Actor and teacher

Born: June 19, 1929;

Died: 6th February 6, 2020.

JOHN McColl, who has died aged 90, was one of Scotland’s foremost actors, playing leading roles such as Sir Thomas More in the Robert Bolt play, A Man for All Seasons, and the Inspector in JB Priestley’s An Inspector Calls in amateur productions.

The term “amateur” when applied to John was only relevant in that he was not paid. He was thoroughly professional in both preparation and delivery. He would arrive at rehearsals with his lines already learned off by heart and he would go on to annotate his text with detailed directions. He was considered by fellow players to be a joy to work with. Since amateur dramatics gave him a wealth of opportunities on stage, and the fact that he had a solid teaching career, he never felt the need to attempt to earn his living from acting.

As a student and then teacher of English language and literature he had a deep understanding of the texts he performed. He was educated at George Heriot’s Junior School from 1935. By the time he was old enough to enter the senior school at the age of 11 his father had died. This meant he qualified for a Foundationer’s place funded by the school’s charitable trust.

School records reveal that his love for acting shone through at an early age, describing him as a “fine actor in the drama society.” Both his dependable character and intellectual ability were also deemed worthy of note. A “good product of the school,” stated the record.

In 1947 John gained entrance into the University of Edinburgh, graduating with an Honours MA Degree in English Language and Literature in 1951. Thereafter he successfully undertook teacher training at Moray House College of Education.

He completed his National Service between 1953 and 1955 with the RAF in Gloucestershire. He embarked on a teaching career which spanned 38 years, first at Darroch Secondary School in Edinburgh, then at Leith Academy, where he was assistant principal teacher, and finally as teacher of English at George Watson’s College - an appointment he held until his retirement at the age of 65 in July 1994.

McColl initially appeared in productions by the Edinburgh-based Jason Players. When it folded he was immediately snapped up by Leitheatre to play Sir Thomas More. That was followed by the Judge in Agatha Christie’s Witness for the Prosecution; the Judge in To Kill A Mockingbird, and the American lawyer Alfieri in Arthur Miller’s A View From The Bridge. He also played many Shakespearean roles including Macbeth.

Over 15 years he had a role in the comedy dramas Leitheatre staged annually in the Edinburgh Fringe, including the monk Brother Barnabus in James Scotland’s irreverent Cambusdonald Royal.

In 1983 he gave his services to the semi-professional dance company Khoros Dance Theatre, appearing on the Netherbow Theatre stage as “the poet” reading extracts from TS Eliot’s Four Quartets, delivering the nuances of the words in fusion with the movement of the dancers.

He is survived by his wife Marjory, their children, Fiona and John, daughter-in-law Helen, son-in-law Alan, grandchildren Caroline, David, Rory, Katy, Alexa and Joanna, and four great-grandchildren.