John Park, 32 the Loaning, Motherwell, North Lanarkshire, Strathclyde, Scotland, U.K. ML1 3HE
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Chick Murray "Just Daft" by Robbie Grigor.
Chick Murray was a comic Colossus, a Salvador Dali of humour who turned the Celtic tradition of story-telling into an art form. His oblique often perverse look at life was underpinned by a stunning sense of timing and led him to become one of the great comic innovators of the twentieth century. In "Just Daft" written with the full cooperation of Chick's family , Robbie Grigor follows Chick's career from his amateur beginnings in the 1930's and subsequent double act with his wife Maidie all the way to the Royal Variety Show in 1956 and his appearances on in films such as Casino Royal (1967), Gregory's Girl (1980) and the musical You'll never Walk Alone (1984) With jokes, stories, photographs and tributes from fellow comedians and others, this is the ultimate celebration of the king of alternative humour.
It's naughty to start with a negative, nonetheless, this book does not set out to cover the artist's life in blow-by-blow detail. Nor does it wish to highlight the undoubted moments of sadness that every clown confronts in his life. It's principle purpose is to pay tribute to the memory of an outstanding comedic craftsman and to remind us of a remarkable man who left a legacy of gold-embossed memories of helpless laughter and intense happiness. His stunning sense of humour, his immaculate sense of timing, his originality, his delivery and so much more, led to communal hilarity where every eye cast salty water. This book, then, with the help of Chick's family, sets out -- wherever possible -- to be a happy one!. There is a profound irony that, towards the end of Chic's life, he brilliantly represented the larger-than -life Liverpool legend Bill Shankly, onstage in You'll never walk alone. The family still possess "Shank's" training jersey given to Chic by his widow. Those who hadn't noticed his presence on a surprise visit to the changing rooms at Liverpool FC, on hearing his voice, believed that Shanks was back from the dead-- testimony on his underestimated dramatic capabilities. Herein lies the irony. Chic was elevated to the same status as the man he so convincingly purported to be. It had undeniably come to pass, wheeling out an overused and abused cliche, that Chic, was a legend in his own lifetime. Imitation, the saying goes, is the sincerest form of flattery. Chic should have been flattened by flattery then, because no one was imitated more than himself. No one. And today, nearly a quarter of a century on since his passing, they still do. Think of the countless friends you know who have attempted a Chic Murray impression. Count on the fingers of one hand, those who have not! Even Billy Connelly, now an icon himself, is so comfortable on stage that he will even interrupt the end of a very strong - but very long -- anecdote about visiting his father in a stroke ward to tell a slew of Chic Murray jokes that have just sprung to mind. A review of Billy Connolly at the Symphony Hall, Birmingham, the Times, 11 September 2007. And as an illustration of the above comments, there is a sketch in the Pink Panther series, where Clouseau obsequiously approaches a stranger to enquire "Does your Doggie bite?. "No" comes the reply under heavy lidded eyes. Clouseau then pats the dogs head as it turns on him, snapping, yapping. "But you said your doggie doesn't bite" Clouseau whines, clutching a freshly bitten hand. "But that's not my doggie" comes the indifferent reply. This sketch was purloined from Chic's repertoire, devised over 15 years earlier. It's all in his notes. The invaluable contributions and the boundless enthusiasm and energy of Chic's family, the former wife, the irrepressible Maidie -- 'Aren't you glad you met me?' -- and their two children, Douglas and Annabelle, make this compilation unique. They were appointed sole executors of their fathers estate, including the intellectual property of his life's work contained in notebooks, exercise books, wee scraps of paper of laugh-out-loud comic material, and even caricatures and cartoon illustrations all in his own hand. (His calligraphy sometimes would have challenged those who cracked the Enigma code but, in fairness they were for his use, not intended for publication) With the first publication of many of his creative musings, it follows, then, in the unique gift that was Chic Murray, that this book becomes unique too. A final word on Billy Connolly who, with his characteristic generosity of spirit, agreed to write the forward. Every one associated with this book owes him a huge debt of gratitude and I hope he finds new inspiration from it's pages. But Chic's family remember Billy for other reasons. He was a rock at Chic's funeral, where he offered to pay his own unique tribute to a lost friend and, one year on, he demonstrated his kindness yet again when he interrupted a busy schedule to escort Chic's daughter Annabelle up the isle on the occasion of her marriage. Nice one, Billy, thanks.
Forward by Billy Connolly
I have a photograph at home of Chic Murray standing at the gates of Annfield Stadium in Liverpool. It was taken while he was playing the part of Bill Shankly, the legendary Scot's manager of Liverpool, in a play about his life. For me, the greatest thing about the picture is the fancy ironwork lettering above the gate spelling out the Liverpool legend, "You'll never walk alone" The reason that I place such importance on it is that in this case it is a complete fabrication. If ever a man walked alone, that man was Chic Murray. I first came across him when I was teenager in Glasgow. I had heard him from time to time on the radio, although his appearances were quite rare; broadcasters seemed to be a bit wary of him, he wasn't like the others, his style was different, his timing was different, his subject matter was different, his appearance, his demeanour was different; "He yodels for God's sake" He walked alone. I remember so well, sitting sitting in the house of my friend, Billy McKinnell, watching Chic on television. It was one of the very few times that I fell down with laughter, although in my case I think I actually fell up and and then down, due to the arm of the couch, as I completely lost control of myself in blissful ecstasy. I was sitting on Bill's mother's beautiful new couch, pressed up against the arm, as Chic went into a routine about two friends who were emigrating, I think to Canada, but it doesn't really matter. The guys surnames were Semmit and Drawers (Undervest and underpants). I can't remember if they had Christian names or not, that has all been abandoned to the fog of the past. What I do remember though is laughing heartily through the sketch with Billy and his mother, until close to the end of the end of the piece, where Mr Drawers is giving his son, young Drawers, some stalwart advice which is supposed to stand him in good stead in the colonies as he sets off on his intrepid journey overseas. The part that nailed me, and had me over the arm of the couch onto the floor in a helpless heap, was when old Drawers, in as sincere a tone as he could manage says to young Drawers, 'Never let the Drawers down' That was where I took off like a rocket, over the furniture and onto the floor. Billy was laughing, his mother was laughing and I was trying to breathe. I had just been blessed by the elegant touch of a true comedy genius. As the years rolled by I became a comedian myself, but saw little of Chic as we worked in different fields. He seemed to concentrate on films and corporate style entertainment, while I was doing clubs and concert halls. Inevitably, our paths crossed in Glasgow, at the BBC club, where we were introduced by a mutual friend, Robin Hall, the folk singer. Chic proceeded straight away to tell me about a trip he had taken to see his favourite football team, Morton FC of Greenock, who weren't doing very well at the time. The game was played in the middle of a drizzzle storm, if there is such a thing. It was really just a series of observations of people at the match, beautiful observations, unequalled by anyone I had seen or heard. The whole hilarious thing ended with a description of a miserable sodden supporter, holding a crying, soiled and somewhat ugly his arms. The miserable snot covered child is bawling in the man's ear, the drizzle is cascading down his neck, and he is recalling the nagging of his wife, which happened just before the game, and resulted in him being bullied into taking the child with him (all of these parts acted out by Chic) when the opposition break away yet again and score a seventh goal against a hapless mud covered Morton, whereupon the poor soul raises his weary head and comes our with the legend, "Come on Morton, stop the kidding" I was completely poleaxed, the exact feeling of that night on Billy's mothers couch. I was lucky enough to be able to regard myself as his friend, although he was always my hero. Like a lot of funny men, he was blessed with a funny appearance: broad at the top, narrow at the bottom. He had a peculiar and funny walk, with his hands almost parallel with the floor, and a face, a beautiful jovial, round Halloween-cake face, which never failed to make me smile. I find myself talking about him on stage sometimes, recalling his stories and feeling great as people laugh again at his genius. His popularity shows no sign of diminishing, whether he is alive or not I have never known a more loved figure, the mere mention of his name makes people smile, laugh, or glaze over in reminiscence of great and happy times. For a man who walked alone, my hero sure attracted a crowd.
