Scottish Music Hall & Variety Theatre Society

The glorious days of Scottish Music Hall and Variety Theatre

BETTY CLARKSON

 

Betty was one half of a duo dancing act on the Moss Empire circuits, up to the 1960’s, with her husband George Clarkson and known as Clarkson and Leslie, ‘The Essence of Versatility’. Betty was born in December 1920 and sadly died on March 25 2020.

 

Betty Wemyss, as she was, grew up in Edinburgh and was introduced to Show-business from an early age. Her mother was from a theatre background and some relatives also ran a dance school. Her parents also rented out part of their house as a theatrical boarding house. Betty loved being involved and helped to serve meals and enjoyed being engaged in conversation with many of the visiting professionals. They used to take her backstage to watch the shows and it all started from there.

 

Betty and George married during war years and performed with ENSA and CSE, entertaining the forces far and wide. After the war, the duo performed in Butlins and made many friendships with a vast number of performers. In particular, they became very friendly with Des O’Connor. Betty and George both had dancing and chorus parts in the film Oliver. When theatre work became in less demand, George was approached by Des O’Connor who asked him if he would be interested in becoming Des’s Road Manager and George jumped at the chance.

 

Betty meanwhile, had secured a job with the BBC wardrobe department and worked on lots of locations, one of them being Dad’s Army. During this time, Betty became very friendly with all the cast and remarked that they were very like the characters that they portrayed. Unfortunately, whilst working in Elstree Studios, George sadly died with a heart attack. Des then asked Betty to come and work as his secretary. He also bought her a mini car to help get around London easily. Betty finished her career off by returning to the BBC and retired from there.


For a number of years, Betty was Vice Chair of The Scottish Music Hall Society and while in that position, inaugurated The Annual Society Edinburgh Lunch which became very successful. She was also very proud to be a member of the Lady Ratlings and took part in many of their activities. Betty always attended the Annual Lady Ratlings’ Ball every year in London and was friendly with all the prominent female stars.

 

Betty was a well loved, respected and valued member of The Scottish Music Hall and Variety Theatre Society for many years and will be sadly missed by us all. We say goodbye to a truly lovely, lovely lady.


Bill Green

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TOM ALEXANDER

 

One of the long-standing members of the Scottish Music Hall Society, Tom Alexander, sadly passed away aged 85 at the beginning of the year. Tom was one half of the popular Scottish showbiz act The Alexander Brothers.  For over 50 years the brothers performed in theatres and venues all over Scotland, Ireland and in concert halls in many countries around the world.  Tom played accordion and Jack was the singing pianist.

 

The brothers were brought up in Cambusnethan Street, Wishaw.  Their dad, Jimmy, worked in the local steelworks and although the family didn’t have much money, their parents paid for lessons for Tom, Jack and their sister Betty.   Betty’s lessons were for dancing, Jack’s were for piano and Tom concentrated on the accordion.  As they gained experience, their dad encouraged them to form The Alexander Trio in which Betty danced to classical music played by her brothers and the trio would perform at church concerts and dancing displays within Lanarkshire.

 

After Betty decided to leave, the boys continued as a musical duo.  Now calling themselves The Alexander Brothers, they performed after school at ‘go-as-you-please’ events and on occasions when they won, they’d receive £3 plus half-a-crown for expenses. Their repertoire at these events was classical music, with Tom playing the likes of Carnival of Venice and Jack performing Tchaikovskys Piano Concertoand gradually they introduced popular ballads and at the final of an event in Dumfries, they took first prize, and won £75.   Tom always acknowledged that receiving such an amount of money gave them a desire to work in show business,

 

At that time, they were still attending school.  However on leaving, they both became painters and decorators but continued to entertain in the evenings and at weekends.  In 1956, during the trades’ holidays, they took their musical act to the popular beach pavilions in Stonehaven, Leven and Dunbar and were becoming well established when Jack was called-up to do his National Service.  Tom was graded out of national service because he had a mastoid ear, and during his brother’s absence Tom performed successfully as a solo artist.  He played musical numbers on accordion but never sang. When Jack returned two years later in 1958, the agent Ross Bowie offered them a ten week summer season at Arbroath’s Webster Theatre.  Tom always said appearing at that venue was the turning point in their lives.  “We had no idea that Arbroath audiences liked all things Scottish, and there we were with bouffant hair, drape suits with tight drainpipe trousers and string ties and Jack was playing piano concertos and I’d be doing the likes of The Kalif of Bagdad”.

