Stanley is still THE man for a legion of fans

Scottish-born actor and impressionist Stanley Baxter is probably best known for his self-titled TV series and lavish musical-comedy specials in the 1960s and '˜70s.

By The Newsroom
Saturday, 28th May 2016, 2:00 pm
Stanley Baxter turned 90 last week. Pic: Graham Jepson.
Stanley Baxter turned 90 last week. Pic: Graham Jepson.

The former child actor’s comedy sketches, which featured in The Stanley Baxter Show (1963-1971) and The Stanley Baxter Picture Show (1972-1975), were seen by large audiences and renowned for their spectacular and technically demanding set pieces.

This week, the veteran comedian celebrates his 90th birthday.

To mark the occasion, we found out more about his successful career and took a nostalgic look back at some of the television series which were emerging north of the border in this golden era.

Sign up to our daily The Falkirk Herald Today newsletter

Ronnie Corbett and Stanley Baxter as the Ugly Sisters in panto. Pic: Joe Steele

Stanley Baxter was born in Glasgow on May 24, 1926, and began entertaining from a young age when his mother took him round church halls doing impersonations.

It was at one of these halls he was spotted by a producer for the BBC’s Scottish Children’s Hour. He was then signed up and did 100 broadcasts.

After finishing school, a young Stanley went on to study music at the Scottish Royal Academy of Music and later, during a stint in the Army for his National Service in the Far East, his talents for entertaining came to the fore. As a result, he was sent to the official entertainment unit where he compered and produced shows. When he left military service, he returned to Glasgow and was accepted as a member of the Citizens’ Theatre.

Baxter really took to performing in panto and the roles he enjoyed the most at this time were Buttons in Cinderella and Wishee Washee in Aladdin.

Allan Stewart

In 1952 he made his television debut on the BBC’s Shop Window, followed by guest appearances on variety shows.

He then returned to Glasgow, appearing on stage at the Citizens Theatre before moving to London.

While in London, he ran into an old friend from Scotland, James Gilbert, who was working for the BBC and between them they came up with a new television show, On The Bright Side.

It was this which really showcased Stanley’s talent for comedy, particularly his gift for imitation.

'The Vital Spark' TV series cast Roddy McMillan, John Grieve, Walter Carr and Alex McAvoy, visit HMS Graham in Glasgow, February 1966. Pic: Gordon Rule

The programmes included Baxter’s now famous series of Parliamo Glasgow sketches featuring a fictitious scholar who takes a trip north of the border and tries to get to grips with the Glaswegian accent.

But by 1963 the comedian was given his first self-titled series – The Stanley Baxter Show – and this ran until 1972 when Baxter left the BBC for London Weekend Television on the rival ITN network.

It then became known as The Stanley Baxter Picture Show and the programmes became even more lavish, taking him five months at a time to write.

He also courted controversy as he was the first person on television to impersonate the Queen, re-naming her the Duchess of Brendagh).

Ronnie Corbett and Stanley Baxter as the Ugly Sisters in panto. Pic: Joe Steele

His shows played to huge audiences of around 20 million. His light entertainment performances also won him several BAFTAs.

Years later he accepted a role in children’s series Mr Majeika in the late 1980s/early 90s. He also continued as a favourite on the Scottish pantomime circuit and went back to radio in 2004.

Now, in retirement, his legacy has been honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Award and he is understood to still receive fan letters every week.

Allan Stewart, fellow Scottish-born comedian and entertainer, is a huge admirer of Baxter’s work.

He said: “A friend of mine, Michael Harrison, a producer I work with, had lunch with Stanley Baxter six months ago.

“Michael told me: ‘When he came in at first he was very quiet. We started chatting but he wasn’t saying much.’

Allan Stewart

“Michael said he remembered one of the first songs of his, so he started singing it to him and Stanley’s eyes lit up. They talked for three hours about panto!”

Allan continued: “Stanley was lucky to be on television at a time when TV companies would spend huge amounts of money on sets.

“His programmes were the most expensive, even more so than Yarwood and Morecambe and Wise.

“The producer of Stanley’s shows would go and hire Victoria Station for the day to turn it into a set from the 1920s; they would spend a fortune! He was lucky to have been working in that era.

“Stanley was meticulous – he would work on his impressions for months to get them perfectly right.

“Parliamo Glasgow was wonderful. He also used to do impressions of all the old film stars like Carmen Miranda and Bette Davis. He certainly had the legs for it!

“I would love to be able to sit down and have a chat with Stanley. I wish him all the best for his 90th birthday.”

An incredible 30 years in television for Allan Stewart

Allan Stewart was born in Glasgow and began performing to crowds at the Barrowland Ballroom in the city at the age of 10. He is still working today, more than 50 years later.

His career began in the 1960s when he performed as a cabaret pop singer and musician. He got his break when he appeared in Hello, Good Evening and Welcome, an all-round entertainment show in which a trio of talented entertainers presented gags, impressions, sketches and music.

His next hit was the The Allan Stewart Tapes in 1979. Sketches were set in a penthouse flat with a view of Edinburgh Castle; ‘Carry On’ star Jack Douglas played the butler. After moving to London, he appeared in Go For It in 1984 alongside other impressionists including Les Dennis and Bobby Davro, sending up everyone from Esther Rantzen to Sergeant Bilko. He appeared with Bobby Davro once again in Copy Cats in 1985 and went on to do a further three series.

Allan has made numerous television appearances over the years, as well as performing in theatre and aboard cruise ships. During the winter months, he usually returns to Scotland to perform in pantomime.

Allan said: “I have had an incredible 30 years in television.

“To still be working at my age is an incredible situation to be in.

“I am very lucky.”

TV shows in the 1960s and ’70s

There were a number of Scottish-based television shows which emerged in the 1960s and 70s.

They included the first soap opera to be produced north of the border , High Living, which broadcast its first episode in December 1968. Set in a flat in Maryhill, the series ran until 1971. Dr Finlay’s Casebook was also popular, broadcasting from 1962 until 1971.

It featured Bill Simpson as Dr Finlay and Andrew Cruickshank as Dr Angus Cameron.

The storylines centred on a general medical practice in the fictional Scottish town of Tannochbrae during the late 1920s. The first six episodes were filmed in Tannoch Drive, Milngavie, where the fictional Arden House was situated on the right, approaching Tannoch Loch. The Vital Spark was set in the western isles of Scotland in the 1930s and was based on the Para Handy books. It starred Roddy McMillan and John Grieve. The series, first broadcast in August 1965, followed the Vital Spark’s adventures around the coastal waters of west Scotland and the schemes that Para Handy would get himself and his crew into. The last episode broadcast in October 1974.

'The Vital Spark' TV series cast Roddy McMillan, John Grieve, Walter Carr and Alex McAvoy, visit HMS Graham in Glasgow, February 1966. Pic: Gordon Rule