"A truly unique comedian" Ronnie Baker
"A deeply sophisticated performer" Robbie Coltrane
"The funniest man ever" Sean Connery
"A true original" Ronnie Corbett
"I am one of Chic Murray's greatest fans" Brian Cox
"The maverick of Scottish Comedy Barry Cryer
"I thought he was wonderful" Bruce Forsuth
"One of the top comics in the world" Spike Milligan
"There was nobody kike him" Bill Paterson
"Uniquely funny" Alan Plater
"Chic was the master of deadpan comedy who timed the comic line to perfection" Alex Salmond
"Thanks, Chic, for all you gave us" Elaine C Smith
"One of the all time greats" Eric Sykes
"The comedians comedian" Jimmy Tarbuck
Greenock is not a 'new town' in the conventional sense but it is a township of comparatively modern origins. Made a Burgh in 1635, its foremost advantage was its bay. This brought modest prosperity through the herring industry, though even by 1701 the population was a measly 746. Some years on, boat building, for an expanding fishing trade, became a significant marker that was to lay the foundation for the growth of shipbuilding and associated industries in the area. More that 100 years on, in the 19th century, there was a sad exodus from the highlands of Scotland, a drift to the south, or over the Atlantic, or to Australia and beyond. They clutched each other for warmth and reassurance in there sad, white-sailed boats they new would never return. Meanwhile London toffs in their recently acquired tartan danced Highland reels and strathspeys in the hunting lodges that had mushroomed across the Highlands, unmindful and uncaring of those who had husbanded the land for generations before the sheep or the stag stalkers. Many of those who chose to stay within their national boundaries headed to the West coast, including Greenock, in search of work as labourers, fishermen and sailors. Indeed, even by 1801, when Greenock's population had escalated to 17,450, it was estimated that three-quarters of the town's population were native born Highlanders -- and the great majority from Argyll. So there is a strong likelihood that, with his parents bearing the names Murray and McKinnon, Chic's roots lay in a northerly direction from his place of birth. Greenock's prosperity grew with sugar refining, shipbuilding, potteries, tanneries, paper mills and more besides. But this dynamic had it's down side in overcrowding, substandard housing and a record of poor health amongst the citizenry. And the first limited efforts at slum clearance and the construction of housing by the local authority in 1919 coincided with another event that year -- the birth of Chic Murray. Although born in Stranraer, William Irvine Murray, Chic's father was a Greenockian for most of his life (a curious mouthful, pronounced to rhyme with 'see jock again'. Before the first world war, William was foreman with the Glasgow & South Western Railway. He was born, by all accounts, a thorough decent, well-respected man who was about to confront major live changing events. Along with the majority of his brave comrades who enlisted on the outbreak of war, he believed that hostilities would cease within a year. However before he was sent to the Western Front he had fallen in love and become engaged to a bonnie, exceptionally gifted woman named Isabella McKinnon. Soon after at the bloodbath battle of the Some in 1916, he was hellishly badly gassed and the consequent damage to his lungs was to leave him partially disabled, poor sole, for the rest of his shortened life. He returned home, but it was a year after before he had made a limited recovery and could recommence his employment and, more importantly marry his sweetheart. during these days of hardship he was, in relative terms, more comfortable than most, having his own apartment in Bank Street and a job to return to ; this was a time in Greenock of disillusion, depression and privation. It was during these leaden-skied days, when there was still no realistic hope of economic recovery, that William and Isabella had their first and only son, Charles Thomas McKinnon Murray. Born on the 6th November 1919, Chic always maintained that the town's annual so-called Guy Fawkes celebrations were in fact instituted to commemorate his birth and that the Greenockian registrar of births and deaths had been drunk and had mistakenly entered his date of birth as the 6th instead of the 5th. "They've just dreamed up these blethers about Guy Fawkes," he would say "Pah! Blowing up Parliament, indeed! what will they think of next" Despite his infirmity, William became involved in evangelism, helping to form and establish the Burning Bush Society in his home town. With his own war inflicted disability and having witnessed dreadful suffering and human carnage at the front, perhas this was understandable step to take and Chic, at the tender age of 7, was asked by his dad to play the organ at the society's meetings. From his early years this boy was a gifted musician, and his sense of timing and of rhythm was to contribute was to contribute in times to come, as he honed his exceptional skills as a comedian. But that was still a long way off. These modest gospel hall meetings were something of a watershed for Chic, because they marked his first public performance, revealing a born natural entertainer. He would bang out a medley of gospel songs, but only after a rendition of "We are members of the Burning Bush Society" At every meeting, of course, there was a collection during which Chic would play "John Brown Body" but with a twist to the lyrics: they reprised, "When the plate is passed around / Don't forget your half crown!" A considerable sum in those days. Naughty members who attempted by whatever subterfuge to donate less that the than the prescribed amount were met with increased volume from organist and assembly members alike so that the tight-fisted miseries were shamed upping their Christian charity. And all the time wee Chic was running up and down the keyboard like a lintie. That's showbiz folks. One of the more bizarre features of the society once the session had prayerfully come to an end. It involved the Society members participating in extra-curricular incendiary activities. They would venture forth, and, in three dimension reality, would proceed to set fire to and/or burn down some unsuspecting bush or shrub. Obviously, this was not good news for the bush, but neither was it for the somewhat displeased bush owner, because often enough, he had to brace himself himself for a double whammy, as he would then be called upon to pay for the services of the Greenock Fire Brigade. Unfortunately, that was the way things were done in those days gone by. Maybe these roaring fires were the real reason for the phrase "The Roaring Twenties"? Perhaps not, but who can say? In 1920, when Chic was still just a babbity, a married man's wage was a shilling an hour, seven pence for a singleton. But by the mid 1920s, the two pre-eminent yards in Greenock, Scott's and Kincaid's had flickered back to life in a modest revival due to a demand for motor boats. Times, though, as the decade wore on, were still bloody hard. The dreaded Means Test, had been introduced whereby benefit was calculated on the total income of the household, not on the individual honest journeyman desperate for work, even for a subsistence wage. This lead to the break-up of close-nit families and to the protests of thousands on the streets of Greenock, deputations laying siege to their Council, more in gesture of frustration than a meaningful appeal to impotent functionaries for employment and self respect. Mercifully, despite his poor health, William, Chic's Dad, continued to keep his managerial position with the railway company through the Stygian darkness of the 1920s in Greenock. And he was blessed by the loving support of his wife, Isabella. Simply expressed (and there were many, still alive, who can recall her infectious bonhomie), she was an educated, serene woman, who treated her spouse with great tenderness and evinced total tolerance to his Burning Bush Society. Bill Jenkinson, one of Chic's school buddies, spoke in warmest terms of Isabella's astonishing kindness and her style: 'Just a cut above' he said. And his old friend big Neilie, of whom there's more to tell, said of her, 'She was the best respected, nicest and cleverest woman in Greenock' High praise indeed. Isabella knew her husband and she knew, also, that he loved his beliefs and his fellow evangelical 'Happy-clappies' with their shouts of 'Praise the Lord' and 'Hallelujah' those beliefs in reality, were light years from the origins and her upbringing, inducted from her earliest days in the Free Church of Scotland, but such was her devotion and commitment to her husband. And Chic reasoned that he had the best of both worlds, accompanying his father to the Burning Bush Meetings, and on the Sabbath, attending church with his mother. Chic's children treasure their grandmother's memory as they do their father's. Isabella was statuesque woman of equal height to her husband (both were over six feet tall) and blessed with lifelong love of books. She read widely but liked in particular astronomy, the work of Robert Burns and any historical novel. Banks of bookshelves lined the walls of their house in Bank Street and this clearly was to have lasting impact on Chic, the master storyteller. William would often take his son into the country, sometimes on fishing expeditions where they would discuss a wide range of topics from politics to ornithology. In addition, in the evenings, Isabella would read to her family as she acted out the leading parts in her latest novel whilst Chic's imagination soared in rapt attention. It was no surprise, therefore, that such stimuli were to markedly benefit his results at the school desk. Sadly, Isabella could not fail to see the deterioration in her husband's health. 