Leon Sinden

Leon Sinden, who has died after a two-year battle with cancer, may not have gained the public profile of his elder brother Donald but, within the acting profession, he was a much loved and respected figure.

This was particularly the case in his adopted home of Scotland, where he enjoyed a 50 year relationship with the Pitlochry Festival Theatre – initially as a frequent member of its ensemble, and subsequently as founder and patron of an annual award given to the actor and actress who gave the Best Performances in a Supporting Role, as voted for by audiences.

Leon Fuller Sinden was born in Ditchling, East Sussex, the youngest of three children to Alfred Edward Sinden and his wife Mabel Agnes (née Fuller). Home for the family – including Donald, four years his senior, and eldest sister Joy – was “The Limes”, a home which doubled as the local chemist shop.

According to later genealogical research undertaken by his brother, the family’s only previous connection with the stage were distant cousins, the Victorian brother and sister act Bert and Topsy Sinden. However, the performing bug certainly made a comeback within this particular strand of the Sinden family.

Leon Sinden began his stage career while still at school, joining a company based at Brighton’s Theatre Royal which, during the Second World War, toured plays to Service Camps along the South Coast of England. By the end of hostilities, he had become a founding member of a local amateur dramatics group, the Ditchling Players.

Like many actors of his generation Sinden subsequently learned his trade in Repertory theatres the length and breadth of Britain – allegedly even rehearsing on the train between venues. In 1951, he came north to Scotland to re-join the by-then Edinburgh-based Wilson Barrett Company which performed in the Scottish capital, Glasgow and Aberdeen. Here he met the 26-year-old actor Walter Carr; they would remain a couple until Carr’s death in 1998. When Wilson Barrett chose to retire in 1955 and shut down the company, Sinden joined Perth Rep, and both he and Carr set up house in the city.

Not that, initially, Sinden saw much of their Perth home. He spent a year touring with the New Zealand National Players, followed by two years in Terence Rattigan’s Ross, with Sir Alec Guinness, at London’s Haymarket Theatre. A year with the Royal Shakespeare Company was followed by a Broadway-run in Semi-detached with Leonard Rossiter. By the 1960s London-based TV had also become aware of his talents, with a succession of appearances in The Avengers, Z Cars, and Upstairs, Downstairs.

He was apparently delighted to spend more time at home in Perth when Kenneth Ireland invited him to join the 1965 season at Pitlochry. He returned for a subsequent eight seasons, including the 1981 opening of the new theatre building. Roles at Pitlochry included Colonel Lukyn in The Magistrate, The Duke in Revenger’s Tragedy, Sir Peter Teazle in The School for Scandal, Alquist in R.U.R (which, for many years, he  would describe as among his all-time favourite roles) and Lord Caversham in An Ideal Husband.

As a result, Sinden would become “one of the few remaining connections to a much earlier part of Pitlochry Festival Theatre’s history,” according to the company’s current Chief Executive and Artistic Director, John Durnin.

Television work also kept him increasingly in Scotland, with a succession of roles in Dr Finlay’s Casebook, Scotch on the Rocks, and Sutherland’s Law. He latterly played two different characters in Taggart, and gained some local celebrity as George Carradine in 17 episodes of STV’s long-running soap High Road.

Immediately prior to his final season at Pitlochry in 1994, Sinden completed an eight month run in Peter Hall’s production of She Stoops to Conquer. This would prove to be the last of just five productions in which he worked alongside his brother. (The only time they did so on screen was briefly in the Ned Sherrin-produced 1972 film comedy Rentadick.)

Sinden’s commitment to the acting profession was evidenced by nearly two decades’ membership of the Council of Actors’ Equity and many years spent assessing the UK’s drama schools on behalf of the Accreditation Board of the National Council for Drama Training.

More specifically, his belief in the importance of Pitlochry’s repertoire system and the acting ensembles which deliver the Summer Seasons, led him to create the annual Leon Sinden Award. This enables audience members to vote for those ensemble members they believe have given the Best Performance in a Supporting Role. Sinden’s last public appearance was just last month, at the presentation of the 15th awards to Isabelle Joss and Alan Steele for their performances as Marjorie and Frazer in Good Things.

Sinden is survived by his nephews and their families.


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