Obituary: David Nicholson Beeton, costume designer and museum tour guide

David Beeton
David Beeton
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Born: 17 May, 1952, in Dumfries. Died: 20 February, 2013, in Edinburgh, aged 60

Excusing his lack of facility with a new mobile phone, David Beeton, who died suddenly at the age of 60, said: “I may not be technical, but I can sew a button on in seconds and run up a ball gown before lunch.” A talented costume designer, David would counsel on life’s travails in his customary flamboyant style: “There’s nothing that can’t be fixed with yards of gingham.”

Born in Dumfries, David read for a degree in Fine Art at the University of Edinburgh, and while there developed his interest in theatre costumes. Initially part-time while studying and then full-time after graduating, he was a cutter for the Royal Lyceum, King’s and Traverse theatres in Edinburgh and the Citizens’ and Scottish Youth theatres in Glasgow.

But it was during his 15 years at the BBC that David’s talents came into their own. He worked on many comedy productions including Rev IM Jolly, City Lights, Naked Video, Para Handy and Rab C Nesbitt, indeed becoming custodian of the latter’s legendary semmit.

By this time he had developed a special interest and skills in the restoration, conservation and recreation of period costume styles, ranging from Jacobean to the contemporary, and working on productions such as Yellowback (directed by Roy Battersby), and – a high point in his BBC career – a Bafta finalist for his work on Beatrix Potter – The Early Life, directed by Mike Healy.

Sadly, in one of many savage cost-cutting exercises at the BBC, several departments were closed down including David’s, and thus much home-based talent was squandered. It was not the BBC’s finest hour and, like many others in the same position, David was very saddened by what amounted to the ending of his career, and he left the business permanently.

Not for him the vicissitudes of freelance work or the move to another farther away place – he loved Edinburgh and his home and friends there and so was reluctant to give it up.

After leaving the BBC David spent three years at AD Mackenzie leather goods shop in Edinburgh, where his talents were very much in evidence with some pretty impressive window displays.

The last 13 years were spent at the National Museums of Scotland, where he conducted people around as a more than usually well-informed visitor service assistant and tour guide, the latter a part of the job he loved and was very accomplished at.

It must have been extra frustrating to man of his knowledge, talents and experience when the tour guide duties were removed from the job in a management restructure just before a major refurbishment of the buildings.

David loved the arts and was an avid film fan and regular at Edinburgh’s Filmhouse cinema, where he enjoyed and shared with his many friends screenings of such favourites as The Apartment, South Pacific, Summer Madness, The Bad and the Beautiful, Double Indemnity and The Women – a seemingly endless list – and he could and did quote from them extensively and amusingly. At a recent sing-along of Calamity Jane at the Filmhouse, at the moment the song Secret Love played he held up a placard bearing the name “Ryan Giggs”, a very topical gag which got a huge laugh from the audience.

Also paraphrasing Coral Browne in one of his favourite films, The Killing of Sister George, any time he took a cab home after a night’s carousing he would always refer to having “boarded a taxi in an advanced state of inebriation”.

A convivial, generous person and a great entertainer, David held many fun gatherings at his wonderfully flamboyant flat in Edinburgh’s High Street. The upstairs had a beautifully quirky eagle’s eyrie where couples could have idle chatters or more in-depth heart-to-hearts.

Everywhere in this splendid apartment his penchant for fabrics and décor was very much in evidence. Lunches for six or so people were also frequent: with a staple music selection, the latter invariably including Eartha Kitt, Peggy Lee and Alma Cogan to name but three, they would typically start at 12.30pm and go on probably too long.

He once referred to them as “candle-lit lunches” and on at least one occasion had to change the candles at a late hour.

In 2011 he held a royal wedding party, and guests’ first taste of the party upstairs was a wedding train which was threaded through the balustrade from the street level all the way to the fourth and top floor where it was wrapped around a regally dressed mannequin.

David was a talented, colourful, fun, caring and irresistible person, and a light has gone out in the lives of those who knew him – he will be very greatly missed.

He is survived by his sister Edith, his previous long term partner Gerry and his more recent partner and companion Phillip.