Obituary: Ken Hutchison, actor who had roles in Straw Dogs and Just a Boys’ Game

Died: August 9, 2021.

KEN Hutchison, who has died aged 72, was an actor probably best remembered for his lead roles in two 1970s television plays by Peter McDougall. Screened as part of BBC TV’s Play for Today strand, Just Another Saturday (1975) and Just a Boys’ Game (1979), were both directed by John Mackenzie, who would go on to oversee The Long Good Friday.

In Just Another Saturday, Hutchison appeared alongside Billy Connolly as the lead bandsman in an Orange Lodge walk. In Just a Boys’ Game, he co-starred formed a double act with Frankie Miller as a feckless boozer unable to face up to his domestic responsibilities.

Hutchison appeared in five Play for Todays altogether, including Mackenzie’s production of Alan Garner’s cult classic, Red Shift (1978). He also appeared in the very first edition of the series, appearing alongside Kinks singer Ray Davies in The Long Distance Piano Player (1970), written by Alan Sharp.

His last Play for Today saw him take the lead in A Gift From Nessus (1980), Bill Craig’s adaptation of William McIlvanney’s 1968 novel about a travelling salesman whose life is in turmoil.

Early big-screen roles for Hutchison came as one of Susan George’s attackers in Straw Dogs (1971), Sam Peckinpah’s violent thriller, filmed in Cornwall. The director’s attempts to foster a gang mentality among his British cast saw him once invite Hutchison to wrestle, promptly kicking his actor in the face. When Hutchison arrived on set the next day sporting cuts and bruises, Peckinpah screamed, “What the hell happened to you?”, having forgotten the laddish horseplay carousing the night before.

Another time, Hutchison was dragged from his bed in the middle of the night by Peckinpah for an outdoor drinking session in Land’s End. Peckinpah caught pneumonia and the production was temporarily shut down.

Hutchison took a leading role in The Wrath of God (1972), playing the 1920s Irish adventurer Emmett Keogh opposite Robert Mitchum’s hard-drinking priest, whom he teams up with after being tricked into smuggling guns in revolutionary Central America.

Towards the end of filming, Hutchison cut himself on broken glass. Only a bandage hastily applied by Mitchum’s wife Dorothy saved him. With Hutchison appearing in every scene of the film, its insurers closed down the production for a month in order for him to heal.

In a 1989 interview that appeared in The Herald, Hutchison spoke of dancing at a party with Rita Hayworth – whose appearance in The Wrath of God was her last film role – while filming an episode of BBC Scotland’s TV drama, The Justice Game. Hutchison expressed surprise at how well Hayworth could dance, whereupon she pointed out she had partnered both Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire on screen.

Beyond these faux pas, there was an edge to Hutchison’s acting that served him well playing a stream of villains with charismatic abandon. He later took a leading role in As an Eilean (From the Island) (1993), the first ever Gaelic feature film, playing a widowed headmaster in a merger of two stories by Iain Crichton Smith.

Ken Hutchison was born in Leslie, Fife, and got his break while working at the Theatre Royal, Nottingham. After asking for a job at Nottingham Playhouse, he was made head flyman, and was dared to take to the stage by the theatre’s artistic director, John Neville.

Hutchison made his debut in Romeo and Juliet, following this up with turns as Hamlet and Henry V before appearing in Coriolanus at the Old Vic.

He made his television debut with bit parts in the likes of Z Cars (1969) and Dixon of Dock Green (1969). There was an uncredited appearance in Stuart Burge’s production of Julius Caesar (1969), and guest slots in episodes of The Protectors (1974), Sutherland’s Law (1974), and The Sweeney (1975).

He appeared in five episodes of Colin Welland’s amateur rugby club based series, The Wild West Show (1975), and joined the fourth series of The Onedin Line (1976). He made a dynamic Heathcliff to Kay Adshead’s Cathy in Hugh Leonard and David Snodin’s five-part TV adaptation of Emily Bronte’s novel, Wuthering Heights (1978). The same year, he appeared in the second Sweeney big-screen spin-off, Sweeney 2 (1978).

In 1982, he played Mac Murphy, the manager of a struggling lower league football club in children’s drama series Murphy’s Mob (1982). The same year, he played Jimmy Dickenson, captain of a real life miners’ football team in Neville Smith’s drama, The World Cup: A Captain’s Tale (1982).

He played opposite Siobhan Redmond in Ball on the Slates (1989), written by Bryan Elsley for 4Play, Channel Four’s series of works made on video. Hutchison and Redmond played a couple thrown into crisis after four Labour MPs are killed in a car crash. In Blonde Fist (1991), he was the errant father of Margi Clarke’s would-be boxer. His last TV credit was in a 1999 episode of long-running police drama, The Bill.

Despite Hutchison’s withdrawal from acting, the ready availability of many of the programmes he appeared in either online or on archive stations saw him being discussed on TV fan forums, where contributors spoke warmly of his captivating presence as an actor.

He is survived by two daughters and two sons.

The Herald Scotland

The Herald Scotland

The Herald is a Scottish broadsheet newspaper founded in 1783. The Herald is the longest running national newspaper in the world and is the eighth oldest daily paper in the world. The title was simplified from The Glasgow Herald in 1992