'My poor bonnie laddie,' she would say, tenderly. And in due course, William had to had to forsake his dearest cause, the Burning Bush Society. It broke his heart (and Isabella's, for different reasons,) and William, now in deep depression, began to hit the bottle to ease the pain of respiratory illness. It is all the more poignant, that up to that time, he had led the life of a total abstainer. Even under the influence, by all accounts, he remained a loving husband and parent. It probably did not come unexpectedly, but it was still traumatic for Chic, now a teenager, to learn that his dad had to enter hospital and tat his illness was nothing short of terminal. There was no long term hope. William continued to write to Chic throughout, encouraging him in his studies, recounting stories from his life, and offering advice to his son for the future. Chic treasured these letters for the rest of his life. On his fourteenth birthday, 6th. of November 1933, Isabella had arranged a wee 'do' for him, having invited pals to come round to Bank street and celebrate the occasion in the evening. But that very morning she was summoned to the hospital where her husband was dying. Chic accompanied his mother in time to say their farewells. He was naturally in shock. As they stood there in silence Chic repeatedly whispered, 'Dad's gone. . . ' Eventually they returned home to find a postcard lying on the hall carpet. It was addressed to 'Master Chic Murray'. Isabella picked it up and handed it to her son.
My Dear Chic,
Fourteen years ago today, you came into the world and made a great bi noise. You have not been a bad boy thro' all these years. I wish you every good wish and hope you have a jolly party tonight.
Chic lost his self control as tears tumbled from his distraught features onto the comforting arm of his mother. Tom, Isabella's brother, was not among the 1,500 men from Greenock who never returned from the Great War. He had been taken prisoner in Salonika, spent two years banged up, then succeeded in escaping and heading home. He had lost a great deal of weight and had gained introspection, moroseness and an inner anger in a profound personality change. Out of compassion and shortly before William died, Isabella had invited him to stay for an indeterminate period. Tom managed to be reappointed to his old job in the railways, but otherwise had become a recluse. Chic did his level best to make allowances fir his uncles sullen behaviour but that was to mardedly after William's death, as Tom assumed a new role as head of the house. To aggravate matters further, he and Chic had a spat over over William's gold watch, with Tom claiming it as his own. That put the lid on Chic's antipathy and resentment towards him. But, life went on, and Chic actively encouraged by his mother, continued to play the organ under the tutelage of Miss Brown. Chic loved her -- she could do no wrong in Chic's eyes. 'We didn't have a piano at home then' he said, just this enormous American organ, so the dear lady started me off on that instead. My party piece was Handel's "Largo" which I played so often, I even began to like it! I prcticed for hours. It took me out of myself although I won't say where it took me! ( Was this remark the green shoots of a future comedic career? Anyway Chic found a piano too, at a pal's house. Isabella insisted he play the organ for an hour after school before joining his mates for football. Whether she knew or not is hard to say but Chic was getting to grips with a guitar, a banjo and even a mandolin. It remains something of a mystery, apart from his pitch perfect yodelling, that he didn't exploit his his abundant musical talent later in life. Boys will be boys and Chic was a leader in the midst of them. Unsurprisingly, his favourite leisure activity was 'footie' in the street. Trouble was, though, football in any street in Greenock at that time was deemed an offence (not so much by law as by by-law). Bill Jenkinson, one of his pals, remembered both of them being fined half a crown the first time they got nabbed. So on another occasion (with chic in goals), the boys in blue appeared. The outcome, however, was somewhat different. Bill was fined five bob as a repeat offender while the resourceful Chic had spotted the 'Bizzies' arriving. Casually, hands thrust in pockets, he ambled from the makeshift goal-mouth to join a passing lady shopper, and then got in step with her. The police had clearly failed to observe the wife's bemusement at being accosted by this strange youth, blethering a load of gibberish as they progressed from the scene of the crime. So football, even when playing keepie-uppie on your own, clearly was still an offence in Greenock!. Another school chum Chic vividly recalled was Sammy Cruikshanks. When the teacher took the class through an early 'getting to know you' session, Sammy was asked what his mother and father did "please miss," Sammy replied, "I dinnae ha'e either!" "Oh dear" said the teacher, "Are you an orphan, then?" "No" Sammy retorted, "I'm my auntie's bairn by one of the lodgers!" And then there was Gooey - - - on one occasion the teacher remonstrated with him, I'm sorry Gooey, but I really must have you're real name. A nickname is not acceptable. Gooey insisted that it was his on and only real name. The teacher, then, with a heavy sigh, asked him to write his name down on a piece of paper. From this she was informed that Gooey's real name was Guy but her triumph was sort lived. It transpired that Gooey's mum had found the name in a novella and liked it, but, for whatever reason thought Guy was pronounced 'Gooey'. So Gooey it had been and Gooey it remained!. What characterised Chic's school days, first, that he was a growing laddie. Not so long after he had left school, he measured six feet three inches tall. (Mind you, to match his height, he had a prodigious appetite!) Second, he was developing a reputation as an idiosyncratic timekeeper with the excuses for late arrivals such as, "Sorry I'm late. I got press ganged by a bunch of landscape gardeners," becoming steadily more convoluted much to the suppressed merriment of the teaching staff as they looked forward to the next off-the-wall defence defence submission!. But it was obvious, way back then, that he had developed the art of the straight face because in his department, other than Jack Benny perhaps, he had no equal on stage. It would be wrong (even at his height!) to say that he was head and shoulders above his classmates but he did well in all subjects save one --- arithmetic. It's funny that, because most of his friends in his later life can confirm that Chic was more than capable of counting the pennies with acuity! Och Maybe he was just a late developer. As a schoolboy, he was wont to rush like hell down the stone stairs that led to their apartment on his way to play football (for heaven's sake, not to school!) and. on one occasion he overdid the rushing, chipping bones in is left ankle in s a nasty fall. This led to Chic's unique style of walking, toe first, then gingerly to the heel which was another hallmark to his presence on stage. The sight of his silhouetted profile entering stage left with his particular manner of walking was enough for his legion of fans to look forward to a dose of helpless laughter. Shortly before leaving school, Chic applied for an apprenticeship in marine engineering at Kincaid's. It was a good time to take the action he did, because by 1934 unemployment was waning and, at long last, the Clyde basin was getting a decent "Kick at the ba". Orders for new shops for the Royal Navy confirmed that the British fleet had to be augmented and the country's forces rearmed partly on account of Churchill's pleadings from 'the wilderness'. Kincaid's was working overtime, and flat out besides, to produce