Harry Gordon

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Alexander Ross Gordon (11 July 1893—January 1957) was a popular Scottish entertainer, comedian and impressionist who toured throughout Scotland and further afield, regularly appearing on the BBC from about 1930 to 1955. Gordon also produced a large number of recordings, including several under assumed names. His best known character was the Laird of Inversnecky, based on a fictional Scottish town he used in his comic routines.

Early life

Harry Gordon was born in Aberdeen as Alexander Gordon, one of five sons and a daughter. He attended King Street and Central schools, before leaving for work as an insurance clerk to help with the family finances.

His first public appearance on stage may have occurred at age 12 as Princess Chrysanthemum at Gilcomston Parish Church. By the time he was 15 years old, he decided to pursue a full-time career as an entertainer and developed his stage skills at various venues in northeast Scotland.

Career

His first full-time professional engagement was with Monty's Pierrots at Stonehaven in 1912, the same year in which he married Jessie Millar Dudgeon.

This led to an engagement at the Beach Pavilion in Aberdeen in 1913 at a salary of £2 per week.

He joined the Army at the outbreak of the First World War and served for three years.

As soon as he was demobbed he returned to the Beach Pavilion, purchasing it in 1924. As the owner/producer of Harry Gordon's Entertainers he made the Pavilion one of the principal dates for British Stars, and himself appeared there annually until the Second World War closed it in 1940.

He made over 100 broadcasts from the Beach Pavilion over a residency of 14 years, among them Harry's Half Hour and Gordon Gaieties.

He pioneered resident shows at other Scottish variety theatres such as The Pavilion, Glasgow; Theatre Royal, Edinburgh; and the Palace Theatre, Dundee.

He appeared at The London Pavilion on 28 October 1929 but didn't go down well with the London audience.

Pantomimes

Harry was the principal comedian in Julian Wylie pantomimes from 1929 to 1932. He had a record consecutive eleven years' run in pantomime for Tom Arnold at the Glasgow Alhambra (seven of these years co-starring with Will Fyffe from 1937–1948 and six summer shows with Howard & Wyndham's Kings Theatres in Edinburgh & Glasgow.

This was not the only record Harry held. He had a record run of two solid years in Glasgow, during which he only played two theatres - the Kings & the Alhambra. He also held a flying record for playing three shows 100 miles apart in three hours, flying from the Pavilion in Aberdeen to Inverness and back.

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Pierrot troupe, with whom Gordon played in many open-air performances. The company formed in the village of Banchory, which influenced Gordon's most famous creation, Inversnecky. Gordon began to appear at many theatres in northeast Scotland and did seaside shows in the summer. He was physically unfit for active service in the First World War, but participated in the war effort as an entertainer.

After the war Gordon often performed in Aberdeen at His Majesty's Theatre and the Beach Pavilion, originally a wooden concert hall which was replaced in 1928 by a more permanent structure.

Alhambra, Glasgow

He starred 11 years in a row in pantomime for Tom Arnold at the Glasgow Alhambra in Waterloo Street, seven of these co-starring with Will Fyffe.

His summers were spent in city revues for Howard and Wyndham; his autumns he enjoyed in short bursts of touring to communities in North America or South Africa. Some of his best audiences were lumberjacks in the backwoods of British Columbia.


He had a homely and chatty style, establishing an intimate rapport with his audience. With his Doric accent and local knowledge he became one of Scotland's most popular entertainers.

He also appeared many times before the microphone of the BBC's local radio station in Aberdeen, 2BD, which operated between 1923 and 1929.[2]

He appeared as the Laird of Inversnecky at the Beach Pavilion, Aberdeen.

BBC broadcasts

Harry Gordon was a perfect fit for the pre-war BBC. His humour was not only clean and wholesome but, unlike many other acts who were reluctant to have their shows 'wasted' on the wireless, Gordon welcomed the BBC and arranged his broadcasts to suit the unseeing audience. As broadcaster Howard Lockhart recalled:

His preparation was meticulous. It was the same when he came to the studio. Every word was written down beforehand in his own handwriting, on margined sheets of foolscap that he kept for the purpose. This procedure proved of special value to us when war came and censorship forbade the ad lib or unscripted word.[1]

His wholesome style was ideal for Children's Hour and he appeared with Jack Holden and the 'Inversnecky Brains' in many broadcasts in 1945 and 1946.

He then became big in England with his gallery of classic dame studies in pantomime, first with Will Fyffe and then with Alec Finlay.

Gordon often worked with comic foil Jack Holden and perfected his pantomime act into one of Scotland's most acclaimed. His appeal never did transfer well to England, though he worked abroad and on cruise ships.

Death and legacy

While playing dame in pantomime at the Glasgow Theatre Royal in December 1956, Gordon suffered a severe attack of influenza. He was transferred from his home to Glasgow Royal Infirmary, where he underwent an operation. He died of a cerebral haemorrhage in January 1957 at the age of 63.

He was survived by his wife and one daughter.

His work was still remembered many years later and formed the basis of a one-man stage show about his career.

References

  1. Howard Lockhart, On My Wavelength (Aberdeen: Impulse Books, 1973), 37.