Sir Harry Lauder: 1870-1950
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Harry Lauder was born on 4th August 1870 at no 3 Bridge Street, Portobello, near Edinburgh, the eldest of eight children. At the age of 12 his father died and the family moved to Arbroath, where Lauder’s mother had relatives and where he went to work in the mill in 1882. It was here that Harry began his singing career.
When he was 14 the family moved to Lanarkshire and Lauder went to work in the pit. He continued his singing, however, and entered several competitions. He gradually obtained a number of paid engagements and then joined a concert party - a very popular form of entertainment at that time - and toured Scotland. His first professional engagement was in Larkhall in 1894.
He soon formed his own touring company with the violinist Mackenzie-Murdoch.
His career took a big step forward with his first appearance at the Argyle Theatre Birkenhead in 1898. The fashion at that time was for Irish comedians and it was in this role that Lauder first made his name. His first "hit song" was 'Calligan-Call again'.
In 1900 he set off to London, where his first engagement was to fill in for a sick artist at Gatti’s Music Hall in Westminster Bridge Road. It was a resounding success.
This success led Lauder overseas. In 1907 he sailed for America where his first performance was in the New York Theatre. He was again a great success. It was on this trip that he met William Morris who later became his American manager. The Americans loved Lauder, and over the years he was to return to the USA twenty two times. He also toured Canada, Australia and New Zealand, South Africa and the far east.
Although Lauder is best remembered as the little tartan comic with the twisted walking stick, in reality he was much more versatile and had many different character roles, including women. He soon, however, became known as a Scottish comedian. His sticks became his trade mark. One of his twisted sticks was brought from Japan by Edward Prince of Wales and presented to him. One of his character parts which held the audience spell bound was the youngster examining the toys pulled from his pocket in the sketch The saftest o' the family.
As well as playing the variety theatres, Lauder also appeared in pantomime. Pantomime was the dominant feature of the winter season and success in a pantomime could make a career. It was in pantomime that Lauder first sang his most famous songs. His first pantomime was Aladdin at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow in the role of Roderick McSwankey and in this role he first sang 'I love a lassie' which became his most popular song for many years. In 1910 in Red Riding Hood he premiered the song 'Roamin in the gloamin'.
When war broke out in 1914 Lauder was in Australia accompanied by his son John. John was called back to his regiment, the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, but Lauder continued with his tour. While in the United States he did what he could to encourage America to enter the war on Britain’s side both from the stage and at meetings.
Back in London in 1916 he opened in the review Three Cheers at the Shaftesbury Theatre. Here he performed as a finale the song 'The laddies who fought' and won at the end of which a company of Scots Guards marched on to the stage. It was during this run that on 1 January 1917 he received the telegram telling him John had been killed. After rushing to his wife's side in Scotland he returned to the show 3 days later.
Lauder wished to be involved in the war work but when he was deemed too old to be sent to the trenches, he suggested that he should sing to the boys in the trenches, an idea at first scorned. Later he was given full permission to entertain Scottish troops wherever they were. Instead of just giving concerts at the bases, he overrode War Office opposition, and sang to the troops at the front line to the accompaniment of a small five octave piano specially made for him. Lauder was also active in the recruiting of troops and had his own recruiting band. This band traveled at Lauder's own expense playing to attract a crowd; when enough interest was shown the band then marched on to the recruiting office. Lauder also made speeches from the stage encouraging the young to join up. Over 12,000 men were recruited through his efforts.
He also established the Harry Lauder Million Pound Fund for maimed men, Scottish soldiers and sailors in September 1917. One scheme which was planned to raise money for this fund was a short film starring Charlie Chaplin and Harry Lauder which was begun on a visit Lauder made to Chaplin’s studio on 22 January 1917. Unfortunately it was never finished.
As a result of his war work Lauder was made a knight of the British Empire in 1919.
Lauder's last stage appearance was at a concert in the Gorbals to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the local Rover Scout Group in 1947.
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