Lecturer who gave voice training to ministers and campaigned against muzak

Born: October 18, 1944;

Died: July 3, 2018

RICHARD John Ellis, who has died aged 73, was a lecturer and elocution expert who for 35 years was responsible for the voice and performance training of candidates for ministry in the Church of Scotland. He was also an inveterate campaigner for musak-free public spaces.

Brought up by English parents in colonial Kenya, he was sent to school in Dorset. Later he trained at the Guildhall School of Speech and Drama and then at St Luke’s Teacher Training College in Exeter.

At the University of London he also gained a BSc in economics but, career wise, maintained his first loves of drama and English, teaching in secondary schools until 1974 when he came to Scotland as a lecturer at Stevenson College (now Edinburgh College).

In 1977 he became a senior lecturer and in 1982 moved into higher education as a lecturer in communications at Queen’s College, now Glasgow Caledonian University. In the late 80s he began developing his own consultancy work in communications training and by 1993 he succeeded in sustaining himself in full-time self employment.

From 1981 until 2016 he held the Fulton Lectureship at the University of Edinburgh’s School of Divinity (New College) where he was responsible for the elocution and voice training of candidates for ministry. In the process he watched students in action in over 800 church services throughout the length and breadth of Scotland.

Originally he would show them clips of the actor Ricki Fulton’s TV characterisation of the laconic Reverend I.M Jolly as an example of what not to do when addressing congregations. But as these were dwindling, Richard recognised that booming voices and expansive gestures had become less than appropriate and instead he pointed to the nuances of sustaining eye contact, rhythm and pace and of adopting the style of a story teller.

This work involved a considerable amount of travelling with overnight stays at hotels and guest houses. A member of the UK-wide organisation Pipedown which campaigns against piped music - or musak - in the public places, Mr Ellis would, no doubt with the air of the polite quintessential English gentleman, always ask for the sound system in a restaurant to be switched off so he and fellow guests could dine in peace.

In 2012 he became a founder member of Pipedown’s offshoot Quiet Edinburgh and helped draw up the text for its website as the organisation evolved into Quiet Scotland in 2017. He recounted how he would ask staff in a musak-playing restaurant if they could direct him to a restaurant which did not play music. More often or not staff took the hint and the musak was turned off. He also suggested you could order a very expensive meal and the best bottle of wine, then ask, when handing back the menu if staff would switch off the music. If they refused, you could leave - very apologetically, of course. Fundamentally he would say, it was the lack of choice in the musak that was annoying as well as the sheer volume if one wanted to simply sit and read quietly.

After his move a couple of years ago down to Lincoln - the home area of his wife Grace - he had started the process of setting up a local group of Pipedown.

Mr Ellis was also a passionate supporter of the National Trust for Scotland and its conservation work. He served on its council between 2002 and 2005, and between 2002 and 2009 on its south regional sub group . From 2005 he was the group’s convenor. In 2010 he was an influential member of the trust’s communications task group and his advice was invaluable as the trust reformed itself and became more open and transparent in its communications with the public.

But no mere attendee of committee meetings he fostered the care of the built and natural environment right on his doorstep in practical ways. He was a working party leader with the Friends of the Meadows and Bruntsfield Links as well as with the Friends of the Hermitage of Braid and Blackford Hill.

He was a long standing member of Morningside Community Council and carried forth his campaign for litter-free streets by helping pick up the litter in his immediate neighbourhood.

Speaking to The Herald in 2016 on his retirement from Edinburgh’s School of Divinity (New College), he said his job was to help ministers find and improve their voice. “My main role was to enhance the voice that they had and to give them coaching on things like sustaining eye contact with the listeners, rhythm and pace, storytelling and gestures,” he said. “I also advised on the structure of the sermon, how they might organise the material, how they might use humour and visual aids."

Richard Ellis died after a short illness and is survived by his wife Grace and children Charlie and Victoria.