Liam Rudden: Farewell Gordon

Gordon Blackburn

Gordon Blackburn

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IT was during the Edinburgh Youth Theatre’s 1983 Fringe production of Clutter that I was first introduced to Gordon Blackburn.

Lord of all things backstage, he was the company’s technical director. What he didn’t know about staging a show wasn’t worth knowing.

Over the following four decades we became firm friends.

Gordon left us this week, and his loss to the Capital’s theatrical community will be immeasurable.

So many will miss him.

For much of his life, he was a pivotal part of theatre hire specialists Northern Light.

In 2006 he became the first Honorary President and life member of the Edinburgh Gang Show - he had first performed in the show aged 12 and later directed and produced it for many years.

Gordon was also NODA’s Scotland Councillor and worked closely with amateur companies across the country.

Back in the day, I first really got to know him during post-rehearsal drinking sessions at Ryrie’s, and quickly understood theatre was his life.

Working with EYT and the likes, Gordon was always there with solid advice for any youngster considering a career on the stage or backstage - there are many now working in the business who owe their livelihoods to Gordon’s encouragement.

There was no one in local theatre circles he didn’t know, and no one better to turn to for assistance.

One Leith Festival, a group of us decided to put on an entertainment in Kitsch Cafe on Bernard Street - the idea, to transform it into a 30-seat venue. A quick call to Gordon to ask the best way forward proved fruitful.

On the morning of the get-in, Gordon pulled up in a white transit van and announced to the cast and cafe owners, “Right, get this lot inside.”

When I went to help, he stopped me. “Not you. You’re the director. They’re younger. Let them do it. “

I did, and watched in astonishment as, under his guidance, the cafe was transformed into a black-box theatre.

Pantomime was another of Gordon’s passions, as it is mine, and every November we’d do a panto tour - Gordon would drive, I’d supply the tickets.

The annual trip to Newcastle for the Theatre Royal panto was always a highlight.

During the two and a half hour journey, Gordon would regale me with tales of his early days working with Howard and Wyndham, the company that once owned the King’s and Lyceum Theatres.

He would recall stories of turns such as the legendary panto dame George Lacy, who was already an elderly man by the time Gordon worked with him.

It’s safe to say Lacy came across as a testy character, never more so than when he found himself playing opposite an up and coming young talent called Stanley Baxter.

Larger than life, Gordon was witty, generous, optimistic and clever - a force of positivity in the life of anyone lucky enough to call him a friend. I’m going to miss him.