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DEATH OF A THEATRE LEGEND (article first published : 2000-03-1)

Durban performing artistes and theatre-goers are among the thousands who will mourn the passing of cartoonist Jock Leyden who died today at his home in Glenwood aged 91.

Jock Leyden formed an integral part of the Durban theatre scene for at least 50 years as the mural in his honour at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre testifies. A highly respected international cartoonist in the field of sport (particularly motor cycle racing), he studied speech under Professor Elizabeth Sneddon and it was her work that prompted him to branch into theatre. Concerned by the lack of publicity for many of her productions, he decided to help in the best way he could – by creating a cartoon montage of the show.

These theatre cartoons which appeared in the The Daily News, became highly sought-after and often gave a production more exposure than the most admiring review. From the stage, he was easily identifiable – usually seated in the front row, head down, drawing furiously. He maintained that he never really “saw” these performances and was always delighted when the theatre management invited him to revisit the show so that he could simply sit back and enjoy it.

Although hampered by lack of vision and ill health in his last years which curtailed his ability to draw, Jock will be fondly remembered for his wry Scots humour and astounding ability to capture the merest nuance of a performer’s character or his delight in portraying their most recognisable feature.

From the day when his first work was published in 1927 in The Natal Advertiser which was to become the Natal Daily News in 1936 and The Daily News in 1962, Jock Leyden’s works which included sports, news or theatre cartoons made a major contribution towards the popularity of this Durban daily newspaper. He always maintained that there was one unsung cartoonist in Durban whose work was of the most admirable quality – that of Professor Mervyn McMurtry, head of the drama department of the University of Natal.

Jock Leyden, from directors, artistes and audiences alike – we salute you.




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