Scottish Music Hall & Variety Theatre Society

The glorious days of Scottish Music Hall and Variety Theatre

In Memoriam - Helen Randell, Vice Chairman of the Scottish Music Hall & Variety Theatre Society

Helen Randell

Helen Randell

1936 - 2008

It was with great sadness that we learned of the passing of one of Scottish Showbusiness's greatest singing talents Helen Randell, who died on Friday 14 March 2008, following a brave fight against illness.

Helen, known to family and friends as Isabella (Ella) Campbell Weir, enjoyed a career that spanned over 50 years, during which time she played to appreciative audiences as far afield as Canada , California and New York and in cities throughout Europe.

Despite her success overseas, she loved working in Scotland , where her name regularly featured on the billboards of every major venue. Her career was diverse, taking her firstly into comedy where she fed some of Scotland 's finest such as Lex McLean, Glen Daly and Hector Nicol then later into the spotlight as a singer whose powerful voice and amazing stage presence held audiences in thrall wherever she appeared.

Off-stage, her kindness and encouragement to other acts on the bill was as much her personal trademark as the standing ovations she received.

This kindness showed itself in other ways: through her love of animals, her generosity to family and friends and in her tireless work for both the Scottish Showbusiness Benevolent Fund and the Scottish Music Hall Society, of which she was Vice Chairman.

Helen's wonderful voice will live on through her recordings, and her support for the industry she loved will remain her legacy to those fortunate enough to have enjoyed her company both on and off stage.

The SSBF Council and members wish to extend their sympathies to Helen's much-loved husband Robert, and to her family of nieces and nephews to whom she was very close.

Helen was a very special lady, perhaps best summed up in the words of one of her own songs:

"If I Only Had One Friend, I'd Want It to Be You".

By Kind Permission of The Scottish Showbusiness Benvevolent Fund.

In Memoriam - Bert Cooper

BERT COOPER

Born: 25 June 1915: Died: 5 September 2007

By John Moore

Bert Cooper, who has died aged 92, was a popular musician, particularly in the era of the big bands. He played trombone and various other instruments and won renown as a music arranger and composer.

Albert Cooper belonged to Glasgow. His earliest career saw him play anything from grand opera to big band swing to working in variety theatres both in the band pit and on stage.

He ghosted a trombone solo for the 1937 film Melody and Romance, starring heart-throb actress Margaret Lockwood, Alastair Sim, and child star Hughie Green. Then he joined Green’s touring Gang Show until 1938 when he moved to Billy Gerhardy’s Band which among other engagements played the great Empire Exhibition at Bellahouston. Gerhardy was a cousin of the famous crooner Al Bowlly with whom Bert Cooper also worked. Dating from 1941 he had a long spell with the legendary Lew Stone and featured in Decca recordings of this band, and was much in demand as a top session musician.

Floodtide, the great feature film of 1949 set against shipbuilding on the Clyde which greatly enhanced the burgeoning careers of Jimmy Logan and Gordon Jackson (not to mention John Laurie, Janet Brown, Ian Wallace and Molly Weir), featured scenes shot in Glasgow’s Barrowland ballroom owned and run by the famous Maggie McIver, with the resident band, Billy McGregor and the Gaybirds, of which Bert Cooper was a member. Cooper also composed the song "Isn’t it a lovely thought" sung at the piano in the film by Jimmy Logan. Many live broadcasts were made from Barrowlandand in these Billy McGregor reverted to playing his drums while Bert Cooper conducted the band which played his own arrangements.

In 1953, Andy Lothian, bandleader at the Palais in Dundee, persuaded Cooper to move cities, and there Bert played mainly on trombone but also at times on piano, bass and guitar. He also worked gigs with the big band of his son Ron Cooper which involved appearances with stars such as Bruce Forsyth, Billy Eckstine, Sarah Vaughan and Harry James.

Part of his time he devoted to giving instruction in Dundee schools where he built anenviable reputation for turning out star performers who went on to successful professional careers. After his daughter June joined him on keyboard and vocals, for a decade the Bert Cooper Band held sway at Dundee’s Invercarse Hotel.

Dundee impresario and comedian Ronnie Coburn booked Cooper’s talents many times. "We even appeared together in two television plays, Edge of Darkness and King’s Royal," recalled Coburn. "I regarded Bert as a great friend. In theatre days he seemed to be impervious to the bugs that would have other cast members falling to colds and the like. He had a lovely personality and he was a real professional. When I booked his band into a venue he would always ‘phone me to say he had arrived and all set up ready to go, unlike so many others I had to chase up."

