Sir Harry Lauder (4 August 1870 - 26 February 1950) was a very famous Scottish entertainer, described by Sir Winston Churchill as "Scotland's greatest ever ambassador!"
Born Henry Lauder at 4 Bridge Street Portobello, the residence of his mother’s father, he was the eldest son of John Currie Lauder (1851-1882), who had been born in nearby Musselburgh, East Lothian, a descendant of the family of Lauder of The Bass (an island commonly referred to as the Bass Rock), and Isabella Urquhart MacLeod McLennan (1854 -1905) born in Arbroath but whose family had moved there from the Black Isle in Ross and Cromarty. Sir Harry mentions his descent from the Lauders of Lauder and Bass in his autobiography.
Harry’s great-grandfather, George Lauder (1776-1824), had been born at Morham in East Lothian, and was the tenant farmer at Inverleith Mains (now the Royal Botanical Gardens (Edinburgh), and a local landholder in nearby Stockbridge, Edinburgh. Amongst his numerous properties there was the famous St. Bernard’s Well. (This remained in the family until later that century). Harry’s grandfather, John Lauder (1818-1888), who had been born in the still extant Inverleith Mains House, had also owned a large house at 4 Rose Street, Edinburgh, the site of which is now occupied by the rear of Jenners famous department store. After the sale of that house Harry's grandfather moved to Portobello where he bought a house at 2 Ramsay lane, and where Harry's father was living when he married.
In 1882 Harry’s father, also John Lauder, moved to Newbold, near Chesterfield, in Derbyshire to a new employment designing china. After being there only a short time he contracted pneumonia and died aged only 32. He was buried in the Newbold Churchyard and his widow removed back to her brother's home at Arbroath with her family (there were seven children, five boys, and two girls - one of whom was born posthumously).
Most children were then leaving the State sector schools at 11 or 12 to take up employment, but Harry's mother was determined that his schooling should continue. So in order to qualify to continue attending the school at the nearby flax mill, Harry took a part-time job there working evening shifts until he was 16.
On 19 June 1891 Harry, as he became known, married Ann (Nance), eldest daughter of James Vallance (1855-1936) a Colliery Manager at Hamilton, South Lanarkshire, and Mary Kerr (1856-1937). Harry’s brother Matthew was Best Man. The following year Matt married Ann’s sister, Catherine Vallance, and Harry was his Best Man.
There can be no doubt whatever of Harry Lauder’s tremedous popularity as an entertainer, music-hall and vaudeville artist. He toured the world for forty years including 22 times to the U.S.A., and several times to Australia where he often stayed with his brother John, who had emigrated there. Harry and his wife and son were in Melbourne, Victoria, when the British Empire mobilised for World War I. 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.
The Scottish edition of The Sunday Times ran an article Harry Lauder, coming to a ringtone near you (24 July 2005) in which it was stated that "Sir Harry Lauder was the highest-paid performer in the world, pocketing the equivalent of £12,700 a night plus expenses. In 1929 he received £114,700 for singing three songs in his first radio performance, which was broadcast on 40 radio stations across America."
A robust patriot, Harry raised huge sums of money for war charities during the Great War (1914-1918) - The Harry Lauder Million Pound Fund - and entertained troops in the trenches in France, where he came under enemy fire. He also organised a tour of music halls in 1915 for recruitment purposes. These would not necessarily be very subtle "Ten pounds for the first man here who joins the army" was the style. The rightness of the war went without question for Harry Lauder. He was subsequently knighted in January 1919 by King George V. Although his "final retirement" was announced in 1935, he again entertained troops, and broadcast over the wireless with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra during World War II, despite his advancing years. Even towards the end of that conflict and just afterwards Sir Harry appeared at the docks when American food ships came into Glasgow to publicly thank the crews for coming to Britain’s assistance in her hour of need.
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, and starred in three British films: Huntingtower (1928), Auld Lang Syne (1929) and The End of the Road (1936).
He also 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).
Sir Harry’s only child, John (b.1891), had attended the City of London School and Jesus College, Cambridge University, and was destined for a career in law. However, he was called up for The Great War. Captain John Lauder of the 8th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Regiment, was killed in action at Poiziers in France on December 28, 1916 and was buried the following month in the Albert Road Cemetery at Orvilliers, France. He was unmarried. Sir Harry wrote the song "Keep Right on to the End of the Road" in the aftermath of John's death.
A monument was erected by his distraught father in the tiny family graveyard on his Highland estate near Loch Eck, 'Glenbranter', in Argyll.
Sir Harry’s wife Anne also died on July 31, 1927, a terrible blow to Harry. She and her parents are buried next to her son's memorial at Glenbranter.
Sir Harry's youngest brother, Alexander, had a daughter, Margaret [Greta] (1900-1966), who was fond of Sir Harry and she moved in to keep an eye on him at his beautiful Victorian mansion of 'Laudervale' on the Bullwood Road, outside Dunoon, which he had purchased and restored at the beginning of the century. She was to become his almost inseparable companion.
Sir Harry later spent his twilight years at his Strathaven, Lanarkshire, mansion, Lauder Ha' (Hall), and died there in February 1950. At his funeral service the Lesson was read by the Duke of Hamilton, who led the procession on foot, and all shops and businesses in Hamilton closed for the day. Sir Harry was unexpectedly interred not with his wife in their private graveyard at Glenbranter, but with his mother, and a younger brother, George, in Bent Cemetery, Hamilton, after that town’s most memorable funeral ever. It was covered by Pathe News, and wreaths were received from all over the world, including one from Queen Elizabeth (the late Queen Mother) and another from Mr & Mrs Winston Churchill.
The family held on to Lauder Hall until the late 1960s, when death duties forced its sale.
Sir Harry Lauder is frequently mentioned today in a wide variety of programmes, and the Scottish education authorities encourage Scottish dancing to some of his tunes. When the A199 Portobello bypass was opened, it was named the "Sir Harry Lauder Road"
For further reading see the various books by Sir Harry Lauder, including
- Roamin' in the Gloamin (Autobiography) by Sir Harry Lauder, (London, 1928), reprinted without the photos, London, 1976, (ISBN 0-7158-1176-2)
- Great Scot! by Gordon Irving, London, 1968, (ISBN 09-089070-1). More of a hagiography than a biography, but full of interesting details.
- 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: Harry Lauder, coming to a ringtone near you, by David Stenhouse.
- The Ancestry of Sir Harry Lauder, in The Scottish Genealogist, Edinburgh, June 2006, vol.LIII, no.2, ISSN 0300-337X
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