Harry Lauder

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Sir Harry Lauder
Harry Lauder 001.jpg
Born Henry Lauder
(1870-08-04)4 August 1870
Portobello, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK
Died 26 February 1950(1950-02-26) (aged 79)
Strathaven, Lanarkshire, Scotland, UK
Occupation Music hall comedian & singer
Spouse(s) Ann Vallance; 1 son (predeceased by both parents)

Sir Henry "Harry" Lauder (4 August 1870 – 26 February 1950) was an international Scottish entertainer, described by Sir Winston Churchill as "Scotland's greatest ever ambassador!"[1][2][3]

Early life[edit]

Henry Lauder was born at Portobello, Edinburgh, where the family lived, in the home of his maternal grandfather, Henry McLennan. His father was John Currie Lauder, descended from the Lauders of the Bass,[4] and his mother was Isabella Urquhart MacLeod McLennan, born in Arbroath to a family from the Black Isle.[5]

Harry's father John Lauder moved to Newbold, Derbyshire, in 1882 to take up a job designing china. John died of pneumonia a short while afterward, and Isabella and her five sons and two daughters moved to live in her brother's home in Arbroath. Though it was customary for children to begin working at the age of 11 or 12, Harry's mother was determined to continue Harry's education. He worked part-time at the local flax mill until he was 16, so he could attend school. The family later moved to the home of Isabella's brother in Lanarkshire, where Harry worked in the coal mines around Hamilton, Lanarkshire. On 19 June 1891, at age 21, Harry married Ann, daughter of James Vallance, a colliery manager at Hamilton. Harry's brother Matthew stood as his best man,[6] and a year later, Harry served as Matthew's best man when he wedded Ann's sister, Catherine.[7]


Lauder sang as he worked in the coal mines to help relieve the arduous nature of the work, and his fellow workers encouraged him to sing in local halls. While singing in nearby Larkhall, he received 5 shilling—the first time he was paid for singing. After more evenings singing in halls around Hamilton, he went to 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 halls around the country with a concert party, which he did. This allowed him to quit the coal mines and turn to singing professionally. Lauder sang comedic and songs of Scotland and Ireland.[8]

pre WW1 toy bus carries an advert for Lauder.

In 1905 his success in leading the Howard & Wyndham pantomime at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow, for which he wrote I Love a Lassie, made him a national British 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 Variety performance, in front of King George V, organised by Alfred Butt. He was Britain`s best-known entertainer. He toured the world 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. He was, at one time, the highest-paid performer in the world, making the equivalent of £12,700 a night plus expenses,[9] and was the first British artiste to sell a million records. Lauder's music appealed to all, including workers, merchants, royalty, and presidents.

His 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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

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.[10] 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."[11]

His works[edit]

Harry Lauder's Popular Songs (album cover art).jpg

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.[12] In 1907, he appeared in a short film singing "I Love a Lassie" for British Gaumont.[13] 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.[14]

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,[15] 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.[16] 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,[17] another by Henry Mayo Bateman, now in London's National Gallery,[18] and one by Alick P.F.Ritchie, for Players, in 1926, today in the London National Portrait Gallery (ref:NPG D2675).

Later years[edit]

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.[19]


Part of Lauder Ha', from the west, at the time of its sale, 1967
Road sign - Sir Harry Lauder Road.jpg

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.[20] When the A199 Portobello bypass opened, it was named the Sir Harry Lauder Road.[21]

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,[22] 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.[23]

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.[citation needed]

The song "Dearie" includes a reference to Harry Lauder.[citation needed]

Selected filmography[edit]


  1. ^ Sir Harry Lauder: 1870-1950
  2. ^ "Sir Harry Lauder". Time Magazine. 10 March 1930. Retrieved 14 August 2008. 
  3. ^ Lauder-Frost, Gregory. "Biographical Notes on Sir Harry Lauder". Electric Scotland. Retrieved 20 February 2011. 
  4. ^ Lauder, Sir Harry, Roamin' in the Gloamin, Hutchinson & Co., London, 1927, p.26.
  5. ^ "The Ancestry of Sir Harry Lauder" in The Scottish Genealogist, vol.liii, no.2, Edinburgh, June 2006 pps.74-87. ISSN 0330-337X
  6. ^ Lauder, Sir Harry, 1927, p.68.
  7. ^ "The Ancestry of Sir Harry Lauder", 2006, p.82
  8. ^ "Sir Harry Lauder: 1870-1950". Special Collections. University of Glasgow. 
  9. ^ "Harry Lauder, coming to a ringtone near you". The Sunday Times. 24 July 2005. 
  10. ^ CWGC entry
  11. ^ Winston S. Churchill, The Second World War - Volume III, p.530
  12. ^ SilentFilm entry
  13. ^ SilentEra entry
  14. ^ BFI Database entry
  15. ^ Morrison, McChlery & Co.,Glasgow, Catalogue of the Furnishings of Lauder Hall, Strathaven, May 1966, p.13.
  16. ^ BBC - Your Paintings - Sir Harry Lauder (1870–1950)
  17. ^ Caricature and Cartoon in Twentieth-Century America: Caroline and Erwin Swann Foundation for Caricature and Cartoon (Prints and Photographs Reading Room, Library of Congress)
  18. ^ Sir Harry Lauder, 1870 - 1950. Comedian − Henry Mayo Bateman − B − Artists A-Z − Online Collection − Collection − National Galleries of Scotland
  19. ^ Wallace, William, & Lauder-Frost, Gregory, Harry Lauder in the Limelight", Lewes, Sussex, 1988, p.93. ISBN 0-86332-312-X
  20. ^ http://www.arts.gla.ac.uk/STELLA/STARN/crit/WAGGLE/lauder.htm 0
  21. ^ "List of Public Roads Q - Z". Archived from the original on 27 September 2007. Retrieved 30 August 2007. 
  22. ^ The Portobello Reporter, Autumn 2001 edition
  23. ^ The Sentinel (Staffordshire) (newspaper), Stoke-on-Trent, 4 October 2007, p. 47 (includes photo).

Further reading[edit]

  • 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: "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. 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. "Biographical Notes on Sir Harry Lauder". 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

External links[edit]