Bert Cooper’s wife Mary died in 1988 after 50 years of marriage. He is survived by a son, daughter, grandchildren and great-grandchildren

In Memoriam - John Dunbar

JOHN DUNBAR

Born: 9 March 1926 - Died: 19 June 2007

John Dunbar, who has died aged 81, was a Scots exile who returned from his adopted homeland of Canada in the early 1960s to thrill theatre audiences in his native land with his magnificent baritone voice.

Born in Keith, Dunbar emigrated to Canada when he was 21 to work in the electrical workshop at a copper mine in Flin Flon in Manitoba. The musical director of a glee club he joined encouraged him to undergo professional voice training in Victoria, British Columbia. After Vancouver’s Queen Elizabeth Theatre was built in 1959 he sang in its early operas.

In 1962 he came back home to Scotland with his wife Jean and their children Sheena (6) and Scott (4) and was soon appearing in variety shows.

He was a member of legendary tenor Robert Wilson’s last White Heather Group show which included such stars-to-be as Sydney Devine, then a rock-and-roller in tartan trews, and dancer Isobel James: in the two weeks the show was at Ayr Gaiety Theatre the guest act for the first week was the first-ever appearance as The Bachelors of the former Harmonichords trio of Con and Dec Cluskey and John Stokes, and for the second week the evergreen stars Bob and Alf Pearson.

It was an auspicious start for John Dunbar, and in the next few years he went on to tour in shows headed by comedian Johnny Victory and Glasgow’s then favourite comedy duo of Grace Clark and Colin Murray.

The summer of 1963 saw Dunbar in the cast of Popplewell’s Gaiety Whirl in Ayr, a show, topped by Johnny Beattie, which opened on 3 June and closed on 19 October before going on to play Glasgow Pavilion and then with the addition of rags and boogie piano star Winifred Atwell, to be the winter show at His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen, a total run of 34 weeks.

The family had resided in Ayr but the touring aspect of Dunbar’s career created obvious problems and they decided to return to Canada. Back home in Victoria singing continued for the man Canadians called Jock but his main occupation was in radio, selling advertising, something he did for some 30 years, and he also presented broadcast shows. During his regular visits to Canada with his Breath of Scotland Show impresario Ronnie Coburn usually caught up with Dunbar: they had known each other from Johnny Victory days. "John was always a real lively character," recalls Coburn, "and every time I was in the area he would have me on his radio show to interview and reminisce."

Through the years Dunbar had continued singing, from concerts with the Victoria Symphony Orchestra to opera nights to Scottish Nights at the famous Butchart Gardens. He sang at weddings, funerals and retirement functions, and not surprisingly was immensely popular in full highland dress at Burns Suppers.

His last public appearance was at the men’s World Curling Championships two years ago when he sang Scotland the Brave and Haste Ye Back.

After that developing Alzheimer’s Disease led to his final year being spent in a nursing home where, however, he continued to sing to entertain fellow residents

In Memoriam - Mary Nicol, Alan Haynes and Pat Johnson

Mary Coleman (Mary Nicol) 1944 - 2006

It is something that comes to us all in time, the awful sadness when losing a friend and someone we have know a long time. When I first met Mary she was a dancer in the Lex McLean Show and Jinty McEwan was our head Girl and choreographer for the show – the year was I965. There were 10 dancers in that show, and I’m proud to say most of us have kept in touch all these years on. Mary loved her dancing especially tap which was her forte as for her acrobatic! That could bring a tear to the eye at some of the shapes she would get herself into. Mary danced in many shows with Clark & Murray, The Alexander Brothers. Francie & Josie, Johnny Beattie to name but a few. There was Summer shows, Variety Shows and of course the Pantomimes and not forgetting .Jimmy Logan's Metropole where there was always a Skirl o’ the Pipes. The kilts and jackets we would swelter in and Mary not having much bahooki was mad she couldnae' make that kilt swing. She worked mostly in Scottish theatres and did some television appearances with BBC and STV. During her career she worked with many well known performers, sadly now she has joined most of them and boy! What a show they will put on.

Her sense of fun was forever Present whether at nights out or in the theatre. She enjoyed a joke especially her own as she could not stop laughing when telling them. Her mischievous love of practical jokes especially on innocent new members of the cast in the Mclean Show, Chris Lamb and the Universal Show Band were all shapes and sizes and fell prey to one of Mary's ideas. It was a quick change for them into the finale and we all played our part in swapping their trousers. Language from the dressing room at that quick change was choice. The laughter and giggles from our room were somewhat muffled. The half mast and droopy drawer men had to grin and bear their rather dishevelled appearance all through the Finale.

