THE organisers of a major new Scottish art award have announced that the actress Maureen Beattie will present the prizes, worth £15,000, at a ceremony in Edinburgh in the New Year.
Artists have until 7 December to enter the W Gordon Smith Awards, launched to celebrate the life of the former Scotland on Sunday art and theatre critic, in association with the newspaper. Beattie, who collaborated with Smith on several occasions, this week paid tribute to him as an encourager of young artists.
She said: “It’s a privilege for me to presenting these awards. I adored Gordon, and I’m thrilled that this prize is happening in his name. As well as all the encouragement he gave to people like myself in the theatre world, he was always encouraging young painters and buying their work.”
Smith, who died in 1996, was also a distinguished author and filmmaker who wrote a number of successful plays and created revues for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in partnership with the actor and performer Russell Hunter.
Beattie said: “It’s quite hard to put Gordon into words. He was a massive personality, hugely welcoming, fantastically well-read, a real polymath, a renaissance man. He was also a fantastic writer. He was hugely generous and encouraging. Once he’d taken you in, you became part of the family. It’s not that you want people to tell you that you’re wonderful, but it’s great when somebody you admire says: ‘You know what? Job well done’.”
As well as appearing in revues such as The North British Working Man’s Guide to the Arts, and Coq au Leekie, Beattie was cast in the title role in Smith’s play Marie of Scotland, about the last 36 hours of the life of Mary Queen of Scots. “We performed it at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery,” she remembers. “My dressing room was a room where they stored a lot of expensive paintings. I just kept hoping I wouldn’t spill my face paint!
“We also performed it at Rothesay Castle on the 400th anniversary of Mary’s death in 1987. As I threw out my arms to say Mary’s last words, before I put my head on the block, there was a massive peal of thunder and lightning. I don’t know if that was Mary venting her disapproval or saying ‘I love this!’”
Writing in Scotland on Sunday in 1991, Smith paid glowing tribute to Beattie, whom he described as “one of the most exciting leading actors in British theatre”. Previewing a Traverse Theatre production of Jo Clifford’s Inés de Castro, which was due to open at London’s Riverside Studios with Beattie in the leading role, he explained that he addressed letters to her as “Dame Maureen” because he believed she could become “Scotland’s successor to Thorndike, Evans and Ashcroft”.
He wrote: “Her versatility as a performer was demonstrated at several Edinburgh Festivals when she moved effortlessly from lunchtime and late-night revue with Russell Hunter to the taxing emotional demands of Marie of Scotland. She has a commanding stage presence, acute intelligence, and the authority and range which fit her so naturally for classical roles.”