CLAIRTY CLAIRTY - Bridgeton’s Best,
Tommy Morgan By Derek Green.
Comedian Tommy Morgan was a show business legend, one of Scotland’s Kings of Comedy. Described by Jimmy Logan as a great institution in the Scottish theatre, Tommy delighted Glasgow audiences from the 1920’s until the mid 1950’s.
Tommy born in Lily Street, Bridgeton in 1898, was an expert in Glesga humour filling the Pavilion Theatre, Glasgow twice nightly for nineteen consecutive years and delighting audiences with many of his comic characters which included “Big Beanie” the GI Bride, now classed as Scottish music-hall history.
As a young boy and aware that his family did not have a lot of money, Tommy helped the family by delivering morning rolls. As Tommy said in later years ‘Ah aye saw that ma maw got plenty of them, the family lived on they rolls – till the baker found oot an sacked me’. Tommy on leaving school aged 14 years, began working in a Glasgow Chocolate factory, where he remained for a short time. Aged only 16 years, Tommy convinced the Army recruiting officer that he was aged 18 due to his youth and within a few weeks found himself in the World War One Trenches of Flanders. While Tommy was serving in the army, he discovered his first taste for the world of show business assisting the Concert Party Comedian as a stooge. Tommy discovered that making people laugh was a real addiction and something that he was a natural at doing.
When the War ended Tommy returned to Glasgow and entered into a go as you please talent completion where he won first prize. From there he became a feed to the comedian Tommy Yorke and they played the Panoptican theatre and did not receive a great response. Tommy got an engagement in the Metropole Theatre, Stockwell Street and it was here that he remained associated with for 20 years playing Variety seasons and Pantomime playing Dame in the early 30’s at the Empire Theatre, Glasgow.
Tommy started to become a big name in Scottish Show business and when not appearing in Glasgow, he would grace the boards of many palaces of variety in the Scottish Seaside Holiday resorts. Tommy had made it and although in the big money he often looked back on the poverty stricken days of his childhood. Tommy also remembered his early days when joining the army and once told a young Stanley Baxter that his family went to Central Station to see him off to the battlefront. When the train stopped at Eglinton Street Station, feeling very home sick already, he tried to open the door of the carriage but found it to be locked. Wasting no more time, Tommy climbed out the window and made his way back home. When Tommy’s parents arrived home they were surprised to see him sitting by the fireside. Tommy’s father shouted angrily “Whit ye daen here?, get back tae the sojers!”
In the late 1930’s Tommy Morgan secured a successful contract to play the Pavilion Theatre, Glasgow with his own Summer Season show. Now earning around £300 a week, Tommy played the Theatre all through WW2 and delighted the audiences lifting many spirits during the troubled times of War and then when retiring to the dressing room, sit down, switch on the radio and listen to the worsening situation. At the end of the War Tommy was delighted and continued to entertain thousands of Glaswegians every week with the Tommy Morgan Show with its glitz, glamour, dancers, speciality acts and Tommy making up into different characters and performing in sketches. Tommy always claimed that his unforgettable loud rasping voice and “Big bawface”, his own description, helped him to reach the top of the ladder.
During the run of the Tommy Morgan shows, it was his choice to give new performers a chance on the stage to show their talent. Tommy was responsible for starting Ruby Murray, Larry Marshall, Charlie Sim, a young Betty Melville, Four Jones Boys and many more. For these Artistes, the chance they were given was never forgotten. Although a big star, Tommy Morgan was a very generous man, never forgetting his earlier days. If Tommy was made aware of a artiste who had fallen on hard times, he would send money anonymously in the hope that it would help them in some way. Tommy never wanted anyone to know that he had tried to help them.
By 1955 and aged 57, Tommy’s health started to decline, Tommy carried on working but was starting to find it harder to keep his performances up to the same standard. While in a period of resting, the Evening Times Columnist Eric de Banzie interviewed Tommy in his Kelvin Court Flat. It was here that Eric discovered the real Tommy, in an interview, Morgan admitted that he loved books and adored the works of Charles Dickens and owed that down to his father who had been an active trade unionist. and also a reader of the works by Emerson
In July 1958, while extremely ill and full of pain, Tommy Morgan made a special appearance in front of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in the Scottish Royal Variety Performance at the Alhambra Theatre, Glasgow. Sadly four months later the death of Tommy Morgan was announced and Glasgow audiences went into mourning for “Mr Glasgow”.