They did get their own back but that's for another day. Mary went on to teach dancing and her pupils were always recognisable by their style and precision and swept the boards at competitions. She loved teaching and seeing her pupil's progress on to bigger and better things. In recent years like all, Mary did less dancing and less teaching. She was always a worker and keen to help out where possible and helped in the Salvation Army and I'm told made great caramel shortcake. She then decided to join the Baptist Church and found great peace in knowing that faith had found her again. Every February in the Thistle hotel Glasgow was our overnight stay and annual night out at the Ball. We all looked forward to that and Mary was no exception. We would meet in the bar in the afternoon and catch up on each other's news and pictures of any new additions or events. Then it was up to the rooms for the make-up, hair and glamour all to be done while sipping a nice glass of wine. It was then time for overture and beginners, quick check at the mirror, and off we would all go down to the Ball. Mary did not make the ball this year, and unexpectedly the finale curtain fell on Mary's last performance on Wednesday 19th .July. I know Mary would have been proud at the turn out on 26th.July at her funeral as it was not just a full house~ ~ it was standing room only which is no bad for a wee dancer eh! Mary will he missed by all her family and as friends we will miss her.

Iain, Helen, Margo, Joyce, Jean, Pat, Audrey, Helen. Sylvia and Muriel. 

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Alan Haynes (a.k.a. Eddie Robertson)

Born: 24 December 1928. Died: 25 June 2006 aged 77

The death has occurred of a member of one of Scotland’s best-known musical double acts of yore. Professionally known as Alan Haynes, Frederick Robertson, who was 77, was taken ill on Sunday (25 June) while out walking with his wife, the singer and comedienne Betty Melville, near their home in Kinghorn in Fife. He died at home shortly afterwards.

Usually called Eddie, Robertson started out in show business as personal assistant to the famous Scottish comedian Jack Anthony. Then he met musician Ken Haynes and they formed a double act for which Robertson adopted the name of Alan Haynes. The act of Ken and Alan Haynes, with Ken at the piano and Alan singing, became widely popular in theatres, principally in comedian Johnny Victory shows and Fraser Neal productions, and on television. Their LP album "Kinnoull Hill", in which they are backed by a full symphony orchestra, is still regarded by many as a classic recording.

Eventually, as happened to so many variety acts with the disappearance of any kind of theatre circuit, Ken and Alan Haynes broke up. Thereafter, Ken hosted a show on Radio Forth, and Alan continued theatre work by appearing in pantomime in Ronnie Coburn productions. "As Alan Haynes, Eddie played parts for me in pantomime, for fourteen years at Musselburgh, two years at Portobello and other seasons on tour," said Coburn who always played comedy lead. "He was a marvellous comedy feed, and a great guy."

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Pat (Hugh) Johnson 1922 - 2006

It is with great sadness that we heard of the death of Pat Johnson at the age of 84.

For all of his life Pat was an avid theatre goer right up until a few months before he became ill. Some years ago Pat presented me with five diaries which he kept from age 15 years to age 20, these diaries make very interesting reading as Pat faithfully recorded all the shows and films he saw during this five year period.

Every show between 1937 and 1941 are recorded, naming the whole cast, when the show opened and when it closed. Pat, who never married, served with the RAF as an aircraft technician and on leaving the RAF he went to work for the Inland Revenue at Centre 1 in East Kilbride. It was when he started with the Inland Revenue that he changed his name from Hugh to Pat as there already was a Hugh Johnson working there and the change of name made it less confusing for those who worked there.

Pat was regular patron of the Alhambra Theatre until it closed on 24th May 1969. He then moved to the Kings Theatre where he must have seen every show over the next 30 odd years and was a ‘weel kent’ face to all the staff both front of house and back stage. Looking through the diaries you come across some of the great names in variety theatre and pantomime. Dorothy Ward, Tommy Morgan, Will Fyffe, Dave Willis, George West, Jerry Desmonde, Frank & Doris Droy, Sammy Murray, Jack Anthony, Stanley Holloway, Binnie Hale. The list goes on and on.

In later years it was the musicals that Pat loved. Me and My Girl, West Side Story, Annie Get Your Gun etc. If the show came to the Kings, Pat saw it. At Pat’s funeral there was a great turnout of his many, many friends and in true theatrical style the service finished by the organist playing ‘We’ll Meet Again’ and I am sure we will when we go to that theatre in the sky, Pat will already be there, sitting in the stalls waiting for the curtain to go up.

