Obituary: Iain Cuthbertson

Actor and former rector of Aberdeen University

Born: 4 January, 1930, in Glasgow.

Died: 4 September, 2009, in Glasgow, aged 79.

WITH his commanding appearance and resonant voice, Iain Cuthbertson cut a distinguished figure on stage and screen. He was closely associated with roles as official figures – judges, officers, headmasters – and on television appeared in many hit series. The younger generation will remember him as the villainous Scunner Campbell in Supergran. In 1982 Cuthbertson suffered a stroke that left him unable to speak. By sheer willpower he learned to use his voice again and after 18 months he returned to work, although he avoided stage performances.

Cuthbertson was often seen in Scottish theatres and at the Edinburgh Festival. He came to the Festival first in 1957 in the world premier of The Hidden King, then two years later with the Glasgow Citizens Theatre in James Bridie's The Baikie Charivari. In 1960 Cuthbertson memorably played the title role in Sydney Goodsir Smith's The Wallace. In 1966 he directed eminent Scottish actors including Duncan Macrae and Fulton Mackay in a late-night entertainment called 10.45 and A' That.

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But it was the title role of The Wallace at the Assembly Hall for which Cuthbertson is particularly remembered. The author called it "a triumph in five acts" and conceived it on a grand scale.

It much impressed renowned writer Eric Linklater, but the format of the play presented some problems – it was delivered in Scots and in English blank verse, which confused some in the audience. But Cuthbertson, with his 6ft frame and freshly grown beard, commanded the stage. One critic called his performance "magnificent".

Iain Cuthbertson was the son of Sir David and Lady Jean Cuthbertson and was educated at Glasgow Academy, Aberdeen Grammar and the University of Aberdeen. At university he read French and Spanish, getting an MA with honours. He did his national service in the Black Watch, then joined BBC Radio in Glasgow as a journalist. He also did some acting – in 1955 making his stage debut at Leven, Fife, in The Man Upstairs. He became a regular with the Citizens Theatre and made a considerable impact as Othello and as Big Daddy in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. He became general manager of the Citz in 1962 and created the role of Armstrong in John Arden's Armstrong's Last Goodnight. In 1975 he was a gloriously humorous Major-Domo in Scottish Opera's Ariadne auf Naxos.

In 1965 he was briefly associate director to William Gaskill at London's Royal Court Theatre, where he had the distinction of being cautioned by the police following the production of Edward Bond's Saved in 1965 – there was a controversial scene in which a baby was stoned. In 1966 Cuthbertson directed Max Wall in Alfred Jarry's Ubu Roi, with designs by David Hockney.

He was an early advocate for a national theatre of Scotland. In 1967 he was director of a pilot scheme in Perth and in 1994 presented a petition with other leading Scottish actors to the lord provost of Glasgow demanding a national theatre of Scotland.

Cuthbertson was much seen on television playing official figures but he never overplayed the domineering nature of a role. With his excellent diction, a quick withering glance or a dismissive gesture, he quickly established a character. He was in such established series as Z Cars, Inspector Morse, The Avengers and Dr Who. But major TV work included Budgie starring Cuthbertson (a suave Glasgow gangster) with Adam Faith in 1971. The following year STV picked up the programme as Charlie Endell Esq. Cuthbertson's character returned to Glasgow but without Faith's cockney Budgie. Due to an ITV technicians' strike there were only six episodes.

In 1968 Cuthbertson co-starred with Michael Gambon and Edith McArthur in The Borders ("a kind of north-eastern western") set in the 16th century. That was followed in 1972 by a sympathetically imposing performance by Cuthbertson as Dr Arnold in BBC's Tom Brown's Schooldays. In 1973 he was in BBC Scotland's Sutherland's Law, which centred around a procurator fiscal in a town near Oban. Also that year he was in Scotch on the Rocks, about an activist group working for an independent Scotland by illegal means.

His films included The Railway Children (1971), Scandal (1989), in which he played Lord Hailsham, and Let Him Have It (1991), in which he appeared as the Lord Chancellor.

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Cuthbertson remained in close touch with Aberdeen University and was rector from 1975. He is remembered as being hard-working and maintaining a "high level of interest", particularly in the welfare of students. When he stepped down in 1978 Cuthbertson was awarded an honorary LLB.

Cuthbertson's first marriage, to Anne Kristen, was dissolved in 1988. He is survived by his second wife, Janet Smith.