Andrew Downie: Director, singer and actor whose parts ranged from Gilbert and Sullivan to 'Dr Finlay's Casebook'

Friday 15 May 2009 00:00 BST

Andrew Downie, who died on 15 April, was what they call north of the border "a lad of pairts", enjoying a long and successful career as a singer, actor and director performing and directing all over the world. A keen rugby union player, he became a regular in the 1st XV of Wasps and London Scottish.

Downie left school at 14 to work in a bacteriological laboratory but music had already became a passion; his talent had been encouraged early on and he was singing boy soprano and later tenor roles in church choirs and the Edinburgh Bach Society.

In September 1939 he was beating for Air Marshal Lord Portal, Head of Bomber Command on Speyside. when a dispatch rider brought the bad news that war had been declared. Downie cycled home to Edinburgh witnessing the gathering of the reservists at key points from the adjoining glens. He volunteered for the Army three times but was not allowed to go because of his work in the laboratory developing penicillin. The compensation was spending many of his evenings guarding the Forth Bridge as a young Home Guard member with a gun and only two bullets.

At the end of the war he won a Sir James Caird scholarship to the Royal College of Music and subsequently a French government bursary to study singing with Pierre Bernac at the Paris Conservatoire. His acting career began at the 1947 Edinburgh Festival, where he appeared in the famous Tyrone Guthrie production of The Thrie Estates. The connection with Guthrie was continued both in Stratford Ontario, and in Broadway and London, when he and his wife Marion Studholme, a principal at Sadlers Wells Opera and the English National Opera, were cast as romantic leads in Guthrie's productions of Gilbert and Sullivan operas.

The advent of television provided Downie with many parts in early programmes like Dig this Rhubarb, an early medical drama, 24 Hour Call and The Adventures of Robin Hood. He also played opposite Alec Guinness and John Mills in the 1960s film, Tunes of Glory. In 1967 he became director of Opera at Morley College, where he stayed for 19 years and greatly increased the department's reputation through his excellent productions which included the UK premier of Tchaikovsky's Cherevichki. During this period he was advising the Royal Shakespeare Company on singing and still performing on TV shows like Doctor Who, Dr. Finlay's Casebook and Upstairs Downstairs as well as numerous voice-overs for radio and television. Gordon Jackson proposed Downie to sing "My love is like a red, red rose" in his place in the film The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.

Downie's professionalism and engaging personality endeared him to colleagues and friends alike. A gifted raconteur, he would break into song at parties, especially at the Savage Club, and was a familiar figure in the streets around his North London home "taking his pipe for a walk". He is survived by his wife and their two sons.

Merrie Cave

Andrew Fraser Downie, rugby player, director, singer and actor: born Edinburgh 26 May 1922; married (two sons); died London 15 April 2009.

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