Bob Bain

In Memoriam - Calum Kennedy, Malcolm Morton and Ian McIlhenny

Kennedy `Really Battled' Illness. 1928 - 2006

By Allan Laing

CALUM KENNEDY, the Highland singing star, has died at a nursing home in Aberdeen.

The 77-year-old entertainer, one of Scotland's most popular performers during the late 60s and 70s, had been ill since suffering a serious stroke about a year ago. His daughter, the singer Fiona Kennedy. said yesterday: "He really, truly battled all the way through his illness and he did his best. But it was a sair fecht for him and he died on Saturday night.

We are just all desperately sad to have lost him." Born in 1928 at Oronsay on Lewis, his first public audience was Jessie the cow in the field at the back of his home, He entered the Mod in 1955 and won the gold medal. Two years later, he travelled to Russia and won the World Ballad Championship, seeing off competition from more than 500 singers. Among them was a young Irish singer called Richard Harris who would go on to become an actor with a fearsome reputation for enjoying life. Kennedy, who was not averse to the occasional drink himself, travelled to Moscow by train with Harris. By all accounts, it was an eventful journey.

By the late 1960s, Kennedy had embarked upon a highly successful professional career as a Scottish singer. He made what is believed to have been Grampian Television's first live show, and went on to star in hundreds of appearances and programmes, on both the Aberdeen station and on SW.

With his home base in Elderslie near Glasgow, he and his first wife, Anne Gillies, had five daughters. Fiona was the eldest, followed by Kirsteen, Morag, Morven, and Oierdre. The sisters were known as "the singing Kennedys", though only Fiona remains in the business today. Anne died suddenly in 1974. It took the singer a long time to get over the loss of his wife but, 13 years after her death, he married again. He and his second wife, Christine. Had one daughter, Eilidh, now 17. The couple divorced some years ago.

In addition to his singing, Calum Kennedy was a successful showbiz entrepreneur. He was part of a consortium which owned the Tivoli Theatre in Aberdeen and the Palace Theatre in Dundee and brought north stars such as Frankie Vaughan, Anne Shelton, and the Billy Cotton Band. In the mid-1990s, Kennedy made a stage comeback after major heart surgery. He was still performing at the age of 70.

"He was just such a tremendous trouper," said Fiona. In recent years, Kennedy moved to be closer to his family in Aberdeenshire. He moved into a nursing home there last year after his stroke. Arrangements for the funeral have yet to be confirmed, but it will take place in Glasgow. The family also plans a service in Aberdeen. "First house in Glasgow, second house in Aberdeen. Dad would have liked that," said Fiona.

Reproduced with the kind permission of The Herald.

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Malcolm Morton

Died: 24 March 2006 aged 76

Malcolm Morton, who has died aged 76, was one of Scottish theatre’s most-accomplished backstage masters.

His career took him all over Scotland as stage manager at major theatres, including Ayr's Gaiety -- until for nearly two decades before retrial he was with Scottish Television on the sets of the famous "High Road" serial.

His heart lay in theatre. Even in retirement when he was afflicted, sorely at times, by ill-health, he would travel the country to see shows, both professional and amateur, and would enthuse about the atmosphere, the excitement and the glamour of it all. He lived latterly in the village of Symington, by Kilmarnock, but his theatrical origins were in Rutherglen and he had contemporary memories of people like the young brother and sister who became professionally Stanley Baxter and Alice Dale.

Friendships with stage performers were many and included such luminaries as the star singer Dorothy Squires with whom he toured in Scotland. He knew everybody in the business and privately had recorded many in performance. The impresario and comedian, Dundee-based Ronnie Coburn, whose theatrical background initially was technical, knew Malcolm Morton well. He said: "Malcolm was technically the backbone of Scottish variety theatre, more important to its survival than many of the stars. He lived the business and worked, not for wages, but in the pursuit of his artistic aims. I have known him work literally all through the night to complete the building of a set. He went more than the extra mile. As a set-designer and builder he was very inventive and I remember his favourite colours were blue and yellow. He was very reliable and totally unflappable. He could not be panicked and even in the direst emergency he would respond with his trademark saying, ‘I’ll be with you in a moment.’ Malcolm was a great character, a one-off."

Malcolm Morton is survived by an elder sister and nephews, in Canada.

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CITIZENS' FRIEND

Ian McIlhenny, Died 24 December 2005

Glasgow School of Art has perhaps given the country as many characters and personalities as painters, and a fair number of the former have become such by being humbled in London first. They arrive with the inbuilt pedigree and assurance of their amiable alma mater and then experience culture shock.