The Tommy Morgan show was a highlight every year in the Pavilion Theatre diary and the shows were twice nightly with performances at 6.25 and 8.35 pm. I never had the pleasure of seeing Tommy Morgan on stage, he was way before my time, but my Dad Bill saw him many times as a boy when he was taken by my Grandparents to the Pavilion, Dad would be about eleven or twelve years of age, and thought that Tommy Morgan was just great. He vividly remembers him in his famous role of Big Beanie McBeanie the GI Bride. Tommy, coming from the East End, and used his broad accent and gruff voice to great effect in this character.
Beanie was a tallish, brash, dyed blonde female of a certain age, and at the Dancin’ in Glasgow had met Elmer, one of the American soldiers over in Scotland at that time getting prepared for D Day in 1944. They were a couple and portrayed their respective characters in a series of sketches as part of the Tommy Morgan Summer Seasons. The Glasgow audiences loved this “Big Brash Wummin” and her American husband “Elmer” in various scrapes and adventures. Dad’s not totally sure but thinks Elmer was played by Morgan’s main feed at the time - Tommy Yorke. One memorable sketch that he remembers is the one where it’s after the War and Elmer has sent for Beanie to come over from Glasgow to join him and set up life in the States as man and wife. The climax of this scene was set on the full stage to resemble a pier in New York, with the side of one of the big liners complete with portholes etc and in the centre was the main gangway descending from the side of the ship. The Quayside is festooned with flowers in tubs, barrows and all sorts of boxes in different shapes and sizes. Beanie sashays down the gangway in her finery done up ‘tae the nines’ and waving to all and sundry. Elmer is waiting for her on the Quay in a cowboy outfit complete with large ten gallon hat and cigar. Beanie steps off the gangway and greets Elmer in her usual gruff voice, telling him how nice it is to see him again and looking forward to enjoying the life of riley as it were with him as her husband. She thanks him for all the lovely “FLOOERS” that he has bought for her.
At this point Elmer looks very serious remarks to her that they are most definitely NOT FOR HER. Beanie replies,“ Whit dae ye mean they’re no fur me, They must be fur me!” Then Elmer replies in his best Cowboy Drawl. “No they’re not for you, the reason they’re here is because, I gorr em, and YOU’RE SELLIN EM”.
Beanie shouts “WHITT!!!!” - BLACKOUT. Great laughter and applause from the audience as the tabs closed,
Bill told me what brought this altogether and life like, was the fact that his older cousin Nessie did in fact marry an American GI and had a family and lived a very happy life for many years with JD in Arkansas in their wee ranch. So we have long lost cousins in America. Could there be a Big Beanie amongst them!!! Thank you Tommy for the wonderful memories in the 1950’s.
Tommy held the record for playing the most consecutive Summer Seasons at the Pavilion Theatre and with 19 in total was also considered a record for the UK. Apart from Glasgow, Tommy was very popular in England, Regular houses were packed in the seaside resort of Blackpool and Tommy would then travel to Ireland where he would pack the Opera House in Belfast and use his Glasgow catchphrase “Clairty ,clarity” which was a derivation of ‘Declare tae Goodness’ Show business writer Gordon Irving had a memorable occasion in Belfast when he joined Tommy for lunch in an expensive restaurant with the ‘uncrowned king of Glasgow’. Said the posh waiter, “Will you have a bit of partridge, Mr Morgan?”, replied Tommy, “A bit? Whit dae ye mean, a bit. Bring me the hale yin.”
Tommy Morgan rarely appeared in public in the last few months of his life after spending quite a spell seriously ill. However he made one trip accompanied by Gordon Irving over to Dunoon to visit the new Pavilion Theatre, (now Queen’s Hall) He crossed the river on a nice Summer’s night by Clyde Steamer and watched Alec Finlay and Kenneth McKellar head an expensive new show and then come home across the Firth of Clyde by moonlight. A night Tommy thoroughly enjoyed.
