Sir Henry "Harry" Lauder (/ˈlɔːdər/; 4 August 1870 – 26 February 1950) was a Scottish music hall and vaudeville theatre singer and comedian, and a substantial landowner.
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!" He became a familiar worldwide figure promoting images like the kilt and the cromach (walking stick) to huge acclaim, especially in America. Other songs followed, including "Roamin' in the Gloamin", "A Wee Deoch-an-Doris", and "The End of the Road".
By 1911, 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 his maternal grandfather's house in Bridge Street Portobello, Edinburgh, the eldest of seven children to John Lauder, a Master Potter, and his wife Isabella Urquhart Macleod née McLennan. John Lauder, was a descendent of the feudal barons, the 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 early 1882 to take up a job designing china, but died of pneumonia on 20 April. Upon his death, Isabella, left short of money (the £15 Life Assurance Policy of her husband not going far), moved the family to Arbroath. Education beyond the age of 11 then requiring payment, Harry worked part-time at the local flax mill to fund that. In 1884 the family moved to live with Harry's maternal uncle, Alexander McLennan, in Hamilton, South Lanarkshire, where his uncle found him employment at Eddlewood Colliery at a weekly wage of ten shillings, 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 and his wife Mary née Kerr. Lauder often sang to the miners in Hamilton 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 routines and songs of Scotland and Ireland.
By 1894 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 a 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. It was during this time that he became a Freemason. He was initiated on 28 January 1897 in Lodge Dramatic, No.571. He remained an active Freemason for the rest of his adult life.
Career peak years; 1900–1920
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. Lauder then 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 at Sandringham, and in 1911, he again 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, He was paid £1125 for an engagement at the Glasgow Pavilion Theatre in 1913 and was later considered by the press to earn one of the highest weekly salaries by a theatrical performer 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 in action of his son at the end of 1916.
The Great War
When World War I broke out, Lauder was in Melbourne on one of his Australian tours. During this 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 established the charity, the Harry Lauder Million Pound Fund, for maimed Scottish soldiers and sailors to help servicemen return to health and civilian life, and for these many services he was knighted in March 1919.
Lauder felt very impassioned about the war. In 1915 he wrote "I know that I am voicing the sentiment of thousands and thousands of people when I say that we must retaliate in every possible way regardless of cost. If these German savages want savagery, let them have it".
He suffered personal tragedy during the war, when his only son, John, a Cambridge University-educated Captain in the 8th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, was killed in action on 28 December 1916 at Pozières. Harry wrote the song "The End of the Road" in the wake of John's death (published as a collaboration with the American William Dillon, 1924). He had a monument for his son erected in the little private Lauder cemetery in Glenbranter (John Lauder was buried in the war cemetery at Ovillers 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."
Lady Lauder died on 31 July 1927 and was buried next to her son John's memorial at Glenbranter, Argyll, alongside her parents. Sir Harry's niece, Margaret Lauder, MBE (1900–1966), now moved in with him at his home, Laudervale (outside Dunoon), to become his secretary & companion. She would be the lady of the house and care for him in his twilight years.
After The Great War Sir Harry Lauder continued to tour the now declining variety theatre circuits until his final tour in North America in 1932. He was semi-retired in the mid-1930s, until his 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.
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.).
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 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 that 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 of 1926 by Alick P.F.Ritchie, for Players Cigarettes, today in the London National Portrait Gallery (ref:NPG D2675).
Lauder leased the Glenbranter estate in Argyll to the Forestry Commission and spent his last years at Lauder Ha (or Hall), his Strathaven home, where he died on 26 February 1950, in his 80th year. His funeral was widely reported, notably by Pathé newsreels. One of the chief mourners was the Duke of Hamilton, a close family friend, who led the funeral procession through Hamilton, and read The Lesson. The largest wreath came from the Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother (who shared her birthday with him) followed by one almost as large from Mr & Mrs Winston Churchill. 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 an entertainer, the late 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.
One version of the song "Dearie" includes a reference to Harry Lauder.
- Huntingtower (1927)
- Auld Lang Syne (1929)
- The End of the Road (1936)