HE was the firebrand nationalist and communist who was a towering figure in Scottish literature – the writer of A Drunk Man Looks At The Thistle, perhaps the greatest Scottish poem of the 20th century.

She was the creator of that quintessentially English character Mary Poppins, but was actually an Australian who loved Celtic history and had both male and female lovers in an unconventional life.

Until now, no-one knew about the relationship between Hugh MacDiarmid and PL Travers, but today The National publishes the product of research by Scottish author and playwright Jennifer Morag Henderson showing how the two literary giants were linked.

Henderson, whose biography of Scottish author Josephine Tey was recently published to critical acclaim, found the intriguing link while researching that book.

In her essay, published exclusively today in The National, she provides conclusive evidence that MacDiarmid both met and admired Travers even before she wrote Mary Poppins.

Pamela Lyndon Travers, who was born Helen Lyndon Goff in Australia in 1899, had emigrated to England in 1924 after making her name as an actress with a touring Shakespeare company.

On arrival in London she moved in literary circles and penned her first works, mostly journalistic pieces, under the pen name PL Travers.

She loved Irish literature and was part of a group that included the Irish poet and political activist Oliver St John Gogarty.

He in turn wrote about her to MacDiarmid, real name Christopher Murray Grieve, who met Travers in London in 1932, two years before she wrote the first of eight novels about Mary Poppins.

Sadly we do not know what Travers thought about MacDiarmid, who intriguingly referred to the fact that he met her while going through the painful divorce from his first wife Peggy Skinner.

Travers was played by Emma Thompson in the recent film Saving Mr Banks. As yet, no-one has made a film of MacDiarmid’s extraordinary life as it would probably need to be 10 hours long.

Professor of Scottish literature at Glasgow University and regular National contributor Alan Riach says it is a “pleasing thought” that MacDiarmid and Travers knew each other.

He said: “I guess we shouldn’t be surprised by anything that MacDiarmid got up to – he’s still capable of making front page news while we’re still trying to catch up with him.

“It’ll probably take another generation or three before we get there. Meantime, there’s plenty yet unearthed.

“We know, for example, that he was personally friendly with Patrick Geddes, who chaired one of the first public readings MacDiarmid gave of his own poems, and whom he acknowledged as the pioneer who inspired his own idea of a Scottish ‘renaissance’. Geddes had used the term in the 1890s. MacDiarmid was simply regenerating it.

“But if you build in the connections with Yeats and Gogarty, whom MacDiarmid met in Dublin, and the connection from there back through Geddes to Rabindranath Tagore, you can trace a network of connection between the idea of cultural and political rejuvenation that links Scotland, Ireland, and the Bengal Renaissance that Tagore led – so the ideals of Indian independence (August 15, 1947), Irish republicanism, and whatever Scotland might yet aspire to, are not as far away from each other as they at first appear.

“As for children’s literature, MacDiarmid’s friend the poet William Soutar insisted that the Scotland they both wanted to help bring into being would come with children growing up with better ideas of what the future could be. Soutar’s ‘bairnrhymes’ were intended to help that happen.

“MacDiarmid didn’t write a lot of verse for children but The Bubblyjock and The Old Men of the Sea are little Scots masterpieces of their kind. So it’s a pleasing thought that Mary Poppins and Hugh MacDiarmid shared a smile at the very least. After all, Schoenberg used to play tennis with the Marx brothers. Imagine that.

“Or, if you really want to stretch the mind, let’s speculate on the correspondence that is yet to be discovered, if it exists, between MacDiarmid and Enid Blyton. Could there be such a thing?”

Mary Poppins and Hugh MacDiarmid — truly whaur extremes meet