I am thinking of my friend Ian Mcllhenny DA who died in the morning of last Christmas Eve at the age of 70. He had followed a contemporary at art school down to the capital and fetched up in the same place, the Caledonian Christian Club in Euston-an establishment for young Scots that was essentially an upmarket hostel.

I was there too. In the late 50's. Mcllhenny didn't get started in advertising as a graphic artist and also couldn't sell even one Siemens super-suction vacuum cleaner. He became a hospital porter at the National Hospital for Nervous Diseases in Queen Square and then a scenic artist for The Players

Theatre underneath the arches at Charing Cross. And he played pub piano on The Edgware Road. However, that didn't last and by 1960 he had retreated to a bar job at Butlin's, Ayr (where I was PRO). Thereafter his fortunes were transformed in the early 60s. He found his wife on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe when both were in a company running a late night club for performers to wind down at. This was innovation, though now very much a basic. It took off, not least because Albert Finney showed up. This amateur endeavour never extended to the professional in later years for Mcllhenny. He went to teacher training college and taught art for the rest of his working life. But lie was backstage and on the boards for sundry quality shows in Glasgow.

Then some 30 years after his debut, he was back on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, backstage at Theatre West End with The Scottish Patriots production of Now’s The Day celebrating the life of Wendy Wood, directed by Fay Lenore. But the height of his involvement with theatre was undoubtedly his spell as chairman of The Friends of the Citizens Theatre and a place on the board of directors from July 2000 to April 2003 when ill-health intervened.

Born in Govan in October 1935, he had two sisters and two brothers. The family lived on warehouse premises where his father worked. He later took television viewers round his old haunts in a one-off culture programme. Another time he offered to do On-set sketches for an American film that would feature Rangers FC.

As a result, he had the whole first-team in his front room, and also had the girl lead sit for her portrait. It hangs there yet and nothing more was heard of the whole project. Throughout, he was a prolific and proficient painter in oils and water colours as well as pastels, with his Highland and other rural scenes being highly popular and hung at prestigious exhibitions. He also did some views from a time-share in Spain. But his favourite medium was plain pen and ink, with an outlet for sketches and cartoons in various societies and their functions, in particular Glasgow Art Club. He also illustrated my mother's Loch Lomondside memoir "Before I Was Ten."

Always there was music-whether with the `Call That Singing!' mass choir or sing-alongs at old folks homes on the South Side. He was a registered entertainer with more demand than he could supply. He had his own keyboard for these occasions but at home he had a pianola and for a time, an organ.

lan's wife Frances, a retired lecturer on learning- difficulties teaching at Jordanhill College, introduced him early to her own forte. And so perhaps above all, his living will certainly not have been in vain when you consider how many such youngsters were taught how to express themselves with a brush and thus be fulfilled when words failed them.

Iain McGregor

In Memoriam - Charles Innes, Hugh McLauchlan and Marillyn Gray

CHARLES F.A. INNES 1933 - 2006

Charles was born in Edinburgh on 24th April 1933 and lived in the Belford Road area near Dean Parish Church where his funeral took place on Wednesday 15th February.

When still in his early teens Charles had a great love of recording on his tape recorder and eventually purchased the equipment for putting his recordings onto records which he had great pleasure in presenting to his family and friends. His early interest in recording and records was to stay with him for the rest of his life and at the time of his death he had a collection of over 24.000 records in his Haymarket flat, all carefully stored and catalogued.

So extensive was his knowledge on the subject of recordings that he was often contacted by various radio presenters or radio stations, including the BBC for information on a particular elusive recording which Charles would invariably have in his collection.

During the Second World War he was evacuated to Canada where he had relatives and in recent years he went over to Canada to visit and holiday with those relatives and only last August he once again went to Canada this time accompanied by his long time companion June Don Murray, who was made very welcome by Charles’s relations.

Charles, in recent years, took great delight in taking his tape recorder to various church social clubs where he would present a most enlightening talk on his recordings and the stories behind the songs. At this time the family are anxious to keep Charles’s life work collection intact and are hoping that some institution or music library will take the collection as a whole. Charles was a member of the Society for 15 years. He was on the committee for 10 years and for 4 of these years he was Hon. Treasurer. His hard work was very much appreciated.

He will be a great loss to the Society and to all of us who knew him.

How we knew Charles Innes  by Joe Gordon

It’s strange to think that Charles Innes is no longer with us! We were so used to him being in contact; a phone call here, a postcard there; and, of course, he came to almost every show anywhere in Scotland!

