My father, Andrew Downie, who died on April 15, aged 86, had a long, varied and successful career in theatre, television and film as an actor, singer and director. A consummate professional, Andrew’s career allowed a young man from the tenements of Edinburgh to perform and direct as far afield as Oslo, South Africa and Broadway.
Born on May 26, 1922, in Edinburgh to Andrew and Margaret Downie, Andrew Downie was the youngest of four children and the couple’s only son. Andrew’s talent for performing, in particular singing, was encouraged at a young age and upon joining the Edinburgh Bach Society, he was soon performing many boy soprano and later tenor solos. At the outbreak of the Second World War, Andrew was exempted military service as he worked in the Edinburgh bacteriological laboratory. It was at this laboratory later in the war that Andrew assisted on field trials for a new drug, which became known as penicillin. His evenings were often taken up being a member of the home guard on the Forth Bridge. Andrew often joked that he had only two bullets in his gun to protect the bridge from a Nazi attack.
The Downie family ran a motorcycle business in Haymarket, Edinburgh but Andrew had early on decided not to follow into the family’s business. At the end of the war, Andrew won a Sir James Caird Scholarship to attend the Royal College of Music to study singing. While at the Royal College of Music, Andrew met and in 1952 married my mother Marion Studholme (Fellow of the Royal College of Music and principal soprano Sadlers Wells Opera and ENO for 14 years).
After college, Andrew was granted a French government bursary to study at the Paris Conservatoire, where one of his professors was the tutor of the mime artist Marcel Marceau. When you think how close to the end of the war this occurred, this is quite remarkable.
Andrew was also a keen rugby player and during his time at the Royal College of Music, he became a regular in the 1st XV of Wasps and London Scottish alongside William MacPherson, who headed the inquiry into the police’s dealings of the murder of Stephen Lawrence. Andrew had previously played for Boroughmuir in Scotland.
Andrew’s acting breakthrough came back home at the Edinburgh festival when he appeared in the now famous Tyrone Guthrie production of The Three Estates. This connection with Guthrie grew when Andrew and his wife Marion were cast as romantic leads in Guthrie’s production over three years of Gilbert and Sullivan’s H.M.S. Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance and The Mikado. These productions were staged on Broadway, toured the US and appeared at Her Majesty’s Theatre, London.
With his career starting at the advent of broadcast television, Andrew could often be seen, usually live, in a number of early television programmes such as the review show Dig This Rhubarb, as a lead in an early medical drama 24 Hour Call and in The Adventures of Robin Hood. Andrew soon moved into cinema starring opposite Alec Guiness and John Mills in 1960’s Tunes of Glory.
In 1967, Andrew became director of Opera at Morley College where for 19 years he greatly increased the renown and success of the department, producing many successful productions. It was the start of a period of time when Andrew began to work off stage. For three years in the seventies, Andrew was adviser in singing to the Royal Shakespeare Company.
Under the cloud of apartheid, he directed productions in South Africa amongst the isolated mixed race Cape Coloured community and also lectured in music at the conservatoire in Oslo. During this period, he was still frequently seen on television in such shows as Doctor Who, Some Mothers Do Have ‘Em, Dr. Finlay’s Casebook, The Sweeney, Coronation Street and Upstairs, Downstairs.
Andrew’s professionalism and engaging smile endeared him to his professional colleagues. He was known for his broad talent in many fields. A great raconteur, he was always on hand with a witty tale for colleagues, family and friends.
In retirement, Andrew became a keen golfer, dividing his time between his North London home, where he continued to teach singing, and the North Foreland Golf Club in Kent. He is survived by his wife and their two sons.