On 26 February 1950 Sir Harry Lauder, the famous Scottish entertainer Winston Churchill once referred to as ‘Scotland’s greatest ever ambassador’, died in Strathaven, Lanarkshire. Lauder’s story is a remarkable, and one that directly connects him to the Scottish Diaspora.
Born near Edinburgh on 4 August 1870, Lauder’s mother moved the family to Arbroath after the death of Harry’s father. It was there that Lauder, aged 12, started work in a local mill. Two years later, the family relocated to Lanarkshire, where Lauder became a pit boy, working in a coal mine. Ever since his father’s death, Lauder had, however, also enjoyed singing, and it was singing that should make him famous all over the world. He began to get paid engagements and then joined a concert part, touring Scotland, and 1894 saw Harry get his first professional engagement. He set up his own touring company soon afterwards, and after his 1898 show at the Argyle Theatre Birkenhead, Harry’s career took off. Lauder made it to London, and from there reached global fame, touring the Unites States twenty three times and becoming the first performer to entertain front line troops during the First World War.
Lauder went to the United States in 1907, and his first performance took place in the New York Theatre. Hailed by the New York Times as a ‘deserved success’ , it was also during this trip that Lauder met William Morris – the man who later became his manager in America (read the full newspaper report here). There can be no doubt that his US audience loved him, so much so in fact that Lauder returned for tours in the United States 22 times.
With growing fame, however, came an even more global career, with Lauder also making it to Canada, South Africa, Asia, Australia and New Zealand. Lauder arrived in Wellington, New Zealand, on 19 August 1914, having made his way there from Sydney, and performed at the city’s Grand Opera House from 5 September (click her for an advertisement). As the Evening Post reported:
The famous entertainer was asked recently what he would sing in New Zealand, and his reply was “Well, my first song will be the one I began my London career with ‘Tobermory.’ It’s the first I sing in every country in which I am a stranger. And I shall follow it with ‘Stop Yer Ticklin’ Jock,’ and I think I’ll sing ‘Fou tho Noo.’ There’s an element of intoxication in it, and since I first sang it the world has grown more temperate. Therefore, I leave it out rather than disturb the susceptibilities of any one person in the audience.
Lauder also performed in Christchurch in the South Island, where he purchased a flag with the signatures of the New Zealand Governor, the Prime Minister and other politicians, at an auction organised for the benefit of the Canterbury Patriotic Fund at the end of Lauder’s concert.
See also: Celebrating Lanarkshire 2013