Obituary: Francis Reid
To describe Francis Reid as a lighting designer fails to do justice to a man who has been described as “a theatremaker who did lighting, rather than a lighting man who did theatre”. His entry in The Spotlight for 1958-59 lists six different job titles in the previous year alone, from stage manager to lighting consultant.
Although always mainly concerned with lighting design, he later proved to be a talented theatre administrator, running the Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds from 1979-82, and an influential trainer and educator both in this country and abroad.
His writing skills were put to use as editor of trade magazines and in his many publications, which range from handbooks on lighting and stagecraft to a number of entertaining autobiographical works including A Habit of Handel, an account of a lifetime of attending productions of his beloved Handel operas across the world.
Reid was born in Prestonpans, East Lothian in 1931, and described his visits to the first Edinburgh Festival in 1947 as the “catalyst” which led him eventually to a career in the performing arts. In that same year, he attended every production of the Wilson Barrett weekly rep season at the Lyceum Theatre.
While at Edinburgh University, he took the opportunity to blag his way backstage at the Usher Hall and even to appear as an extra in Hamburg Opera performances at the King’s Theatre.
After national service in the Royal Signals, he began his career as a stage manager at Tonbridge Rep and with Caryl Jenner’s Mobile Theatre (later to become the Unicorn Theatre for Children). It was here that he met his wife-to-be, Joanna Maclean.
Casual work at the Scala Theatre in the West End and operating sound at the Talk of the Town contrasted with stage managing for Benjamin Britten at Aldeburgh, including the first performances of Noye’s Fludde in 1958.
In 1959, Reid joined Glyndebourne as lighting manager and combined his love of opera with pantomime work out of the opera season. His first lighting design was for L’elisir d’amore for Franco Zeffirelli in 1961.
The next decade was taken up with a busy schedule of lighting operas, plays in the West End and across the country. For 10 years from 1986 he lit every Edinburgh pantomime and throughout the 1990s lit 18 pantomimes across the country for Paul Elliot.
In his active retirement, he continued to inform and entertain in his published diaries. His wit and wisdom will be widely missed.
He was a founding member and fellow of both the Association of Lighting Designers and the Association of British Theatre Technicians, and a fellow of the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts. He had an honorary doctorate from what is now the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.
Francis Reid was born on April 19, 1931, and died on June 9, aged 85.
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