engines and boiler for Scott's, the next door yard. On acceptance, Chic's wages were minuscule, under ten shillings a week, but they did help to make ends meet for Isabella who, by know, was living on her husband Railway Pension. Chic has two great incentives. The company gave him the prospect of travelling abroad (he was obsessive about travel ), and, as long as he endured frugality of his apprenticeship, there would be a dramatic change in his earnings when he'd "done his time" at the work bench. But meantime, Chic asked himself, how do I get by my five-year apprenticeship? How can I turn a shilling over this period? in all probability, two considerations influenced him. First, he regularly attended the Central Picture House in West Blackhall Street, known as "The Ranch" because of the preponderance of Westerns shown there. Chick was cowboy daft and would readily distract his mother as she drove, taking imaginary pot shots at injuns and baddies alike. And there was big Neilie McNeil, an old school pal who was a useful banjo player and handily a neighbour. Together they formed a hillbilly group and christened themselves the Whinhillbillies after an area the Whinhill, near Greenock golf coarse. "That'll fox them" Chic remarked. Their act began to develop. They stuck on a couple of scraggy beards, wore checked lumberjack shirts and swaddled themselves in brown bibs and braces, Chic on organ, doing the vocals , and big Neilie strumming away on banjo, his regular shouts of "Yeeehah" something of an entertaining addition to the routine. But no, no . . . this wasn't enough for the bold Chic! He acquired a fair-sized toy horse on wheels and proceeded to lead it on stage by a rope at the start of their act, and, of course couldn't resist a bit of play-acting. Feigning the horse's stubbornness, he would struggle with it's halter before eventually wrapping the rope a piano leg, centre stage. This went down so well with the assembled Greenockians that matters were taken further. After leaving the audience to generous applauses, towing his "gee-gee" behind him, he would re-appear, with brush and shovel and appear to collect the mythical horse droppings. Then with an empty shovel he would, advance, to the front of the stage and fling the imaginary contents over the front rows of the theatre. Incredibly, some of the locals actually used to duck, but the crowd loved it until . . . oh dear! . . . until, one night, Big Neilie totally unaware of Chic's intentions and having left the stage, Chic took the act that little bit further, and replaced the would be horse manure on the end of the shovel with, gnarled old potatoes. On jettison the the shovel's contents, pandemonium ensued, with several shrieking wifies in the front rows shoogling faux fur coats which had been touched by the wizened tatties. In this particular instance, the star of the show opted for plan B which involved speedy withdrawal (rather than taking a bow), and fast forwarding to the emergency exit offstage, still bearded, "Chic for Christ's sake!" What the fuck's happened? As mentioned Chick was a woefully bad timekeeper, regularly arriving late and regularly overrunning his act. As the theatre profitability depended on it's bar sales, this often resulted in real aggro with the manager: "What are you playing at, you lanky bastard!" But such onslaughts made not one bit of difference to Chic's sangfroid. "Sod him" he would remark to big Neilie, "Who does that idiot think we are ? We're entertainers, for God's sake, not bloody licensed grocers" He was just erratic at his work but, on ce there, he would apply himself conscientiously. Nonetheless, Isabella fretted, worrying about this bad habit. And then, the second World War broke out which did not concern big Neilie unduly. As a bus driver, he was automatically exempted. Not so for Chic, and the dreaded day arrived when his call-up papers dropped on to the hall carpet. But his apprehensions soon dissipated as he failed his medical because of flat feet. "doesn't every one" Chic postulated "Anyway I wouldn't want bumpy ones" His mother though was still concerned about Chic's indiference to timekeeping and put out feelers which led to Chic being sent to Fairly Aviation in Middlesex where he stayed with his mother's sister, she came, after all from a family of fourteen. I t was to be no cushy number, and during the six months he spent in the south, he had the front of his jacket blown clean off by enemy dive bombers which temporarily but seriously affected his eyesight. "There's not much call for a blind marine engineer," he said quietly, but without self pity. The outcome, however, was to be a happy one. He recovered fully but just the same was sent homewards back across the border. The ensuing years of conflict were no picnic for Greenock as shelters were hastily constructed, barricades erected and civil defence centres, for wardens and first aid volunteers, mushroomed while tram lines and railings were ripped up for the war effort. And Isabella, being the leading citizen that she was appointed welfare officer for the town. To begin with, it was the sight of bomb or torpedo damaged ships limping into the harbour which shocked the populace into the grave reality of war. But, by May 1941, when the air raids had begun in earnest, the people of Greenock knew at first hand the might and terror of the enemy. The first attack comprised about fifty aircraft: they returned the following night with a fleet of 300. There was terrible devastation and suffering: 280 people lay dead, 1,300 injured. Good fortune spared Bank street from the blitzkrieg but Chic never forgot the two nights he spent in an air raid shelter with his mother, uncle and neighbours. These were his own recollections: "There was mountains of rubble everywhere, whole houses wrecked, walls scorched. Rows of bodies were laid out on the streets covered with white sheets and tarpaulin. I spent most of that night and most of the following day helping the exhausted firemen -- the last blaze was put out in early afternoon but it was days before the town lost its scorched smell. But it's an ill wind that blows no good and the hostilities, if anything, seemed to have increased demand for performances by Chic and his pals. The Whinhillbillies had by now metamorphosed into a skiffle group, periodically called Chic and the Chicks. Jimmie another neighbour, played bass guitar with Gooey, a gifted instrumentalist, on the washboard. Gooey, however incurred Chic's displeasure by suggesting they should include some slower numbers like "Someday my Prince will come" "Don't be daft Gooey, that would just slow down the pace of the act. Besides, that song should be sung by a lassie! Since when did you become a music critic?" "Well" said Gooey curmudgeonly, it would be better than some of the garbage you spew up" a few nights later at a gig, Chic was giving it laldie with one of his favourites, "I'm alone because i love you", when the audience burst into laughter. "Shit" Chic thought, "Are my breeks coming down?" No "Maybe my flies are open" No. Then he glanced behind him. There was jimmy and big Neilie, both powerless to intervene, as Gooey, holding his beak with one hand pulling on an imaginary lavatory chain. Gooey froze in the headlights of Chic's stare, but the audience just laughed all the more. After the show Gooey, vamoosed double-quick but followed very soon after by Chic and the anxious remainder of the flock. "Who's a right little smartie-arse?" bawled Chic. "But I didn't mean any harm" Gooey replied timidly, as if rolling over on his back to have his tummy stroked in a act of submission. Chic, in both senses being the big man that he was, replied, "You're right, Gooey. It didn't do any harm. As a matter of fact, the audience loved it. So we'll just keep it in as part of the act"
