Sir Henry "Harry" Lauder (4 August 1870 – 26 February 1950) was a Scottish music hall comedian and singer. He was perhaps best known for his long-standing hit "I Love a Lassie" and for his international success. He was described by Sir Winston Churchill as "Scotland's greatest ever ambassador!"
Born in Portobello, Edinburgh, Lauder began his working life in a flax mill and in coal mines before he embarked on a career as a singer and toured with an amateur concert-party. He performed his first self-composed song "I Love a Lassie" and he became a familiar world-wide figure promoting images like the kilt and the cromach to huge acclaim, especially in America. Other songs followed, including "Roamin' in the Gloamin", "A Wee Deoch-an-Doris", and "Keep Right on to the End of the Road".
By the 1900s, Lauder had become the highest-paid performer in the world, and was the first Scottish artist to sell a million records. He raised vast amounts of money for the war effort during World War I, for which he was subsequently knighted in 1919. He went into semi-retirement in the mid-1930s, but briefly emerged to entertain troops in World War II. By the late-1940s he was suffering from long periods of ill-health and died in Scotland in 1950.
Lauder was born in Portobello, Edinburgh and was the eldest of seven children to John Lauder, a potter, and his wife Isabelle née Macleod. John Lauder, was a descendent of Lauders of the Bass, and Isabella was born in Arbroath to a family from the Black Isle. Lauder's father moved to Newbold, Derbyshire in 1882 to take up a job designing china, but died of pneumonia later that year. Upon his death, Isabella moved the family to Arbroath and Harry worked part-time at the local flax. The following year he moved independently to Hamilton, South Lanarkshire where he was employed as a miner, a job which he maintained for the next decade.
Marriage and early career
On 19 June 1891, at age 21, Lauder married Ann, daughter of James Vallance, a colliery manager in Hamilton. At around that time, Lauder initiated a singing career and gained a reasonable reputation as a singer and comedian with local concert parties.
To pass the time, Lauder sang to fellow miners who encouraged him to perform in local music halls. While singing in nearby Larkhall, he received 5 shillings—the first time he was paid for singing. He received further engagements including a weekly "go-as-you please" night held by Mrs. Christina Baylis at her Scotia Music Hall/Metropole Theatre in Glasgow. She advised him to gain experience by touring music halls around the country with a concert party, which he did. The tour allowed him to quit the coal mines and become a professional singer. Lauder concentrated his repertoire on comedic and songs of Scotland and Ireland.
By 1895 he had turned professional and performed local characterisations at small, Scottish and northern English music halls, but had ceased the repertoire by 1900. In March of that year, Lauder travelled to London and reduced the heavy dialect of his act which according to the biographer Dave Russell "handicapped Scottish performers in the metropolis". He was an immediate success at the Charing Cross Music Hall and the London Pavilion, venues at which the theatrical paper The Era thought he generated "[a] great furore" among his audiences with three of his self-composed songs.
Career peak years; 1900–1914
Lauder made a switch from music hall to variety theatre and undertook a tour of America in 1907. The following year, he performed a private show before Edward VII, and appearing in the first Royal Command Performance in 1912. He was paid £1125 for an engagement at the Glasgow Pavilion in 1913 was and was later considered by the press to be one of the the highest weekly salaries earned by a comedian during the pre-war period. During the First World War Lauder promoted recruitment into the services and starred in many concerts for troops at home and on the western front. His entertainment activities were made poignant by the death of his son, in action in 1916. Lauder was knighted for services to the war effort in 1919.
Inter war years
Lauder toured the variety circuit throughout the 1930s. He conducted his final tour in North American in 1932. He semi-retired in the mid-1930s, returning only infrequently to undertake troop concerts throughout the Second World War and still made occasional radio broadcasts into the late 1940s.
