Alex McAvoy

Alex McAvoy. Actor and mime artist

Born: 10 March, 1928, in Glasgow Died: 16 June, 2005, in London, aged 77.

ALEX McAvoy was much more than an actor who starred in pantomime at top theatres in Edinburgh and Glasgow. He was also a master of mime.

He is best remembered today as the lively cabin-boy Sunny Jim in The Vital Spark, the 1965 to 1974 comedy drama series about a hapless crew sailing the west of Scotland waters in a battered puffer boat. It was pure fun and "so enjoyable to make on location," he recalled.

In the earlier part of his career, McAvoy ventured into the world of variety and light entertainment, and was the first foil to the kilted Scottish comedy singer Andy Stewart.

The summer show promoter George B Bowie envisaged him as a future star comedian, and headlined him in the holiday-season revue of 1963 at the Barrfields Pavilion, Largs. But despite success in that field, he was not cut out to be a Scotland-based funny man; a wider field, especially in mime, beckoned.

As a schoolboy growing up in Scotstounhill, Glasgow, second eldest of a family of eight, McAvoy was always an artistic lad, creating small puppets out of colourful old clothes and running his own mini-puppet theatre. He also loved to act.

The wee boy who just had to become an actor enhanced his love of the arts by enrolling for classes at the School of Art in Glasgow's Renfrew Street; his first job was in the big fashion stores of the city, increasing the profits of the owners by dressing their windows with all the delicate artistry at his command. Young McAvoy had a flair for the arts, even in the sterner world of retail commerce.

Inevitably, in the fabulous 1950s, when Glasgow was seeing a new interest in the dramatic arts, he just had to join other aspiring thespians at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow's Athenaeum building.

The burgeoning Citizens' Theatre in the Gorbals needed trained actors, which is why young McAvoy found himself alongside such future performers as John Cairney and (set to be a gem of television presenters) Mary Marquis. He had the built-in creative sense but he needed the basic study and training.

Live theatre, especially in so vibrant a nursery as the Citizens', then housed in the old Princess Theatre building, was to hone the talents of the lad from Scotstounhill.

Just look at his credits. Small parts and big parts, character roles in Z Cars and Dad's Army, and meaty parts in Sunday night dramas. Old lags or angry army sergeants, McAvoy could transform each role into something truly realistic.

His craggy face and expressive eyes could mould into any character, and he had a seemingly inborn talent to act without speaking.

Not everybody knows that McAvoy's role as the Teacher made him a familiar face from Pink Floyd's The Wall, the 1982 global cult film with Bob Geldof as a burned-out rock star.

It spawned thousands of items of memorabilia, and McAvoy's animated character in the college cap was seen on t-shirts around the world, introducing him to millions.

His love of mime was intense, and he made a mark, naturally, in the busy world of Scottish pantomime, with featured roles at the King's theatres in Glasgow and Edinburgh.

The mime in pantomime had strong appeal. One day, borrowing from his actress friend Mary Marquis a French vocabulary and phrase book, he crossed the Channel to Paris to study and work in L'Ecole de Jacques LeCoq. It had been his secret ambition to go there for some years.

LeCoq was his idol, and friends at the school say his miming skill was such that he could make anyone know what he was saying without words.

He became deeply immersed in the international world of mime and right up to his death was still in touch with that famous school.

McAvoy had been ill from leukaemia for some years, but retained his link with live theatre and, before being hospitalised, had taken on a cameo part on the London stage. He was a sensitive man of the arts to the end.