A FRIEND of Johnny Beattie has told how the Gaiety Theatre was the late star's favourite venue as he pays tribute to the entertainment legend.

Norman Christie had known Johnny for more than 40 years and has told of the popular ‘hey-day’ shows of the 1950s.

Ayr Advertiser:

Johnny Beattie died on Thursday, July 9, aged 93 and was one of Scotland’s most popular and versatile entertainers.

Norman said: “He was a true gentleman and in a career spanning sixty-three years, he worked as a comedian, singer, television games show host, after-dinner speaker, master of ceremonies and as an actor on stage, screen and television: quite an accomplishment for someone who left school aged sixteen to begin work as an apprentice electrician at Fairfield’s shipyard in his native Govan.”

Johnny worked in the shipyards which is where he was inspired by ‘the patter’ which attracted him to stage work.

In 1952 he made his debut at the Gaiety, performing a six minute spot of a song and some gags.

Norman can recall Johnny speaking of his time rising to fame at the Ayr theatre.

Johnny recalled: “Kitty and I returned from our honeymoon on a Saturday and I commenced work with Robert Wilson on Monday at Aberdeen’s Tivoli theatre. That was in 1952 and I did a six minute spot comprising a song and some gags, and thereafter we toured theatres and venues in central Scotland for the remainder of the show’s run.

“Following that, I toured the north of Scotland and Northern Ireland and was surprised and delighted when Eric Popplewell, the owner of Ayr’s Gaiety Theatre, came to one of the shows and invited me to join his winter pantomime - Cinderella - and that was my first of many contracts I had at The Gaiety”.

Johnny then went on to top the bill at the Gaiety Whirl just a few years later.

Ayr Advertiser: Johnny and Norman were good friends.Johnny and Norman were good friends.

Norman added: “Despite Johnny’s anxiety the Gaiety audiences took to the Govan comedian and he went on to play so many shows there that he was reckoned to be the artiste with most appearances at that venue.”

“Of the many theatres he worked in, Johnny was fond of playing Rothesay’s Winter Gardens, but latterly commented that his favourite theatre was the Gaiety, which says a lot for an act who has played theatres all over Scotland and in many countries of the world including Canada, the USA and the Far East.”

Johnny went on to star as Malcolm Hamilton in BBC’s River City, but his TV careered spanned all the way back to 1964 with BBC’s Johnny Beattie’s Saturday Night Show which ran for six years before he hosted STV’S game show Now You See it.

Thereafter he made numerous TV appearances on shows including Welcome to the Ceilidh, Scotch and Wry, Rab C. Nesbitt and Taggart. In addition, he was a DJ with BBC and Radio Clyde and was also a recording artiste and one of his recordings made it into Scotland’s Top Ten - The Glasgow Rap - which was written by Ronnie Christie, a singer who regularly appeared on stage with Johnny.

Until the time of his death, Johnny was President of the Scottish Music Hall Society - a role he held for many years.

In 1993 he was given the Lord Provost’s Performing Arts Award and in 2007 he was awarded an MBE for services to charity and to the theatre. At Glasgow’s City Chambers in 2012, Johnny was presented with the Loving Cup, as part of the Lord Provost’s Awards.

Norman would often meet Johnny in his later years as they stayed in the same neighbourhood in the West End of Glasgow, and would go for a walk at the Botanic Gardens.

At 93 years old his health was gradually fading and he was admitted to the St Margaret’s Hospice in Clydebank where he died on Thursday, July 9 2020.