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DEATH OF BRIAN O-SHAUGHNESSY (article first published : 2001-06-19)

Well-known playwright, stage and film actor/director Brian O’Shaughnessy died in Cape Town yesterday morning (June 18). He was recovering from minor surgery when he suffered a fatal heart attack.

Brian O’Shaughnessy was last seen in Durban in A Time to Die, which he also wrote and directed. The thought-provoking play which ran at Kwasuka Theatre in October 1999 looked at the events surrounding the controversial trial and subsequent execution of outspoken Australian-based British soldier Breaker Morant and his friend Peter Handcock.

He appeared in Breaker Morant for the former Natal Performing Arts Council (Napac) now the Playhouse Company and will be remembered for his memorable performance in, among others, Terra Nova as “Scott of the Antarctic”. “He was a joy to work with,” says Robert Cross, former head of Napac. “He always arrived for the production having done his homework as well as his own research and clearly understanding the character.”

Brian O’Shaughnessy appeared in numerous television and film productions and made the character of Buller distinctly his own in The Villagers, one of the early South African television series. He became a household name to thousands of radio listeners through his numerous productions for Springbok and SAfm (formerly Radio South Africa).

Jack Mullen, former head of Radio South Africa says: “He always seemed to be one of the indestructables that would go on forever. Such a brilliant man, a fantastic tale teller and a huge personality. Brian was an icon. There was the great feel of the adventurer about him and a spirit of fun. He had wonderful presence on TV and amazing versatility as a tough leading man. He had a love of poetry and I once came across a book of poetry that he had written. There was a Hemingway feel about it and it had a lot to do with wild life. His passing is very sad.”

Broadcaster and producer Alan Swerdlow worked with him for many years on SABC. “He was incredibly talented, a complex guy with a great sense of humour,” he says. “Some of the best fun I ever had in the radio studio I had with Brian. He was an amazing producer to work with and was famous for just churning things out. I remember the days of doing Jet Jungle when he was in the next room frantically writing as we recorded and the pages would come flying through! This morning on The Bruce Millar Show Nigel Vermaas mentioned in his tribute that Brian wasn’t easy, very demanding and had a healthy contempt for authority and would often go out of his way to defy it!”

Theatre agent Peter Gardner who worked with him in Anthony and Cleopatra and Breaker Morant concurs with the maverick aspect of Brian O’Shaughnessy. “In the Green Room* he would regale any and all of the new young actors with stories of previous productions that would leave them enthralled to the point of forgetting their cues. But he would never forget his. When the time arose, he would pick up his helmet and go - in the middle of a card game … anything! He took a delight in trying to interrupt the concentration of budding actors in order to instil in them a sense of concentration.”

Well-known Durban photographer Grant Erskine summed his death up succinctly: “It’s as if South Africa’s Sean Connery has died.”

(*The Green Room is like a “holding bay” close to the stage where actors congregate prior to entering the wings before making their appearance on stage. The ambience is quiet and soothing to calm nerves and allow respite between scenes. Painted green, it’s invariably low-lit with comfortable furniture)




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