Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Richard Findlay obituary

Born November 5 1943; died July 8 2017.

Richard Findlay, who has died after a short illness aged 73, was a rare breed in the boardrooms of the numerous arts organisations he chaired. Unlike some of the familiar merry go round of Scottish establishment patricians looking to up their status by taking on such a role, Findlay cared deeply about the arts. This was the case whether as the inaugural chair of the newly set up National Theatre of Scotland in 2003, or stepping in to steer Creative Scotland out of a mess of the organisation's own making in 2015. The latter followed a period when Scotland's arts funding body had become mired in a culture of managerialism that lost the faith of the artistic community the organisation was there to serve. Such a culture was counter to everything that Findlay stood for.

As an actor, Findlay played small parts in several TV dramas. It was behind the scenes in broadcast media where Findlay would excel, however, particularly in local radio, where he proved to be a pioneering and steady hand. It was an interest Findlay retained throughout his life, latterly through New Wave Media, run by his son, Paul.

Richard Findlay was born Dietrich Rudolf Barth in Berlin. His father was presumed to be killed in action while fighting on the Russian front. His mother Inge was working as a translator with the British Occupation force in Germany when she met Captain Ian Findlay, and the pair married. The Captain returned to Edinburgh with Inge, Rudolf and his older sister Linde, where, in his new Scottish home, Rudolf became Richard.

The children had to learn English quickly, which they did through the pages of comics the Dandy and the Beano. Perhaps it was here that Findlay developed his sense of humour that he retained throughout his life along with a twinkle in his eye that co-existed alongside his ability as a shrewd boardroom operator. With his mother speaking English in an American accent, and with post-war anti German sentiments rife, Findlay was smart enough to cover his tracks by pretending she actually was American.

This acumen for play-acting led to Findlay enrolling in what was then the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (now the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland) in Glasgow, where he later sat on the Board of Governors between 2000 and 2004, after which he became chair of the RSAMD Trusts until April 2008. As a student, Findlay studied the Diploma in Dramatic Art from 1960 to 1963. Before his first year was out, he had taken the title role, albeit with seven others, in a production of Peer Gynt, Ibsen's rollicking fantasia about a wide-eyed young man's travails throughout the world.

Findlay also appeared in the likes of Twelfth Night, Three Sisters and Hobson's Choice. He was a one man Chorus in Antigone, and played Camillo in The Winter's Tale. In his final year, Findlay won second prize in a BBC competition, which came with a six month contract. Findlay made his small screen debut as a monk in a version of The Brothers Karamazov, before playing three separate roles in This Man Craig, the secondary school set drama that starred John Cairney as an upbeat science teacher, and which gave early roles to a host of now well known actors, including Alex Norton and David Hayman. Findlay also appeared in another drama series, The Revenue Men.

Somewhere in the midst of all this, Findlay flirted with pirate radio, working on marketing for Radio Scotland (not BBC Radio Scotland, which wouldn't begin broadcasting until over a decade later) and Radio London. With the demise of the pirates, Findlay worked as a continuity announcer on the BBC, before spending a year in Saudi Arabia setting up an English language radio station. On his return to Edinburgh he met Elspeth Menzies. The pair married in 1971, and he spent the rest of his life with her. In 1972, Findlay joined the Central Office of Information's radio division in London, and he and Elspeth moved to East Sussex, where they converted a fourteenth century tithebarn.

In 1973, Findlay joined the newsroom of the newly established Capital Radio, and also formed Waverley Radio to compete for the east of Scotland license won by Radio Forth. Findlay joined Forth as programme controller, and his voice was the first to be heard on the fledgling station. After a false start, a shake up saw Findlay appointed chief executive of the station, and he was instrumental in helping regulations to be relaxed in a way that allowed Radio Forth and Radio Clyde to merge in 1991 as Scottish Radio Holdings.

In the early 1990s Findlay became chair of the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh, where Kenny Ireland was appointed as artistic director. Over the next decade, Ireland's tenure gave the theatre an extra swagger. Findlay operated with similar boldness in 2003 when he was appointed founding Chair of the National Theatre of Scotland, and Vicky Featherstone became inaugural artistic director. The new company's radical Theatre Without Walls model allowed the company to make its mark in a different way than might have been expected by long-term campaigners for a national theatre. The early runaway success with John Tiffany's production of the Gregory Burke scripted Black Watch put the company on a global stage.

In 2007, Findlay became chair of a then floundering STV, and in 2009 was made a Fellow of his old alma mater, now the RCS. Other appointments included chair of Lothian Health Board and Rector of Heriot Watt University. In 2013, Findlay was made a CBE for services to the arts and creative industries.

When he was drafted in to sort out Creative Scotland in 2015, his wisdom and calm expertise was welcomed by an artistic community who had been driven to despair by the quango's disastrous and alienating propensity for behaving as if it were a private enterprise. One suspects his work to change the toxic managerialist culture within the organisation had barely begun before he took ill, and he will be a seriously tough act to follow.

For all his boardroom skills, friends of Findlay talked of his brilliance at spotting talent, and of his over-riding sense of joy with the world. They talked too of Findlay as an innocent who never expected to find himself occupying the positions within the worlds of arts, media and business that he did with such quiet diligence and care.

For any arts organisation to thrive, it takes a boardroom visionary to have faith and confidence enough in the artists creating the work to allow them to take risks. This was something Findlay understood with a sense of empathy and understanding of how art works in relation to other factors, and which gave them confidence to thrive. All of this was done with a selflessness that many arts bureaucrats could learn from. Findlay never wanted anything from his achievements, one friend said. He just gave.

Findlay is survived by his wife, Elspeth, their sons Adam and Paul, daughter Hannah and six grand-children.

The Herald, July 19th 2017

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