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Mary Riggans

Actress

Actress

Born: July 19, 1935; Died: December 2, 2013.

MARY Riggans, who has died aged 78, was a popular, cheery-faced, cuddly Clydebank-born actress best known for her roles as Suzie Sweet in the children's programme Balamory and as Effie Macinnes in Take the High Road, in which she featured until the final episode in 2003. It was in Balamory (set in Tobermory, Mull) that she won the hearts of millions of Scottish primary or pre-schoolchildren as Suzie, running the red shop and café along with Penny Pocket, played by Kim Tserkezie. Suzie, of course, always wore red.

Ms Riggans had been acting since she was 10, initially on BBC radio. In later life, her comedy shone through with parts in such programmes as Still Game, in which she played Sadie, best friend of Isa Brennan (Jane McCarry), the gossip of Osprey Heights. She also did her comedy turn in episodes of Rab C. Nesbitt.

However, she was a highly-respected dramatic actress appearing in series including Dr Finlay's Casebook in the 1960s and '70s, the Prime of Miss Jean Brodie TV series in the '70s and later the crime series Taggart. She also won good reviews, including from famed U.S. critic Roger Ebert, for her role in Dear Frankie (2004), a film directed by Shona Auerbach and written by Andrea Gibb which screened at the Cannes Film Festival. Set in Greenock, it tells the story of a deaf boy called Frankie, played by Jack McElhone. Ms Riggans played his grannie, Nell.

Ms Riggans also won a Sony award in 1993 for her performance as Jean Armour in the radio play Till A' the Seas Run Dry.

She was born in Clydebank on July 19, 1935. She was a child when her family home, and everything in it, was destroyed in the Luftwaffe blitz of March 1941 while she and her family were in air-raid shelters. At the end of the war, the family moved to a flat on Queen Margaret Drive in Glasgow, almost next door to the BBC Scotland studios, where, she recalled "there was the immense relief that comes with feeling it was, at last, possible to settle down."

From the age of 10, she got small jobs at the BBC after she was seen in a school concert,and she appeared on radio programmes including Children's Hour. "When I was nine, I got myself a baby sister, Kitty," she once said. "She was like my living doll. She had beautiful blonde hair. Unfortunately, she died when she was 43 ... from a virus that attacked her brain. One day she was complaining of a headache, and eight days later she was dead. I learnt an important lesson from that: never take your family for granted and keep in touch with them as often as you can, because I never got the chance to say goodbye to Kitty."

Ms Riggans graduated with an arts degree from Glasgow University -- after skipping lectures to fit in acting jobs -- got married, completed teacher training and got part-time work as a supply teacher in between acting roles. "I have always adored children and being a teacher helped me understand what goes on in their wee minds," she once said.

She had already done regular radio broadcasts or voice-overs - she had a gift for voices - before her first television role came in 1954 in the film A Nest of Singing Birds. For much of the 1980s and '90s, she became a Scottish TV screen favourite as the lovable gossip Effie in the fictional village of Glendarroch (in real life Luss on the banks of Loch Lomond) in the series Take the High Road.

During her High Road days, Ms Riggans was involved in a campaign by dog-lovers to clean up Victoria Park in Edinburgh, where she lived for many years in the New Town. Launched on "Poop Scoop Day," she and members of the Edinburgh Dog Alliance were responding to city council moves to ban dogs from parks to prevent fouling after hundreds of complaints from walkers.

In 1998, she appeared in Glasgow's Pavilion Theatre in the comedy Paras Over the Barras, recreating the sights and sounds of the wartime Glasgow, the blackouts and the rationing that she recalled from her childhood. The following year, in the same theatre, she starred in The Steamie, the famous play centred on a group of women gathered in a laundrette on Hogmanay to do their final wash of the year.

BBC Scotland executive Yvonne Jennings, a producer on Balamory, said: "As Suzie Sweet in Balamory, Mary was well respected by those who worked with her and much loved by the CBeebies audience. Like Suzie, Mary was a kind and giving woman who took on the role of nurturing young talent. She was an extremely professional actress with impeccable comedy timing."

Julie Wilson Nimmo, who played Miss Hoolie in Balamory, said she was shocked and saddened to hear about Mary's passing. "We worked together for years," she said, "she was a brilliant actress and will be remembered fondly by the Balamory family."

Ms Riggans suffered a stroke in April 2012 which restricted her speech and physical movement. Her daughter Samantha was with her when she died in Edinburgh. She is survived by Samantha and a grandson.

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