Obituary: Annie Inglis, MBE

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Aberdeen theatre group founder, teacher, director, actor and encourager of many

Born: 13 November, 1922, in Coatbridge.

Died: 1 April, 2010, in Aberdeen, aged 87.

SCOTTISH theatre is mourning the death of one of its teaching greats, Annie Inglis, MBE, who dedicated her life to drama in Aberdeen, founded Aberdeen Arts Centre and inspired generations to take to the stage, many going on to professional careers.

After suffering years of bad health, during which she continued to encourage actors and performers, having directed her last play only last month, Annie died following a cardiac arrest.

Grannie Annie, as she was affectionately known by her many pupils, opened doors of opportunity for many thousands of people over her 60 years in the profession. She believed in the creativity of the individual and personal development through drama, long before it became fashionable.

Born Annie Henderson Nicol in 1922, in Coatbridge, she was the only daughter of Tom and Jemima Nicol. Her father died when she was 13, leaving her physiotherapist mother to provide single-handedly for her family and instilling in Annie a fierce independence and determination that stayed with her throughout her life.

Aged 16, Annie went to Glasgow University to study English, then began her long and career teaching in Lanarkshire schools, and directed her first production of Everyman, the medieval morality play, at St Patrick's School in Coatbridge during the Festival of Britain in 1951.

She ran her own studio in Coatbridge, tutoring young people in speech and drama, something she continued to the very end. Turning to acting, she joined the Monklands Rep, where she perfected her craft and honed her directing skills. In 1947, she married Billy Loudon, with whom she had daughter Valerie in 1948.

In 1953, after the breakdown of the marriage, Inglis moved to Aberdeen to join the staff of Aberdeen College of Education, as a teacher of phonetics. There, she inspired many of the North-east's teachers, as well as directing and assisting with theatrical productions, including renowned performances of Shakespearean works by James Scotland.

In 1957, she founded Attic Theatre, an amateur theatre group which has enjoyed an enviable reputation for performing stage musicals and plays in Aberdeen. The traditional Attic pantomime she started has delighted youngsters for the past 37 years, the uninterrupted run coming to an end last Christmas with its final Arts Centre pantomime, Aladdin.

In 1966, Inglis married a musician, Stewart Inglis, who she met at the Edinburgh Festival, and their son Jonathan was born in 1967.

As well as Attic Theatre, over the years Annie founded Aberdeen's Arts Carnival, Texaco Theatre School, stAGErs (for older performers) and Giz Giz Theatre Project for Youth, always striving to encourage people to use their imagination and exploit their own talents.

It was not only in theatre that Inglis worked tirelessly. She also encouraged creative writing, particularly poetry, arranging visits to Aberdeen of contemporary writers such as Iain Crichton Smith, Edwin Morgan and Liz Lochhead. In 2005, she wrote and published a storybook for younger children. As an inspirer and leader, Inglis has encouraged many developments in the arts – helping to establish Scottish Youth Theatre, 7:84 Theatre Company and the Association of Arts Centres in Scotland, which she chaired from 1972 to 1979.

She fronted the campaign to keep Aberdeen Arts Centre open in 1998, when funding was withdrawn by Aberdeen City Council. Her dedication to the arts centre and its young people was little short of inspirational, and Inglis was almost single-handedly responsible for saving the venue from closure.

In 2007, Inglis was appointed an MBE for her services to drama, following her presentation in 1989 of Aberdeen City Council's Woman of the Year Award. One of her proudest moments came when Princess Diana presented her with the 1990 Help The Aged Golden Award for her work with children and young people.

A month ago, Inglis directed her final production of Everyman. She said at the time: "Although this is not a swansong – and I'm telling everyone that – it is a very important play to me and I have enjoyed staging it once again."

Inglis's death has inspired messages from the many people, young and old, who have been encouraged by her creativity and teaching skills over the years.

Paula Gibson, manager of Aberdeen Arts Centre, said: "Annie was an amazing woman – charismatic and totally inspirational.

"What she has done for the youth of Aberdeen over the decades is an outstanding achievement. The tributes that have been pouring in from the young people themselves have been heart-warming and reflect the high regard in which she is held."

As a director, Inglis had imagination, integrity and determination, and continued to inspire and educate right up to her death.

Close friend Martin Milne said: "What made Annie special was her drive and tenacity and the talent to get people to achieve things they didn't know possible."

Annie Inglis was a friend to everyone, an inspiration to all those she worked with and, above all, a woman with a mission – to make theatre accessible for all, no matter what their age or background.

She is survived by her daughter Val, herson Jonathan, two grandsons and a great-grandson. Her funeral service will be at St Margaret's Church, Gallowgate, Aberdeen, on Monday at 1.30pm. Any donations should be made to Castlegate Arts Ltd, and a collection box and Book of Condolence will be available on Monday.