Affection and pride as Hawick ‘grande dame’ Jean honoured

Jean Wintrope receives her award from Provost Zandra Elliot
Jean Wintrope receives her award from Provost Zandra Elliot

A DISTINGUISHED stage career as a performer, producer and director was acknowledged in her home town of Hawick when Jean Wintrope became the latest recipient of the Provost’s Achievement Award.

“Her advice, guidance, passion, enthusiasm, charisma and presence has permeated every production she has been associated with,” said Provost Zandra Elliot at the glittering ceremony in old council chambers of the town hall.

It was a fitting tribute to 84-year-old Jean – the grande dame of the Borders amateur operatic and dramatic scene – who spoke of her “enormous pride” after accepting her accolade.

“It was a wonderful night and you could feel the affection and love all around,” she said.

Jean announced her retirement a year ago, just before producing and directing the Two Rivers Company, which she formed single-handedly a decade earlier, in her swansong, The Laird o’ Grippy, a Scots adaptation of the Moliere comedy The Miser.

Among the friends and family who attended last Friday’s celebration was that show’s eponymous star, the Selkirk actor John Nichol, who recalled: “Jean taught me more about stagecraft and timing than anyone else...above all, she gave me belief in my own abilities.”

John was joined by many others who had been inspired to performance excellence by Jean Wintrope.

Making the journey from Edinburgh was musical director John Howden, who collaborated with Jean as she produced and directed many annual productions for Selkirk Amateur Operatic Society.

Also there was Wallace Shaw, a former designer at Pringle of Scotland, who now runs a coffee shop in Leith. Wallace starred in many of Jean’s shows, notably as the male lead in one of her favourites, The Dancing Years.

Her Borders-wide influence was evidenced by the presence of a raft of others who had benefitted from her tutelage, including Graham Coulson and Peter Robertson from Selkirk, Ian Brotherstone from Lauder and Kate Fish, musical director from Kelso.

Former chief reporter of TheSouthern, John Ross Scott, travelled from Orkney for the occasion.

Jean herself was given her first starring role, aged 10, in the Hawick Junior Drama Group. In 1948, as a 21-year-old, she played the lead in the Hawick Amateur Operatic Society’s production of A Country Girl and, in 1978, made her debut as producer/director with Bless the Bride.

She went on to direct most subsequent society productions and shows in both Selkirk and Kelso. In 2003, she was named Hawick’s Citizen of the Year.

Jean revealed she had heard news of the provost’s award last October, a month before her husband and soulmate Neil died aged 93.

“He was absolutely thrilled that I was being honoured in my native town, but when he died, I didn’t feel up to a celebration and Provost Elliot, who is a magnificent ambassador for Hawick, kindly agreed to postpone the event. It was certainly worth waiting for, she said.”

Jean hinted she may be up for a comeback.

“I may be 84, but my brain’s still going and my door is open to help anyone,” she said.

“There may be something which tempts me ... I don’t feel done.”