Isla Cameron

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Isla Cameron
Born March 5, 1930
Died 1980 (aged 49–50)
Genres Folk
Occupation(s) Actress, singer
Years active 1945-1980

Isla Cameron (March 5, 1930–May 1980) was a Scottish actress and singer.

Isla was born in Scotland but was brought up in Dorset and Somerset. While trying to become an actress she joined Joan Littlewood who had co-founded the Theatre Workshop in 1945. Joan’s husband at the time, Ewan MacColl was to become Isla’s singing partner for much of the 50s. Peter Kennedy produced a series of Sunday morning BBC radio programs from 1953 – 54, called As I Roved Out. Two of these were later issued on the Folktrax label, with Isla singing three folk songs, Seamus Ennis playing uilliann pipes and tin whistle, Ewan MacColl singing some songs and Ron and Bob Copper also singing. In 1956 she appeared in another radio program Ballads and Blues: Sea Music. In 1960 “The Singers Club” opened in “The Princess Louise” pub in Holborn. It was run by Ewan and his new wife, Peggy Seeger. Isla became a resident at this folk club, but by this point her film career had taken off.

Isla the actress

In 1959 Isla appeared, uncredited, in the film Room at the Top. Her most memorable cinematic moment was in 1961 in the spooky thriller The Innocents where she imitated a child’s voice and sang the traditional song “Oh, Willow Waly”. The composer Georges Auric incorporated her singing into the orchestral soundtrack. Another horror film, Nightmare, followed in 1964. She acted in the 1967 version of Far From the Madding Crowd but her contribution was left on the cutting room floor. However, her voice appears on the soundtrack album, singing “Bushes and Briars” (Julie Christie is miming) and “The Bold Grenadier”. Trevor Lucas, later to become the husband of Sandy Denny also sings on the album, and Dave Swarbrick plays some of the tunes. Her biggest acting role was as the stern librarian Miss McKenzie in the 1969 version of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie where she could use her Scottish accent to advantage.

Isla the folk singer

In 1956 Cameron released a solo album of British folk songs, Through Bushes and Briars, on the Tradition label run by Patrick Clancy of The Clancy Brothers. In 1962 Cameron and Tony Britton recorded Songs of Love, Lust and Loose Living. The following year Peter Kennedy recorded her singing with accompaniment by Jack Armstrong on Northumbrian pipes. She sang songs by Bob Dylan and Bertold Brecht but rarely sang after 1966, when acting took over her life. She died in an accident in her home in 1980.


Solo albums

  • Through Bushes and Briars (Songs from the British Isles) (1956, Tradition Records)
  • Best of Isla Cameron" (1962, Prestige International)
  • Isla Cameron (1966)

Rory and Alex McEwen and Isla Cameron

  • Folksong Jubilee (HMV CLP 1220) (1958)

Ewan MacColl and Isla Cameron

  • Still I Love Him (1958, Topic Records, 10T50)

Isla Cameron and Tony Britton

  • Songs of Love, Lust and Loose Living (1962)

Isla Cameron and Louis Killen

  • "The Waters of Tyne" (1962, Prestige International)


  • "Poor Paddy Works on the Railway" (Ewan MacColl)/Cannily, Cannily (Isla Cameron) (1951 on Topic)
  • "Moses on the Mail" (Ewan MacColl)/ The Fireman’s not For Me (Isla Cameron) (1951 on Topic)

In 2009 The Fireman's Not For Me from the second single was included in Topic Records 70 year anniversary boxed set Three Score and Ten as track fifteen on the fourth CD.


  • Blackbirds and Thrushes (1959?)
  • English and Scottish Love Songs (1959?)
  • Folk songs: An Anthology. Topic Sampler 1 (1964)
  • The Best of Scottish Folk Music (1967)
  • 100 Folk Songs and New Songs (1968)
  • The Best of Scottish Folk (2000)

External links