Born December 4, 1949;
Died April 8, 2008.

SIMON MacKenzie, who has died aged 58, was an actor whose fame was largely thanks to his role as the college principal in the Gaelic soap opera Machair. In the opinion of former cabinet minister Brian Wilson, Scotland's first-ever designated minister for Gaelic: "Nobody did more for Gaelic over the past few decades than Simon MacKenzie."

It is an opinion shared by many of this actor, broadcaster, singer and playwright, and although Machair gave him his most popular role, his high standing among his fellow Gaels was owed to much more than just the TV drama.

MacKenzie was born in Leverburgh in 1949, the son of a large farming family whose lands included 11 islands where they worked sheep and cattle, the largest island offering grazing to more than 200 ewes. But he was never fully committed to farming and announced from an early age that he was to follow a career in the arts, a highly unconventional move at the time.

After school at Inverness he gained a degree in Celtic at Aberdeen University before being taken under the wing of the noted Gaelic activist in the BBC, the Gael Fred MacAulay.

The avuncular MacAulay was a great supporter of the arts in Gaelic and established the Highland Music Centre at Balnain, Inverness. MacAulay had decided to broaden the nature of the Gaelic news, which at that time was often little more than a translation of the English version, by offering a contract to the fledgling and cash-strapped West Highland Free Press in which the " Wee Free" , run by Wilson, would be paid £25 a week to feed three snippets of hard Gaelic news into the conventional system every night.

MacKenzie was a keen supporter of the left-wing ethos of the paper and the two men established a close working relationship which often saw Wilson (who was the same age as him) filing copy from a pub telephone minutes before the news was due, which MacKenzie would then have to weave into his script almost off the top of his head.

But his heart was in the arts rather than hard news. He was a fine singer, writer and performer and so it was that MacKenzie's period at the BBC was followed by acting training in Bristol, after which he returned to the Highlands to start a career just as Gaelic was becoming fashionable again with the funders.

His output was prodigious. His achievements included many years with the radical 7/84 theatre company, nine years travelling around the Highlands and islands with school projects, work with the Mod, the Feisean movement and the Gaelic College in Skye. He was latterly the director of the National Gaelic Theatre Company's programme for taking Gaelic drama into schools.

After work was over the often-serious MacKenzie (or Sim-Sheem as he was often known) would transfer into a storyteller of renown.

When really enjoying himself with close friends he would sometimes even enter the realms of fantasy storyteller devising, to universal delight, off-the-wall tales on the spot.

His hobbies included his-tory and book collecting, and he took great delight in the development of his lodge house at Clynder. He is survived by his long-term partner, Charlie Curran, his father, two brothers and a sister. He will be buried in his beloved Harris.