One day in 1943 an event occurred which would change Chic's life. It was mid evening and the rain was bucketing down outside. Chic and big Neilie were seated in the parlour when there was knock on their door. "Mother" Chic bawled, "Could you answer that, please? Neiie and I are busy rehearsing." Isabella duly went and opened the door to find two young drookit, exhausted girls in front of her. They quickly explained that they were booked to appear in a variety show at the Empire Theatre in Greenock for an eight week season and that they were advised to contact her, as welfare officer, to recommend suitable digs in the area. "Come in out the cold, dears, while I make you a ht cup of tea" Isabella said. She took an instant liking to them. and sympathised that they had to drag their luggage up the steep slope of Bank Street. The smaller of the two in particular had lugged along her suitcase in addition to a heavy-looking encased accordion. Isabella also felt sorry about their plight as young women with no fixed accommodation, and she was reluctant to send them out again into the gathering darkness on rain swept streets. No, she decided they would stay put with her. She left the girls and went to let Chic now her decision. "Mother! did I not tell you that Neilie and I are having a serious practice session?" Chic protested. In her own serene way, Isabella could handle Chic with consummate ease, her voice and intonation never wavering. "Now Charles" she said (when she sussed a mini tantrum on the horizon, perhaps the suggestion of a foot stamp or a pouty lip, she was wont to address her son as the more sober Charles) "That's how you'll be getting high blood pressure! please listen! Two wee dears arrived at the door when you were concentrating on other matters. I've decided they will stay here in the spare room. "But, you can't do that! Och! For goodness sake, what about all my railway stuff?" Chic huffed indignantly. "You're far too old for model railways," Isabella replied curtly. "You're a big grown man now and you're going to stop this choo-choo nonsense! I'm going to prepare the girls a late supper and in the meantime, you go through, and pack your last trains to Fernando" Grudgingly he obeyed his mother packed up his beloved train sets close to a tantrum, and sloped off out along with Neilie. An hour or so later, the girls were tucking into a hearty supper, despite the privations of of the ration book. And then the front door flung wide and noisily open. Chic had returned with his pals (having completely forgotten about Isabella's guests), Big Neilie, Gooey, Jimmy and Bill Jenkinson. Clumpity clump, they wandered in on the diners. Then Chic's eyes fell on one of the girls and he mused in wonderment, "Who's that gorgeous we bird? Isabella had no time to draw breath, never mind introduce everybody, before Chic and his little dreamboat began swapping furtive glances and modest smiles. Isabella could see the chemistry between them developing. She discreetly left the young ones to talk together. When the were introduced, below his newly cultivated pencil moustache, a smile broke out on Chic's handsome features as, in a somewhat twee, refined accent, he said "Pleased to meet you," to the admiring recipient oh his handshake. Chic's unyielding gaze had fallen upon a diminutive, very pretty, precociously talented brunette. Her name was Maidie Dickenson. "Dainty Maidia" "The Scottish Marvel", and sometimes billed as "The girl that has something that everyone wants", unlike Chic who bestraddled amateurism and professionalism, was, every inch of her five feet in height, a seasoned professional on the stage. Seventeen years of it, to be precise, and she was just twenty one!. She was born on Tron Square in the beating heart of Edinburgh's old town, her father originally from High Street of Edinburgh and her mother a Dundonian, and her firsts engagement aged four, was at the Capitol Theatre in Leith. It was also in Leith that her gran prevailed upon Alec Burn's mother to persuade her son to teach Maidie "buck" dancing, later known as tap-dancing, save only that her "buck" dancing shoes had ebonite rather that metal to register the rhythm. (He had point blank refused to teach her because she was so young.) But, here's the point! The audience back then just adored her and they were doubly enchanted by this we mite because she sang "Walking My Baby Back Home" with a lisp. Imagine! four years old! She was to receive 7s 6d per night for two performances. Child stars today might baulk at such modest awards. By the time she reached the grand old age of six, she had added to her versatility by playing the accordion, which must have half drowned her, with Will Fyffe (of ' Twelve and a tanner a bottle' fame - a lament about the exorbitant price of whisky ) in a revue in Burntisland. At the end of their stay, to show his appreciation, Will Fyfe gave her ten-bob not inscribed, to a very clever wee lassie. Yours aye, Will Fyffe. Aged twelve, Maidie was booked for an eight week stint at the Prom Palace in Portobello along side an up and coming singer, one Donald Peers. (It was around this time that Maidie's dad was fined 10s for breaching the restrictions on children's performances by the Edinburgh magistrates.) Two years on, Maidie was principle girl in Pantomime in Newcastle and, although able to hold down a leading role by night, to conform with regulations to curb child exploitation her days were spent in the strange surroundings of a Geordie school. Over the years Maidie was to share billboards with hosts of stars, including, notably, Dickie Henderson, and she brought a weaLth of experience with her by the time she was booked to appear in the Empire Greenock. When Maidie on the first night they met, explained to Chic that her life, from earliest recollections, was in show business, Chic, the smoothie, the proverbial cool cat, was reluctant to be upstaged. "Yeah, the same for me, I guess," he said examining his fingernails casually, "Of course, although it had certainly been before showbiz had been nonstop for me since i left school - I'm surrounded by comedians in the yard!" There is some truth that Billy Connelly can bear witness. The following night Chic attended both houses at the Empire Theatre, meeting Maidie at stage exit. "You were just terrific Maidie!" The best in the show!" He chirped, as they walked home. And, as luck would have it Chic and the Chick's were asked to to do their bit at the Royal Navy dance the very next night. He arranged for her to attend the minute she was offstage. As thrilled as Chic was by her appearance in a lovely gold dress, so, too, was Maidie well impressed by her new escort's routine. When it was their turn to go back on stage, Maidie suggested she could help out on a couple of numbers, "I'm gonna drink my coffee from an old tin can" and "Steam Boat Bill", but, on this special occasion, without Gooey up to his lavatory actions ! They were a huge success and the dancers on the floor cheered and cheered again. Chic and Maidie had a goodnight kiss before bedtime but before she could snuggle up and prepare for sleep, she was aroused by a far-too-loud American organ with Chic bawling out meaningless gibberish.
Two lovers went strolling down a coal mine, The girl had been a female from her birth, Give me back the ring I never gave you, For this has been your second time on earth, Te weary years have passed in fifteen minutes, So wipe the cobwebs from your ears, And always think of m-o-t-h-e-r, And the Dublin Fusiliers
Maidie laughed herself to sleep and asked Isabella in the morning about the origin of Chic's oratorio. "Ouch" she said, "that's" just one of his daft party pieces. What a blinking racket last night and we were all forced to listen! He's been at it for years and, of course, despite his exertions, it still neither scans nor makes one bit of sense. There's far wiser in padded cells, you know! The weeks whizzed by during which she had had brief sightings of the ghost (Uncle Tom) and she asked Chic if there were any other tenants around. "Oh Yes," he replied, "There's Woolchester Copperthwaite and Mrs. Pollack" "Oh where do you keep her? in the broom cupboard, perhaps?" Madie asked mischievously. "You'll be hearing plenty about her, m'lady," Chic intoned. Most weeks, after the last show on a Saturday, Maidie would rush back for an early kip to rise first thing to catch the train back to her mother's, returning on Monday morning. Chic, on one occasion offered to escort her to the station but his usual wonky timekeeking meant they arrived at the station by near enough 11 a.m. Maidie never suspected his offer to humph her luggage to the station would involve his company all the way to Edinburgh and she was highly delighted and touched by Chic's gesture. Yet she parted with him at her house, figuring it was too soon to announce their romance. Nonetheless, it was only a matter of a few weeks before Chic met Anne, Maidie's mum, and the two got on famously. (Hugh, Maidie's father, was at sea as usual, serving in the Royal Navy) Chic would visit Maidie at Millport, her next venue, then when she moved to perform at Hawick she was thrilled to receive her first letter from him, which ended:
Nothing doing in the afternoon so I gave the organ big licks until mum came to get me for tea. I wasn't hungry and could only manage two platefuls of cottage pie; I must be unwell. As usual the pie was a stotter. Mrs. Pollack had evidently dropped in for a chat, but I had missed her. Bye the bye, mum has won some sort of national newspaper competition for the best revue of Gone With The Wind. I hope it doesn't go to her head, me being so modest and that, but I always did say there was talent in the family. She sends her warmest regards. Take care of yourself. Here's a kiss and love from Chic. P.S. Write soon.
