Duncan Hendry, who has died aged 71, was a producer, promoter and theatre manager who steered major venues to success in Aberdeen and Edinburgh. This followed Hendry’s tenure running Aberdeen Alternative Festival, which at one time was the second most popular arts festival in Scotland, with only Edinburgh Festival Fringe attracting bigger audiences.

A major coup for AAF saw Hendry bring soul legend James Brown to Scotland for the first time. This 1993 show was a one-off date that required Hendry to apply his considerable negotiating skills to the max. He continued to pioneer new ventures when he became the first chief executive of Aberdeen Performing Arts, which also oversaw the Music Hall.

A major venture saw Hendry produce a trilogy of Scottish literary classics for His Majesty’s Theatre. A restaging of Alastair Cording’s adaptation of Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s novel, Sunset Song, as HMT’s first in-house production for 50 years was making quite a statement. Following Kenny Ireland’s 2008 production a year later with tours of Peter Arnott’s new take on The Silver Darlings, by Neil M. Gunn, and then Robin Jenkins’ novel, The Cone Gatherers, in 2012, was an even bolder move.

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Hendry’s time in Aberdeen also saw him help save The Lemon Tree venue after a financial crisis threatened it with closure. He had been an inaugural trustee of the space, and, by embracing it under the APA umbrella, the small-scale theatre and music hub had a second life, and remains open today.

In 2012, Hendry moved to Edinburgh, when he became chief executive of what was then Festival City Theatres Trust. Overseeing the Kings and Festival Theatres with an inherited deficit, Hendry rebranded the organisation as Capital Theatres. Within two years, not only had the deficit been cleared, but a surplus had been created.

Much of this was down to Hendry’s programming. As with His Majesty’s in Aberdeen, Hendry saw the King’s and Festival Theatres on a par with London’s West End, and brought shows in with that same sense of scale and ambition. This included the National Theatre’s acclaimed production of War Horse.

Hendry forged a relationship with producer Cameron Mackintosh, persuading him to bring Mary Poppins to Edinburgh in 2016. This was followed by Mackintosh’s productions of Miss Saigon and Les Miserables, all of which broke box office records. Hendry was negotiating to bring Hamilton to Edinburgh as far back as 2019. The globally renowned musical will tour to the Festival Theatre in 2024.

HeraldScotland: Artist, writer, designer John Byrne at his Edinburgh studio. 
Picture: Gordon Terris, 14/4/21

Hendry’s commercial savvy was balanced with a more out-there sensibility that saw him bring major international contemporary dance companies to Edinburgh. A poster for Nederlands Dans Theater adorned his office wall.

Hendry helped launch Capital Theatres’ small-scale performance space, The Studio, situated behind the Festival Theatre. He also introduced the first ever relaxed performances for audiences with additional needs. In 2013, he commissioned playwright and artist John Byrne to create a new mural for the ceiling of the King’s Theatre, ensuring that a permanent artwork was in place for audiences to enjoy even before they watched the show. In this way, Hendry as much as Byrne left his mark on both the theatre’s foundations and the country’s cultural landscape.

Duncan Frazer Hendry was born in Glasgow, and went to various schools around Scotland due to his father’s career before studying psychology at the University of St Andrews. One of Hendry’s first jobs was with Unicorn Leisure – Billy Connolly’s agent – with whom he was responsible for managing bars and nightclubs in Edinburgh and Glasgow. At Green’s Playhouse – later the Apollo – in Glasgow, he was tasked with preventing the audience from putting their feet on the seats.

Hendry saw a gap in the market in Aberdeen, and became involved with the city’s nascent music scene. This was done both as co-owner of the Crazy Daisies venue, and later with his booking agency, Moondance. Other venues he promoted at included Ruffles, Valhallas and The Copper Beech. The most influential was The Venue, where artists promoted by Hendry during the 1980s included Gil Scott-Heron, The Proclaimers, Divine and New Order.

HeraldScotland: New Order

He also managed a band called The Squibs, who he pointed towards local independent label, Oily Records, alongside President’s Men and APB, with the latter scoring a club hit in New York with Shoot You Down. In the mid to late 1980s, Hendry also ran a clothes shop in Aberdeen called Relax, providing a local outlet for the hipper London emporiums.

Hendry was appointed Artistic Director of Aberdeen Alternative Festival in 1988, developing it from a relatively small local event to a major attraction featuring the likes of Stephane Grappelli, Emmylou Harris and Elvis Costello in its programme.

After a decade with AAF, Hendry became Operations Manager at Aberdeen’s Music Hall, and in 2004 steered the Music Hall and His Majesty’s Theatre away from council control to become the first Chief Executive of Aberdeen Performing Arts. A £7.5 million refit of His Majesty’s followed.

While a shrewd operator, Hendry was also very much a team player, who recognised the key roles played by all members of staff. This instilled a confidence in those he worked alongside, whether it was on a small gig at the Lemon Tree, James Brown at Aberdeen Exhibition Centre, or Les Miserables at the Festival Theatre.

Hendry retired in 2019, shortly after the announcement that more than half a million people had attended Capital Theatres shows the previous year.

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Beyond his roles in Aberdeen and Edinburgh, Hendry’s commitment to the arts saw him sit on numerous boards, where his wisdom and experience were a huge asset. In Edinburgh, he chaired Edinburgh Cultural Venues Group, and also became chair of Lung Ha Theatre Company. He sat on the boards of Eden Court in Inverness, Edinburgh International Jazz and Blues Festival, and arts funding body, Creative Scotland.

Hendry was also a member of the King’s Theatre Campaign Board, set up to upgrade the grand old lady of Edinburgh theatre buildings for the twenty-first century. With the finance now in place to move forward on the theatre’s redevelopment, when it opens, the revitalised King’s looks set to be a fitting monument to everything Hendry achieved.

He is survived by his wife Rosemary, their daughter Rachel, and their son, Adam.

Duncan Hendry: Producer, theatre manager, promoter

Born November 9 1951

Died March 2 2023