Obituary: Charles Barron, inspirational teacher had great love of the theatre

Charles Barron: An inspirational teacher who had a great love of the theatre
Charles Barron: An inspirational teacher who had a great love of the theatre
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Born: 11 January, 1936, in Aberdeen. Died: 28 April, 2012, in Aberdeen, aged 76

Charles Barron’s first and enduring love: he wrote his first play as a student and completed his latest work as a septuagenarian, still crafting a production ready to take the stage this month.

Just three days before his death, he stepped in to direct rehearsals of one of his latest plays, Skirlie, a Doric comedy featuring three inept Aberdeenshire dinner wifies. Although, like much of his work it was written in the North-east dialect that so excited him, his career encompassed an enormous range of theatrical productions from Shakespeare to opera, student shows and panto to son-et-lumieres.

It also saw him forge a connection with Haddo House near Ellon, then the home of Lady Aberdeen, that lasted more than 40 years and during which time he directed Prince Edward in various productions.

Born in Aberdeen in 1936, he noted that before he was a year old, he had lived under the reign of three kings – George V, Edward VIII and George VI. Growing up, he barely saw his father, also Charles Barron, who was away from home serving his country during much of the Second World War and, having been wounded, died two years after it ended.

A pupil at Ashley Road Primary School in the city’s west end, his able young son went on to Robert Gordon’s College where he became Classical Dux and where his interest in acting developed.

However, he was almost always cast in elderly roles, including King Duncan in Macbeth and Mr Hardcastle in She Stoops to Conquer, a trend that continued when he went to Aberdeen University. He graduated in 1958 having achieved a first in English language and literature and written his first play, The Sky To Me, inspired by the 1956 student uprising in Hungary.

He then trained as a teacher at Aberdeen Teacher Training Centre, later known as Aberdeen College of Education and where he would become head of speech and drama.

It was while teaching English, history, Latin and Greek at Inverurie Academy, where he also directed pupils in plays and Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, that he first became involved with Haddo House, initially as a Shakespearean actor and later as opera director.

He spent four years at Inverurie before taking up a lecturing post at Glasgow’s Jordanhill College of Education. During his time there, he directed a number of Shakespeare productions and wrote several plays but always returned to the North-east during the holidays, directing opera at Haddo House at Easter, performing Shakespearean roles there during the summer, and writing, acting in and directing plays for the annual Braemar Festival.

The 1970s saw him return to Aberdeen permanently when he became head of speech and drama at the city’s education college. He was there for 18 years, during which time he continued writing and publishing plays and directed the student show.But he decided to take early retirement in order to spend more time writing and took on the part-time role of arts director at Haddo House.

There, he created Haddo Youth Theatre and began the tradition of an annual pantomime. An institution for 16 years, he always wrote it as a traditional panto, full of audience participation, and it played to more than 10,000 schoolchildren each year.

He loved Haddo House and hit it off with Prince Edward, whom he directed in the 1980s as one of the Haddo Players, in productions including Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale.

Barron’s own award-winning plays include Fooshion, set in the back green of an Aberdeen tenement, and Amang The Craws, a Doric Festival winner that was distributed to every Scottish secondary school by Learning and Teaching Scotland for use in Higher English and drama courses.

He also wrote works in English and Glaswegian that have been performed by Edinburgh Theatre Workshop, Glasgow’s Annexe Theatre and Pitlochry Theatre, among others. His prolific output also extended to son-et-lumieres at venues across Scotland, plays for specific settings and musicals, including Pond Life, a satirical look at the Scottish Parliament.

One of his pieces, a son-et-lumiere script he wrote for Braemar Castle more than 40 years ago and which ran each autumn for several years, is being revived. An updated version is due to be staged in September by the community group currently running the castle.

Barron also provided all but one of 15 plays staged by Doric drama company Fleeman Productions, which said his latest work, Skirlie, would ensure an evening of sheer joy, thanks to his “understanding of the Scots character and his deft touch with comedy”. It is hoped the run, due to start on 18 May, will go ahead.

It was still in rehearsal last week when he stood in for the director the night before falling ill with pancreatitis. Yet even in hospital, Barron was still making plans for the future and had much to do.

He had completed another major work – an adaption of author David Toulmin’s only novel, Blown Seed – and a tour, which he would most likely have directed, will mark the centenary next year of Toulmin’s birth. Three of his one-act plays based on Toulmin’s short stories are also in line for a revival.

An inspirational teacher who was still admired by pupils he taught at the start of his career in Inverurie, he was renowned as a gentleman who believed in the theatre tradition that the show should go on.

When he heard a performer staging one of his one-man shows had suggested he should cancel, after hearing of his illness, Barron politely insisted, from his hospital bed: “Don’t be silly – he has to carry on.”

Widowed by his first wife, Margo, he is survived by his second wife, Gina, sons Charlie and Peter and grandchildren Ivy and Olly.

ALISON SHAW