Born: September 13, 1959;

Died: January 18, 2021

TRIBUTES to Andy Gray have been flowing faster than the lines he delivered when playing a flustered Buttons in panto, ranging from “comedy genius” to “stage and television legend.” And they came from every corner of society. But what of the man behind the make-up? What inspired this universal love for the actor who would weaponise arched eyebrows and glum expressions to defeat the most recalcitrant of audiences?

The comedy actor, one of the greatest Scotland, and indeed Britain,has ever produced, offered a clue at the end of our first interview. “Here’s my card, if you need to call,” he said. And his business card featured a Bat symbol.

Andy Gray’s wardrobe was filled with Batman t-shirts. His man cave at his bungalow in Perth featured a clutch of comic book memorabilia. He wore a Batman dressing gown backstage. And he liked to paint his pinky purple. (His mother always had one purple pinky.)

It doesn’t take a behavioural psychologist to tell you that here was a man, who even at 61 when he died from Covid-related illness, was still in no hurry to grow up. Was that child-like essence, that unwillingness to dwell too long on the overly serious, that youthful energy one of the reasons he lifted the spirits of so many?

“That’s so true,” said his close friend Grant Stott, who had been a fan of the comic actor before the pair met in the late 90s and would go on to become his panto partner. But he also had a natural gift for comedy. He could win over the most difficult audience with a smile, or the mere use of a word, such as ‘ba-lloon!’ Only Andy could get laughs out of two syllables.”

Gray could also connect immediately with those outside of the showbiz bubble. “My wife summed him up perfectly,” says Stott. “He could make the quietest person in a room seem special. He loved to make people happy. But there’s another reason why Andy had the confidence to walk into a room and charm and entertain every person in it; he knew how talented he was. He knew he couldn’t fail to be funny.”

Tamara Kennedy, Andy Gray’s partner of six years, (previously an actor, now a BBC TV announcer) underlines how the comedy star brought so much colour to others’ lives. “He was the most positive person I’ve ever met,” she says, choking back tears. “Although we didn’t get to together romantically until a few years ago, I’ve known Andy for decades, having met him when we did panto together in Inverness – Red Riding Hood, The Sequel. It was the most fun I’ve had in my life because he created such a wonderful atmosphere.”

Andy Gray had to become a performer, although there was nothing in his Perth background to suggest a career in theatre and television. His father ran a kilt shop. But his mother was a film fan and would take young Andrew and his sisters Michelle and Elaine to the cinema at every opportunity.

When he saw Sean Connery star as James Bond the realisation dawned that you could be Scottish and become a successful actor. His young mind took a little detour however. “Andy entertained the idea of becoming a priest,” says Grant Stott, smiling at the mere thought of it. “I think he loved the idea of it, the ceremony, the dressing up and having a guaranteed audience. But the plan didn’t last too long.”

Had the teenage Gray discovered girls? “I think you can safely assume that was a factor in surrendering his commitment to the church.”

Andy Gray certainly brought colour to drama school, at Edinburgh’s Queen Margaret College in 1976, where fellow students such as Tam Dean Burn wallowed in his entertainment skills. But while Gray was the class clown, the actor was never less than committed to work.

Not surprisingly, in the early Eighties Perth Rep recognised his potential. But that stint revealed an aspect of his personality that would help explain his popularity; he could laugh at himself.

Gray once told me a story when, as a raw 21-year-old he landed the lead in psychic murder melodrama, An Inspector Calls. “The Inspector has to knock on a door, enter a drawing room and introduce himself to the suspects,” he recalled, grinning. “I knocked, and the veteran actor Leon Sinden said ‘Enter’. I did, but I was so nervous when I walked through the door I couldn’t get my line out and I mumbled.

“ Now, I mumble at the best of times, but I really did back then. I tried again to get the line out, and still Leon said he couldn’t make out what I was saying. At the third attempt, he gave up on me and yelled ‘Go off – and come back on again.’ So I had to walk out the fake door, knock, and do it all over again.

