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Roamin' in the Gloamin'

THE two weeks that I spent on the Atlantic going and coming from America on the occasion of that memorable first visit were the longest, and incomparably the most delightful holidays I had ever had in my life up till then. Unforgettable, too, on account of the companionship and comrade- ship of John, all of whose rosy prognostications of my success—"bones an' all"—had been so completely fulfilled. I came to love Dr. Atlantic, the greatest medical man in the world. Honestly I do not think I could ever have achieved my record of world-work—four times round the globe and twenty visits to America, singing every day and often twice a day, Sundays and travelling days excepted—had it not been for the months I have spent on shipboard with the winds of heaven blowing away all the cobwebs and filling the lungs and the blood with new energy and fire. The busy business men and industrial leaders of America know all about Dr. Atlantic. They appreciate him much more than our people do. A week under his ministrations—sometimes, let me admit, very drastic ministrations—and you step off his floating consulting-room feeling fit to knock a house over. That was how I felt on the Carmania coming home that first trip. The only thing I didn't like was the sense of idleness and not earning anything so I paced up and down the deck trying to get a new song to the beat of my feet on the pitch-pine. I got it right enough. "When I Get Back Again to Bonnie Scotland" was thought out and more or less welded together on the promenade deck of the old Carmania. I never wrote a better marching air than the lilt to which the words of this song are set. It was an instantaneous hit when I put it on in London a week or two later. I am told it was a favourite song with the Scottish troops in France. And I sang it hundreds of times many years after in camps, ruined chateaux, and other places behind the line on my visits to France under the auspices of the British Government during the war.

With the exception of my pantomime engagements my trip to New York had earned me more money than I had ever before secured and I was a very proud man when I reckoned up that I was now worth perhaps a couple of thousand pounds in addition to my house at Tooting which had been purchased, or at least finally paid for, out of my pantomime earnings. My great idea about this time was to be independent. I remember telling myself over and over again that any man who had a house of his own and five thousand pounds in the bank should be able to hold up his head with the best and look the whole world fearlessly in the face. This hankering after independence is inborn in most Scots, especially in those who, like myself, have been reared in poverty and who have bitter memories of fathers and mothers striving and struggling and fretting themselves into their graves in order to make ends meet and give their dear bairns some reasonable chance in the battle of life. I decided that I would never rest until I had saved enough money to keep me and mine if the day should arrive when I lost my voice or my popularity. I had seen so many "stars" in an improvident and always uncertain profession come to financial grief that my resolve was strong to save all that I could and so hasten the day of independence for myself and my loved ones. There were to be no "charity benefits" for Harry Lauder!

But the small salaries I had to come back to in London .these old contracts again!—did not allow me much scope for "makin' mickle mair" as Burns has it. I was now the undisputed "top-liner" of the British vaudeville stage. I never played to anything but a crowded house. Often there were artistes on the same bill with me getting twice, three times, yes, ten times my salary but I was always the drawing card. The public loved me and I loved playing to them. The managers loved to have me—so much so that when I wanted a few days off to nurse a cold or merely to take a rest they insisted on having a doctor's certificate. They didn't believe me! But latterly I found a way of circumventing the official doctors sent down to Tooting to find out if Lauder was malingering. I would jump into bed just before the medico arrived and it was an easy thing for me to assume a drawn and doleful expression and to work up a cough which would have convinced the whole College of Surgeons that I was in a state of incipient consumption. It always worked. Indeed one doctor went back to London and reported that poor Harry Lauder was not long for this world. This "stage" cough which I developed so skilfully about this time came in very handy many years later when I sang my song "When I was Twenty-One." Every time I sing the song and start the old man's cough in the patter I feel that I want to laugh, remembering how I fooled the managers' doctors many years ago. But please do not think that I made a practice of getting out of a "cheap engagement," Certainly not; I played every contract I ever made, either on the date arranged or subsequently, and for the money agreed upon. But it was very galling to me in these early days to feel that certain people were determined, Shylock-like, to get their exact pound of flesh from me no matter whether I was feeling well or ill. And I only tell you the story to show how sure a money-spinner I was in the eyes of the managers.

However, what I was losing on the swings, I was making on the roundabouts. In the early years of this century it was a very common thing for the rich and titled people of the West-end of London to give great private entertainments at their town mansions. For these I was in much demand. I could have accepted private engagements almost every night of the week at very handsome fees. But I only went out for the "big stuff" and to the elite of the West-end mansions. At the Tivoli I was perhaps drawing eight or ten pounds a week yet it was no uncommon thing for me to refuse ten times that amount for half-an-hour's singing in some great lady's salon after midnight. The favourite song at these functions was always "I Love a Lassie"; indeed I had to make a definite bargain with more than one hostess that this song would be included in my list. There can be few of the really great London mansions that I have not sung in at one time or another. At these private entertainments the guests liked to join in the choruses and I have had Royal Princes and Princesses, Dukes and Duchesses, Earls and Countesses, Lords and Ladies all shouting my choruses at the pitch of their voices.

