Ronnie Letham

Television, stage and film actor

Born: 10 September, 1949, in Falkirk.

Died: 27 March, 2008, in Falkirk, aged 58.

BEING Rab C Nesbitt's father could hardly have been easy. But at least Ronnie Letham got paid for it.

Letham, a "jobbing actor" much loved by his peers, played the unenviable part of "Mr Nesbitt" during flashback sequences of the TV series, when Rab pondered his youth and how he and his brother, Gash Nesbitt Snr, turned out the way they did. Although he was an accomplished stage actor and director, Letham's other best-known role was as Peter the Fireman in Hamish Macbeth, the man charged with putting out fires in the village of Lochdubh, though famously starting one in the local primary school in a love-fuelled dispute with Rory the grocer.

Letham had roles in Taggart, The Sweeney, The Bill, Rumpole of the Bailey, The High Life, Atletico Partick (as "Gazza"), the 1998 TV mini-series Ultraviolet starring Jack Davenport and, most recently, New Tricks with Dennis Waterman. He also popped up from time to time in Craiglang as Harry Drennan, the errant, boozy husband of Isa in the award-winning comedy series Still Game, most notably in its memorable Hogmanay Special, 2006.

Ronnie Letham, who has died at the age of 58 from complications after falling and breaking his hip in a supermarket, was a one-off, an actor "of the old school" who could just as easily have been a character, rather than an actor, in his many TV series.

His friends said his language often made Rab C himself sound polite. "He was a master of the Anglo-Saxon language, often Chaucerian but never abusive, more decorative than that," said a lifelong friend, the actor Billy Riddoch.

"He was larger than life, he had a razor-sharp wit and he had the heart of a lion. We in the theatre talk of 'the four stages of the actor', but Ronnie was unique. No-one ever said 'get me a Ronnie Letham type!'"

Letham had a small role in a major movie, The Saint, starring Val Kilmer in 1997, but he largely sacrificed his career in recent years to look after his ageing father in Falkirk.

Dugald Ronald Letham was born in Falkirk in 1949 and went to Bantaskine Primary, then Falkirk High School, where he caught the theatrical bug and put on several school plays. He studied teaching at Jordanhill Training College, Glasgow, before enrolling at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in the same city, where he met many of his lifelong buddies, including Riddoch, who would later appear with him as Lachie McCrae Snr in Hamish Macbeth, and in other series including Rab C Nesbitt.

As a young man, Letham acted and directed in several productions at Edinburgh's Traverse Theatre, at the time still in the Grassmarket, but he spent most of his career in London, appearing on stage in the National Theatre on London's South Bank and at the Lyric, Hammersmith, including in Shakespeare's comedy The Merry Wives of Windsor. He loved nothing more than to return to his roots and remained highly respected and in demand north of the Border, where he would relax, if that's the right word, by watching his beloved East Stirlingshire play at Firs Park, Falkirk.

In Glasgow's Odeon Theatre he directed two plays by his lifelong friend, actor and writer John Bett, one of them Street Fighting Man, and demonstrated his acting range in a memorable performance in the Tron Theatre, in the same city, as the Jewish Maurice in Good, C P Taylor's moving play about the rise of fascism in Germany.

Actor and musician David McNiven, who wrote the music score for Rab C Nesbitt, recalled Letham's role in the play Follow Follow, at Glasgow's King's Theatre in 1994. "Ronnie played this old lag at the end of the bar, who knew everything there was to know about Rangers. He was brilliant. To prepare for the part, he went to Ibrox and browsed through all the archives. The other actors had trouble reacting to all the stuff he came up with."

One of Letham's most recent roles was not so funny, and it was in real life. Apparently after a mix-up over his name, police burst into his father's home in Falkirk, pointed guns at his head, handcuffed him and hauled him off to London as a suspected terrorist. He was freed with an apology several days later after the mistake was realised.

"Ronnie was a generous guy, with his life and with his money, to his fellow actors and friends," said John Bett. "He was loyal and supportive, a great deflater of pretension, and I miss him."

Ronnie Letham is survived by his father and his sister, Maggie.

PHIL DAVISON