Born: 15 April, 1924, in Glasgow
Died: 27 January, 2004, in Glasgow, aged 79
RIKKI Fulton was a comedian who lit up Scottish theatres for half a century.
Along with Jimmy Logan, Stanley Baxter and Jack Milroy, he became a fixture
in pantos and in the Five Past Eight Show. On television, he was a national
institution, first with Francie and Josie, then with Scotch and Wry.
Although he had a period down south introducing radio programmes on the big
bands, he was always keen to stay close to his roots. Glasgow, with its
earthy sense of humour and endless supply of characters, fired his
imagination. He loved to make people laugh and, with his wide, toothy smile
and quirky ad-libbing (plus eyebrows going into overdrive), he endeared
himself to generations of Scots.
Fulton, whose real name was Robert, was born in Dennistoun and educated at
Whitehill Secondary School. He left at 14 because, as he delightfully put
it, "my interests were outside the school and inside my head".
At the start of the Second World War, he joined the Royal Navy and was
commissioned on to HMS Ibis. It was torpedoed in the Mediterranean in 1942
and Fulton was stranded, swimming aimlessly around the dangerous waters for
five hours. He was finally rescued, recovered with typical pluck and was fit
enough to join the Coastal Forces for D-Day, plying back and forward from
Gosport to Arromanches with vital supplies. In 1945 he was demobbed with the
rank of sub-lieutenant.
He got some clerical work and rapidly gained stage experience with his local
amateur dramatic society. In 1947, BBC Scotland chose him to do a schools
broadcast called The Gowrie Conspiracy and this was followed by work on
Children’s Hour. In 1952, he joined the fondly remembered radio soap The
McFlannels. With its idyllic reflection of Highland village life, it became
compulsive listening throughout Scotland. Fulton gained instant fame as the
occupant of the manse, the Rev David McCrepe
Perth Repertory Theatre gave him his first professional stage work in 1953
and then the BBC’s Light Programme asked him to introduce its Saturday Show.
It concentrated on the popular big bands of the era (Joe Loss, Cyril
Stapleton, etc) but Fulton brought a lively feel to the show, always
chatting to his guests. He was well informed about the music, and the show
enjoyed big audiences, helped by guests such as Frank Sinatra, Rosemary
Clooney and Nat King Cole. Fulton fronted the 1955 BBC Light Programme
Festival of Dance Music from the Albert Hall.
It was about this time that he started donning frocks, wigs and over-the-top
make-up for pantos in Edinburgh and Glasgow. Every show was a joy and played
to packed houses. Children (of all ages) used to sit there wide-eyed at the
double entendres, the slapstick, the on-stage antics and the chat with the "nobs
in the ashtrays" (the boxes). If there was a script, it was a variable
feast. Fulton loved capitalising on anything that went wrong, and that
simply increased the complete joy of the evening.
In the summer, there was the spectacular Five Past Eight Show, which changed
its format every fortnight. When the cast was performing one show, they were
rehearsing the next one. It was an exhausting but popular format. It was
during the 1960 show that he met Jack Milroy. They developed a double act
that was the most popular to come out of Scotland. Its origins were based
firmly in the old musical halls, with an interplay between the actors and
audience. Francie and Josie became beloved by Scots and non-Scots alike, and
when it transferred to STV the show picked up many awards.
Fulton played Josie, the smart alec. He was bumptious, cocky and a real
know-all. Milroy was Francie, and both dressed in outrageous costumes - the
best known were probably the over-the-top Teddy Boy outfits. The colours
clashed, the hairstyles were frightful and the language not far behind. The
jokes were near the funny bone and changed every night.
Later in Fulton’s career came Scotch and Wry, which was no less successful -
it lasted 18 glorious years - and featured a host of comic characters,
ranging from the bungling Supercop to the mournful Rev IM Jolly, who
developed into a national icon. Scotch and Wry became a Hogmanay fixture,
and Fulton’s last doom-laden appearance as the Rev IM Jolly was on New
Year’s Eve, 2001.
Fulton was always keen to perform in front of a live audience. In 1973, he
joined a host of fine Scottish actors, including James Cairncross, John
Cairney, Edith Macarthur and Lennox Milne, in The Thrie Estates at the
Edinburgh Festival. In 1981, he starred with George Cole in a Michael Frayn
play, Liberty Hall. For the 1985 Festival, he adapted Molière’s Le Bourgeois
Gentilhomme (he called it A Wee Touch of Class), with Joan Knight, his old
mentor at Perth, directing. Fulton played the central role with joy
unbounded. Not surprisingly, the Festival rebooked it the next year and the
production then toured Scotland.
Fulton also made several film appearances - he was in Gorky Park, Local Hero
and Comfort and Joy - and had guest TV appearances in Rab C Nesbitt and the
Para Handy stories.
Soon after his 75th birthday, Fulton found he had memory problems. He was
diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and faced the onslaught of it with great
courage and fortitude. But at Milroy’s funeral in 2001, he broke down while
delivering the oration.
Rikki Fulton was a natural comic, who had a magical ability to capture
real-life characters with a deft and sympathetic accuracy. The Rev Jolly,
Supercop and Francie were all people that he had observed from his childhood
in Dennistoun. He knew them (and their idiosyncrasies) well. So did his
audience: that was what made them so loveable and appealing. Their creator
was no less loved and admired.
Fulton was married twice. He wed Ethel in 1949, but that marriage was
dissolved in 1968. The following year, he married Kate Matheson, who