Charles has been with us for so long, that it’s difficult to remember when we first heard from him. But on checking with Sally, I’m almost sure that he first wrote, when I was presenting a BBC Radio series from Aberdeen. I know I played some requests for him, and discovered his great love for music….and found out about his huge record collection…he had more records than BBC Aberdeen!

I was amazed to discover that he had every LP or CD that Sally and I had recorded……and going back even further…he had every Single, EP or LP that I made with the Joe Gordon Folk Four!  Recently I was able to use a tape that Charles made of those old Folk Four records, to produce a CD of the same, in fact I had promised him a copy.

Charles loved his music, and he also loved sharing it with others by doing his DJ, on occasions in churches and community centres. Recently I was trying to convince him to become “computerised” so that he could transfer some of his old, prized records on to CD.

We’ll miss Charles…….he was a great supporter of our act, turning up in the strangest places to hear us….he even comes to the Edinburgh International Jazz Festival when I appear with my group “Joe Gordon’s Ragtime Banjos!”…… When he phoned recently I also promised him a copy of my third “Ragtime Banjos!” CD.

We’ll miss Charles…….Sally reminded me that when Charles came backstage, he would say, “I’m a friend of Joe and Sally”. We are proud that he thought of us in that way. He was delighted that, on his visits to Canada to visit relatives, they called him “Chuck”! That tickled him for some reason. We’ll miss him because he was a gentle, kind man.

So we will say “Goodbye” to a friend…..gentleman

CHUCK INNES.

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HUGH McLAUCHLAN 1917 - 2006

Hugh Mclauchlan, one half of the speciality dance act "Babette and Raoul", passed away at Hunters Hill Hospice in Glasgow on January 8th after a short illness.

Hugh met his wife Betty in Hamilton in the late 1930s when she was appearing at a local theatre and Hugh was on the same bill. At the outbreak of the second world war, Hugh joined the army and rose to the rank of Captain during the North Africa Campaign. He was wounded by two bullets in his left knee which left him far from sound but after a long hard struggle Hugh got back to complete fitness. It was during his service in North Africa that he saw a snake charmer and got the idea for a double act with Betty whom he married in 1943 during a 72 hour pass.

Babette & Raoul with their act "Jungle Fantasy" worked in theatre and other venues all over the world appearing in the "Folies Bergere" in Paris in 1955, Cabaret in India in 1954 and touring the United Kingdom on the Moss Empire Circuit. In 1961 Betty slipped on stage in Bournemouth and injured he right heel and had to retire from the stage.

Hugh joined Scottish Television as a Lighting Director where he was very proud to be involved in the staging of the Jack Buchanan Story "Top Hat". They had to build a replica of the Panoptican/ Britannia Music Hall where Jack Buchanan had appeared in his younger days. In later years Hugh enjoyed a wonderful hobby of growing and cultivating new species of Begonia and his garden in Bishopbriggs, Glasgow was a riot of colour in the summer months, he visited the USA on many occasions and was a well respected speaker and authority on Begonias.

Hugh, who’s wife Betty died in 1999, named a new species of Begonia Mrs.Elizabeth McLauchlan in her memory and he had previously named another, Sandra McLauchlan in memory of his daughter who died aged 46.

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MARILLYN GRAY (Actress, Director and Teacher) - An Appreciation

I was privileged to have known Marillyn for nearly twenty years..  I first met her in 1986 when I began my drama training at what was then Queen Margaret College in Edinburgh. There Marillyn taught voice and, along with  Calum Mill, directed most of the student productions

As an educationist, she appeared quite formidable, however, she always aimed to inspire students to achieve their true potential. To that end she worked tirelessly. I considered her to be a wonderful teacher and in the years after college, she became a loyal and trusted friend. Through our friendship, I gleaned some knowledge of her life and career. Marillyn was brought up and educated in Edinburgh and, as a very young woman, joined James Bridie’s Glasgow Citizens’ Theatre as an assistant stage manager. It was not long before her acting talents were recognised and she found herself working alongside Duncan Macrae, Stanley Baxter, Roddy McMillan, Fulton Mackay, John Grieve, Alex McAvoy and Molly Urquhart, to name but a few. She appeared in Tyrone Guthrie’s celebrated production of Ane Satyre of the Thrie Estaites at the Edinburgh Festival.

Other theatre engagements included seasons at the Edinburgh Gateway and Dundee Rep. Marillyn appeared in several comedies produced by Jimmy Logan at his New Metropole Theatre, as well as in the famous Five Past Eight shows at the Glasgow Alhambra. Logan himself considered Marillyn, Una MacLean and Jan Wilson to be the three outstanding comediennes in the Scottish theatre. She also worked in the lavish Howard & Wyndham pantomimes under the direction of Freddie Carpenter. Some may recall the Wish for Jamie pantomimes starring Rikki Fulton and Fay Lenore – Marillyn’s comedy talents made her a perfect Fairy Aggie Goose. Marillyn also made numerous television appearances but eventually decided to leave the business to study for her speech therapy degree.