Maidie loved the letter except for the mention of the ruddy "Mrs. Pollack! She'd never met the woman so Chic's references to her made Maidie somewhat apprehensive. Some weeks on, Maidie was appearing at the Victory Theatre Paisley. At the first opportunity, she rushed from the revue and jumped on a bus to Greenock. She rang the bell which produced no response so, seeing the door off the latch, she gingerly entered to see her boyfriend, hands waving above his head, yelling dementedly "Send for Mrs. Pollack! Send for Mrs. Pollack" Behind Chic his mother was in close attendance. "Please Chic calm down! You'll just be having the high blood pressure again" To add to the consternation, the Ghost, making one of his rare guest appearances opened his bedroom door. He spotted Maidie looking somewhat puzzled by events. "This place is a bloody madhouse!" he bawled at her, as if it was somehow her fault, before slamming the door shut, the substantial building shuddered under the impact. "Hello Maidie," Chic had quietened down, "you're not Mrs. Pollack, but you more than make up for her" this provoked a further shout of hateful derision from the Ghost's room -- "Fuck Mrs. Pollack!" After a moment or two, the dust began to settle "Who is the lady, Mrs Pollack, anyway?" Maidie enquired, concerned. "I haven't, a clue, dear," Isabella answered. "I guess she's some kind of cleaning woman the Chic has dreamt up." If he finds the place untidy, I get this blinking Pollack woman hurled back In my face! Chic, as was his way, was completely relaxed over this scene of family uproar and never mentioned it again. Still, It was unexpected to say the least, when the same night, with Isabella reading in her favourite armchair and Chic and Maidie holding hands over the table, Chic broke the silence with a life changing proposal "Maidie let's tie the knot. "Oh Chic" Maidie replied "Are you sure?" "He's sure alright" Isabella said . She marked the page in her book, crossed over the floor, gave Maidie a hug, and whispered "I couldn't be more pleased -- you're a wee cracker" "Now just a minute, here" Chic boomed "The wee cracker has never siad 'yes' yet!" "Yes i have, you big galoot" Maidie reposted. Chic was all smiles but then switched to the role and gravitas of an elder statesman., "Of course, there is the outstanding matter still to be settled, ahem, of the dowry" "Oh, Chic, can't you be serious just for once in your life!" Isabella asked her son, as she lovingly embraced him too. Ann, Maidie's mum was equally chuffed, managing to smill every time Chic raised the small, but still outstanding matter of the dowry. There was the small matter, next, of purchasing the engagement ring, a relatively straightforward exercise. ( it would be reasonably to assume that anyway) Maidie was tet loose to shop around within the limitations of their budget and, in Edinburgh, found a lovely sapphire and diamond antique ring below the agreed maximum price threshold. Nonetheless, when informed of the cost, Chic's eyes rolled heavenwards and the colour drained from his cheeks as he spluttered and gagged for a bit of oxygen. He loved the drama of these little cameos so much that Maidie, taken in by his affected state of trauma and shock, became genuinely concerned for his well-being (And, of course, it was just naughty, wonderful Chic at his play-acting best but you're not supposed to know that!) "But it's second hand Maidie, he moaned, wringing his hands, "It wouldn't have been quite so bad if it had been a new ring" Anyway, in due course, Chic having made a full recovery, off they both set for Edinburgh to conclude the purchase. However, before embarking on the train eastwards, there was an obvious need to obtain the necessary funds from Chic's bank in Greenock. "You will come with me, Maidie, won't you?" Chic asked outside the bank. "No you'll be fine. I'll wait here for you, she replied. "No, no" Chic pleaded. Banks make me nervous. What if I pass out? i might as well collapse, you know --- you must be there to bring me round! It's funny though, it only seems to happen when I'm withdrawing money. maidie relented, thinking it was a fuss about nothing. In they went together, joining a queue for the teller. In the fullness of time, the band assistant asked Chic how he could help. Chic froze, he seemed mesmerised. The the two gruff clearances of the throat seemed to resolve to his hesitancy as he said curtly "I'd like to withdraw some money from my account" He looked about nervously, as if expecting some gunslinger to crash in and hold him and the bank up. "Your name, please, sir?" the teller asked. "Ummm, ah yes, my name.." Chic paused, "well, on point of fact, I'd rather not say" "Look, I'm sorry, sir. No name , no money, it's just that simple" came the reply. Chic looked behind him. Nothing untoward there. Then he stared at poor Maidie who, by this time, was somewhat agitato herself, wondering what the hell was going on. Then, inexplicably, he blurted out, "Oh, all right then! It's tighthole, Timothy Tighthole!" Both his fiancee and the teller were lost for words in their astonishment (not to mention the shock/horror of the other bank patrons). "That's why I'm reluctant to say it!" he continued having now moderated the decibel level of the voice. "But I'm thinking of changing my name in any case". He asked the teller politely, "What do you think of Charlie Tighthole?" In the nick of time, the bank manager appeared. "Is it a withdrawal, Mr Murray? he enquired solicitously, his head tilted forward to indicate concern. "Well," Chick remarked with a nervy chuckle, "If it isn't, I've certainly got all the symptoms!" So they withdrew with their withdrawal, but it had been a tough assignment in the passing. Anne Dickson wanted the wedding of her daughter to be solemnised in style of the Moray Aisle of St. Giles Cathedral, named in honour of the patron saint of Edinburgh, long before John Knox came on the scene! The service was to be conducted by Dr. Charles Warr, a Kings chaplain in his distinguished red robes and also a war hero. (He was a friend of Isabella from his days as a parish minister in Greenock, just after the great war) The night before, chic and his mates went off to get 'unco fou' as tradition dictated, though in reality they behaved with Greenockian decorum! Isabella stayed with her future daughter-in-law. Chic can be an awful handful at times, Maidie, she counselled, but it's over with Chic as soon as it starts. He doesn't bear grudges and, at the end of the day, he's a kind hearted soul. Mind you, I won't deny he has weird ways. That dashed organ is one of them -- he seems to loose himself in it, sometimes for hours on end. (Maidie was to be apprised of that in the immediate future!) "However," she continued in a conspiratorial tone, (although he's had the odd girlfriend -- actually some of them very odd -- he is head over heels in love with you for his first and only time. The great day arrived : 28th April 1945. Chic leaving things to the last minute as usual, needed to sort out a couple of headaches -- pyjamas and new shoes. (He used to sleep in the 'altogether' but thought that a trifle risque for the honeymoon night!) He dashed round to his uncle Alex to borrow a spanking new set of pyjamas and to purloin his uncle's clothing coupons for a new set of burnished shoes. With the distinguished Dr. Warr in charge, there was hardly a blooper or incident worthy or recall during the wedding ceremony. It ran like clockwork. They were a smashing couple: Chic, a handsome dashing hero, his Errol Flynn 'tach sitting astride a huge grin of happiness, and Maidie the radiant bride, bonnie as a picture, a 'wee cracker' as Isabella was fond to say of her. Except for one thing .... there was a distracting sound at the commencement of the proceedings from which the bride was fortunately spared the congregation's eager expectancy was disturbed (generating a mirthful comment, discreetly whispered) by squeak, squeak, multiple squeak as Chic, his