I think I must always have been a lucky man in the way of free advertisement. Already I have told you how I did nothing to stop, but rather to foster, the rumours and stories about certain supposed Scottish characteristics which had become, so to say, over-developed in my personality. But this was by no means the only publicity I got. Everything I did for months after my return from America seemed to find its way into the papers. If I got a present of a bull-dog from an old Scottish admirer its photograph appeared in twenty different papers. If I bought an American motor-car for John there was a "story" about it and John was photographed driving it, standing beside it, or underneath it. If he ran it into a neighbour's wall—as he did--the neighbour was interviewed and there were photographs of the "gash." If I put on my kilt and went down to Brighton of a Sunday for a whiff of the sea the news was in the London papers next morning. I couldn't move a leg in bed, or go to a barber's for a hair-cut, or buy a second-hand overcoat—as I certainly once did in a theatrical costumer's shop in London—but it duly appeared in print. If any of my audiences were more than usually demonstrative there was a paragraph headed "Lauder's Triumphant Return" or "Harry's Amazing Reception." Even the sober and responsible writers like Archer, and James Douglas and Edgar Wallace, John D. Irvine and many others all took to writing analyses of my art and stage achievements. For me it was quite bewildering. Had I had a "soft patch" in my make-up all this praise and notoriety would sure have found me out to my undoing. "Of course you had a very clever press-agent" some of you will say. The only press-agent I ever had in my life was entirely unpaid. I refer to my life-long friend and pal Willie Blackwood, now a very well-known journalist and one of the directors of the Amalgamated Press, London, the largest periodical publishing house in the world. I forget just how many millions of papers and magazines this amazing British firm of publishers distributes every week but I think it is in the region of ten millions. The only other printing combination in the world to compare with it is in Philadelphia. "Wullie" certainly pulled lots of stunts about his chum Harry Lauder in the old days when he lived in Glasgow and he was almost as well-known in the London and provincial theatres as Tom and I were. But in his case it was a pure labour of love. Only the other night we were sitting in his house at Harrow recalling the old days over a pipe and a "wee deoch" and we both agreed that no performer in the world had got more publicity—and paid less for it—than me.

Willy-nilly, something was always turning up to focus my name in the minds of the public. Take the case of the horse which appeared with me on the stage of the London Pavilion when I put on a song entitled "The Man They Left Behind," a comic soldier study of a peculiarly ridiculous description. For the purpose of the song I required a horse, preferably a funny horse. But there are no serious or funny horses; there are just horses. That is, generally speaking. So I set out to get a horse which would at least give the song a background. Letting my desires be known to a Lambeth horse-dealer I was assured by return of post that he had "just the animal I would have selected out of ten thousand."

"Arry, ole top," said the dealer when I went down to his yard, "this 'orse I got 'as been waitin' for twenty years for you! God knows 'ow old he is but if you can get 'im on the stige he'll make the people ill larfln'. Just come an' be interjooced to 'im !"

We walked into the stable, a ramshackle building falling to pieces and presenting signs, both to eyes and nose, of not having been cleaned since it was built. In the furthest away stall stood the most ghastly-looking equine—a night-mare of a horse. He was leaning up against the stone wall of the stable, his head hanging down so far between his front legs that two long tufts of hair on his upper-lip were touching the cobbled floor. Almost every bone in his body could have been counted and his forelegs were bent outward so far that it was a wonder to me he was able thus to support even his frail weight in front. This caricature of a horse had only one good eye—good, that is, in so far as it was complete. An accident to the other had had the effect of leaving it permanently at half-cock. Immediately I went up to him he fixed his good eye on me, slowly slewing round and raising his head the better to do so. I swear Old Scraggy—as I instantly dubbed him—laughed at me. I most certainly laughed at him, laughed so loudly and so long that Tom had to help me from the stable, "How long do you think he'll live?" I asked the dealer. "H you can guarantee him for a month I'll make him a national horse-character!"

"Lorlunime, 'Arry," said the dealer, "e's bin Pullin' two ton o' coal every clay for years and surely you ain't goin' to work 'im harder than that! He'll live as long as you'll sing your new song any'ow."

He was right—exactly right. Old Scraggy was sent up to the Pavilion on the Monday night. Tom and I had thought out some humorous "equipment" for him. He had cricket pads on his fore feet, a frowsy "moo-poke" (food-bag) was fastened on to his straggly tail and the saddle consisted of an old piece of Axminster carpet kept in position by "girths" of string and old rope. He wore blinkers that flapped from side to side as he walked and generally he was the most comical bit of live stage property imaginable. There were shrieks of laughter in the wings as Tom and I put the finishing touches on Old Scraggy's accoutrements but they were nothing to the tornado of merriment which greeted the two of us as we "galloped" on to the stage. At the very first performance "Scraggy" showed some hesitancy about facing the footlights and one of the stage hands prodded him with the sharp end of a pencil. The result was that he made one jump forward clear of the wings, stopped dead, and sent me shooting over his head as if I had been discharged from a catapult. Luckily I was not hurt and scrambled to my feet amid terrific yells of laughter from the audience who thought that the whole episode had been carefully arranged. "Scraggy" stayed put in the position he assumed after his initial jump and never moved a muscle for the rest of the performance. Or rather I should say his body and legs were absolutely immovable but his head sank lower and lower as the song went on. The audience never stopped laughing at him all the time; indeed, "The Man They Left Behind" was a very funny song but it didn't have anything in this respect on my steed who was easily the most humorous "silent performer" on the London stage during his "run."

