Obituary: Angus Lennie, actor

Angus Lennie: Diminutive actor whose character loomed large, filling chirpy Scot roles with aplomb
Angus Lennie: Diminutive actor whose character loomed large, filling chirpy Scot roles with aplomb
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Born: 18 April, 1930, in Glasgow. Died: 14 September, 2014, in London, aged 84

Angus Lennie became associated with numerous chirpy little Scottish characters in international films and television programmes, most notably the classic movie The Great Escape. In that film Lennie was Steve McQueen’s friend Flying Officer “The Mole” Archibald Ives: diminutive and a serial escaper. His character becomes friendly with the “Cooler King” (McQueen) and The Mole tells The King that he used to be a jockey and regularly rode at Musselburgh and Hamilton. Lennie delivered this episode with relish.

His final attempt at an escape involved Lennie in one of the movie’s most tragic scenes. The solitary figure of Ives walks through the camp and makes a dash to climb the barbed wire fence. Guards shoot and Ives is left hanging mid-air. McQueen runs forward in an effort to save him but all he can do is pick up Ives’ hat and walk away past the guards.

Lennie’s many television appearances included the camp chef Shughie McFee in Crossroads and Badger in Monarch of the Glen. Angus Lennie attended Eastbank Academy in Glasgow and could remember the mobile anti-aircraft guns touring Clydebank to be ready to fire at the Luftwaffe. He was a member of the Boys’ Brigade and joined amateur dramatic companies in Glasgow. He then took up roles in the profession and worked in many of the leading repertory companies.

Lennie got his first break on the small screen when he was cast in 1959 as Davie “Sunny Jim” Green in BBC’s adaptation of the Para Handy stories. Duncan Macrae played the title role alongside a host of leading Scottish actors.

Tunes of Glory (1960) – filmed mostly in Stirling Castle – had two towering performances from Alec Guinness and John Mills but Lennie was fastidious as the orderly room clerk. In 1964 he was an able seaman in BBC TV’s HMS Paradise and in three episodes of Dr Finlay’s Casebook. His many television appearances at this time also included Z Cars, The Onedin Line and Softly, Softly.

In 1967 (and again in 1975) Lennie was in BBC’S Dr Who. It gave him a particular pleasure as during the filming of The Great Escape he had got to know the future writer William Russell who was also in the film as an actor. Russell told Lennie that he was sketching out a drama: “It was to be very futuristic,” Lennie recalled later. “Bill planned many special effects that I didn’t think would work on the small screen.

“Years later I was in Dr Who. I loved it. It was pioneering TV.”

In 1968 Lennie played a scavenger opposite Patrick Troughton’s Doctor and in 1975 he was the ardent bagpiper who kept the Fox Inn with Tom Baker as the Doctor.

From 1979 till 1980 Lennie played the chef Shughie McFee in ITV’s soap Crossroads. Lennie gave a wonderfully humorous reading of a role that was central to the soap’s popularity.

Lennie’s final major television was in Monarch of the Glen in which he appeared in 2002/03.

Lennie played Badger, Lord Killwillie’s (played by Julian Fellowes) loyal valet. Badger served his master with unerring care – even ensuring that Kilwillie had plenty of rubber ducks in his bath, much to the irritation of Lady Dorothy, who sacked him.

Lennie had a varied stage career and is particularly remembered in Scotland for his performances in the epic The Thrie Estaites at the Edinburgh Festivals of 1985 and 1991. Both were directed by Tom Fleming and Lennie played Falsehood in both. The Festival director Frank Dunlop had to hastily assemble a production for the Assembly Hall in 1991 after another production had failed to materialise. Fleming revived his earlier production with what one critic called “the strongest array of Scottish theatrical talent yet seen at the Festival”.

His connection with Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum dates from 1964 when Lennie starred with Gavin Hamilton in Power of Persuasion.

His partnership with Stanley Baxter as pantomime dames has become part of the legend of Scottish theatre. They complemented each other ideally and played off each other’s talents without overdoing the comedy and dissolving into slapstick.

They are especially remembered for their Ugly Sisters in Cinderella at the King’s Theatres in Edinburgh and Glasgow in the early 1980s. A few years earlier they had been Ugly Sisters at the Glasgow Citizens wearing an array of sumptuous attire. In one scene, Baxter appeared in a huge polka dot dress with a startling chapeau and Lennie was in a loose-fitting pyramid dress with a much bawbled hat. Both in very high heels.

Lennie left Crossroads in 1981, but the role of Shughie McFee followed him everywhere. The concierge at a bank in Paris once greeted him with “Bonjour, Monsieur Shughie.”