, content to play golf, fish and impart his wisdom on various arts councils. He died in 1995, aged 79.