Sydney Tremayne was born in Ayr in 1912, son of the house steward of Ayr district asylum. The family lived in Park Circus, and Sydney and his sister attended Ayr Academy, where, at the age of 11, a teacher showed him that he could write verse – which was a talent he continued to develop, at the same time reading as much poetry as he could. The orderliness of both home and school life came to an end when Tremayne was fifteen and his father, having left the asylum job, bought a hotel in Harrogate. The dislocation suffered by the family, especially by the Tremayne siblings in their teens, was just the start of their troubles. The hotel venture was not a happy one, and when it foundered and closed, Sydney, who had been a cub reporter on the Yorkshire Evening News, took jobs on newspapers in various parts of the North of England to support first his mother and sister, and then, at a remarkably young age, a wife of his own.
In 1938 he joined the Daily Mirror in London, (‘the wildest and noisiest newspaper in Fleet Street’, as he called it) where he became chief sub-editor, then leader writer, and apart from a spell on the Daily Herald, remained with the Mirror until the end of his career. During the war he served in the fire service. Tremayne returned to Scotland for his retirement years, living on the west coast near Gairloch, and died in Inverness at the beginning of June 1986.
In her appreciation of Tremayne in the Scottish Poetry Library’s newsletter (No. 8, 1987), Janet Caird says:
His poetry is for the most part quiet, meditative verse, drawing its imagery from the natural world, frequently from the sea. Did he find in the natural world a refuge from the busy grind of Fleet Street?
In his essay in As I Remember: ten Scottish authors recall how writing began for them (London: Robert Hale, 1979) Tremayne explains that the world opened out for him when at the age of thirteen he was presented with a bicycle, which gave him the freedom of the countryside. It was, he says, pure joy – an experience which irradiated his whole life. Though those early days of exploring the countryside around Ayr lasted only three years, until the move to Harrogate, the natural world remained much of the inspiration for, and the vehicle of, his writing. Charles Causley comments in his review of The Swans of Berwick in The Birmingham Post: ‘A poet very much of his time, and demonstrating under a deliberately flat skin of verse a passionately observant sensibility.’
Sydney Tremayne himself says, in As I Remember:
Having to deal day by day in prose with what John Betjeman calls ‘burning issues’, I was freed from the temptation of opinionated versifying: poetry of any interest to me is more subtle and does not have designs upon an audience.
His poems appeared in many periodicals, including The New Statesman and The Spectator, and they were also broadcast by the BBC. His first book Time and the Wind drew a rather damning review from the Times Literary Supplement in 1949, but by 1955 critics were lauding the poet’s development. The Turning Sky (1969) received a Scottish Arts Council Award.
Janet Caird finished her brief obituary of him in the Scottish Poetry Library’s newsletter with this sentence – which is perhaps still true: ‘Sydney Tremayne’s subtle and perceptive poetry has not yet achieved the appreciation it merits.’