11 February, 2009
Sir Henry Lauder, known professionally as Harry Lauder, was a notable Scottish entertainer, described by Sir Winston Churchill as "Scotland's greatest ever ambassador!"
Henry Lauder was born at Portobello, Edinburgh in the home of his maternal grandfather, Henry McLennan. His father was John Currie Lauder, descended from the Lauders of The Bass, and his mother was Isabella Urquhart MacLeod McLennan, born in Arbroath to a family from the Black Isle. At the time, his father was also living in Portobello.
John Lauder moved to Newbold, Derbyshire in 1882 to take up a job designing china. After only a short time in residence there, he died of pneumonia, and his widow Isabella moved to her brother's home in Arbroath with her five sons and two daughters. She was determined to continue Harry's education (it being then customary for children to find employment at the age of 11 or 12), and he worked part-time at the local flax mill until he was 16 in order to qualify to attend the school there.
On 19 June 1891, Harry married Ann Vallance, the daughter of a colliery manager at Hamilton, South Lanarkshire, attended by his brother Matthew as best man. A year later, Harry served as best man at Matthew's wedding to Ann's sister, Catherine.
Lauder is said to have first appeared in his music-hall career as an Irish comedian. He toured the world extensively during his forty-year career, including 22 trips to the United States and several to Australia, to which 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, and was the first British performer to sell more than a million records. Lauder's appeal was not limited to popular tastes; he was a favourite of King Edward VII and a friend of Sir Thomas Lipton, the tea merchant.
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 entertained the troops under enemy fire in France. 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, and would memorialize his son, who was buried in France, in the little Lauder cemetery in Glenbranter. For his services during the war, Lauder was knighted in January 1919.
Winston Churchill stated that Lauder, "...by his inspiring songs and valiant life, rendered measureless service to the Scottish race and to the British Empire."
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 (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 final retirement was announced in 1935. However, he again entertained troops 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. His last years were spent in his home of Lauder Ha' at Strathaven, where he died in February 1950, aged 79.