Wednesday, 23 May 2012

He belonged to Glasgow

Will Fyffe

Born at 36 Ferry Road
in Dundee on February 16th 1885,
the eldest child of John Fyffe and Janet Rhynd Cunningham
died at Memorial Cottage Hospital, St. Andrews in Fife on December 14th 1947
whilst recuperating from an ear operation at his hotel also in St. Andrews.

The notice of his death appeared in the Glasgow Herald
of  Monday 15th December 1947

The following is a transcription of his Obituary which was printed in the same edition.

Will Fyffe was no sentimentalist. He sang comic songs. He sang them brilliantly,
and he never considered that fame imposed upon him the obligation of extending
his repertoire to include the maudlin, the moral, or the heavily philosophical.
That is perhaps one of his highest distinctions.

As an entertainer he ranked with Gracie Fields and Harry Lauder,
but in some ways he was greater than either of them.

He did not merely write his songs. He produced a gallery of portraits,
each one a model of observation and understanding.
Each had its prototype and caricature never went the length of fantasy.

His engineer was an old East Coast sailor whom he has known in Methil
when he way a schoolboy. He had built up and amalgamated
the character over a long period of years.

The inspiration for “I belong to Glasgow” came one Saturday night in St. Enoch Station,
where he saw a very drunk man getting on board the Kilmarnock train –
a friendly alcoholic – who waved three £1 notes in the faces of his fellow travellers
and told them – “I come frae Kilmarnock, and when I get back there it’ll belong tae me.”

For all that in the course of the years he made for himself an enormous reserve
of characters, Will Fyffe presented each one for the first time almost unwillingly.
He had all the music-hall performer’s ingrained dislike of fresh material, and he
would admit that it took him six or seven weeks to feel happy in a new number.

This accounts for his lukewarm regard for the cinemas and the radio.
He felt that the radio ‘killed’ a new song, and he grudges the loss.
In a 15-minute programme of patter that might represent 18 months
of studying and polishing.

Will Fyffe had an acute and a first-class mind, he had fewer affectations than
others of his celebrated stage contemporaries and he was a fine angler.

He might have been a successful ‘straight’ actor.
He had gone through all the required routine,
even going the length of playing (as a child actor in his father’s tent theatre)
the parts of Little Willie and Little Eva.

The father was in his own way also a remarkable man. He was a shipyard worker
who later became a teacher of languages in University College, Dundee.
Teaching soon gave place, however, to the management of a travelling theatre,
and it was there that Will learned to play everything from Little Willie to Polonius.

Will Fyffe had his ups and downs.
He wrote sketches which were rejected by Harry Lauder, and had been in
such straits that he took a job as a waiter in a public-house in Lancashire.

He appeared before the First World War as the comic character
in a musical comedy called ‘Bo-Bo’.

He first played in the Palladium on July 18th, 1921.
He never pandered to low taste, and we recollect that when interviewed
after he was created C.B.E. in 1942 he said:
“I would rather tell an old, clean story than a new, dirty one.”

He was laid to rest in the Glasgow Western Necropolis
on Wednesday 17th December 1947.

A report of his funeral was printed in the Glasgow Herald, Thursday 18th December 1947.

Glasgow Western Necropolis

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