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Mini Biographies of Scots and Scots Descendants (B)
Ninian Brodie of Brodie


Ninian Brodie of Brodie outside Brodie Castle Ninian Brodie of Brodie
Actor and laird of Brodie Castle

Obituary from The Independent Newspaper 08 March 2003

Montague Ninian 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,

For many 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 castle.

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 together.

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.

Tam Dalyell

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.


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