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Frances Irons obituary: School teacher and stage director in Dundee and Fife

Frances Irons.

Frances Irons, well known in amateur theatre circles, has died suddenly in Ninewells Hospital after a short illness.

She was born in Dundee in 1950, and attended Wallacetown Primary School and Morgan Academy where she was Glamis house captain and also won a Leng Medal and the prestigious Turner Bell prize for singing.

In 1971, she gained a BSc from Edinburgh University and taught maths and computing in a career that spanned nearly 40 years at Carnoustie High School, Forfar Academy, Abertay University and latterly at Grove Academy.

Dedication

After she retired from teaching in 2010, she volunteered every week at Ninewells Hospital and at the British Heart Foundation shop in St Andrews.

But it was in dancing and the local amateur theatre that Frances found her true vocation, and her love of dancing was a driving force through the whole of her life.

She even had a poster in her kitchen that proclaimed: “This Kitchen is for Dancing!”

Frances taught highland, tap and stage dancing in various different locations throughout her life and for 15 years established and ran the Wormit Children’s Dancing Class.

Tutor

She put hundreds of children in Newport and Wormit through their highland dancing exams and every year she put on a dancing display, usually with a popular musical theme.

Nobody seemed to think it strange that the Indians in Peter Pan were doing the highland fling or the sword dance

When Frances and husband Jim lived and worked in Bahrain, she started a children’s dancing class and a Scottish country dance group for adults.

Frances Irons.

In 1977, she was asked by the British ambassador to Bahrain to perform a display of highland dancing at the embassy ball to celebrate the Queen’s Silver Jubilee.

Such was her enthusiasm for dancing that during lockdown, she put down a plywood board in her house and taught tap dancing over Zoom.

Frances’ own amateur performing career, after she left school, took her into NCR Musical Society and Downfield Musical Society (DMS).

Centre stage

In the 1970s and 1980s, during her time in DMS, she played a number of leading roles in popular musicals and pantomimes and also starred in many cabaret evenings.

When Frances and Jim were leaving to go to Bahrain in 1976, the Evening Telegraph published an article and a photo of Frances in the Guinevere costume in Camelot.

That night, when they went to a Morgan rugby club event, some wit shouted out: “I see you’re out without your crown tonight Frances!”

Since she gave up performing in principal roles, over the last 30 years or so she moved seamlessly from performing to directing, first of all in Wormit Theatre Group (WORTH) which she co-founded in 1987 with friends and neighbours.

For 15 years Frances directed WORTH’s annual productions of popular musicals in Wormit West Hall.

In demand

Her success directing WORTH made her much sought after by local amateur musical societies in Tayside and Fife and she directed a number of highly acclaimed productions of popular musicals for Leven Musical Society, Thomson-Leng Musical Society, Apex Productions and other local companies.

But it has been with Broughty Opera for the last 15 years or so that she has mainly demonstrated her directing talents.

Always striving to get the little details right as well as the big picture, her eye for setting a stage was unmatched locally.

Perfectionist

She was well known for her attention to detail and for spotting any little thing that wasn’t quite the way it had been set. She was always striving for perfection and being “good enough” wasn’t good enough for Frances.

For many years she also directed annual productions of popular musicals with the pupils of Grove Academy, many of whom have since gone on to have careers in the professional theatre.

Frances was also on the committee of Morgan Academy FP Association, which was re-formed to support the school after the fire that almost completely destroyed it in 2001.

Driving force

In 2018, for the 150-year anniversary of the school, she organised a concert in the Caird Hall to showcase Morgan talent – past and present. It was acclaimed as a great success, mainly down to Frances’ determination and organisation.

Prior to going in to hospital, she was still working on Broughty Opera’s planned production of Forbidden Broadway and in her last message to her friends and family, advising them of her terminal illness, she included the words: “Thank you for living this life with me. I’ve had a ball. Always have fun!”

Frances is survived by her husband, Jim, whom she married in 1974, and by her children Joanne and Gareth, son-in-law James and sisters Stella and Lorna.

You can read the family’s announcement here.

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