Thereafter, she began working in the Speech Therapy Department at Queen Margaret College but, once again, it was not long before she was encouraged to join Alan Dunbar’s newly established Drama Department where her skills as a voice and acting teacher could be utilised. Marillyn never really retired – she continued to act and direct in Edinburgh Festival Fringe productions and later, because of health problems, concentrated more on studio work where she produced a significant range of recordings of Scottish stories and poetry.

Her funeral service at Edinburgh's Warriston Crematorium on 7th February 2006 was simple and dignified, celebrating her love of life and her love of Scotland and our own particular cultural identity.  Readings chosen by Marillyn were given by former students Allan Dunn, Mark Robertson, Stewart Aitken and myself.

Graham Macgregor.

23rd February 2006.

In Memoriam - Alistair McHarg, Bobbie Willis, Marion Pertwee, Kathie Kay and Helen McArthur

Alistair McHarg 1925 - 2005

Former star of stage and television, singer and musician Alistair McHarg died peacefully on Sunday 17 April 2005 in Adelaide in Australia.  He was 79.

He was born in Ayr the youngest of a family of eight sons.  Their father Sam was assistant harbourmaster at Ayr and also the local Salvation Army bandmaster, and as a result of the latter connection all of the boys learned to play musical instruments.  Alistair’s was the piano but it was his magnificent bass-baritone voice that won him an engagement at his native town’s famous Gaiety Theatre for a December week in 1944 on a variety bill with Duncan’s Collies, the Tom Katz Sax Six, Jean Kennedy, the Five Acromites and Baby Beams, pickpocket magician Vic Perry, Fred Retter, and Billy Merric.

This proved to be so successful for the young singer that he was booked for the fabulous Victory Gaiety Whirl summer show of 1945 which had legendary comedian Dave Willis, then in his prime, lead a cast of twenty-three.  However, McHarg’s sojourn was brief: the show opened on 21 May and Alistair was called up for military service on 9 June.

His singing career continued nonetheless entertaining troops and among those enraptured by the rich singing voice was the American film director Wesley Ruggles who later cast him in London Town, Britain’s first big Technicolor movie, made in 1948, which starred the great comedian Sid Field and boasted such other stars as Tessie O’Shea, Claude Hulbert, Greta Gynt, and Sonnie Hale, and other names such as the then tyros Kay Kendall and Petula Clark.  McHarg had six songs, several in duet with Beryl Davis, but most were cut in the final version.  The film, unfortunately, was not a success.

However, McHarg pursued a highly successful career on the variety stage and in pantomime with the likes of Scottish comedy star Alec Finlay, and he made gramophone records.  His theatre work included solo appearances at many of the top venues in the land and was not confined to Scotland but included the likes of seasons with the Crazy Gang at the Victoria Palace, London.   On television he became kenspeckle  with his act of songs at the piano. He toured Korea in the early 1950s entertaining troops during the war in that country.

Popular alike with the public and fellow professionals he survived the sweeping changes that were engulfing the world of light entertainment.  Trips to Australia led eventually to a domicile there and for years he was a popular TV personality.  He also worked as a cruise director and tour organiser before retiring.  His last years were spent in contentment in a retirement complex.

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Bobbie Willis 1941 - 2005

Bobbie Willis, daughter of Denny Willis (well know for his ‘Quorn Quartett’) and granddaughter of Scottish comedian Dave Willis, passed away at the Victoria Infirmary Glasgow aged 63.

Bobbie followed in her father and grandfathers footsteps, starting her showbiz life as a comedienne and did a three month tour with Calum Kennedy where she took part in the sketches and had her own comedy dance act.  Bobbie also worked in the circus in Germany doing an aerial ballet and dance act, worked with Stanley Baxter in the Stanley Baxter Show with her comedy song and dance routine and appeared as Joe – Anne Worley in a Rowan and Martin sketch.

She was a regular member of the cast of High Living as Nora Murdoch and in later years did, by choice many extra and walk on parts, specialising in playing bag – ladies, down and outs and other non glamorous parts. Bobbie was also very accomplished in various accents among them Cockney, American, Irish and of course her own Scottish accent.  In recent years she fought against ill health, suffering from cancer.

