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Theatre manager held in ‘great affection’
The family of a well-known theatre manager have paid tribute to him as a ‘devoted husband, dad and friend’ following his sudden death at the age of 59.
Walter Swan, the creative development manager of Ilkley Playhouse, died of a suspected heart attack at his home in Moor Lane, Burley-in-Wharfedale, on Easter Monday.
His wife, Niccola, 55, and sons Laurie, 26, and Finlay, 24, described Walter as “the most loving husband and father we could ever have wished for”. He will be remembered as a passionate member of the Playhouse, supporter of the Ilkley Literature Festival and a keen sportsman.
Niccola said: “He was a devoted dad who loved his boys to bits. He was really well known in Ilkley; you couldn’t walk down the street without people stopping to say hello and he was always kind and welcoming. His death was so sudden and unexpected. He will be so missed by so many.”
Mr Swan moved to Burley-in-Wharfedale from Croydon with his family in 1997. A graduate of Hertford College at Oxford University, he had worked as an English and drama teacher as well as in broadcasting – during which he wrote for the ITV programme Blind Date.
On moving to Yorkshire, Walter quickly joined the Burley Millennium Theatre Group, where he acted and directed in various plays before going to the Ilkley Playhouse.
There he volunteered, acted and directed, as well as being the artistic director for several years. He also worked as a freelance writer for publications including The Daily Telegraph, Yorkshire Post and Yorkshire Ridings Magazine and the Ilkley Gazette.
Walter taught English at Gateways School in Harewood for a time and gave home tutoring for pupils in the area. He published two books with close friend and Yorkshire Post colleague Yvette Huddleston – A Day in a Dale – based on features the two had written for the paper and The Barefoot Shepherdess and Women of the Dales. Walter, who was a keen amateur photographer, also provided the images for both books.
A member of Otley Golf Club, Walter also played squash and he took part in fundraising cycling challenges.
Niccola said her husband’s work at the Playhouse, where he had been in the post of creative development manager for two years this summer, had seen the venue become more accessible to the whole of the Ilkley community – with activities like daytime classes, the literature festival, comedy nights, classical music and jazz concerts and cinema screenings and making the most of what the venue had to offer.
Graham Smith, the chairman of the board of trustees at the Playhouse said: “Walter’s loss is immeasurable. He was a great actor and a very creative man. The Playhouse was his main interest in life outside of his family and he will be hugely missed by everyone.”
Niccola also paid tribute to the emergency service workers who attended when Walter fell ill at home. She said members of the police, the NHS and the Yorkshire Air Ambulance had been quick to arrive at the scene and had been kind and professional throughout.
She said arrangements for the funeral were still being made.
Yvette Huddleston, who worked at the Playhouse with Walter, added: “Walter really was the best friend a person could hope to have. He was kind, generous, funny, intelligent, interesting and interested.
“I first met him through Ilkley Playhouse where we were both actors and directors and we soon became friends, partly through our shared interest in theatre but also because we were both writers. Out of our close friendship grew a very harmonious and productive working relationship.
We collaborated on many projects – we wrote three stage plays together, the most recent of which was a new adaptation of Wuthering Heights (which we also co-directed) staged at Ilkley Playhouse last summer before transferring to the Minack Theatre in Cornwall where it played to sold out audiences for every performance.
“We wrote many features together for various publications and acted and directed together many times. Walter loved his adopted home of Yorkshire and particularly the Dales. In 2006 he suggested that we do a series of features for the Yorkshire Post Magazine called A Day in a Dale. Our research for those pieces – which involved us driving out to spend a day in a dale – provided some of the happiest moments of my working life. The pieces formed the basis of our book published in 2011. We were planning other creative projects together.
“Walter was a writer through and through – he loved words and used them beautifully in his journalism, playwriting, poetry and short stories. Walter always had time for people – he inspired and encouraged many through his work as a teacher and theatre practitioner.
“He was rightly held in great affection by everyone who got to know him. I, like so many others, will miss him enormously.”