Allen Wright, journalist; born February 22, 1932, died November 16, 1997

WHEN I think of Allen Wright I think of the Scotsman; the two seem inseparable. Allen, who died on Sunday night at the age of 65 spent all his working life with the Edinburgh-based newspaper and, as its long-serving arts editor, became a major figure in the Scottish cultural scene.

Arts editors tend to have a low profile but Allen's name became well known to the public as the Scotsman's chief theatre critic. His first-night reviews, often written against the clock, were always clear, informative, and judicious, and his great love of the theatre and his commitment to it shone through his words.

He was not, and did not claim to be, an admirer of all aspects of the modern theatre. In particular he deplored cultish productions, which he felt patronised the audience or betrayed an author's intentions. When, for example, a new regime at Glasgow Citizens' Theatre mounted the harsh, all-male production of Hamlet which so shocked many theatregoers, he made no secret of his distaste. But he was also able to acknowledge his blind spots - a virtue rare among critics - and sought to neutralise them.

His working year reached a peak each August during the Edinburgh Festival, and as the Fringe grew his work load increased, since it was the Scotsman's policy to attempt to review every production. Arnold Kemp, recently editor of this newspaper and at that time deputy editor of the Scotsman, considers that Allen's organisation of Fringe cover was his greatest single achievement. Ironically, this meant that the paper's most experienced drama critic was denied the opportunity to comment on some of the year's greatest productions because he was increasingly bound to a desk.

A wry humour probably helped to keep him sane. Once, when driving to an out-of-city theatre which I shall not name, the engine dropped out of his car. After the show he remarked that the car seemed to have acquired critical judgment.

I got to know Allen when, as recently appointed arts editor of The Herald, I spent nearly a month travelling in his company round American regional arts centres at the invitation of the US Government - an arduous assignment, as it turned out. Our views differed on many things, and the rest of the party were often amused at the sight of two Scotsmen constantly arguing over a late-night dram (Allen liked his whisky).

We saw a lot of theatre but he also took particular pleasure in roaming round the galleries when we arrived in, say, Chicago or Seattle, feasting on great works of art. His interests were broad. When we were being shown round the Library of Congress in washington Allen first sought out the film archive, and then searched for material on J M Barrie, a playwright (like Bridie) whom he championed when it was unfashionable to do so - and on whose work he had written a book. On that trip he tried hard, but failed, to indulge another passion, golf.

I seldom remember him being ruffled, which was part of his charm. To me, he always seemed admirably considerate and kind, and he had a natural dignity.

Allen came into journalism by a traditional, now obsolete, route, joining the paper straight from school as a tube boy - a messenger delivering editorial copy to the caseroom via the old clunking vacuum system. As a likely lad he graduated to reporting (with film reviewing as a sideline), progressed to become deputy news editor, and could well have risen higher in that department but for an innovative decision by his then editor, Alastair Dunnet, to appoint him in 1964 as the Scotsman's first arts editor. In a real sense he created the role.

He held the post until four years ago when he was incapacitated by a severe stroke, just after his return from a holiday in France following the Edinburgh Festival. In a wheelchair, unable to converse, locked within himself, he bore his cruel blow with fortitude and resignation, helped by his wife Eleanor. He was a very private man, very much a family man - there are three daughters and three grandchildren - a man of grace and sterling worth.

John Fowler

n Conrad Wilson writes: ALLEN Wright was not only the Scotsman's first, best, and wisest arts editor, but the one who had the good fortune to preside, as observer and chronicler, over the great dramatic upsurge in cultural activity that began in Scotland around the time of his appointment in the 1960s. It was my own good fortune, as the Scotsman's music critic of the period, to work closely with him, and benefit from his expertise and friendship.

Alastair Dunnett, then editor of the Scotsman, recognised Allen's organisational abilities and created the post for him, naming him, rather grandly, Editor of the Arts. Since Dunnett himself cared about the arts, but seldom interfered, he placed his full trust in Allen and gave him the scope to operate effectively.

In his new role - he had already been the paper's film critic, then became drama critic in succession to Ronald Mavor - he was taken into the confidence of Scotland's leading artistic administrators, who sought his advice, discussing plans which today he might

have found himself under pressure to divulge.

In this respect he was the most generous of journalists, giving him time and understanding with a patience that only rarely turned to irritation - usually when some pest of a reader managed to get through to him on the phone to ask why such-and-such an event had not been covered. But it was astonishing how much did get reviewed, because Allen knew the importance of reviewing and worked at a time when his newspaper did so too.

Under Dunnett's successor, Eric Mackay, he continued to work unimpeded, but found some of the demands of later editors harder to comply with. Since he knew the artistic scene better than anyone else, it was easy to see why.