Russell Hunter was a talented character actor who was best known as the tramp Lonely in the series Callan, a role that made him a household name in the UK and overseas.
Born Russell Ellis in 1925, he began work as an apprentice in the Clyde shipyards but emerged after five years to devote a lifetime of hard and distinguished work to theatre and television.
His obvious flair for character acting was well illustrated in The Gorbals Story, a drama of Scottish working-clsass life, staged in 1946 in the homespun, long-gone Queen’s Theatre in Hunter’s native Glasgow. It later moved to the West End and was made into a movie in 1950.
He was a stalwart in the late forties of the Glasgow-based drama company Unity Theatre, where he met and married the actress Marjorie Thompson, from whom he later separated. He was in the first Edinbugh Fringe Festival in 1947 and his theatre work took him from Glasgow, Dundee, Edinburgh and Perth to London and Stratford.
He helped to launch the Edinburgh Royal Lyceum Theatre’s first repertory company alongside Brian Cox in 1965.
Also in the sixties he appeared in A Midsummer Night’s Dream in London’s Regents Park, playing the role of Bottom. The cast of that Shakespearean company included the English actress Caroline Blakiston and they later married and lived in London.
During A Midsummer Night’s Dream he was spotted by a casting director and won the role of Lonely in the thriller series Callan, starring Edward Woodward, which ran from 1967 to 1972. A vast television audience warmed to Hunter’s performance as the shabby tramp.
From this, a veritable host of acting opportunities on stage and screen came to him and he worked with enthusiasm in a variety of productions, pantomime included.
One of his triumphs in Scotland – and he was particularly proud of this – was his one-man show Jock, written by the late playwright friend W Gordon Smith about the Scottish regiments, which toured successfully.
His television and film work ranged from Taggart and The Bill to Doctor Who, Casualty and The Sweeney. Recently he had a role in the romantic award-winning film American Cousins.
Some of the happiest years of his life came to Hunter in the last 15 years, after his marriage to the popular Scottish actress Una McLean. They had known each other over the years and their romance blossomed in 1989 when they appeared in the pantomime Babes in the Woods, in which McLean played the Nurse and Hunter the chief robber. During their warm and happy partnership they appeared many times together in plays at theatres in Edinburgh and other Scottish towns and cities. The Hunter-McLean combination became a feature of the Edinburgh theatre scene through the nineties and up to recent times, introducing present day theatregoers to their talents in established as well as new and innovative drama.
Hunter was for six decades a solid stalwart of theatre, while Hunter and McLean proved a great twosome.
Russell Hunter died on February 26.
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