Hamish Wilson, radio producer and actor

Born: December 13, 1942;

Died: March 26, 2020.

HAMISH Wilson, who has died aged 77 as a result of contracting coronavirus, was a pioneering radio producer and gifted character actor with a lightness of touch.

He was born James Aitken Wilson in Glasgow, in 1942. His family moved to Cambuslang when he was very young. His father, also James, was a sales rep for a paint firm; his mother Isobel (née Willock) worked in the rag trade. After they divorced Isobel married another Wilson, Robert, and Hamish and his sister Jan grew up with step-siblings Leslie, Sheila and Robbie.

He discovered his love of drama while at West Coats Primary School. Later, at the Glasgow Academy, this love drove him to do “that stupidly romantic thing of running away from school to appear on the stage”. He was soon working professionally – he understudied Jimmy Logan for a summer season at the King’s Theatre and appeared in Peter Duguid’s 1957 Glasgow Citizen’s Theatre production of Enemy of the People.

He then attended the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama and gained more professional experience during the summer holidays. He played the title role in 1959’s live ITV play, The Boy from the Gorbals, did a 1960 episode of Para Handy with Duncan Macrae, and met Walt Disney while he was working on his film adaptation of Greyfriars Bobby (1961).

“I was trying to chat up a pretty blonde extra, with no success at all”, he once recalled, “and this gentleman with blond hair and a little moustache came over and started chatting to me. We nattered away for five minutes and then he wandered away. The girl was terribly impressed, but I spoilt it because I didn’t recognise him. I said, ‘Who was that?’ and she stopped being impressed. ‘That was Walt Disney!’, she said”.

He graduated from the RSAMD in 1963, winning the award for Most Promising Male Performance, and appeared on stage at Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre (1965), Perth Theatre (1967-68), and Dundee Repertory Theatre (1970-71), where his performance in Mark But This Flea was described as “remarkable” by The Stage, the trade weekly – not least because he had stepped in 24 hours before opening night after the original actor had broken his leg.

On television he appeared in The Wednesday Play (1965), The Vital Spark (1966), This Man Craig (three different roles, 1966), Softly, Softly (1967) and The Revenue Men (three different roles, 1967).

In 1968 Doctor Who regular Frazer Hines, who played Patrick Troughton’s Jacobite companion Jamie, fell ill with chickenpox while making the adventure The Mind Robber. After an ingenious, hasty rewrite Jamie underwent a temporary metamorphosis and with one day’s rehearsal Wilson took over, cramming his lines overnight and recording the first of his two episodes the next day.

Further TV roles followed, including The Borderers (1969), Boy Meets Girls (1969), Adam Smith (1972), and The View from Daniel Pike (1972) but he found that he needed to turn his attention away from acting because “ a beautiful girl smiled at me”. Intent on marriage and starting a family, he gained more secure employment as an announcer for STV.

In 1975 he went to Radio Forth as its arts and drama producer. With limited resources but boundless ambition, he broadcast original writing, late-night horror classics, and a six-month long serial about Mary Queen of Scots, told in 130 twelve-minute episodes, broadcast daily. Drama of this kind on commercial radio was largely unheard of.

In 1979 he did an adaptation of The Slab Boys for Radio Clyde, ultimately joining the station and founding Independent Local Radio’s first drama department there.

His many productions at Clyde included The Bell in the Tree (1982), a series of dramas about the history of Glasgow by Edward H Chisnall; Donald Campbell’s Till the Seas Run Dry (1983, with Tom Fleming as Robert Burns and Mary Riggans as Jean Armour), and Nick McCarthy’s Elephant Dances (1989, with Katy Murphy).

He also encouraged new talent, instigating initiatives which gave professional breaks to aspiring comedy writers and awarded contracts and prized Equity cards to final-year drama students.

He left Clyde in 1989 and joined the BBC, where he produced a huge number of plays and series for Radio Scotland, Radio 3 and Radio 4. He really believed in radio: “It allows you to creep inside somebody’s head”, he said, “and paint pictures that are going to stay long after the programme is finished.”

In all, he won 23 awards for his radio productions – his ‘Oscars’, as he jokingly referred to them – and served a juror in the Prix Italia (where he was also the first ILR producer to be jury chairman), Prix Futura Berlin and the Prix Europa.

When he left the BBC after ten successful years he went back to the old trade, doing voiceover work and acting in episodes of Taggart (2004), Monarch of the Glen (2005) and Still Game (2007).

He was an active member of the actors’ union Equity and taught radio technique at RSAMD and at London’s Guildhall School of Music and Drama. In 1996 he was awarded a fellowship of the RSAMD (now the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland). Though dogged in his work, he was an affable, genial, unassuming man who was happy to help others and enjoyed reading and war-strategy games.

The beautiful girl who smiled at him was Diana (née Baron), a wardrobe mistress at Dundee Rep, whom he had met in 1972. They married the following year and had three daughters, Emma, Alice and Abigail, who all survive him, as do grandchildren Colin, Finley, Amelia and Gregor.