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Scottish & Doric Humour

The Aberdeen Joke Factory - once a subject for BBC Radio's - 20 Questions - never really existed except in an adopted name for a commercial shop selling novelty items for parties.  Aberdeen Joke Factory was the fountain source of the spontaneous humour developed in the Aberdeen Industrial Sector - especially the Shipyards.


Harry Gordon

Harry Alexander Ross Gordon was born in Aberdeen on the 11th July 1893.  As a boy he longed to get on the stage and when he left school, despite being employed by a firm of grain merchants as an office boy, he spent all his leisure time appearing in concerts. His first full time professional engagement was with Monty's Pierrots at Stonehaven in 1912 and this led to an engagement at the Beach Pavilion in Aberdeen in 1913 at a salary of £2 per week. He joined the Army at the outbreak of World War 1 and served for three years. As soon as he was demobbed he returned to the Beach Pavilion, purchasing it in 1924. As the owner/producer of Harry Gordon's Entertainers Harry made the Pavilion one of the principal dates for British Stars, and himself appeared there annually until World War 2 closed it in 1940.

He made over 100 broadcasts from the Beach Pavilion over a residency of 14 years among them Harry's Half Hour and Gordon Gaieties. He was the proprieter/producer of the first touring tab show Winners from 1922-27 and pioneered resident shows at other Scottish variety theatres such as The Pavilion, Glasgow; Theatre Royal, Edinburgh; and the Palace Theatre, Dundee. He appeared at The London Pavilion on 28th October 1929 but didn't go down well with the London audience. The fact that his local supporters hired a special train to take them from Aberdeen to London and gave him a tremendous reception at the theatre may have antagonised the English audience.  Harry was the Principal Comedian in Julian Wylie pantomimes from 1929-32. He had a record consecutive eleven years run in pantomime for Tom Arnold at the Glasgow Alhambra (seven of these years co-starring with Will Fyffe from 1937/48 and six summer shows with Howard & Wyndham's Kings Theatres in Edinburgh & Glasgow.This was not the only record Harry held. He had a record run of two solid years in Glasgow, during which he only played two theatres - the Kings & the Alhambra. He also held a flying record for playing three shows 100 miles apart in three hours, flying from the Pavilion in Aberdeen to Inverness and back.

Gordon's engagement lists show he was booked from the 5th July straight through to the 27th September 1920 at the Beach Pavilion Theatre, Aberdeen. His engagements for the rest of that year showed a wide touring circuit, with dates in Clydebank, Paisley, Hawick, Darlington and Reading.

Harry Gordons Entertainers invite one to the white painted Pavilion Theatre top left while the Whirlwind beckons below it.  The Scenic Railway dominates the front and a mini sinuous car track and garage dictates the centre.  The promenade is delightfully free of motor traffic. Various side shown surround the funfair.  The Inversnecky Cafe has yet to be built it seems.

A  popular entertainer . comedian, and impressionist, touring throughout Scotland and further afield. From the 1920s through the 1950s Gordon also produced a large number of recordings including several under assumed names. He was known as the Laird of Inversnecky, a fictional Scottish town he used in his comic routines.  Harry Gordon was born in Aberdeen, one of five sons and a daughter. He attended King Street and Central schools, before leaving for work as an office clerk.  His first public appearance on stage may have occurred at age 12 as 'Princess Chrysanthemum' at Gilcomston Parish Church. By the time he was 15 years old, he decided to pursue a full-time career as an entertainer. He began to develop his stage skills at various venues in northeast Scotland.

 

Harry Lauder, in his kilt, shaking hands with King Peter of Jugoslavia in 1943. Will Fyffe (1885-1947) is leaning over Lauder's shoulder to look at the King, and Harry Gordon (d 1955) is holding Lauder's right arm.

Will Fyffe (from Dundee) and Harry Gordon (from Aberdeen) forged a comedy partnership at the Alhambra during the 2nd World War and were very popular comedians in their own rights. Gordon was especially popular with Glasgow audiences as a pantomime dame, but also in the comic guise of the "Laird of Inversnecky".

Born on the 11th of July, 1893 at 7 Powis Place, Aberdeen, Harry showed the qualities of an entertainer within his family from a very early age. He began to develop his stage skills around Northeast Scotland, as a singer and mimic and anything else that would make people laugh. By the age of 15,  and without hesitation "dived out the door and into the deep sea". It was a decision that he would never regret and rapidly his career grew and developed

BBC Scotland Archive photographAn important turning-point in his career was the 1909 formation of a Perriot troupe, with whom Gordon played in many open-air performances. The company formed in the village of Banchory, which influenced Gordon's most famous creation, Inversnecky. Gordon began to appear at many Theatres in northeast Scotland and did seaside shows in the summer. He was deemed physically unfit for active service in the First World War but participated in the war effort as an entertainer.

