Obituary: Richard Findlay, broadcasting executive and arts adviser

Richard Findlay CBE, broadcasting executive and arts adviser. Born: November 1943 in Berlin, Died: 8 July 2017 aged 73.

Richard Findlay CBE (Picture: Christopher Bowen)

Richard Findlay was CEO of Scottish Radio Holdings, building one of the most successful groups of its kind, a former chairman of STV, and held a string of directorships and chairmanships in media and financial companies. He was also founding chairman of the National Theatre of Scotland, a former chairman of Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum Theatre and Lothian Health Board, a governor and fellow of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and more recently, Creative Scotland. He was awarded a CBE for services to the Arts & Creative Industries in 2013.

He was born Dietrich Rudolf Barth in Berlin in 1943. His father, who was given the Iron Cross with Clusters, was possibly killed in action, fighting on the Russian front. His mother Inge remarried after meeting Captain Ian Findlay when she was working as a translator with the British Occupation Force in Germany. When he returned to Edinburgh, Inge, three-year-old Rudolf and his older sister Linde joined him, and set up home. Rudolf became Richard Findlay.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Linde recalled that their English was non-existent and they had to learn very quickly, using the Dandy and the Beano. His mother spoke English with an American accent and at a time of anti-German feeling this allowed Richard to pretend to some of his peers that his mother was American.

Richard gained admission to the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. On leaving, one of his first’s roles was playing a schoolmaster in an STV series called This Man Craig. However, he felt his talents lay more behind the scenes and while he was a continuity announcer for BBC Scotland he accepted the challenge of setting up an English language radio station in Saudi Arabia.

On his return to Edinburgh, he met Elspeth Menzies, whom he married in 1971. A year later he joined the COI Radio Division in London and moved to Crowborough in East Sussex, where they immersed themselves in the restoration and conversion of a 14th century tithe barn.

When independent radio arrived he joined Capital Radio’s newsroom when it took to the air in 1973. At the same time he formed Waverley Radio to compete for the East of Scotland franchise, but the licence was granted to Radio Forth, a company put together by Lord Thomson’s Scotsman, which offered a more ambitious programme schedule. However, impressed by his experience Richard was recruited as their programme controller. He later became chief executive.

Richard was an all-round radio operator, often behind the microphone. He had the ability and skill to attract and enthuse creative talent. He exuded certainty with his rich voice and considered manner, tinged with humour. His team produced a variety of popular programmes, including a dramatised daily serial based on Deacon Brodie and another on Mary Queen of Scots which, when syndicated, won international awards.

A 1991 merger with Radio Clyde created the publicly listed Scottish Radio Holdings, (SRH) Richard joined Jimmy Gordon – now Lord Gordon – in Glasgow as his deputy, then chief executive when Lord Gordon became chairman.

In 1995 SRH formed Score Press to acquire and operate local newspapers. The division grew to 45 weeklies in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

When he stood down as chief executive, the group was sold shortly afterwards to Emap, in 2004, for £394 million.

Richard continued to work, building up his own private investment and property portfolio, including advising, and later joining, the board of New Wave Media, managed by his son Adam and now operating or owning 13 stations including nine local internet stations, three local FM stations (Dundee’s Wave 102, Aberdeen’s Original FM and Forth Valley’s Central FM) and a national internet station.

He shared his expertise, acting as a mentor to young businesses. He devoted more time to public service, a commitment started years earlier as Rector of Heriot Watt University, and chairman of Lothian Health Board, then the Royal Lyceum Theatre Company, both of which he put on a more secure financial footing.

In 2003 Richard was chosen to set up the National Theatre of Scotland as its founding chairman with an initial two-year budget of £7.5 million, which he said was “not enough but adequate”. He recruited Vicky Featherstone as chief executive and artistic director and they staged a stunning array of productions including, in its first season, Black Watch by Gregory Burke, which won four Laurence Olivier Awards, multiple international awards and still plays around the world.

Scottish TV was floundering and in 2007 shareholders called on Richard to become its chairman. With newly appointed chief executive Rob Woodward, he achieved a dramatic turnaround, considered to be one of the most successful in Scottish business history and a model for university business students.

Richard, now a veteran of the City and held in high esteem through his reputation gained at SRH, managed the STV board with a deft touch, sharing Woodward’s belief in rebuilding STV as Scotland’s digital media company and a leading independent plc.

During his tenure in 2009 he was made a Fellow of the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, now the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, following a life-time connection since his days as a drama student in the 1960s. He chaired the RSAMD Foundation, previously serving on the Academic Board as a Governor and chairing the Endowment and Trust Fund.

Richard never retired. His leisure was punctuated by his business diary and calls taken by him whereever he happened to be – sometimes on the deck of his motor yacht anchored in a remote loch on the west coast or his place in Spain, enjoying precious moments with his family.

In January 2015 he was appointed to chair Creative Scotland – his last major appointment. The organisation was in turmoil and facing a rebellion from artists over the way funding decisions were being made. His appointment was welcomed, particularly at a time when funding for the arts required a more focused approach. It did not take long for his guidance to take effect. His leadership was dramatically cut short by ill health and he died shortly after his resignation. In his Chairman’s Annual Report, he wrote: “I continue to be enthralled and stimulated by what is being achieved here in Scotland and the beacon that that sends out to the rest of the world about our country in the 21st century. We are extremely rich in our talent... let’s ensure we continue to preserve, nurture and grow it.”

Richard is survived by wife Elspeth, and children Adam Paul and Hannah.

A memorial service will take place at Inverleith St Serf’s Church, Ferry Road, Edinburgh at 10.30am on 15 August.