 

But during that season, a member of the audience came backstage and suggested they should play some reels and jigs similar to Andy Stewart and Joe Gordon’s Folk Four and heeding that advice, they played The Mucking oGeordies Byre and The Road and the Miles to Dundee:  the transformation was instant and incredible.  The audience loved it and thereafter the brothers swapped their draped suits for tartan kilts and switched to Scottish material.

 

This led to them recording their first album in 1960.  Entitled Highland Fling, it was a great success and later, when their single of Nobodys Child was released, it shot to the top of the Scottish charts and there it remained for months, further raising The Alexander Brothers’ profile.

 

Following guest spots on STV’s One Oclock Gang, they were given their own TV series which was so popular in Scotland they pushed Coronation Street into second place.  Their success led to Andy Stewart inviting them onto one of his North American tours which initially travelled under the banner of The White Heather Club.  Tom always said that Andy was good for them as he let them close the first half in venues such as Massey Hall in Toronto and in New York’s Carnegie Hall.  The success of The Alexander Brothers in these theatres subsequently led to them taking their own shows overseas.

 

The cast on these shows initially included Ronnie Dale and Bobby Harvey and his band and they toured all over the USA, Canada, Hong Kong and Australia.  In 1974, Jack Milroy and Mary Lee were in the show they took to major cities in Australia and New Zealand and after that tour Tom kept saying he’d never laughed so much in his life as he did with Jack Milroy around them.  Tom loved these tours but claimed that his personal highlight of all their shows was when Jimmy Shand agreed to come out of retirement to join them in what was to be Jimmy’s farewell tour of Australia. 

 

These tours helped make The Alexander Brothers a much sought-after act in lands well beyond Scotland, leading to the brothers being invited to perform in cabaret aboard Holland-America cruise liners.   Tom was particularly fond of the North American audiences who were great fans of Scottish music and also loved the tartan.

 

He was Scottish through and through; most of the carpets inside his house are tartan.  On the walls are photographs and awards acknowledging the success of The Alexander Brothers and include a photograph of the brothers and their wives at Holyrood Palace on the occasion they were awarded their MBEs.  

 

Tom’s music room displays silver, gold and platinum discs from Pye Records, plus numerous awards from charities to which the brothers had given freely of their time.  In addition, there’s an award acknowledging their participation in a special Night of the Stars in the presence of HRH Princess Margaret at Jimmy Logan’s Metropole Theatre on 14th February 1966.

 

The Alexander Brothers stopped performing together when Jack became ill, and in November 2008 he passed away.  Tom continued to perform but only occasionally, playing a wide variety of music on his accordion. Three years ago, his health began to fail; then around Christmastime in 2019, he was admitted to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Glasgow and died there on 9th January.

 

Tom, is survived by his wife Betty.  Their son Tom predeceased his father.


Norman Christie

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JUNE DON MURRAY

19th June 1927 – 6th Oct 2019

 

It is with great sadness we learned in October 2019 of the passing of June Don Murray. June served on the committee for many years and was very active in dance well over her 90th birthday taking part in An Audience with …. led by Janice Parker at The Festival Theatre, Edinburgh.

 

June was born in to a theatrical family her parents touring with a show called The Bouncing Dillon’s and her grandfather toured the board’s under the name of ‘Happy Tom Parker’ After a number of years her father became manager of the Palladium Theatre in Edinburgh and as a young girl June would spend lots of time at the theatre helping with props and with other various other jobs needing done. While there on one occasion her father was auditioning a young accordion player Will Starr and after watching the audition, she had decided then that she wanted to go into showbusiness. While still at Portobello Secondary School June would organise concerts at Christmas and other times of the year meanwhile she enrolled at the Adaline Calder Dance Schoolin Edinburgh and entered into her first professional show at the Victory Theatre, Paisley at the age of fifteen with Short and Dalziel (Ma and Pa Logan) as a member of the Calder Girls. After the Calder troupe broke up, she danced for many years with the Hamish Turner Dancers appearing in various Theatres including the Palladium Theatre, Edinburgh and theGaiety Theatre, Leith. While at the Palladium in the early 50’s she appeared with Chic Murray and Maidie also in the show was a young up and coming Roy Castle.

 

After many yearsshe and most of the dancer from the Turner Troupe joined the famous May MoxonDancers and their first job was at The Pavilion Theatre, Glasgow in the Lex McLean Show. One of the highlights during the season was being invited to a party at The Central Hotel in the City with Johnny Ray who was appearing at The Empire Theatre.