generously proportioned feet in brand new shoes and his best man, big Neilie, strode solemnly up the main hallowed thoroughfare of the cathedral!. At the reception chic mingled with relations and guests alike and he was particularly pleased to see his aunt Tizzie again, up from the south. The only notable absentee was the Ghost, his uncle Tom. Chic figured he wouldn't have enjoyed it anyway and even if they had asked him he would have refused to attend. Same difference. Auntie Marion, anther member Isabella's large family, vacated her house in Dundee to give the newly-wads a bolthole for a brief honeymoon. But it was to be no ordinary honeymoon because they had no sooner arrived at the house when Chic a pedal organ in the front room. After super, Maidie, after all the excitement of the day's events, felt tired. She decided to turn in a snuggle down in bed, dressed in a diaphanous negligee, breathlessly waiting her Prince Charming. As it happened, she had a helluva wait! Chic, for what appeared to be hours, played 'In the Mood' fortissimo on the organ, again and again ad nauseam! Only a foolish man would have ventured to predict any move Chic was about to make --- even on his honeymoon night. He was a cool dude ... It was sad for them that the weekend seemed so short. Maidie had to jump on a train to an engagement in Stonehaven and Chic headed back to the yards at Kincaid's. Things were made a bit more bearable because they new they would be reunited the following weekend, a notable time, as hostilities were to cease in Europe and the war, for them, was over. Some weeks passed with Chic and Maidie snatching weekends when they see each other. And then Maidie was booked to perform a charity 'do' in the Usher hall, Edinburgh. She overheard the producer commenting that they were short of one act, preferably a musical. She moved into overdrive for Chic, hoping he would resurrect the Whinhillbillies to fill the gap in the billing. He was apprehensive when she first announced this possible break for him and big Neilie, but no more than that. Big Neilie, in contrast, was rigid with fear. "Christ, Chic," Big Neilie whined , "I'm not cut out for Showbiz. A local Hop is one thing, but The Usher ... "Och! C'mon, Neilie," Chic interrupted, "Let's just call it our farewell gig for auld lang syne!" He was eventually won over after severe arm twisting worthy of the Spanish Inquisition. "I had terrible heebie--jeebies, " Big Neilie recalled, "and, to calm my nerves further, his nibs just vanished out of sight. I found the bugger in the lavatory, 'doing his hair' , he said, and me shouting the place down!. We got to the stage entrance just as our act was announced, but I have to admit, it went down well -- Chic as cool as a ruddy cucumber just to annoy me further!" The curtain a heavy brue of a thing that can deliver a knock out, crashed down as they left the stage to a warm applause. Chic, the dodger, took evasive action in time, but the unfortunate Big Neilie was less lucky. "That was my exit from Show Business" Big Neillie reminisced, "rolling around on my arse, legs flailing in the air, but with the audience still clapping!. Not such a bad way to go, I suppose. Maidie could see Chic's potential. He was professional in al but name and she was full of admiration for him as any young lover would be. She proposed they perform a double act although Chic was far from convinced. "Look she said, I'll start . "I'll sig and play an opening number, and you can come in and harmonise. Then we'll do a duet. You can tell a few gags and we'll finish off with another song or two. What's wrong with that Chic?" He was still uncertain. It was a mammoth step into the unknown -- the stage full time or back into the shipyards? A bloody great gamble with no guarantees on the one hand, or the security of a steady wage, but without the buzz on the other. Maidie kept going. She explained that she would appear on the billboards on her own to begin with. It would be easier to get bookings that way, she added practicality. And if you decide in favour of what I've decided, we will be partners in every sense. Don't think I just need somebody to carry my accordion!" Chic had arrived at a crossroads and although neither of them was aware of it, Maidie's initiative and Chic's response would hugely affect both their careers. She was the first -- or certainly one of the first -- to recognise the scope and potential of Chic's talent. And she was prepared to nurture and support her man, even if it meant changes to her own career. So both of them looked to the future with excitement and trepidation in equal measure as Chic decided to take up the gauntlet and address what was a daunting challenge: to establish himself as a freelance entertainer. The groundwork, off course, had been carried out long before, but the real count down and lift off of Chic's career (which would take him round the world and would involve weeks and weeks performing in the west end of London, film and television appearances, even an invitation to the Royal Command Performance), in reality, started from this time forward. Some journey lay ahead. A year of married life went by and, bang on the year after their wedding day, Maidie gave birth to a son, Douglas, By now Chic had left Kincaid's and they were getting by on savings and Maidlies's bookings which understandably were in decline during her pregnancy. Two weeks on after Douglas's arrival Maidie was hired to appear at the Links pavilion Carnoustie (or Carsnooty. as Chic would call it!) Archie McCulloch (his wife was Kathy Kay , was the resident songstress for Billy Cotton, the band leader) and his young assistant Eric Morley, had wanted a accordionist, The hadn't really counted on a a singer, tap-dancer thrown in as well; this was to be their first showing in public together! Only when the arrived at the venue did Maidie inform the producer that her husband would be an integral part of her act. He was not a happy bunny. "I booked a solo act Jack Barton protested. "Now look here we're not charging for Chic. Remember that" And he'll share my fee. Either he's with or there's no me either! It's as simple as that, she declared. Maidie had made her point. The producer backed off, muttering to himself. At rehearsals Chic became morose "They've heard these jokes before, Maidie. I'm not a jokey, jokey bloke. All I want to do is to make people laugh, and there's a world of difference between the two, believe me. Maidie did her best to reassure him, "Chic your jokes are tried and tested and, after all, you're on the stage for six minutes." But his genuine concerns couldn't be assauged. She asked him to leave the theatre for a bite to eat, hoping that a change of scenery might snap him out the blues. "You go, dear, I want to have right think on my own" Maidie yielded "Maybe he just needs a bit of space, she thought, and so left him to himself, a solitary figure on an ill lit stage. He began to recall his story telling days at school and at Kincaid's, and his imagination slipped into overdrive Eventually he he left the theatre and ambled across to a nearby hostelry where he grabbed a drink and began scribbling furiously on beer mats and empty fag packets, Chic was striking out on his own and following his gut instincts. Monday night soon came round, their first professional performance together here at Carsnooty. Maidie went on first, to be joined by Chic in harmony, then a spot of yodelling (at which he was uncannily adept) and then, Maidie having exited to a warm applause, there he was, centre stage, tweed suited and tartan bunneted, jacking up the microphone to his height. "I got up this morning," he intoned "I like to get up in the morning. It gives me the rest of the day to myself" "Jesus Christ", a squirming, freaked out Maidie exclaimed to herself from the wings "What the hell is he playing at?" She silently beseeched him, "Oh, please, please stick to the jokes we rehearsed together!" But it was too late. Chic was now in full flow.
