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Actor Kenny Ireland dies aged 68

The former artistic director of the Royal Lyceum, best known for his role in TV comedy Benidorm, has passed away

Kenny Ireland, who has died aged 68, was a constant and familiar figure in Scottish theatre over four decades, appearing at the Traverse and the Royal Lyceum in Edinburgh in the 1970s and returning to the Lyceum as artistic director for ten years in 1993.

Round as a barrel, with a pink gleaming face and a ready wit, he was a wonderful character actor and became popular on television as part of Victoria Wood's "rep" company alongside Julie Walters and Celia Imrie, notably as gormless Derek in Acorn Antiques.

But he was a serious and unflinching advocate of new theatre work, too, from the early days in the Young Lyceum company, and with playwright Tom McGrath at the Third Eye Centre in Glasgow. He was the perfect Oliver Hardy in McGrath's Laurel and Hardy and appeared also in the same author's The Hard Man, about gangster Jimmy Boyle, at the Traverse.

He was in Peter Hall's great production, performed in masks, of Tony Harrison's new translation of The Oresteia at the National Theatre in 1982, alongside Greg Hicks, Barrie Rutter and Tony Robinson, and a few years later helped Howard Barker found The Wrestling School, dedicated to Barker's writing and his "Theatre of Catastrophe."

He directed several of Barker's major plays and, after his decade at the Lyceum, mounted highly successful big Scottish touring adaptations of three famous Scottish novels: Lewis Grassic Gibbon's Sunset Song, Neil Gunn's The Silver Darlings, and Robin Jenkins's The Cone Gatherers.

Latterly, he was best known on television as Derek the unlikely swinger in Benidorm, but his television credits also included appearances in Taggart, House of Cards with Ian Richardson, New Tricks and Heartbeat.

And his best known films were Bill Forsyth's Local Hero (1983) starring Burt Lancaster and a roll-call of great Scottish actors, and David Leland's The Big Man (1990) with Liam Neeson, Joanne Whalley and Billy Connolly. He was a brave heart, a big spirit, and a bedrock personality.