 

Like many other Dancing Troupes, they were not always in work and June was fortunate to have trained in between jobs as a cinema projectionist and it was while working as a projectionist at the Rutland Picture House, Edinburgh she received a message to say The Australian Show (The Great Levante) was looking for a dancer and she had been recommended by the manager of the Palladium, Edinburgh, June was auditioned and off to London within three days.

There were a lot of rehearsals as the routines were different to what she had been used to in Scotland. After a lot of hard work, she blended in to the show and was quite relieved that she did not have to learn new routines every week. The show toured the Moss Empire’s all over Britain and even over to Ireland. As June was quite small and dainty she was chosen as part of the show to be shot out of a cannon through the auditorium and land in a basket in the balcony. She never ever revealed how it had been done as she was sworn to secrecy by The Magic Circle.


After June’s stage career ended, she became a dance instructor and was teaching pupils well in to her 80’s. Dancing was her life and she was still dancing after reaching the age of 90 at the Festival Theatre, Edinburgh in a project called ‘An Audience With’ led by choreographer Janice Parker. A project that brought together dancers from the good old days of ‘variety’.

 

June is survived by her daughter Caroline, son Gavin and sister Sylvia.


Colin Calder

 

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JOE GORDON

Born: February 26, 1934; Died: February 15, 2020.

 

JOE Gordon, star of The White Heather Club has died aged 85.  Joe started in showbusiness while doing National Service in the RAF and it was here that he put together his first harmonica trio, after National Service he stayed in the business and started to sing with his wife Sally Gordon and also started up the Joe Gordon Folk Four which regularly appeared beside Jimmy Shand and Andy Stewart in The White Heather Club which was televised by Scottish television from 1958 into the late 1960s.

 

Joe Gordon and Sally Logan appeared in many shows together from the mid 1960’s and played many venues all over Scotland.  Highlights of their career included where playing to royalty and at Burns nights in Russia and working in concerts in countries including Germany,Australia, New Zealand and the United States.

 

Joseph Peter Gordon was born in Glasgow in 1934. He moved to London when was very young and stayed there for 6 years before returning to Springburn in Glasgow with his parents.  From a young age Joe always had a great interest in drawing and later he joined the Springburn Harriers and drew many cartoons for the club.  Through his brilliant work in cartoons a friend managed to get him started as a graphic artist.

 

During National Service as a medic Joe bought a mouth organ and after he when back in Glasgow he purchased his first guitar and he then joined the Black Diamonds skiffle group, with whom he enjoyed early success, appearing on BBC’s early pop show Six-Five Special along with Shirley Bassey.


He then turned solo as a jazz singer and guitarist. BBC producer Iain MacFadyen saw one of his gigs and asked if he could sing any Scottish folk songs. Joe sang Johnny Lad… “As I walking early/I chanced to see the Queen/She was playing at the fitba’/ Wi’ the lads on Glasgow Green”. Impressed by his ability, Iain MacFadyen signed him for the new show called The White Heather Club. Joe was then teamed up with Callum Sinclair, George Hill and Dick Campbell and they became known as the Joe Gordon Folk Four. Realising the success, Joe Gordon gave up working as a cartoonist and took showbusiness up as his career.

 

During this time Joe started singing with Sally Logan who was already an established singer and together they appeared on the White Heather Club, Thigummyjig and Shindig.

 

After a health scare in the 1980’s, Joe and Sally moved to the village of Auchenblae where they ran the White Heather Hotel while raising their son Scott and both working together performing in both Folk and county. After a time, Joe, Sally and Scott returned to Ayshire and settled in Galston. Joe and Sally then continued performing in shows in many venues including the Gaiety Theatre in Ayr, The Palace Theatre, Kilmarnock and regular appearances at the Pavilion Theatre in Glasgow. Joe and Sally also at different times also shared the stage in shows with their son Scott.

 

Other work for Joe Gordon included presenting a show called Joe Gordon’s Musical Mixture on West Sound Radio; appearing in different pantomimes and appearing regularly in Edinburgh and Glasgow Jazz Festivals.

 

Joe was also approached by Bob Bain to write an article for the Societies magazine “Stagedoor”, and from this Joe Gordon became a regular contributor with very interesting and amusing articles for all the members to read in their quarterly magazine.

 

Joe Gordon also trained as a hypnotherapist and his practice was in Galston and it was here that he would record CDs to help with anxiety, loosing weight and stopping smoking.

 

Joe Gordon is survived by his wife Sally and son Scott.


Derek Green