Obituary: Leon Sinden, actor

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Born: 20 July, 1927, in Sussex. Died: 4 November, 2015, in Perth, aged 88

Leon Sinden was a scion of the famous theatrical family – brother of Sir Donald and uncle to Marc and Jeremy. He may not have enjoyed the high profile of his brother but Leon Sinden became a well-known and much-loved figure at the Pitlochry Festival Theatre (PFT) and many other Scottish theatres for more than 50 years. Indeed, such was his devotion to Pitlochry that Sinden inaugurated an annual award for the best supporting actor or actress as voted for by the Festival’s audiences.

Sinden was often seen on Scottish television dramas – most memorably several roles in Dr Finlay’s Casebook, Scotch on the Rocks, Sutherland’s Law, Taggart and as Glendarroch’s grandee George Carradine in STV’s soap The High Road.

John Durnin, the artistic director of PFT, told The Scotsman yesterday: “Leon was cherished by the audiences, staff and the actors at PFT. He was never ambitious for himself but was ambitious to remain at the top of his game as an actor and for the PFT.

“He was meticulous in his preparation for a role (and, indeed, in his personal life) and had a passion for playing Oscar Wilde – Leon relished Wilde’s sense of detail and language: he is fondly remembered at Pitlochry for his Lord Caversham in An Ideal Husband.

“Leon was always a true gentleman, in the very best sense of that word, courteous, generous, enthusiastic and supportive of the newer generations of actors. The last night of the Summer Season will never be quite the same again.”

Leon Fuller Sinden was brought up in East Ditchling in Sussex, where his father was the local chemist. Sinden showed a keen interest in the theatre and performed at army camps in and around Brighton during the war while still at school.

After the war he worked with various repertory theatres and then in 1949 joined the famous Wilson Barrett Company, which toured all the main theatres in Scotland and did seasons in Edinburgh at the Royal Lyceum and the Gateway Theatre.

His first role was in Philip King’s play See How They Run in 1949 and three years later Sinden was a suitably anxious Earnest Worthing in Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. He was in the company’s final performance, The Corn is Green, at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow in August 1955. Also in the company in those years were such future stars as Edith MacArthur, Tom Fleming and John Cairney but one of the great characters of the Wilson Barrett Company was Walter Carr. He and Sinden were partners on stage and in life and in 1955 they bought Kincarrathie House in Perth.

From 1955 Sinden was a regular at the Perth and Dundee Reps, appeared alongside Alec Guinness in Terence Rattigan’s play Ross in London’s West End and on Broadway with Leonard Rossiter in David Turner’s Semi-detached.

He was often cast in such TV dramas as The Avengers, Z Cars, Upstairs, Downstairs, Rough Justice and played James Callaghan in Suez 1956.

His connection with the PTF goes back to the 1965 season when the redoubtable Kenneth Ireland invited him to join the company. His roles over the years have included Anselme in The Miser, Colonel Lukyn in The Magistrate, The Duke in The Revenger’s Tragedy, Sir Peter Teazle in School for Scandal, Alquist in R.U.R., Lord Augustus Lorton in Lady Windermere’s Fan, Mr Codie in Dear Brutus and Mr Venables in What Every Woman Knows.

“All those roles were given with typical Sinden panache and style,” one Pitlochry regular recalled affectionately. “Leon was a generous and popular member of the PFT and very much a member of the Pitlochry family.”

The brothers occasionally worked together. As far back as 1950 they were in Pericles with Paul Scofield and most memorably in London Assurance on Broadway in which Donald delivered a rumbustious performance.

In 1994 they were in the Peter Hall’s production of She Stoops to Conquer, which remained a particular favourite for both.

There were also cameo roles for the brothers in a rather forgotten film called Rentadick, directed by Ned Sherrin .

A role for which Sinden was rightly acclaimed was Warnie in Shadowlands at Perth in 1992. The production marked the formidable Joan Knight’s farewell to the theatre she had done so much to establish and Sinden and Fleming gave outstanding performances in the two male lead roles.

Leon Sinden appeared at two Edinburgh Festivals.

In 1966 he was in The Burdies (adapted from the Aristophanes) with a host of leading Scottish actors, including Fulton Mackay and Duncan Macrae, and in 1985 he was in Sydney Goodsir Smith’s epic The Wallace directed by Fleming.

Away from the stage Sinden enjoyed listening to classical music and hunting through antique shops. Walter Carr died in 1998.