Tommy was proud to have came from Bridgeton and never lost an opportunity of referring to his early boyhood days, his family and his tough background. Tommy told Gordon Irving that when his son Eric would come home to Kelvin Court from school, he sometimes brought friends. If Tommy mentioned Bridgeton he sometimes would see Eric trying to change the subject. Tommy would then explain that Bridgeton was a great place and ask his friends ‘Have you ever been there, Lets go.’ Tommy would then take the kids and Eric in the car to Lily Street and show them his early haunts showing them where he was brought and up and played.
Tommy never ever forgot his humble upbringing. His days of wealth in the luxury of Glasgow’s Kelvin Court apartments with their central heating, garages and elevators only served to remind him of the humble grey tenements from which he sprang. He was a typical ‘rags to riches’ story and yet when Tommy died it was discovered that the Glasgow Comedian was nearly penniless. It was reckoned that his high life, the odd bet on a horse, quietly helping friends on hard times had to be a drain on his money.
After Tommy’s death many tributes were paid to the great comedian, among them Alex Frutin, Manager of the Metropole said “In my opinion he epitomised Glasgow. He was a boy who came up from scratch and started from nothing to become a household word as ‘Mr Glasgow’. With it all, he still kept his humility, and his humour was such that it was understood by Scottish audiences everywhere. He was a man who will be very sadly missed and one we can ill-afford to lose”. Gordon Irving had great admiration for Tommy and told how a Big Beanie sketch had been on the radio and half way through, it faded out. The listeners protested and desperate to know what happened led to the Pavilion extending the run of that particular season by four weeks to satisfy the Glasgow audiences as they wanted to know next what happened to “Big Beanie”
On a recent visit to Blackpool I could see that Blackpool Town Council have also made tribute to Tommy Morgan by naming him on the famous Blackpool Comedy Carpet which was commissioned in 2011 in front of the Blackpool Tower. The comedy carpet is a remarkable homage to those who have made the nation laugh and it is wonderful to see the name of Tommy Morgan there.
Tommy was one of a dying generation of Scottish comedians who came up the long hard way. Not for him, the overnight reputation gained through a television or radio series. Behind him lay the hard grounding of work twice nightly, in music halls and variety theatres in working class districts where you really had to be funny. No Dukes and Duchesses called at his dressing room, no new found friends popped round to say “You were Wonderful old boy!” Tommy Morgan had a great following of middle class and working class fans. Whole families looked on him as “Mr Glasgow” They watched him grow in favour from the 1920s along with his stage feed Tommy Yorke and Glaswegians had a staunch admiration for a man who was to overcome serious illness, survive a serious operation on his leg and appear before the Queen in the July of 1958. As Tommy strode across the stage of the Alhambra Theatre in a running gag he received a rapturous welcome and applause as Mr Glasgow was back on stage.
At his funeral in his beloved Glasgow, thousands stood in silent homage and respect. Gordon Irving said that he saw more than one Big Beanie - the redoubtable Glasgow female character Tommy made so much on his own stage wipe away a tear and then move silently on to the nearest “Steamie” washhouse. This was the great industrial City of Glasgow paying its last respects. A memorable moment for the City’s own son “Mr Glasgow.”
After his funeral, Tommy’s wishes were to be cremated and his ashes given to the Pavilion Theatre where to this day Tommy has the pleasure of looking down on the Stars performing on the stage that he spent 19 very happy years.
Gordon Irving said ‘Big Clairty’ - generous, human, warm-hearted, as much of a Glaswegian as George Square and Central Station, friend of thousands and interpreter of Scottish character - was no more. Scotland will remember ‘Mr Glasgow’. As Tommy himself might put it, ‘Clairty….clairty, A loves ye all.’
No tribute to Tommy would be complete without one to his wonderful wife, Celie, who was his constant companion in his illness. Tommy wouldn’t have had a more faithful and caring partner, not forgetting his son Eric.
‘Mr Glasgow’ was a part of Glasgow that everybody loved. He stood for its essential warmth and friendliness and understanding. Tommy was a real representative of Scottish Variety with all its good fun and earthy humour - part of an age that must be protected for the future.