“Now, I was mortified but of course the audience were in fits of laughter.” At least it offered a possible title of his autobiography Go Off – And Come Back On Again? “That’s it!” he exclaimed, seizing the idea, in hoots of laughter.

The experience had also revealed – besides a need to speak a little slower and a lesson in humility –that Gray’s metier was comedy. It was no surprise when he went on to star with Borderline Theatre, causing thousands of sides to ache with his performances in the likes of Dario Fo’s Trumpets and Raspberries.

It was no surprise to anyone in the industry when the BBC’s Comedy Unit snapped him up to appear in Naked Radio, Naked Video and as Chancer in Bob Blacks’ Eighties sitcom classic, City Lights.

Gray and Gerard Kelly proved an incomparable pairing, the chums going on to star together on the panto stage and in productions such as The Odd Couple.

Yet, Andy Gray wasn’t simply a Perth boy with funny bones. He was a hard-working pro who loved – and lived for – his working life. “A few years back, Andy’s mum died on Christmas day,” recalls Grant Stott. “He was destroyed. He adored his mother. But on Boxing Day he was up there on stage. His commitment was incredible. Andy knew people had paid to see him and he would never disappoint.”

Gray certainly didn’t disappoint when in 2016 he joined the BBC’s River City, playing a likeable chancer who refused to grow up. But even though life came crashing down around him two years later, with the development of a form of leukaemia, he didn’t surrender.

The actor had a bone marrow transplant (donated by his sister Michelle) and when he returned to panto with Grant Stott and the third leg of the comedy trio, Allan Stewart, Gray missed only one day’s work of the 82-show run. “Andy would be in the wings, looking exhausted,” recalls Stewart. “But as soon as his cue came to take the stage he’d brighten up and give it his all. He never let the audience know how tired he was.”

Tragically, this dedication – and unalloyed, uncontained love for his craft could have played a part in ending his life. With Covid restrictions closing the King’s Theatre, Edinburgh this year, Gray and Stewart accepted an offer to appear in Milton Keynes. And Gray loved the idea of it; a chance to work a new audience, a chance to be with one of his best pals and enjoy a few glasses of Prosecco.

But that panto was also cancelled, and when Gray returned home, he discovered he had contracted Covid. “Andy fought like hell,” says Tamara Kennedy. “He was the bravest, most courageous, most dignified man I’ve ever known.” The pair had reconnected when working in Glasgow’s Oran Mor. “Andy had been through a few romances by this time,” she says, with a little hint of understatement in her voice.

Those who loved Andy Gray didn’t exit him from their lives, certainly not his ex-wife Annie, with whom he shared his adored daughter Clare (a gifted actress herself), both of who are close to Tamara. Annie remained a huge part of Andy’s life right up until the end.

Tamara added; “In terms of my relationship with Andy, I think it was just lucky timing when we met up again after all those years and found ourselves falling in love. He was certainly the love of my life and we were going to be married this year. Clare was going to the celebrant, while his granddaughter Anna – the apple of his eye – would have been our flower girl.”

There’s little doubt that part of Andy Gray’s appeal – to women and men – was he wanted to be loved. That’s why he found it so easy to reach out to others, to make people feel special, on stage and off. He created relationships that were unbreakable. “I met Andy about half a dozen times,” says Still Game star Ford Kiernan. “He was funny, warm and so honest it was really hard not to like him. A diamond geezer.”

Allan Stewart agrees. “He gave so much to our lives. I just can’t believe he has gone.”

Tamara Kennedy is at least able to reflect on the “amazing time” she had with her partner. “I’m so glad to have had these years with Andy,” she says, in tearful voice. “And the memory will live with me forever.”

Andy Gray never did write his memoir. Why would he even have begun? Batman never dies, does he? The actor had all the time in the world. Of course, he didn’t. But like all our comic-book heroes he had the magical gift of making the rest of us feel that life goes on forever.

Andy Gray is survived by Tamara, Clare and granddaughter Anna.