Ninian Brodie of Brodie
Actor and laird of Brodie Castle
Obituary from The
Independent Newspaper 08 March 2003
Alexander Brodie, landowner and actor: born Brodie, Morayshire 12 June
1912; married 1939 Helena Budgeon (died 1972; one son, one daughter);
died Elgin, Morayshire 3 March 2003.
Set in beautiful and
tranquil parkland in the Moray countryside, Brodie Castle is one of the
jewels of the National Trust for Scotland, a fine 16th-century Z-plan
tower house with 17th and 19th-century additions. For the last quarter of
a century a visitor to the castle would be likely to be met by a spare,
kilted figure, in tweed jacket and with twinkling eyes. This was Montague
Ninian Alexander, 25th Brodie of Brodie, himself.
He took delight in
recounting the family association with the area which pre-dates even the
castle and goes back to Malcolm, thane of Brodie, who died in 1285, and
possibly even to 1160 – though Ninian Brodie always stuck to fact rather
than speculation – when, it is believed, Malcolm IV of Scotland endowed
the Brodies with their lands.
Brodie would explain how
the castle was damaged in an attack in 1645 during the Civil War by the
army of the Marquis of Montrose. Subsequently, the family collected some
wonderful French furniture, English, Continental and Chinese porcelain.
Brodie with justification praised his family's taste in acquiring a major
collection of paintings, including 17th-century Dutch art, 19th-century
English watercolours and above all the Scottish colourists and their work
of the early 20th century. The family included scholars and men of
intellectual taste who built up one of the magnificent libraries of
Britain, containing over 6,000 volumes.
Anthony Bryant, the
Cornishman who between 1986 and 2000 was the regional director of the
National Trust for Scotland in the Highlands says,
thousands of visitors the highlight of their holiday in the north-east was
being taken round by Brodie himself. The fact that Brodie Castle won so
many tourist awards was partly due to his presence. He was the exact
opposite of a snob. He seemed to genuinely enjoy being
part of the National Trust and its foibles. In fact he was part of the
Ninian Brodie was born at
Brodie Castle in 1912, but never expected to inherit, since he had two
older brothers. His eldest brother, David, succumbed to diphtheria as a
teenager. Ninian grew up with his elder brother, Michael, to whom he was
very close. They were educated at Eton, and after tasting business life
for which they had no appetite, they both enrolled at the Webber Douglas
stage school in London as preparation for the theatre. Ninian landed a job
with the Oxford Repertory Company and, gaining experience in small parts,
became familiar with the West End.
In 1937 he was at the Perth
Repertory Company enjoying his first major parts when his brother Michael
was killed in a road accident, aged 28. It was during his time in Perth
that Ninian Brodie met his future wife, an actress, Helena Budgeon, from
an acting family whose most famous member was Sarah Siddons. The couple
were married in 1939 at the fashionable Holy Trinity Church in Marylebone,
London; the best man was the actor Stewart Granger. On the outbreak of the
Second World War Brodie volunteered for the Royal Artillery and, after a
period of service in an anti-aircraft battery trying to defend London
during the Blitz, he was sent to North Africa, where he was a gunnery
instructor and saw action in Tunisia.
When the war was over,
Brodie returned to the acting profession and worked in Worthing and then
in Birmingham. Two years ago, reminiscing, he told me that his years in
Birmingham, 1948-54, had been among the happiest of his life. Besides,
during his tour of the castle, a Sherlock Holmes might have remarked to a
Doctor Watson – "There is a singular aspect of Brodie's voice – he is very
well spoken but I believe that he has spent some years in Birmingham."
There was indeed a telltale trace of a Brum twang.
In 1955 he finally gave up
the stage and returned to help his mother run the Brodie estate (his
father had died in 1943). Almost as soon as he returned she gave up her
struggle in the knowledge that he would be there and in 1956 she passed
away. Brodie continued to be interested in the theatre by arranging plays
and acting in them and maintaining a close relationship with the Nairn
Performing Arts Guild.
For a family hit by death
duties, and given actors' remuneration, Brodie managed on a financial
knife-edge. It was either a question of selling some of the plenishings,
the good Scots word for artefacts, of the castle or handing it to the
National Trust for Scotland. After much negotiation the Castle was
acquired in 1978 by the Secretary of State for Scotland, at that time
Bruce Millan, using the National Land Fund procedures and handed to the
National Trust as an avenue for keeping the castle and its contents
Ninian Brodie's last years
were plagued by adversity. In 1973 his beloved wife Helena had died from
protracted leukaemia. A long-running feud – although the family motto was
"Unite" – tore the Brodie family apart. The grandchildren went to the
Court of Session in 2002 to claim that the sale of Brodie Castle to the
nation had been illegal and asked for the castle to be returned to the
family. They claimed that the castle had been valued at £152,000 in 1974
and that the sale for £130,000 four inflationary years later was "less
than valuation and therefore in breach of trust". Their grandfather
insisted that a fair price had been obtained given its state of disrepair
and spiralling maintenance costs. The grandchildren were unsuccessful in
their claim and Scottish public opinion was definitely on the side of the
old man who had done his best to preserve the heritage.
Brodie is survived by his son Alastair, who
becomes the 26th clan chief, and his daughter Juliet.
Our thanks to the
National Trust for
Scotland for providing the above picture.