February 1946, Scots comedians, Harry Gordon and Will Fyffe starred in the pantomime 'King And Queen of Hearts' at the Alhambra Theatre in Glasgow. 

Harry Gordon Transforms
After the war Gordon often performed in Aberdeen at H M Theatre and the Beach Pavilion, originally a wooden Concert Hall which was replaced in 1928 by a more permanent structure. Gordon often was the Master of Ceremonies at the Beach Pavilion and eventually leased the theatre himself before its closure in 1941. He had a homely and chatty style, establishing an intimate rapport with his audience. With his Doric accent and local knowledge he became one of Scotland's most popular entertainers.  He also appeared many times before the microphone of the BBC's local radio station in Aberdeen, 2BD, which operated between 1923 and 1929.

Gordon often worked with comic foil Jack Holden and perfected his Pantomime act into one of Scotland's most acclaimed. His appeal never did transfer well to England, though he worked abroad and on Cruise Ships. In December, 1956 he suffered a severe attack of Influenza, and died in the Royal Infirmary in Glasgow on January, 1957. His work is still remembered and has formed the basis of a one-man stage show about his career.

The Inversnecky Postman was a character built out of a string of postman jokes:- "You know, even when I was a laddie I used to play at Posties. I rushed in one day and cried, "Hey Mother, I've just delivered a real letter to every hoose in the street." She said, "That's a smart boy-but where did you get real letters?" I said "Oh, I found them in the dresser, a' tied up wi' pink ribbon."

The Inversnecky Cafe on the Esplanade was conceived by Lui Vicca, an Italian immigrant from Gaeta, close to Naples. He left there to seek his fortune, like so many others from that area, by working building the railroads in South America. After some time in Venezuela he caught a ship to Canada to work on the building of the Canadian Pacific line. Unfortunately the Ship took him to Preston in the north of England. From there he and his wife worked their way north before finally coming to Aberdeen, where they opened a small ice-cream shop.  Lui Vicca was a great entrepreneur who tried his hand at a number of different businesses; a zoo, a lemonade factory, a fruit and vegetable shop and the seafront Café.  Of these different ventures only the café survives to this day.  His son, Peter, took over in 1923, changed the name of the Café and set about establishing the successful business that it is today. The Café takes it's name from a fictional character created by local comedian 1923, a regular visitor to the Beach Pavilion in the 1920's. A similar age to Peter Vicca, Harry Gordon played his summer season at the Gaiety Theatre south of the shop, and the two men subsequently became firm friends.


Chic Murray

My father was from Aberdeen, and a more generous man you couldn't wish to meet. I have a gold watch that belonged to him. He sold it to me on his deathbed. I wrote him a cheque for it, post dated of course. -  Chic Murray

- born Charles Thomas McKinnon Murray in Greenock, in 1919. He began an apprenticeship in engineering at Kincaid's shipyard in 1934 whilst employing his musical talents in amateur groups such as The Whinhillbillies and Chic and His Chicks.  He formed a double-act with his wife, Maidie Dickson. Billed as "The Tall Droll with the Small Doll" their combination of jokes and songs made them a popular attraction on television and in theatres throughout the country.  The peak of their success was in 1956 when they appeared in the Royal Variety Show at the London Palladium.  Later, working as a solo act, with a forbidding expression and omnipresent "bunnet",  Chic offered a comic vision of the world that was absurd, surreal and absolutely unique. Much mimicked and much loved by his fellow professionals, he acted in films such as Casino Royale (1967), appeared as the headmaster in Gregory's Girl (1980) and played Liverpool Football Club manager Bill Shankly in the musical play You'll Never Walk Alone (1984). He died in Edinburgh in 1985 at the age of 65,  His solicitors were reputed to be Hunt, Lunt and Cunningham.

-    Remembering with reverence the genius of Chic Murray.  Here is an amusing experiment in verse and near language by this subliminal jester.  Toying with the Scots Mither Tongue as only he could.  His Music Hall timing is to perfection and the obvious swear word is quite beautifully concealed even in the urgent self disbelief re-reading 

THE GRICHET T'ING
Make a transcript of this nonologe of Chic's if you can and mourn for auld lang syne – or build a monument to his craft.  A wee saunter doon Sauchiehall Street in his own inimitable stride – wi his bunnet tae the fore.  Speech therapists of the world unite - you have nothing to lose but your vowels.


