RIP Sean Scanlan, 1948-2017

© MacRobert Arts

The Velvet Onion is sad to report the death of acclaimed Scottish actor Sean Scanlan, at the age of 69, following a long illness.

The actor’s career began in the early 1970s, with a number of well-received roles on the stage, before his starring role in short-lived 1982 drama Airline. When the show was cancelled abruptly in the midsts of television franchise reshuffling, Scanlan returned to the stage and guest roles across television and radio, before his career blossomed later in life.

The catalyst was perhaps legendary Scottish sitcom Rab C Nesbitt, which cast Scanlan in a recurring role as Hugh “Shug” Nesbitt. Shug is a cousin of Mary Nesbitt who feigns Englishness to appease his very middle class wife Phoebe, but hides a very Scottish persona underneath the airs and graces. A popular character amongst fans of the series, his natural chemistry with star Gregor Fisher saw Shug return for five more episodes across the series 90s run.

Scanlan also appeared with Fisher in 1994’s The Tales of Para Handy. Though never released on DVD (or even in its entirety on VHS), the sitcom has remained a cult favourite, in part thanks to early guest roles for Tony Curran and David Tennant.

Following this, came his TVO connection: a regular role as Ferryman Gordon MacPhee in the comedic drama Two Thousand Acres of Sky alongside Paul Kaye and Michelle Collins. The series focused on a single mother (Collins) who answers an advert to run a B&B on remote Scottish island Ronansay, and convinces her friend (Kaye) to pretend to be her husband in order to get the job.


Across the first two series, Kaye’s character, Kenny, falls in love with his friend, Abby, but her decision to rekindle her relationship with her ex-husband forces Kenny to leave the island – and as a result – the series, which was cancelled at the end of the following run.

© Middleman Productions

In the years since, Scanlan returned to the stage, in productions such as One Day All This Will Come at The Traverse Theatre, and The Shredding of the Suit at Dran Hor. Further television roles were found in HeartbeatThe BillTaggart and My Family, as well as a recurring role in children’s serial Katie Morag, and a brief part in the 2004 film adapatation of The Phantom of the Opera. Most recently, he was touring in a production of Michael Frayn’s play Democracy, which visited several Scottish cities across 2016.

Sean is also set to appear in two posthumous roles: as Old Roddy in the upcoming remake of Whisky Galore alongside Eddie Izzard, Ellie Kendrick, Fenella Woolgar, James Cosmo, Gregor Fisher and the late Tim Piggot Smith; and as Simon in the short film Natalie which stars Prevenge actress Kate Dickie.

His connection with The Velvet Onion may be just one production fifteen years ago, but we are always keen to express our admiration for great talent, especially when they clearly had so much more to give. For all your hard work and rewarding performances, Sean, thank you.

Sean is survived by his sister Barbara, and our thoughts go out to his family and friends at this difficult time.

2 Comments on RIP Sean Scanlan, 1948-2017

  1. Neil Drysdale // April 25, 2017 at 12:32 am // Reply

    I’m writing an obituary of Sean, whom I rated very highly. I was wondering if there was any way to get in touch with his sister, to offer my condolences. I realise this is a traumatic time, and I’m also aware, sadly, that both Sean’s brothers have passed. I’m just trying to make this a proper and fitting tribute. Thank you.


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