Sir Henry (Harry) Lauder, hall singer and comedian, died on the 26th of February, 1950.
Known professionally as Harry Lauder until he was benighted, Lauder was a world famous music hall singer and comedian who exemplified a certain kind of Scottishness. Indeed, Scotland's image in certain parts of the world today owes much to the caricature presented by Harry Lauder's stage performances. Lauder's extravagant highland dress, with his Glengarry bunnet at a jaunty angle, the twisted walking stick that became his trade mark, and his bawdy and sentimental songs, endeared him to many audiences around the world. In the United States, Lauder's inter-stellar career saw him appear at
Carnegie Hall and play golf with presidents. One of his twisted sticks was even brought back from Japan and presented to him by the Prince Edward, the future King Edward VII, who was a fan. Tut, tut! Wasn't that a bit cosy?
While some disapprove of the somewhat maudlin, false images he portrayed, Harry Lauder summed up his own philosophy as, “Aye, I'm tellin' ye, happiness is one of the few things in this world that doubles every time you share it with someone else.” He can't have done too much wrong as Lauder was the first British performer to sell more than a million records. Lauder also wrote most of his own songs and his compositions, such as 'I Love a Lassie' and 'Roamin' in the Gloamin' were inspired by his love for his wife. Whether or not you approved of Lauder's brand of sentimentality, knowing that he wrote 'Keep Right on to the End of the Road' after his son was killed in action in the First World War, you might end up with a different perspective. In any event, his trademark ditties, such as 'A Wee Deoch-an-Doris' (which means ‘a farewell drink at the door’) are the stuff of his legend. Here’s a sample of his lyrics:
“There's a good old Scottish custom that has stood the test o' time,
It's a custom that's been carried out in every land and clime.
When brother Scots are gathered, it's aye the usual thing,
Just before we say good night, we fill our cups and sing...”
“Just a wee deoch an doris, just a wee drop, that's a’.
Just a wee deoch an doris afore ye gang awa.
There's a wee wifie waitin' in a wee bit but an’ ben.
If you can say, "It's a braw bricht moonlicht nicht",
Then yer a'richt, ye ken.”
Henry Lauder was born on the 4th of August, 1870, at No. 4 Bridge Street, Portobello, near Edinburgh, the eldest of eight children. At the age of twelve, Henry's father died and the family moved to Arbroath. In those days, it was common for youths to find work from around that age. That was still true, incidentally, sixty plus years later, after the Second Word War and after Sir Harry was dead and gone. Many's the lad who worked full time on a farm from the time he was thirteen, right up until the 1960s. Things didn't change much in the time between Lauder’s teenage years and the decade after his death. However, thanks to his mother, Henry was able to continue with his education, to some extent, as he worked part time in a flax mill, in Arbroath, until he was fourteen, in order to be able to attend the school at the mill. Then, after the family moved to Lanarkshire, Henry went to work down the pits, near Hamilton. Henry Lauder worked in the coal mines for the best part of ten years and, whatever fame and fortune he later achieved, nobody can say he didn't pay his dues.
However, Henry aspired to entertain and he entered several singing contests, from as early as his time in Arbroath. Later, when a miner, he was encouraged by his fellow workers to sing in local halls. Lauder's first professional engagement was in Larkhall, in 1894, where he earned a five shilling fee for the performance. Lauder also performed at what we'd now call 'open mike' nights at the Scotia Music Hall (a.k.a. The Metropole Theatre) in Glasgow. Henry was then advised to join up with a touring concert party, to gain experience. He then formed his own touring company, with the violinist Mackenzie-Murdoch, and after that period, Lauder turned full time professional.
Lauder's first big break came with his appearance at the Argyle Theatre, in Birkenhead, in 1898, and his first hit song was 'Calligan Call Again'. He made it to London in 1900, where he was a big hit at Gatti's Music Hall, in Westminster Bridge Road. In 1905, he starred as Roderick McSwankey in pantomime at the Theatre Royal in Glasgow, which is where 'I Love a Lassie' was born, making him a national star. He sailed to America in 1907 and performed in the New York Theatre. The 'Yanks' loved Lauder, but he toured all of the dominions, where he was equally welcomed, throughout his career. In 1912, Lauder was top of the bill at Britain's first ever Royal Command Variety performance, in front of King George V and recognised as Britain`s best known entertainer. Lauder also starred in three British films during the 1920s and '30s: Huntingtower, Auld Lang Syne, and The End of the Road.
Lauder raised huge sums of money for war charities during the Great War and even entertained troops in the trenches, in France, where he came under enemy fire. Having been given full permission to entertain Scottish troops, Lauder sang to the troops at the front line to the accompaniment of a small, five octave piano that had been made specially for him. Lauder was also active in the recruiting of troops, making speeches from the stage encouraging over 12,000 men to join up. Lauder even had his own recruiting band, which he marched to the recruiting office like some latter day Pied Piper. Henry Lauder was made Sir Harry, when he was knighted in January, 1919, by King George V, in recognition of his support for the war effort. In an appropriate curtain call, Sir Harry also entertained troops during World War II, despite his advanced years.
On his death, on the 26th of January, 1950, 'The Herald' summed up Sir Harry Lauder's particular genius as: “Lauder, like Barrie, had the rare ability to lay his finger on that spot in the human heart where tears and laughter are interchangeable.” A measure of his global popularity is illustrated by his funeral having been covered by 'Pathe News'.
The photograph is by Sam Perkins (check him out on Facebook at Sam Perkins Photography) and was taken near Oban.