Scotland the Brave?
Stephen Robertson, William "Buff" Hardie and George Donald. They met whilst studying at Aberdeen University through the production of student shows, and they started Scotland The What? - for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, where it was an immediate success.  Greatness was thrust upon the trio. Now they are described as a national institution. Buff, Steve and George toured the country with great success, delighting audiences with their unique style of comedy. Gales of laughter greeted the hilarious sketches and witty songs they wrote about Scotland and the Scots.  Although at the height of their popularity they decided to call it a day and quit the theatrical circuit in order to spend more time in other pursuits, one last tour was arranged so that they could say farewell to their many fans by re-visiting the venues (large and small) where they had appeared over the years.  Their last goodbye was a 4-week season on their home ground in Aberdeen, at His Majesty's Theatre.


Will Fyffe - The Spirit of a Man From Aberdeen

Will Fyffe (1885 - 1947)
a Dundonian was a major star of the 1930s and 1940s, a star of stage, screen and radio.  Fyffe made his debut in his father's stock company at the age of six. He travelled extensively throughout Scotland and the rest of the UK, playing the numerous Music Halls of the time, where he performed his sketches and sang his songs in his own inimitable style. During the '30s, he was one of the highest paid Musical Hall artistes in Britain.

In addition, Fyffe appeared in 23 major films of the era (American and British), sometimes starring, and recorded over 30 songs, witty masterpieces enveloped in an engaging melody and delivered with his own unique style.

His singer-songwriter skills are still well known to us today and whereas the memory of his contemporaries may continue to fade, Will has become immortalised for his rendition of his own composition, "I belong to Glasgow”.

 

His wrote  'I belong to Glasgow' after meeting a inebriated man and asking where he came from, the drunk replied, I belong to Glasgow, and ye know something, Glasgow belongs tae me.' Will had written the song with Harry Lauder in mind and asked he would use it. Lauder read the song and said, 'No, I never sing songs in praise of drink.' Will Fyffe looked slightly baffled, and asked the great Lauder about "A Wee Deoch an' Doris" to which the reply was, 'You see, I put all the stress on the word "wee" so, instead of being a song that's praising drink, it's really warning people against taking too much.' So by refusing the song Harry Lauder unwittingly helped Will Fyffe and it became his theme song. 'I belong to Glasgow' would become one of the most popular songs of it's generation.  This song, which has been covered by many emulators and is still as fresh today as it was then, and is as memorable for its lyrics as it is for its melody:  As a result of this song, Will became forever associated with Glasgow even though he was born 70 miles away in the East Coast city of Dundee.

 

Fortunately for us, Fyffe left some rare footage of his stage act, which gives us a glimpse of stage life in those times. In the footage, he performs the “Broomielaw” sketch and sings his song “Twelve and a Tanner a Bottle”. The footage came about as a result of a screen test, shot for Pathe in New York in 1929.

He made one Hollywood film, although put this burgeoning career on hold as war broke out and he returned to entertain the troops.  An accident in 1947 when he fell from a window of a hotel in St. Andrews, led to his untimely death, but his body of work lives on through his songs, sketches and films.

 

 

 


Sir Harry Lauder 1870 - 1950
The 'Laird of the Music Hall' Harry Lauder was born in Portobello near Edinburgh in 1870. He was probably the most famous entertainer of his period, he toured the world for forty years including 22 visits to the U.S.A., Sir Winston Churchill referred to Harry as “Scotland’s greatest ever ambassador”. Harry was the first British entertainer to sell a million records and was a favourite of King Edward VII and an intimate friend of the famous tea magnate Sir Thomas Lipton, amongst others. In 1917 he established the Harry Lauder Million Pound Fund for maimed men, Scottish soldiers and sailors, as a result of his war work Lauder was made a knight of the British Empire in 1919.

He suffered personal tragedy during the war, when his only son, John (1891–1916), a captain in the 8th Argyll & Southern Highlanders, was killed in action on 28 December 1916 at Poiziers.  Harry wrote the song "Keep Right on to the End of the Road" in the wake of John's death and had a monument built for his son, who was buried in France, in the little Lauder cemetery in Glenbranter.

The beach-front Pavilion Theatre then perhaps called the The Gaiety, was a lesser venue for Sir Harry Lauder and in the early 1930's he would do several shows in Aberdeen and also several in Glasgow.  This was possible because he had a De Havilland Puss-Moth aircraft and a pilot who flew him between Theatre  venues, and it was rumoured that the aircraft landed on the Queens Links which saved local travelling from the nearest Dyce Aerodrome.   He also appeared at the Tivoli Theatre The de Havilland DH.80A Puss Moth is a 3-seater high-wing Monoplane aeroplane designed and built between 1929 and 1933. It flew at a speed approaching 124 mph (200 km/h), making it one of the highest-performance private aircraft of its era.

