Obituary: Alan Cochrane, award-winning playwright and champion of People’s Theatre
BORN: 19 March, 1931, in Edinburgh. Died: 7 October 2012, in Edinburgh, aged 81
Growing up in 1930s Leith, his fervent imagination fuelled by local tales, proved the perfect incubator for Alan Cochrane’s latent comic writing talents.
Combined with catching the theatre bug as a schoolboy, plus his ability as a raconteur, it was only a matter of time before performing gave way to directing and scripting his own plays.
By the 1960s, having discovered he’d performed all the good Scots comedies available, he decided to write his own. Drawing on his heritage he penned Ne’er the Twain, set in a tenement flat on the Edinburgh-Leith border on the eve of the two areas’ merger in 1920.
He followed it up with five others, all of them award- winners and, in tandem with his day job, enjoyed a theatrical career that took him from the Schools Theatre Company to the Edinburgh Fringe and Gleneagles – as an extravagantly dressed Father Christmas.
The son of a baker, he attended Edinburgh’s Broughton School where his talents were requested by the Schools Theatre Co which was performing Mary Rose by JM Barrie.
He then spent his two years’ national service in the Royal Navy and, on his return to civvy street in 1953, was approached by the Edinburgh People’s Theatre (EPT) to appear in Clandestine Marriage. Two years later he joined EPT to go to the Felixstowe Drama Festival before taking part in the Scottish Community Drama Association’s One Act Festival where their performance of Who Loves Morag went on to win the British Festival of One Act Plays.
His talents also encompassed directing with his production of JB Priestley’s When We Are Married winning the British 3 Act Festival.
Having met his wife, Maureen, on the stage at EPT in 1958, they then became theatrical buddies. Over the years he played her husband, brother and father, though it took them more than a decade to marry after becoming best friends through that first meeting.
Cochrane, who attended Edinburgh University’s drama department in the mid 1960s and 1970s, was by now thinking about writing his own play, a project that came to fruition in 1971 when EPT premiered Ne’er The Twain. He followed it with The De’il’s Awa in 1972, Scots Wha Hae in 1974 and The Campbells Are Comin’ in 1977.
A passionate and industrious worker in the theatre in his spare time, in his day job he was an insurance company underwriter, an occupation that hardly filled him with enthusiasm. Not a born insurance man, it was something of a relief when he was made redundant in his mid-1950s. After a period of unemployment, he was delighted to be accepted into the Civil Service at Edinburgh’s Meadowbank House, working with the Registers of Scotland where he loved delving into the old records and became involved as a director of the Civil Service drama group.
In the 1990s, Cochrane, who was also a director with a drama club in Davidson’s Mains, along with his wife discovered musical theatre and their artistic careers began to move in a new direction. They had a joyous Edinburgh Festival Fringe appearing in Into The Woods and vowed only to perform in musicals from then on.
A few months later Cochrane suffered a heart attack that marked the start of his decline into ill health but he continued to write and perform. For several years he and Maureen spent Christmas Day playing Mother and Father Christmas at Gleneagles and in 1998 his play Hatches, Matches and Dispatches won and Edinburgh Fringe First award. His final work, The Fairmer Wants A Wife, premiered in 2000.
A life member of EPT, this August he featured as Personality of the Month in the theatre’s newsletter following the decision to reprise his first play, Ne’er The Twain, for the fourth time during the Fringe. Although ill in hospital he was allowed out to attend the last performance, a Saturday matinee. He received a huge round of applause when the audience discovered he was present and was congratulated by his consultant who had taken the afternoon off to see the production. Sharp-witted and amusing, with an ability to reduce a room to tears of laughter in an instant, he was also patient and generous, working hard to elicit the performances he wanted from his cast.
“In many ways we received a training from Alan that would not have gone amiss at any acting school,” said EPT president Irene Beaver. “Any stage craft I have learned is due to Alan and his wife Maureen.
“Actor, director and writer – Alan helped to shape Edinburgh People’s Theatre into the successful amateur drama club it is today and we thank him for it. EPT will never forget Alan Cochrane and his legacy.”
He is survived by his wife Maureen and extended family.
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