So I dressed, actually I always dress. I like to be different, but I think undressed you're a bit too different. I went down the street, went down the front -- oh, you can go down the front, there's no law against it -- and I was walking in my usual way, one foot in front of the other, oh yes, that's the best way. I've tried various methods, I suppose. I remember once, I tried a series of jumps. I heard someone say, "Look at that Australian!" I didn't answer. I just wagged my tail.
Perhaps it was Chic's reflections on absurdities, or the sheer surrealism of his humour to which the audience had never previously been exposed, but for whatever reason, silence prevailed in the audience and Maidie just wanted the agony to finish. He batted on .....
Then I met someone, (Pause) I knew him otherwise I'd never had spoken to him. He was sitting on the top of a horse with a briefcase, bowler hat and wellington boots. I said, "What are you doing on the top of that horse?" He said "I thought you'd say that." I could have cut my tongue out! I thought If only I had just said hello and never mentioned he was on a horse -- or "Fanny's you're aunt, or anything. I should just have passed him as if he was an everyday occurrence.
At this juncture the audience started to get a shade frisky, showing their impatience as one or two stamped their feet. More to follow This provoked a heckler to bawl out "Gerrof! Rubbish give us, Maidie" Chic stared in the vague direction of the barracker but swiftly regained his stride; Maidie by this time was, ash white and shitting herself. Chic continued,
Then he said , "As soon as I saw you I said to myself, he'll say, "What are you doing up on that horse?" Of course I was awfully embarrassed, I patted the horse. I said, "This horse has a flat head". He said "You're facing the wrong way, you guffy!"
Chic pulled a face, muttering, "I did wonder why it refused a sugar lump!"
He had begun to crack it!. All over the theatre, ripples of laughter broke out and Maidie's demeanour brightened to some degree. There was no stopping him now.
I gave the horse a thump on the rump and it reared up. He looked down and said, "If you're coming up beside me, I'm getting off, " as he slid helplessly down the horse's neck, landing on his head. Luckily the pavement broke his fall.
More mirth followed with Maidie praying he would get off while still ahead. Not a bit of it.
So i hung about until he recovered. It was the lt was the least could do. After all, I was the last one to talk to him. So when he came to I said "that was a dreadful thing that happened just now" . He said "Just now, It happened five times this morning already" I said "What are you doing on that horse in the first place?" He said "That's another thing that's infuriating me, I don't know". I said "You don't know? how's that?" he said "I can't get my briefcase open to find out" I said "I'll have to go now, half the summer is gone just talking to you." He led the horse over to a wall so that he could remount the animal. I said "Now now, don't get on your high horse"
This gag was well received. it gave Maidie a chance to cue the conductor as the instrumentalists strung up with "Painting the clouds with sunshine" Behind clenched teeth Chic vented "I hadn't bloody finished" "Finished finished!" Maidie protested behind smiles for the audience, "You bloody nearly finished me" They returned to their dressing room, Chic looking as pleased as punch. "Well, Maidie, how did that grab you? the audience loved it, you know?" he said, with more than a touch of hyperbole. Maidie was still overwrought from the torture session he'd forced her to endure, "Why on earth did you have to come out with that daft story? Why couldn't you just have stuck to the jokes?" "Aw, look, Maidie say what you like, the jokes were awful, just crap. I decided to throw the lot into the bin and then I wrote my wee story in the pub. I didn't like to mention it to you. You'd just have worried all the more. Anyway it went ok in the end, didn't it?" There was no time to reply as the door opened and, unannounced, in came the producer of the show. "What the hell was all that about, then?" Jack Barton demanded. "Oh, I was merely serving up what the public wants," Chic said dismissively A faint smile flickered and vanished on account of Chic's hauteur. "Well, modulating it a bit!" he said, leaving as quickly as he had arrived with a congratulatory door slam. Maidie persuaded Chic to write out his new routine in longhand there and then in the dressing room. Chic obliged but left his script bereft of a single punctuation mark. Studiously, and using a great well of experience (having listened to some comic 'greats'), she broke up the script by inserting 'Ha--Ha' to indicate pauses where, hopefully the audience would react with laughter. So how did the singular comedian perform an hour or two later in the second house? Well, he stuck to his script with one important addition: "I like to get up in the morning," he began, "It gives me the rest of the day to myself" Then his shoulders began to as he scornfully uttered "Ha---Ha" "Oh my god" thought poor Maidie, "don't tell me he's going to repeat every "Ha---Ha" I put in? I just can't believe he would do this to me!" Chic continued "So I dressed. I always dress. I like to be different but I think undressed is just too different. Ha----Ha. It dawned on the wee heroine that that her worst fears were about to be realised. But her misgivings, thankfully were misplaced .... what she had done with her best intentions, and what Chic, with his oblique look at life, had had the vision to anticipate, was that from there on in, there was a riot of laughter. The "Ha --Ha's gave the audience time recognise a new form of humour and every Ha--Ha became eagerly awaited by the by the audience. They triggered the laughter. They multiplied the enjoyment. Pavlov would have been proud of them!. In reality Chic was beginning to master the control of the audience. It was as if he was saying "You will laugh when I tell you to Ha -- Ha Now, with the punters enthralled, Maidie had the good sense and judgement not to interrupt Chic in full flow. Chic cracked on, cued the orchestra himself and was accompanied by Maidie back on stage to ongoing applause. Meanwhile, the theatre manager summoned Jack Barton to his office. "What the hell's going on here? i booked Maidie. Who's this idiot she's got in tow?" "I thought he was quite good, actually," Jack replied, fairly. "Well, I'm getting in touch with Archie McCulloch," He picked the phone up and dialed. "Archie, I've got a problem. I booked Maidie Dickenson and halfway through her act, her husband appears , telling way--out stories, supposed to be fully" "Did he get a laugh?" he was asked. "A few, I dare say" "We'll keep him in! Use you noddle. We're still getting full value from Maidie and I'm not paying for him. So a little less moaning would be a wee bonus!" "Christ" the manager thought resentfully, "Next time i order an elephant, It looks like I'll have to settle for a bloody duck-billed platypus!" Meanwhile, back at their flat, Maidie asked Chic where he got the idea for a monologue. "I dunno, Maidie! I just let my imagination go wandering. I've been doing that since my school days, I suppose. "Wee, don't forget, Chic, We're booked here for ten weeks and the show is reinvented every Thursday when there's a change of program, so you'll need to keep the wandering going!" "Jeepers, Maidie," Chic exclaimed, "two routines a week for ten weeks! -- that's a tall order!. "Ah, but do them right, Chic, and you'll have enough material to take right across the country. It'll be worth it in the long run!" "Just one other wee thing, Maidie ........ do you remember Gooey being cheeky behind my back? it worked well in the act and... " "Don't tell me, Chic, " Maidie interrupted, "You want me to be some type of fall guy when you start pulling faces behind me, I know what you're after" Together their act developed and bedded in, with Chic, as Maidie expected, severley pulling her leg, twice nightly. But what was particularly engaging about their double act was Chic's final address to the audience. It seemed to cement things, anyway, and ended their routine with a laugh. "You may think I've been a bit unkind to Maidie, y'know having a wee go at her. But let me tell you this - there's nothing I wouldn't do for that girl. This always met with five-star audience approval with smiling "Aws" and "Ahs!"