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David McKail - An Obituary

David McKail – Actor, writer,


Born March 13,1938; died December 6, 2021


David McKail, who has died aged 83, was an actor best known for his long running role as police surgeon Dr McKenzie in TV drama, A Touch of Frost (1992-2008). Beyond that, he was a long standing stalwart of theatre in Scotland and beyond. In the guise of Frederic Mohr, he was also an accomplished playwright. This nom de plume was drawn from his German grandfather’s name out of a desire for his writing to stand on its own terms. All this made McKail a proudly Scottish renaissance man, possessed with a vast intelligence and a mischievous wit. 


David Fredrick Mohr McKail was born in Glasgow, the youngest of three children to David and Janetta McKail (nee Mohr). He grew up in Bridgeton, and, as a war child, spent three years in Millport on the Isle of Cumbrae. He attended John Street Elementary School, then John Street Senior Secondary School for a term before moving to Allan Glen's School. 


While his father was an enthusiastic amateur actor, McKail often said he was originally intended for a life in medicine, which was a family profession, before pursuing the stage. In 1951, he followed his sister Elspeth onto the Junior Course at the College of Drama, Royal Scottish Academy of Music, later the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, and now the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. It had been decided he should enrol too in order to “bring me out of myself”, as he later wrote. 


He made regular appearances on BBC radio in Children's Hour, and, as a teenager, appeared at the Glasgow Citizens’ Theatre in Thornton Wilder’s play, Our Town, then in The Thistle and the Rose.He became a trainee sub-editor with the Scottish Daily Record prior to National Service in the Royal Army Service Corps. After this, in 1958, he became a full time student at the College of Drama, where he won prizes for fencing and mime. 


Early screen work came in Moultrie Kelsall’s Who Fought Alone: Epitaph on a Scottish Soldier (1958).He graduated in 1961, and was awarded the James Bridie Gold Medal and a contract for a season with the Citizens, then under the artistic directorship of Callum Mill. 


McKail played in rep around the UK, and made his London debut in 1965 at Theatre Royal Stratford East in A Little Winter Love. He played a small role on the big screen in Life at the Top (1965). A year later he appeared at Hampstead Theatre in John McGrath’s play, Events While Guarding the Bofors Gun. In 1970, he appeared at Chichester Festival Theatre as the Earl of Bothwell in the world premiere of Robert Bolt’s play, Vivat, Vivat Regina!, which ran in London for thirteen months.


There were numerous guest spots in high profile TV dramas, including Dr Finlay’s Casebook (1965-1966), Doctor Who (1977) and Poldark (1977). He also provided the voice of Adam Smith in The Age of Uncertainty, an episode of documentary series, The Prophets and Promise of Classical Capitalism (1977).


McKail combined acting with writing, first in partnership with John Cargill-Thompsonunder the pen name, John Mohr. A TV play, No Kind of Hero (1966), was based on McKail's experiences in the army, and formed part of STV’s anthology series, Scottish Playbill, with McKail taking the lead role. 


As Frederic Mohr, he wrote six plays. Bozzy (1981) saw McKail play James Boswell in an award winning solo work first presented on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe before BBC Radio Scotland broadcast a radio version. McKail went on to play Boswell again in the Mark Harris scripted TV play, Boswell for the Defence (1983)

Barry (1983) was a biography of Miranda Barry, who in the nineteenth century disguised herself as a man in order to attend the University of Edinburgh Medical School and become a military doctor. Hogg (1985), about the life and times of James Hogg, was originally seen at the Borders Festival. 

Garden Notes (1989) was about Scottish opera singer, Mary Garden. The Admiral Jones (1993) focused on eighteenth century ‘Father of the American Navy’, John Paul Jones. Acting Up (1997) was a biography of eighteenth century actress, Charlotte Charke.

McKail appeared in The School for Scandal at Perth Theatre in 1993. In 1999, he played the Coroner in Paul Greengrass’s true-life TV drama, The Murder of Stephen Lawrence. Latterly there were TV guest roles in Absolutely Fabulous (2003) and Extras (2006).


His last stage appearance was in 2011, when he revived Bozzy for a one-off concert performance at the first Boswell Book festival held at his subject’s family home of Auchinleck House in Ayrshire. He played the villainous Johann Schmidt’s Artist in Captain America The First Avenger (2011), and was a geographer in Paddington (2014).


In 2009, he wrote in an unpublished memoir how “People often play games such as asking others what a concise obituary might contain to sum up the person; the tombstone question. Well my answer would be; ‘He had his enthusiasms.’ It was his wish that his ashes be scattered in Millport, “where I was conceived and spent many happy years in both innocence and mischievousness.” 


He is survived by his partner, Sheena Hamilton, who he first met at the Junior Course of the College of Dramatic Art, and with whom he re-established a connection with a decade ago following the death of his wife Nicky in 2006. He is also survived by two sisters, April and Elspeth, three nephews, two nieces, and ten grandnieces and nephews. 

The Herald, December 30th 2021




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