William Gallacher 

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Marion Pertwee 1928 - 2005

Marion Pertwee, whose maiden and stage name was Marion McLeod, was a leading light of numerous summer seasons and pantomimes throughout the fifties and sixties.

Born on May 15, 1928, she was the daughter of theatrical parents who had met and married when they were both appearing in a show at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. As a schoolgirl, Marion had aspirations to go into showbusiness and won medals for her dancing. Her elder brother John played the piano for her and in later years John and another brother, Norman, formed the famous broadcasting and stage act The Maple Leaf Four.  Marion went on to work as a singer and dancer and with her gift for comedy was in demand for revue-style seaside shows.

In 1955 she was appearing for the producer Henry Luttman in a summer show at the Gorleston Pavilion when she met the then unknown actor Bill Pertwee, who was making his professional debut in the show. They married the same year.  With encouragement from the comedian Charlie Chester they devised their own musical comedy spot and were booked into variety by the agent Evie Taylor. It was Taylor who enthusiastically helped them work out their act, have musical arrangements written, photographs taken and new costumes made. The act played in variety all over the UK. Bill later claimed: “We closed more theatres than anyone.”

By the late fifties, with variety in decline, the couple went on to individual careers in theatre, radio and television. When Marion gave up working professionally she became a director and producer for many amateur theatre companies. Sadly, ill health prevented her from working in theatre in her later years.  She was a respected historian and helped Bill with several of his books including “Stars in Battledress” and “By Royal Command”: A History of the Royal Variety Show.  Bill and Marion were widely regarded as one of the happiest couples in showbusiness. Bill was a devoted husband and despite his numerous television commitments he always put Marion before his own career.

Marion Pertwee died in hospital in Surrey on May 27, 2005, aged 77. She is survived by her husband Bill and their son Jonathan.

Patrick Newley

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Kathie Kay 1919 - 2005 

The singer Kathie Kay has passed away at the grand old age of 86, at a seaside nursing home in Largs, Ayrshire.

For the last 15 years of her life, she had been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Her funeral was held in St. John’s Church of Scotland, Largs and she was buried in the new cemetery in Brisbane Glen.

Kathie had starred alongside the singer and music hall entertainer Harry Lauder, the ukulele master George Formby and Hughie Green and his Gang. The stage star known as ‘The Fireside Girl’, rose to fame in the 1950s when she became a resident singer along with Alan Breeze on The Billy Cotton Band Show.. This was a hugely popular radio programme broadcast throughout the UK on the BBC’s Light Programme on Sunday afternoons, The broadcasts were such a success that the BBC turned it into a television show.

Kathie also did three Royal Command Performances and appeared in STVs ‘Thingammyjig’Her hit songs included "We Will Make Love" and "A House With Love In It".  During the 60s Archie and Kathie owned the Cumbria Club in Millport which was an extremely popular nightspot, attracting some of the top entertainers of the day.

Kay lived for much of her life in Glasgow’s West End with her husband, Archie McCulloch, she is survived by their three sons Stewart, Donald and Ken, and grandchildren Karen and Campbell.

Bob Bain

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Helen McArthur 1943 - 2004

Helen McArthur who was one Scotland’s most popular singers died in November at the age of 60

Helen was born in Glasgow in 1943 and intended to become a history teacher and was in fact a graduate of Glasgow University. Interested in music and singing from an early age, she entered and won the top awards in the Caird Travelling Scholarship Competition, and being twice a finalist in the Kathleen Ferrier Memorial Competition, she decided to make singing her career, studying in Switzerland, London and Paris, as well as at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music.

Alongside her serious music commitments, which had taken her all over Britain in concerts, recitals and oratorio, Helen became a household name in her native Scotland on the lighter side of the entertainment world playing in cabaret and appearing in radio, TV and theatre. She appeared in all the major theatres alongside such artistes as Andy Stewart, Denny Willis, Jimmy Logan and also opposite Kenneth McKellar in one of the famous ‘Jamie’ panto’s at the King’s Theatre, Glasgow.

Helens first radio break was in 1968 when the BBC gave her her own series "With a Smile and a Song", she was also a regular on ‘Friday Night is Music Night’. In 1971 she was voted ‘Top Female Radio Personality of the Year’. Following this came guest appearances on several radio and TV shows, culminating in her own television series, ‘She Shall Have Music‘. She starred in cabaret in the Savoy Hotel, London and also performed before the Queen at the Palace of Holyrood, Edinburgh.

Helen moved to London around 1989 to sing and teach. She had fought illness for the past few years and died in the Thames Valley Hospice.

Colin Calder