BBC arts correspondent Pauline McLean with Andy Gray (left) and pantomime co-stars.
By Pauline McLean
Andy Gray was genuinely one of the nicest people in the world of showbusiness.
Whether you were an actor, or a journalist, or just someone who’d seen him in panto, he was always ready to have a chat.
When he dropped out of his Fringe show in 2018, after being diagnosed with a rare form of leukaemia, he was inundated with good wishes, but said he wanted privacy to deal with his illness.
He retreated to his home in Perthshire and took the time to recover.
When he returned to the stage of the Kings Theatre in Edinburgh for their 2019 panto, it was an emotional milestone.
Wrapped in his Batman dressing gown backstage (he was a huge fan with a shed full of film paraphernalia) he admitted it could be overwhelming. Sometimes the whoops and cheers of the audience at his arrival in the midst of a glitzy song and dance routine would go on for several minutes.
His co-stars Grant Stott and Allan Stewart watched from the wings and said it had restored the balance of their long established trio. The Kings is one of the only theatres to have a tradition of a pantette – where the cast sit in the auditorium and watch the crew performing the show. Andy wasn’t spared the merciless send up, nor would he have wanted to.
Daughter Claire was also in the show – as one of the three bears – and her baby daughter was in Andy’s arms for the curtain call. But whether his actual family, or his panto family, or the generations of people who’ve seen him onstage or screen, it was a moment of hope, as well as joy, that someone who’d brought so much laughter and entertainment to Scotland was back.
That’s why his sudden death at 61 is such a cruel blow.
He had been campaigning to keep the Kings afloat, and was involved in online performances. He and Allan Stewart had hoped to appear in one of the few surviving pantomimes in Milton Keynes but that too was cancelled.
Friends and colleagues knew he’d been admitted to hospital in the last few days, and feared the worst. Those who simply knew him as someone who made them laugh, on stage or screen, are no less bereft.
Tonight the world of Scottish entertainment is in mourning for a gifted comic actor, writer and genuinely nice man.
Pauline herself was no slouch when it came to panto – and this is her pictured, extreme right kneeling, with fellow actors of Dumbarton People’s Theatre.