Sir Harry Lauder lived from 4 August 1870 to 26 February 1950. He was a highly successful Scottish singer and entertainer who toured the world for four decades, and was described by Sir Winston Churchill as "Scotland's greatest ever ambassador". The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
Harry was born Henry McLennan Lauder at his maternal grandfather's house at 4 Bridge Street, Portobello, Edinburgh on 4 August 1870. He was the eldest son of John Currie Lauder and Isabella Urquhart MacLeod McLennan. His father was a skilled potter and both his father and mother came from fairly well-off and well connected families.
In 1882 Harry's father moved with his wife and six children to a new life near Chesterfield in Derbyshire where he had been employed to design china. Shortly afterwards he contracted pneumonia and died. Isabella and her - by now - seven children moved back to Scotland to live with her family in Arbroath. Harry helped support the family by taking evening work at a nearby flax mill, after studying in the mill school during the day. Two years later his mother moved in with her brother's family in Hamilton, Lanarkshire, and the three oldest boys, including Harry, became coal miners.
On 19 June 1891 Harry married Ann Vallance, the eldest daughter of a colliery manager in Hamilton. His brother Matthew was Best Man. The following year Matt married Ann’s sister, Catherine, and Harry was his Best Man.
Harry had started singing in public at school in Arbroath, and in Hamilton he entered a number of competitions. His first professional engagement as an entertainer was at Larkhall in 1894, and he then joined a concert party which toured Scotland.
Harry Lauder then formed his own successful touring company before having his first hit, starring as an Irish comedian, at the Argyle Theatre in Birkenhead in 1898. He undertook his first engagement in London in 1900, at Gatti’s Music Hall. Success there led to tours overseas. In 1907 Harry Lauder undertook the first of what was to be 22 tours of the United States. He also became well known in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and elsewhere.
By the outbreak of World War One, Harry was an international star. During the war he worked tirelessly for the national interest, undertaking tours intended to raise recruits for the war effort: he was said to have helped recruit 12,000 men for the armed forces. Lauder's only son was killed as an infantry officer in France on 28 December 1916, and Harry himself entertained the troops while under enemy fire in the trenches. Later in the war, Harry Lauder sought to use his influence in the USA to persuade that country to enter the war, and he promoted The Harry Lauder Million Pound Fund, a charity to help war wounded.
Harry Lauder was knighted in 1919 for his services to the war effort. He went on to become one of the most popular and best paid entertainers in the world, and was the first British entertainer to sell a million records. By now he could command fees of up to £12,000 per night. In 1929 he was paid £114,700 for singing three songs in his first US radio broadcast, which was transmitted by 40 radio stations.
Harry's wife died in 1927, and from 1932 he settled in what became known as Lauder Hall near Strathaven, looked after by his niece Margaret. He formally retired in 1935, but during World War II undertook radio broadcasts and again entertained the troops. He died in 1950 and was buried in Hamilton in a ceremony covered by Pathe News.
Lauder Hall had to be sold on the death of Harry's niece in 1966, but Sir Harry Lauder's memory remains undimmed today. When a new bypass of his town of birth, Portobello, was built in the 1980s, it was called "Sir Harry Lauder Road".