The papers were full of "Scraggy" stories, where I got him, what I was paying for his services, what I fed him on. One journal even had a column interview with the horse on "What I think of Harry Lauder—By Scraggy." So famous did this extraordinary quadruped become that crowds assembled every night at the Pavilion stage-door to see his arrival and departure. His journey to the theatre was a nightly West-end sensation and 'Arry Laudah's 'Oss became notorious. One evening he slipped up in Piccadilly Circus and as he was very tired after his walk from Lambeth he refused to rise. It required the united efforts of ten police men and as many civilians to get him on his feet and he had literally to be carried to the sidepath, where he stood stock-still for fully a quarter of an hour. After this breathing spell, and entirely of his own volition, his attendant having mysteriously disappeared in search of some liquid refreshment, he ambled off in the direction of the Pavilion accompanied by several policemen and a crowd of highly amused pedestrians. Scraggy was funnier than ever that night because he was covered with mud which we had no time to remove. Poor Old Scraggy! Two days after I finished my season at the Pavilion, and having opened a provincial tour at Edinburgh, I learned from the papers that the old horse had been found dead in his Lambeth bed. The excitements of a stage life had been too much for him. His success had killed him! But he provided me with a vast amount of free publicity and had I been in London I would have seen that old Scraggy's mortal remains were saved from the last indignity of the Cats' Meat Man's barrow!

Even when I was reading of Scraggy's death I was having another experience of a different kind with another stage horse. "The Man They Left Behind" had been so popular in London that I resolved to sing the song, equine partner and all complete, on my provincial tour. So at Edin- burgh I had to get a horse for the part. Early on the Monday morning of my Edinburgh week I went down to the well-known horse emporium of the Messrs. Croall and told the folks there that I required an animal that would not be frightened at music and the strange surroundings of the footlights. I was told that they would send up one of the quietest horses in the stable and one that wouldn't be upset by all the military or bagpipe bands in Scotland. I was content to leave the matter in the hands of Croalls, being the more ready to do this in that I rather prided myself on my knowledge of horses and ability to manage them. You see I had been a pony-driver in the mines for some time and you get "gey thrawn wee deevils" among the underground horses. The horse sent up to the Empire on the Monday night was quiet enough in the wings and submitted to all the strange trappings we put on him without a symptom of annoyance. He even carried me on to the stage all right and began to look around with what I thought was an intelligent interest. But all of a sudden, as I was doing the "walk round" for my first chorus he laid his ears back and made to savage me as I passed the side of the stage nearest to him. I made a very real start away from him. Again the audience thought this was all in the play and they yelled their hearty approval. "Peter" as I called this Edinburgh horse, had his attention thus diverted from me and walked down to the very edge of the footlights and stared quizzically at the people in front. This was another bit of "acting" much to the liking of the audience and it certainly made a hit with me too at the moment. The number finished in fine style, I caught hold of "Peter," mounted him and rode off the stage. His exit was a trifle spirited, I must admit, for he "breenged" up against the scenery, clattered across the prompt side and very nearly came to grief among some "props" lying there for a later act. I narrowly escaped being precipitated down a stairway leading to the proscenium. All the same we had made a very fine start as a double-act and I was quite pleased with Peter's eccentricities which I put down to mere playfulness. Next night, however, he was in high fettle and had evidently made up his mind to do things. He started by prancing about the stage so much that I could not get on with the song. Sometimes I was running after him; more often he was running after me —and I didn't half like the look in his eye, either!

Suddenly he started to back in the direction of the orchestra. I seized hold of the reins and began to pull. The harder I pulled the more he backed. The people rocked in their chairs with merriment, thinking that this was some glorious new stunt with a comic horse that Harry Lauder had invented for their amusement. When, however, the drummer in the orchestra looked up and found a horse's tail swishing directly over his head he beat a hasty retreat from his place and his action was followed by several members of the band nearest to him. Two or three of the occupants of the first row of stalls likewise hurried away to safety. Soon the whole house was in an uproar. Those who were out of reach of all possible danger continued to scream with uncontrollable laughter but the remainder of the musicians and the people in the front seats started a general stampede. My wife was a terrified spectator from the wings and I could hear her shouting to the stage hands to go on and help me to "pull the brute back before he killed somebody!" Just when it seemed a certainty that the horse would make a very undignified descent on to the big drum it occurred to him to look round and see where he was going, so to speak. After a moment or two of hesitation he sprang forward. The tension on the reins thus suddenly broken, I went heels over head up-stage, my steed jumped over my body and went dashing into the wings, foaming at the mouth. The stage hands flew for their lives but "Peter's" attendant soon had him under control. That was his last night as my "assistant." Afterwards I had a horse of a much more docile .disposition, greatly to the relief of the drummer and his musical associates.


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