In 1905 Lauder's success in leading the Howard & Wyndham pantomime at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow, for which he wrote I Love a Lassie, made him a national star, and he obtained contracts with Sir Edward Moss and others. In 1911, he toured the United States where he commanded $1,000 a night. In 1912, he was top of the bill at Britain`s first ever Royal Command Performance, in front of King George V, organised by Alfred Butt. Lauder undertook a world tour extensively during his forty-year career, including 22 trips to the United States—for which he had his own railroad train, the Harry Lauder Special—and made several trips to Australia, where his brother John had emigrated. Lauder was, at one time, the highest-paid performer in the world, making the equivalent of £12,700 a night plus expenses,
Lauder's understanding of life, its pathos and joys, endeared him to all. Beniamino Gigli and others commended his singing voice and clarity. Lauder usually performed in full 'Highland' regalia—Kilt, Sporran, Tam o' Shanter, and twisted walking stick—singing Scottish-themed songs (Roamin' in the Gloamin' etc.). On the negative side, this 'Romantic' image of the ever-bekilted 'music-hall' Scotsman who, in reality, bore little, if any, resemblance to the real thing, helped foster an image of Scotland that was not always flattering and even lent itself to some ridicule. Likewise, his penchant for telling stories and jokes involving the alleged parsimony of the Scots established an enduring but completely false image of his fellow countrymen. Some of the most generous philanthropists of the age, such as Andrew Carnegie and, before him, David Dale, were Scots, giving the lie to the theatrical Lauder version.
When World War I broke out, Lauder was in Melbourne on one of his Australian tours. During the war, he led successful fundraising efforts for war charities, organised a tour of music halls in 1915 for recruitment purposes, and brought his piano to the front lines where he entertained troops in France. Through his efforts in organising concerts and fundraising appeals he raised £1,000,000 to help servicemen return to health and civilian life, for which he was knighted in 1919.
He suffered personal tragedy during the war, when his only son, John (1891–1916), a captain in the 8th Argyll and Sutherland 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. He had a monument for his son built in the little Lauder cemetery in Glenbranter (John Lauder was buried in France). Winston Churchill stated that Lauder, "...by his inspiring songs and valiant life, rendered measureless service to the Scottish race and to the British Empire."
Mystery of son’s death
The circumstances of John Lauder’s death in the trenches have never been fully documented, and speculation continues to this day. Christmas week usually saw an unofficial lull in the fighting, and this fuelled a rumour that John had not been killed in action, but assassinated by his own men. For many years after the war, survivors gave conflicting reports, which served to deepen the mystery.
It appears that some local residents in Dunoon, from where the battalion recruited, harboured a strong resentment of Harry Lauder for peddling his cartoon idea of the Scottish people, and growing so rich on it that he could send his son to Cambridge, where the young man acquired arrogant habits. When John Lauder’s death was announced, some people exploited the confusion by claiming that he had been assassinated, knowing how much this would hurt his father.
Although the assassination theory has not been fully disproved, there is stronger evidence that Lauder was actually the target of an enemy sniper, when he briefly entered no-man’s-land to report on an unexploded shell.
Sir Harry wrote most of his own songs, favourites of which were Roamin' in the Gloamin', I Love a Lassie, A Wee Deoch-an-Doris, and Keep Right on to the End of the Road, which is used by Birmingham City Football Club as their club anthem. He starred in three British films: Huntingtower (1927), Auld Lang Syne (1929) and The End of the Road (1936). He also appeared in a test film for the Photokinema sound-on-disc process in 1921. This film is part of the UCLA Film and Television Archive collection, however, the disc is missing. In 1914, Lauder appeared in 14 Selig Polyscope experimental short sound films. In 1907, he appeared in a short film singing "I Love a Lassie" for British Gaumont. The British Film Institute has several reels of what appears to be an unreleased film All for the Sake of Mary (c. 1920) co-starring Effie Vallance and Harry Vallance.
He wrote a number of books which ran into several editions, including Harry Lauder at Home and on Tour (1912), A Minstrel in France (1918), Between You and Me (1919), Roamin’ in the Gloamin’ (1928 autobiography), My Best Scotch Stories (1929), Wee Drappies (1931) and Ticklin’ Talks (circa 1932).
Lauder is credited with giving the then 21 year-old portrait artist Cowan Dobson his opening into society by commissioning him, in 1915, to paint his portrait. This was considered to be so outstanding another commission came the following year to paint his son Captain John Lauder, and again another commission in 1921 to paint Sir Harry's wife, the latter portrait being after the style of John Singer Sargent. These three portraits remain in the family's possession. The same year Scottish artist James McBey painted another portrait of Sir Harry, today in the Glasgow Museums. In the tradition of the famous British magazine Vanity Fair there appeared numerous caricatures of Sir Harry Lauder. Of the more notable is one by Al Frueh (1880-1968) in 1911 and published in 1913 in the New York World magazine, another by Henry Mayo Bateman, now in London's National Gallery, and one by Alick P.F.Ritchie, for Players, in 1926, today in the London National Portrait Gallery (ref:NPG D2675).
