Obituary: Colin McDermott, Playhouse campaigner, 85

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THE man credited with launching a campaign which saved the Playhouse Theatre has died at the age of 85.

Colin McDermott was born in West Yorkshire on October 13, 1928 – the same year the establishment he would one day play a key role in preserving was due to open its doors for the first time.

After studying engineering in Manchester and Bristol, the keen amateur musician was inspired by Edinburgh’s reputation as a cultural hub and made the move to the Capital in 1957, landing a job with electrical engineering and equipment firm Ferranti.

By 1974, he was heading a specialist team designing advanced satellite equipment for the US Navy.
When the Empire Theatre, now the Festival Theatre, closed during the 1970s, plans to build a new large-capacity venue were mooted.

However, after the government withdrew funding, it was suggested that converting the existing Playhouse building, which had first been used as a “super-cinema”, would be a better option.

The idea found few backers, with Edinburgh District Council, the Scottish Arts Council, the Scottish Office and the directors of both Scottish Opera and the Edinburgh Festival all opposing the plan.

But a letter written to a newspaper by the “pesky Yorkshire” man in 1975 unleashed a wave of local support.

Four months later, the Edinburgh Playhouse Preservation Society had its first meeting.

The society soon gathered an impressive list of high-profile supporters, including Ronnie Corbett, Spike Milligan, Magnus Magnusson, Patrick Moore, Malcolm Rifkind, Moira Shearer, Sir Michael Tippett, Sir Charles Groves and Dorothy Tutin.

The group also collected more than 13,500 signatures on a petition presented to Edinburgh District Council and the newly formed Lothian Regional Council.

Mr McDermott, who told the full story in his book The Saving of the Playhouse Theatre 1973-1983, is survived by his former wife Jane.