Falkirk teacher was a ‘wee man’ with a big talent

Mike Benzie
Mike Benzie

Mike Benzie was a small man with a big talent.

But what he lacked in stature, he more than made up for in an artistic ability that he was happy to share with others.

His days as an art teacher saw him inspire some, educate many but make a lasting impression on all those who came into his classroom.

As a set designer with Falkirk Children’s Theatre, his creative flair transformed the town hall to provide a backdrop for countless productions that delighted cast and audience alike.

However, more than anything Mike Benzie was a friend to many who could be relied on to give you an honest opinion, delivered in his inimitable Aberdonian fashion, but one who would never take sides, preferring to offer his own quiet words when required.

Born on May 26, 1939, the second oldest of 10 children, he was brought up in the village of Bucksburn, outside Aberdeen. A bright pupil, he was the junior dux at Bankhead Academy before going on to study at Aberdeen Academy.

His artistic talent was demonstrated from an early age and it seemed natural for him to go to Gray’s Art School in Aberdeen, eventually graduating with distinction and the Founder’s Medal. As part of his prize, he won six weeks at a summer school at the Hospitalfield art school in Arbroath where he was able to mingle and learn from well-known artists and lecturers.

Planning his future, he decided that, despite a love of theatre design, already shown by working at His Majesties in Aberdeen, he would go to teacher training college in the city.

His first post saw him arrive in Falkirk to teach at Graeme High where he threw himself into the work of the art department, but still finding time to run one of the school’s football teams.

Along with two other teachers he formed the folk band 25B, named after the room where they rehearsed, with Mike playing the double bass – an instrument which seemed to dwarf him.

It was through the folk club that he met his wife Maureen and the couple had two children, Alan and Valerie of whom he was incredibly proud.

In 1972 Mike became head of the art department at Bannockburn High School where he was to spend the rest of his teaching career.

When young Alan joined the Children’s Theatre, Mike was invited along to help out with set design and his ability was quickly utilised.

As well as designing, he also spent hours building the set and during productions led the stage crew. His first full stage set was for ‘Cinderella’.

But it was not just Falkirk audiences who were privy to his talents for this was in the days when the annual pantomime was broadcast on STV.

He later worked with the UK-acclaimed amateur company, Tryst Theatre, and more recently was the design consultant with The Big Bad Wolf Company.

In the 1990s he suffered serious health problems from which he never fully recovered and took early retirement from teaching in 1992. However, he continued with theatre work as it gave him a purpose and a very important support network.

Sadly his health continued to deteriorate and he died in Forth Valley Royal Hospital on July 15.

His funeral at Falkirk Crematorium on Tuesday was packed with people from all walks of life and of all ages, but all of whom were there to pay tribute to “a nice wee man” who would do anything for anyone.

Jill Buchanan