Sir Harry in the USA  Chaplin Meets Sir Harry

Jimmy Logan OBE 1928 - 2001
Entertainer and actor. Born James Short in Glasgow into a theatrical family. His parents were the music hall act Short and Dalziel, his aunt (from whom he took his surname) was Ella Logan star of Broadway musicals and his sister jazz singer Annie Ross.
 Jimmy Logan was known as one of the greatest ever  Scottish entertainers, and his  career spanned more than six decades made him a household name as an actor, musician, singer, comedian and theatrical entrepreneur. As an actor he won critical acclaim in plays Death of a Salesman and The Entertainer as did his many television performances. In his later years he won praise for his portrayal of Sir Harry Lauder in his one-man show.  But for many, Jimmy will be best remembered as a panto star.

Duncan MacRae 1905 - 1967

Duncan Macrae is probably better known for his rendition of "A wee cock sparra" which he frequently gave on television at hogmanay during the 1950's and 60's. Born in Glasgow he was an early member of the Citizen's theatre company and went on to play parts in many classic Scottish films, such as Whisky Galore, Tunes of Glory, Greyfriars Bobby, Kidnapped, Geordie and many more. His repertoire was such that he could play from classics to comedy both on stage and screen playing such diverse parts as Para Handy in the first the BBC comedy series of Para Handy - Master Mariner, to Bridadier General Sir Ian Stuart-Bollinger in an episode of The Avengers. Duncan Macrae was probably one of Scotland's finest comedy actors.


Dave Willis
The Tivoli Theatre, originally Her Majesty's, in Guild Street, no longer provides an entertainment such as this. Dave Willis first came to farne in 1925 leading the fun at shows called the Tivoli Tonics in 1934, which remained the title of the Spring Show for many years. Willis was a 'Master of unrelated nonsense' radiating good humour. Others saw himn as Scotland's Charlie Chaplin with the stamp of comic genius, who practised good clean comedy. He retired from theatrical life in 1951 apart from a brief come back in 1956.

Tommy Lorne (1890-1935)
 
- was probably the most naturally gifted Scottish comedian of the interwar years. Born Hugh Gallagher Corcoran in Kirkintilloch, he grew up in Glasgow and made early appearances in concerts at St Roch's Hall, Garngad, and at amateur nights at the Grand Theatre, Cowcaddens - (Cooscaddens). After working in the drawing office at Blochairn Steelworks, he toured in a double act called Wallace & Lorne before war service took him to India and Afghanistan. On returning he was engaged by Harry McKelvie who in 1920 introduced him into the famous pantomimes at Glasgow's Royal Princess's Theatre (now the Citizens'). There, partnering the veteran comic Bret Harte, he quickly emerged as the leading pantomime star of his generation. He went on to appear in pantomime at the Pavilion in 1924 and 1925, and played his first dame – Queen Quibblina in The Sleeping Beauty – at the King's Theatre, Edinburgh, in 1927. He subsequently starred in Howard and Wyndham's lavish pantomimes at the Theatre Royal Glasgow and toured throughout England and Scotland in pantomimes and revues under his own management, before dying of double pneumonia in 1935 at the age of 44.

Although he often wore a glengarry and kilt, Lorne, like his contemporaries, Bert Denver and George West (who succeeded him in the Princess's pantomimes), probably owed more to the European clown tradition than to the type of Scotch comic popularised by Harry Lauder. With his white makeup, white gloves worn over long, expressive hands, and tall, lanky figure, Lorne's appearance and high, strangulated voice made him instantly recognisable, and the droll sensitivity of his dames was much admired. Above all his humour, with his exclamatory catchphrases like "In the name of the wee man" and "Ah'll get ye!", owed much to his Glasgow upbringing. When he died unexpectedly, following a battle with alcoholism, which he seemed to have won, 3,000 people attended his memorial service at St Roch's Church. The Glasgow Herald wrote "his gallus humour (in contrast with the more couthy fun of the Lauder-Fyffe school of comedians) was perfectly matched with the rasping shrillness of a tongue which Glasgow recognised as an authentic voice of the city."  Lorne Sausage was named after his catch phrase claim that "sausages are the boys"


 

Glasgow Pantomime
“Puss in Boots” with Jack Milroy at the Pavilion Theatre, “We’re Joking”, with Chic Murray, Duncan Macrae, Jack Anthony and Robert Wilson at the Empire Theatre, “Robinson Crusoe”  with Harry Gordon and Jack Radcliffe at the Theatre Royal, “Scotland the Brave”  with Clark and Murray at the Metropole Theatre and “Babes in the Wood”, with Jimmy Logan, Rikki Fulton and Kenneth McKellar at the Alhambra Theatre.
 


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Last modified: 01/09/2013