THIS week sees the 150th anniversary of the birth of one of Scotland’s greatest entertainers and a man who, for better or worse, gained Scotland and the Scots a reputation of sorts.

It is difficult to understate just how huge a star Sir Harry Lauder was in his heyday. At one time he was the highest paid performer in the world, and is thought to have been the first entertainer to raise £1 million for charity.

Once described by Winston Churchill as “Scotland’s greatest ever ambassador”, it’s fair to say that Lauder was not always popular with his fellow Scots, many of whom could not stand the picture he presented to the world of a tartan-clad, canny, parsimonious Scotsman on the make. Like it or loathe it, no-one can deny it was incredibly successful.

Henry Lauder was born on August 4, 1870, at 3 Bridge Street, Portobello. It’s an essential feature of Lauder’s story that he rose from poverty as a miner to become a massive and massively wealthy star, but in fact his father John was a skilled potter and designer of porcelain, while his mother Isabella McLennan came from a family with roots in the Black Isle.

In 1882 John moved his rapidly growing family – Harry was the eldest of seven or eight children – to Newbold in England where he had been enticed to design pottery. But in April that year, John Lauder died suddenly of pneumonia and Isabella had to return home to her family in Arbroath. At the age of 11, Harry was sent to work in a flax mill to alleviate the family’s straitened circumstances. He worked part-time and went to school. He was encouraged by local singer and music teacher Charlie Miles to take up concert singing and at the age of 13 he won his first two prizes – a pocket knife and a watch.

This success made Lauder determined to have a career as a singer, but first he needed to earn a living. So at the age of 14 he moved with his family to Lanarkshire, where he spent almost 10 years down the mines.

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All the time he was developing his singing act, usually in amateur concerts for his fellow miners, and in 1894 in a music hall in Larkhall he got his first paid gig – earning five shillings.

Having married Ann Vallance in 1891, Lauder now had to up his act and raise money for his family. He decided to take the risk and left the mines, touring Scotland with his own concert party, which gave him the time and experience to develop his act. The audiences liked his singing but like Billy Connolly many decades later, he found the audiences loved his jokes and funny stories as much, if not more, than his singing – and he was a very good singer-songwriter, it should be emphasised.

The hits we all know included Roamin’ In The gloamin’, I Love A Lassie, A Wee Deoch-an-Doris and Stop Yer Ticklin’ Jock. With his stage persona adopted and his songs proving to be hits, Lauder took the London scene by storm and built up his reputation as a funny and charismatic performer whose visual and verbal humour and ability to switch between real pathos and wisecracks was universally adored.

Pantomime proved another Lauder vehicle, and he was soon top of every bill and crowds flocked to see him. He did his first tour of the US in 1907 and did so well he went back again and again – 22 tours in all. He also topped the bill at the first Royal Command Performance in 1912. Australia was another country that took him to its heart and, with his son John playing the piano, he took the entire family Down Under.

By now Lauder was such a star in his homeland that when the First World War started, he was asked to help with the recruiting effort and is said to have single-handedly persuaded 12,000 men to join up.

He didn’t have to persuade John, who was already a junior officer in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders reserves. He joined up in 1914 and was promoted to captain, being killed by a German sniper while leading his men on December 28, 1916.

After this utter tragedy, Lauder threw himself into charity work to assist the war wounded, and set up the Harry Lauder Million Pound Fund. Needless to say he achieved that target and was knighted by King George V for his magnificent efforts in fundraising and entertaining the troops.

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After the war, Lauder went back on the boards but also tried his hand at radio and films, while records of his songs flew off the shelves – he was the first British recording artist to sell a million. When his wife died in 1927 he went into semi-retirement and only emerged to help entertain people via radio on the home front in the Seceond World War.

He built Lauder Ha’ at Strathaven as his final home and died there on February 26, 1950, aged 79. He is buried in the family plot at Bent Cemetery in Hamilton.

He never got over his son’s death, writing in a memoir of a visit to his grave in a military cemetery: “I went alone to my boy’s grave and flung myself down on the warm, friendly earth ... I was utterly spent. He was such a good boy!”

The memory of his son was honoured by Lauder in one of his greatest songs, and next time you sing it remember its provenance in the love of a father for his tragic son.

Keep right on to the end of the road,

Keep right on to the end,

Tho’ the way be long, let your heart be strong,

Keep right on round the bend.

Tho’ you’re tired and weary still journey on,

Till you come to your happy abode,

Where all the love you’ve been dreaming of

Will be there at the end of the road.