Thursday, June 9, 2016

Sir Harry Lauder (1870 - 1950)

Henry Lauder was born in 1870 in Portobello, Edinburgh, the eldest of seven children. His father John Lauder was a Master Potter, and his mother Isabella Urquhart Macleod (née McLennan) were quite well off. The family moved to Newbold, Derbyshire in 1882 but when his father died his mother took them to Arbroath, where she had relatives. Now living in diminished circumstance, young Harry (aged 11), worked part time at the local flax mill to fund the rest of his schooling. Eventually the family moved to live with Harry's maternal uncle, Alexander McLennan, in Hamilton, South Lanarkshire. There, his uncle found him employment in the mines. It was here that Harry began his singing career and would entertain his fellow miners. Soon he entered several local competitions and gradually he obtained a number of paid engagements. After appearing at a "go-as-you please" night held by Mrs. Christina Baylis at her Scotia Music Hall/Metropole Theatre in Glasgow she advised him to join a concert party and gain experience by touring music halls around the country. The tour allowed him to quit the coal mines and become a professional singer. Harry Lauder concentrated his repertoire on comedic and songs of Scotland and Ireland and soon after he formed his own touring company with the violinist Mackenzie-Murdoch.

By 1894, Harry had turned professional and performed local characterisations at small, Scottish and northern English music halls. 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 decided to take his chance in London but dropped his heavy dialect in his act to appeal more to the London audiences. It worked and when he filled in for a sick artist at Gatti’s Music Hall in Westminster Bridge Road, he was a resounding success. Five years later he appeared in the Howard & Wyndham's Aladdin pantomime at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow, as Roderick McSwankey. Pantomime was the dominant feature of the winter season and success in a pantomime could make a career. Harry wrote and performed I Love a Lassie which met with rapturious applause and swept to national fame. In 1907, he appeared in a short film singing "I Love a Lassie" for British Gaumont.

By 1907, Harry Lauder had made the switch from music hall to variety theatre and undertook a tour of America. The American audiences loved him and the William Morris, the Vaudeville Agent. became his American manager.

Harry Lauder usually performed in full 'Highland' regalia of kilt, sporran, tam o' shanter, and twisted walking stick. His sticks became his trade mark and one was brought from Japan by Edward Prince of Wales and presented to him. He entertained his audience between songs with stories and jokes usually involving the alleged parsimony of the Scots established an enduring but completely false image of his fellow countrymen. 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.

In 1910, Harry Lauder premiered the song 'Roamin in the gloamin'. in Red Riding Hood pantomime which again was a phenomenal success. By the time he returned to the US in 1911, he was able to command $1,000 a night. In 1913, he was paid £1125 to appear at the Glasgow Pavilion Theatre. At the peak of his career Lauder could command £12,700 a night plus expenses and was considered to earn one of the highest weekly salaries by a theatrical performer during the pre-war period. Harry Lauder was the first Scottish artist to sell a million records. In total Harry Lauder went to the USA twenty-two times in his career and traveled in his own railroad train called the Harry Lauder Special. He also toured Canada, Australia and New Zealand, South Africa and the far east.

The entertainer was in Melbourne, Australia when the First World War broke out in 1914, and while in the United States he did what he could to encourage America to enter the war on Britain’s side. He also led successful fundraising efforts for war charities, organised a tour of music halls in 1915 for recruitment purposes and entertained the troops at home and in the trenches of France . There he came under enemy fire.

He was a robust patriot and raised huge sums of money for war charities during the Great War (1914-1918). He established the charity, the Harry Lauder Million Pound Fund (1917), for maimed Scottish soldiers and sailors to help servicemen return to health and civilian life.

One scheme 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 but unfortunately the film was never finished.

In 1916, he opened in the review Three Cheers at the Shaftesbury Theatre. The finale was ‘The laddies who fought' and won’ which was complete when a company of Scots Guards marched on to the stage.

During the run of the show, he received the devastating news his son, Captain John Lauder, serving with the 8th Argyll and Sutherland Highland Regiment had been killed at Poiziers, France. In the wake of John's death, Harry wrote the song "The End of the Road." He was knighted in January 1919 by King George V.

After The Great War the British variety theatre circuits were in marked decline but Sir Harry Lauder continued to tour and in 1926 he had a new song to warm the hearts of his audience.

The entertainer was no stranger to the big screen and had appeared in several experimental movies before starring in the silent version of Huntingtower (1927), the silent movie Auld Lang Syne (1929) although sound was later added. Then finally The End of the Road (1936). His final tour to North America was in 1932 and he announced his retirement in 1935. Despite his age, at the outbreak of World War II, he made wireless broadcasts with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. Yet again, he entertained troops throughout Britain and appeared immediately after the war to thank the crews of American food relief ships docking at Glasgow. By the late-1940s he was suffering from long periods of ill-health and his last stage appearance was at a concert in the Gorbals to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the local Rover Scout Group in 1947. Sir Harry Lauder died in Lauder Ha (or Hall), in Strathaven in 1950.

Further Reading
Lauder H (1926) Roamin' in the Gloamin' Kessinger Publishing

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