Humour was a way of life for Ricky Callan – no matter how grim it became.
From doing comic impressions as a schoolboy, to the many japes as he worked as a housing officer, then when he immersed himself in the world of professional performers as an actor, comedian and voiceover artist, a good belly laugh permeated everything.
Even the increasingly difficult burden of diabetes provided material for his incessant banter and quick wit: he lost his leg to the condition, though he said he never found it again, and was deeply disappointed he never got to star as Long John Silver in panto.
“You’ve got to laugh, what else can you do?”
One of Scotland’s best-known character actors, he was brought up in Penicuik, the son of Bilston Colliery electrician Bob and his wife Margaret, a housewife, and saw the funny side early on. Though he first demonstrated his ability to entertain as a tot with a toy guitar, he progressed from singing along with the Beatles on television to becoming a mimic and mastering impersonations and accents – a skill that would prove invaluable in the future as a voiceover artist.
fter schooling at Cuiken Primary and Penicuik High, he joined the City of Edinburgh Council where he spent the next two decades, working his way up to housing officer.
A self-taught musician, in his teens and 20s he also played keyboard in local bands. He wrote songs and had a fine voice, eventually going on to sing in musicals and panto, performing at The Brunton, Musselburgh and in Kirkcaldy.
His stage career began in amateur dramatics but he also appeared in hundreds of student films, leading to more and more professional roles. Finding it difficult to juggle his acting career with full-time working, when he was offered voluntary redundancy in 1997 he jumped at the chance to leave the council and never looked back.
He worked extensively as an actor for more than 20 years, appearing in a range of television series including Taggart, Rebus, Rab C Nesbitt, The Young Persons Guide to Becoming a Rock Star, Monarch of the Glen and Still Game. He was also seen on Emmerdale on one occasion.
His film credits include: Craig Ferguson’s The Big Tease; The Acid House, adapted from the book of the same name by Irvine Welsh with whom he worked at council’s housing department; Santa Claws, a short film with James Cosmo and the Royal Television Society award-winning short I Saw You.
In addition to giving freely of his time and assisting student film-makers over his professional career, he also did a huge amount of voiceover work for television and radio, working locally, nationally and internationally voicing commercials, documentaries, stings, idents, trailers, features and shorts. His clients included national newspapers, Hibiernian and Heart of Midlothian FC, Standard Life, BBC Scotland, STV, Toyota and Volvo and he set up his own digital network studio in Edinburgh from where he could provide voiceover services.
Having naturally moved into stand-up comedy in 2002 he made several appearances at Edinburgh’s The Stand comedy club. The epitome of the “larger than life” cliché, he wasn’t averse to using his generous size as material and relished the thrill of performing live: “You can’t beat the buzz you get from the sound of laughter. Whether it’s with me or at me . . . who cares?”
Over the years he appeared on Fred MacAulay’s BBC radio show many times, was involved in local radio, hosted his own show on Castle FM and featured in several television adverts.
He also wrote the screenplay for and appeared in the 2002 short film Pork Chop. Latterly he played the title role in the short film Joe Smeal’s Wheels, a docu-drama shot on the streets of Glasgow, featuring a wheelchair-bound tower-block resident and written and directed by the Scottish screenwriter Michael Normand.
But for the vast majority of his life he had had to deal with diabetes, a condition that ultimately brought a halt to his career. After battling with his weight since childhood he was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes at the age of 25 and, three years ago, he spoke candidly about his experiences to highlight Diabetes Week, admitting “I didn’t manage it. I didn’t treat it the way I should.”
He did not realise the potential consequences of the condition and in 2004 he developed a common diabetes-related ailment, a blister on his foot, which failed to heal. Infection spread up his leg and initially he had some toes removed in a bid to stop it in its tracks. When that failed he had his lower leg left amputated. He also had both eyes operated on and suffered kidney failure.
“I feel there’s a lot about this illness that isn’t spoken about,” he said. “There’s a head-in-the-sand attitude and people think they can take their tablets and it fixes it. They avoid going to diabetes clinics because they don’t like someone sitting there preaching at them about what to eat and that they should lose weight.
“But they have to realise diabetes is still there,” he warned. They might be okay now but in ten years’ time they might be just like me.”
The disease undoubtedly brought a great sadness to his life but he met adversity with humour and a ready smile. His party trick was an ability to sing or hum any theme tune from any era and his amazing memory made him the master of obscure facts, particularly on the subject of TV and music. He touched the hearts of many, continued to make people laugh and was enormously appreciated by friends for his resilience and generosity of spirit.
He was particularly close to his ex-wife Jackie whom he married in 1996. Though divorced this year, they remained best friends and she nursed him until the end.
He is survived by his parents, Jackie and wider family.