Obituary: Alan Dunbar

Obituary: Alan Dunbar, drama teacher, athlete and theatre director

Alan Dunbar, drama teacher, athlete and theatre director.

Born: 26 February, 1934, in Stranraer.

Died: 1 July, 2011, in Edinburgh, aged 77

ALAN Dunbar for ten years brought to the drama department at Queen Mary College (QMC) a drive and enthusiasm which is fondly remembered to this day. He had a passion for drama which he communicated to his students with an infectious energy.

Alan Sisson Dunbar was educated locally at Stranraer, and in 1952 began three years of study at Jordanhill College of Education. He also attended the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama where his fellow students included Mary Marquis, Fulton Mackay, Andy Stewart and John Cairney. Dunbar was keen to pursue his interest in athletics so turned to teaching and in 1956 embarked on a seven-year stint as a lecturer in drama, firstly at Langside College and then at Central College, both in Glasgow. The lifestyle worked well – drama school through the week and running on Saturdays.

In 1970 Dunbar moved to Edinburgh and lectured on communication at Napier College before, in 1979, being appointed senior lecturer in communication and drama at QMC. It was a post to which he was ideally suited, and his dedication to teaching and drama much enhanced the department’s reputation. Dunbar decided to retire in 1989, and his description of that decision typified his nature: “I decided to chuck the job and take a chance.”

It was indeed a brave move yet it paid off quicker than he expected. He was offered a post lecturing at Edinburgh University in presentation skills and worked as a freelance journalist. He had already contributed to the Evening Citizen in Glasgow and The Scotsman on athletics in the 1960s and later was heard on both Radio Clyde and Radio Forth. From 1980 to 1987 he was a sports presenter on BBC Scotland, and he became involved with the Edinburgh Acting School (EAS), where he was a guest director and a member of the company for 20 years.

Dunbar did some exceptional productions for EAS, particularly on the Edinburgh Fringe where he directed Joe Corrie’s Hogmanay, Willy Russell’s Stags and Hens, and two particularly demanding plays which proved very successful, John Byrne’s The Slab Boys and Arthur Miller’s The Crucible.

Anna Tinline, principal of EAS, remembers his work there with much affection. “Alan directed many shows with great enthusiasm, expertise and intellect.The students loved working with him and he encouraged self-discipline, team work and professionalism at all times. I can honestly say that not once did I ever hear him raise his voice or speak to anyone in an angry tone, even though his patience was tested on many occasions.”

Dunbar was a member of one of the outstanding Victoria Park relay teams that were victorious at many of the Scottish meetings in the 1950s. He represented Scotland in the 1958 Empire Games in Cardiff but was knocked out in the second round. It is thought that a muscle injury stopped Dunbar being chosen for the Great Britain team that competed at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. He was fondly remembered at the Victoria Park Club as a fine athlete and was one of their youngest presidents.

In 1957 Dunbar took a principled stand against the ruling authorities in Scottish athletics when he withdrew from the national 220 yards final at New Meadowbank – the principal athletics venue in Edinburgh prior to the stadium built for the 1970 Commonwealth Games. Dunbar protested at the condition of the cinder track, and more than 50 athletes signed his petition objecting to it. His efforts proved unsuccessful in the short run.

Dunbar was a born enthusiast and faced up to the lengthy illness at the end of his life with typical good-hearted resolution. He brought that commitment and zest for life to all aspects of his life – professional and personal. Anna Tinline recalls: “Alan rejoiced when various members of EAS did well, and when his beloved grand-daughters won poetry competitions. He was a wonderful storyteller and shared his knowledge and skills so generously.”

He is survived by Margaret, his wife of more than 50 years, two daughters and two sons.

  • The above obituary appeared in the Scotsman of  18th July, 2011.