Iain Cuthbertson: Actor who played the procurator-fiscal in 'Sutherland's Law' and Charlie Endell in 'Budgie'

The actor Iain Cuthbertson brought his towering, 6ft 41/2in stature and commanding presence to two very different television roles, on both sides of the law, in the 1970s. As Charlie Endell in Budgie, he was the suave Glaswegian gangster on the streets of London's Soho, employing the petty criminal of the title – played by the pop star-turned-actor Adam Faith – to do his dirty work and, sometimes, setting him up as a fall guy. Endell was the Mr Big to Budgie's bungling, lovable rogue, who had just been let out of prison. "There are two things ah hate in life, Budgie," the hood told his runner, "an' you're both of them!"

Budgie (1971-72), which was created by Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall, and ran to two series, was essentially a comedy-drama before the term had been coined. Verity Lambert, who produced it, saw it as an opportunity to give the criminals their say on screen after years of so many police dramas. Cuthbertson later revived his character, back on the streets of Glasgow after a stretch in jail, but without Budgie, in the short-lived spin-off Charles Endell Esquire (1979-80).

In between, he had another lead role, as a procurator-fiscal – who in Scotland makes decisions on whether to bring prosecutions – in a small, west coast Scottish fishing village for 44 episodes of Sutherland's Law (1973-76). John Sutherland was a dour character who frequently had to investigate further cases brought to him by the local police, and the gentle drama and beautiful locations, around Oban, proved popular with viewers.

"I approve of Sutherland," the actor enthused. "He's not a cardboard figure. Although, like many who work out other people's problems, he's not too good at sorting out his own life. But these fiscals are extraordinary. They are paid less than their colleagues in private practice, yet there's no evidence of corruption. They are dedicated men."

Cuthbertson was born in Glasgow in 1930, the son of Sir David Cuthbertson, a biochemist among the team that invented the saline drip. He attended Glasgow Academy and Aberdeen Grammar School before gaining an MA in languages from the University of Aberdeen.

After National Service in the Black Watch, Cuthbertson joined BBC radio in Glasgow as a journalist, then switched to acting, both on radio and the stage. At Glasgow Citizens' Theatre, he played Proctor in The Crucible and Big Daddy in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (both 1958), and the title role in Othello (1959). Then came good reviews for his performance as William Wallace in The Wallace, by Sydney Goodsir Smith, at the 1960 Edinburgh Festival. Two years later, he returned to the Citizens' Theatre (1962-65) as general manager and director of productions.

After becoming associate director at London's Royal Court Theatre, where he played Musgrave in Serjeant Musgrave's Dance (1965), Cuthbertson found himself in a stand-off with the Lord Chamberlain's Office, which was then the official censor of stage plays in Britain. It refused to grant a licence, without various cuts, to the Edward Bond play Saved (1965), which included the stoning to death of a baby.

Cuthbertson was cautioned by police during violent scenes at the Royal Court, which attempted to sidestep legislation by turning itself into a private members' club. This case, and the banning of Bond's subsequent play, Early Morning, were instrumental in leading to the 1968 Theatres Act's abolition of the archaic censorship law.

By then, Cuthbertson was making an impression on television, having made his début in an episode of BBC Scotland's Para Handy – Master Mariner (1960). Later, in The Borderers (1968-70), he played Sir Walter Ker of Cessford, the warden settling disputes between lawless neightbours on the Anglo-Scottish border in the 16th century. He acted another authority figure, the headmaster Dr Arnold, in a five-part adaptation of Tom Brown's Schooldays (1971), followed by the role of Chief Constable Blair in the Scottish revolutionary thriller-fantasy series Scotch on the Rocks (1973), based on the book by Andrew Osmond and the future Conservative MP Douglas Hurd. In Danger UXB (1979), the Second World War bomb-disposal thriller series, he was seen as the scientist Doctor Gillespie.

Cuthbertson also enjoyed a young following by appearing in two popular children's programmes. He played Rafael Hendrick, trying to tap into the ancient power of a 4,000-year-old stone circle, in the adventure serial Children of the Stones (1977) and the villain Scunner Campbell, constantly thwarted by the old woman with magical powers (Gudrun Ure), in Supergran (1985-87). The actor also gave a particularly boisterous performance as the con-man from Earth, Garron, trying to sell off the medieval planet of Ribos, in the Doctor Who story "The Ribos Operation" (1978).

In the cinema, Cuthbertson will be remembered as the wrongly imprisoned father stepping off a train amid clearing steam on returning to his family in the director Lionel Jeffries's much loved screen version of The Railway Children (1970). His other film roles included recreations of real-life people – Dr Louis Leakey, the anthropologist who inspired Dian Fossey to study endangered mountain gorillas in Rwanda, in Gorillas in the Mist (1988), Lord Hailsham in Scandal (1989) and Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe, the Home Secretary who refused clemency to commute Derek Bentley's controversial death sentence in Let Him Have It (1991).

A stroke in 1982 left Cuthbertson paralysed and unable to speak, but he fought back within 18 months to act again, but not on stage. On television he played several parts in Rab C Nesibitt (1988-92), Jack Flynn in The Justice Game (1989) and the Lord Chancellor in the mini-series The Guilty (1992). Cuthbertson, who was rector of Aberdeen University from 1975-78, was twice married, first to the actress Anne Kristen. He had no children.

Anthony Hayward

Iain Cuthbertson, actor: born Glasgow 4 January 1930; married Anne Kristen (divorced 1988), 1997 Mary Smith; died Glasgow 4 September 2009.

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