Lady Ann Lauder died on 31 July 1927 and was buried next to her son's memorial at Glenbranter, Argyll. His niece, Margaret Lauder, MBE (1900–1966), moved in with him at his home, Laudervale (outside Dunoon), to care for him and be his companion in his last years. Sir Harry's final retirement was announced in 1935. However, he again entertained troops throughout Britain during World War II, despite his age, and made wireless broadcasts with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. He also appeared immediately after the war to thank the crews of American food relief ships docking at Glasgow.
Heirless, Lauder leased Glenbranter to the Forestry Commission and spent his last years at "Lauder Ha", his Strathaven home, where he died on 26 February 1950, aged 79. His funeral was widely reported, notably by Pathé newsreels. One of the chief mourners was Douglas Douglas-Hamilton, 14th Duke of Hamilton, who led the funeral procession and read the lesson. Sir Harry was interred with his mother and brother at Bent Cemetery, Hamilton.
Websites carry much of his material and the Harry Lauder Collection, amassed by entertainer Jimmy Logan, was bought for the nation and donated to the University of Glasgow. When the A199 Portobello bypass opened, it was named the Sir Harry Lauder Road.
On 28 July 1987, the Lord Provost of Edinburgh, The Rt. Hon. John McKay, CBE, hosted a luncheon at the Edinburgh City Chambers, to commemorate the 60th Anniversary of the granting of the Freedom of the City to Sir Harry Lauder, attended by family representative Gregory Lauder-Frost, who, on 4 August 2001, formally opened the new Sir Harry Lauder Memorial Garden at Portobello Town Hall, and was the principal commentator throughout the Saltire/BBC2 TV (Scotland) documentary entitled Something About Harry screened on 30 November 2005. On 29 September 2007, Lauder-Frost as guest-of-honour rededicated for another century the Burslem Golf Course & Club at Stoke-on-Trent, which had been formally opened on the same day in 1907 by Harry Lauder.
In the 1990s, samples of recordings of Lauder were used on two tracks recorded by the Scottish folk/dance music artist Martyn Bennett. An ornamental cultivar of Common Hazel (Corylus avellana) has become known as Harry Lauder's Walking Stick or Corkscrew Hazel. It was noticed growing as part of a hedge in the 1800s and is now propagated by grafting. It gains this name from the fact Lauder regularly appeared with a crooked walking stick.
The song "Dearie" includes a reference to Harry Lauder.
- Huntingtower (1927)
- Auld Lang Syne (1929)
- The End of the Road (1936)
- Great Scot!: the life story of Sir Harry Lauder, legendary laird of the music hall. by Gordon Irving, London, 1968 (ISBN 0-09089-0701).
- Harry Lauder in the Limelight by William Wallace, Lewes, Sussex, 1988, (ISBN 0-86332-312-X), which has a foreword and extensive notes by Sir Harry's great-nephew, Gregory Lauder-Frost.
- The Sunday Times (Scottish edition), 24 July 2005, article: "", by David Stenhouse.
- The Ancestry of Sir Harry Lauder, in The Scottish Genealogist, Edinburgh, June 2006, Vol. 53, #2, ISSN-0-3003-37X .
- A Minstrel in France, Hearst's International Book Company, London, 1918, by Harry Lauder about the death of his son.
- Lauder-Frost, Gregory. . Retrieved 2007-08-30.
- Roamin' in the Gloamin (Autobiography) by Sir Harry Lauder, (London, 1928), reprinted without the photos, London, 1976, (ISBN 0-7158-1176-2)
- "The Theatre Royal: Entertaining A Nation" by Graeme Smith, Glasgow, 2008
- at the Internet Movie Database
- , the Laird of the
- at Project Gutenberg
- , from the Darrell Baker Collection Cylinder Preservation and Digitization Project at the University of California, Santa Barbara Library.
- on Victor Records from the Encyclopedic Discography of Victor Recordings (EDVR)
- Scottish Theatre Archive, Glasgow