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Glen Michael on Cartoon Cavalcade, regrets and what happened to Paladin

When Rikki Fulton died 10 years ago - attracting the great and the good of Scottish entertainment to his funeral - more than a few people were surprised to see children's entertainer Glen Michael there.

Glen Michael's entertainment career began when he left the family home at the age of 17 with £4 in his pocket. Photograph: Colin Mearns

Passing remarks included "Where has he been?" and "Crikey, he's still alive?"

So when I arrive to meet the man himself - with all the giddy excitement of my childhood self - it is not only lovely to see he is still very much alive, but that he looks exactly as I remember him when he was Scotland's weekly custodian of cartoons.

Well, almost. At 87 - Michael will turn 88 on Friday - his knees are not as good as they once were. He is also greyer, more lined. In TV terms, the image is a little fuzzy. But otherwise he looks remarkably like he did when he was captivating the nation's children every week on his long-running show Glen Michael's Cartoon Cavalcade.

At its peak, Cartoon Cavalcade attracted a staggering 98% of Scotland's television viewing audience and introduced a generation of children to Bugs Bunny, Mr Magoo and Spider-Man.

There can hardly be a grown-up in Scotland today who doesn't have memories of Michael and Cartoon Cavalcade. Forget Ant and Dec and Tony Hart; Michael is likely the longest-serving children's entertainer in history.

At the farewell party for the show, which ended in 1992 after 26 years, Gus Macdonald, former managing director at STV, said television would never see his likes again.

However, today, he has an audience of one - me. He greets me from the door of the modest, unassuming cottage in which he lives with his wife Beryl, in the small Ayrshire village of Maidens. It is a gloriously sunny afternoon. Michael squints in the sun, raises a hand to shield his eyes and smiles. It feels like I've known him for years, which, in a sense, I have. He's as friendly as he was on the phone and in his emails - Michael is no octogenarian technophobe; he uses his computer frequently and Skypes his grandson and great-granddaughter in San Francisco every week.

The couple moved to Ayrshire many moons ago from Hyndland, Glasgow, with their two children Yonnie and Christopher, both long since grown with adult children of their own. Michael now spends most of his days at home, doesn't go out much and watches a lot of television - he likes Midsomer Murders and football; he doesn't much rate children's television today - and still hankers for a life in entertainment. He is tickled when passers-by staying at the nearby holiday caravans walk past his cottage, singing and humming the theme tune from Cartoon Cavalcade. "They whistle and say, 'Hi Glen!' It's very nice."

Michael leads the way to his spare room, a homage to his career, full of memorabilia and photographs. "That was me in 1975," he smiles, pointing to a photo. "I won the radio industry's award for best programme."

He proudly acknowledges a portrait of him by a school janitor in Glasgow. "I think it's tremendous," he remarks, before gesturing to two paintings by Rikki Fulton, a friend and former co-star. "He was passionate about painting, but he didn't like to sell them," he tells me. "One of these days I'll give them to charity to auction."

Michael recently auctioned Paladin, his talking lamp sidekick on Cartoon Cavalcade. It now resides, Michael believes, in Yorkhill Children's Hospital in Glasgow. Still, one of his other TV chums appears to be present. "Is that …?" I ask excitedly.

"Yes, that's Totty the robot," nods Michael. "I think he was £250 back in the 1980s. He can bring you breakfast and everything. He still works."

In a cupboard is every newspaper cutting Michael has ever had. "And I keep the whole paper - I don't just keep the page," says Michael. "In there is a copy of the Daily Record from way back. They had a competition to name the [country's] favourite TV personality. Phillip Schofield won it, and the one that beat me was Edd the Duck. But I beat Bruce Forsyth. He was number eight and I was number seven."

Michael is rightly proud of his long and varied career, which began at the age of 17 and spanned theatre, variety, comedy and film. If this room represents his professional life, then the living room - where we have coffee and biscuits later - represents his personal life. There, the walls reflect a family man, whose children and grandchildren lie at the heart of his life.

But, for now, we continue the nostalgia trip. Michael loves his showbusiness biographies, I see, spying those of Bob Hope and Frank Sinatra among others. "I've got every book but mine," he chortles.

In 2008, Michael wrote his autobiography, Life Is A Cavalcade, a rollicking memoir. Lately he has been doing research into ENSA (Entertainments National Service Association), the organisation set up in 1939 to provide entertainment to the British armed forces during the Second World War. Michael would like to see ENSA shed its negative reputation and be awarded a form of recognition. (The organisation, long since defunct, was often jokingly referred to as Every Night Something Awful.)

For Michael, ENSA was the route into showbusiness. It was also where he met Beryl, a singer and actor. The couple married in 1946, when Michael was 19, and have been together since, through thick and thin. Michael has said the end of Cartoon Cavalcade was the worst moment of his life but Beryl helped pull him through. In fact, he took his show on the road, touring schools into the noughties with her help.

Still, the day Michael was forced to chuck out the thousands of letters and cards children had sent to the show to be read on air - 2000 a week during the show's peak - was heartbreaking. Michael had refused to throw anything away.

Losing the show still rankles. When I ask if he's enjoying retirement he answers: "Well, not really. Because I was forced to stop."

When Beryl developed arthritis, Michael became her full-time carer. She's now 92 and housebound - but, like her husband, as sharp as a tack - but Michael wouldn't have had it any other way.

"But I must admit," he continues, "I do miss it [the show]. I'm nearly 88 but I feel about 41."

There are old souls in this world and there are young. Michael is the latter. Which is perhaps why he was able to relate so well to children for so long. He treated them with respect and didn't talk down to them. And he appealed to all the family.

"In those days, it wasn't a children's programme, it was a family programme and the mother, the father, the granny and grandpa and the kids all watched the one set. Now everybody's got sets all over the house and different gadgets. They all separate and do their own thing, which I think is wrong."

Cartoon Cavalcade might be the thing Michael is best known for, but it was the calling of the stage that brought him to Scotland, to work with stage and screen star Jack Milroy. "I came up for five weeks," he recalls. "On November 15, 1952, I turned up at the Victoria Theatre, Paisley to start rehearsals and I didn't know what the hell I'd come to. I didn't know anything about Glasgow or Scotland - and I never went back [to England]. I loved it, I loved the people."

Michael worked with Milroy for 13 years, in various roles on the famous Five Past Eight Show and Francie And Josie, the latter being Milroy and Fulton's double act, which began as part of the former and went on to be a television show in its own right. Michael looks back on these days with great fondness and pictures of both Milroy and Fulton feature in the hallway.

The role on Cartoon Cavalcade, he says, came about by accident. "They [STV] wanted to run cartoons and they didn't know what to do. I was asked to go along and do an audition." Michael told a story to the camera, forgot it halfway through and made the rest up. Afterwards he remarked, "That wasn't very good, was it?" The cameraman's reply was a "no". So off Michael went for a drink. Half an hour later, the controller of programmes came looking for him. "I said to him, 'Sorry, I botched it up. I made it up as I went along.' And he replied, 'That's the part I liked.' And that's how I got it. It was only meant to run for five weeks."

Michael took the role, which he wrote and produced, very seriously, even watching the cartoons first to remove scenes he deemed inappropriate. Pepe Le Pew, for instance, was often a bit naughty, so Michael stopped showing it because it got too risque.

Born Cecil Buckland in Devon, Michael changed his name when the boss of a show he was in with Beryl suggested he change it to a stage name. As a child, he moved from place to place with his parents; his father was a high society butler.

"My father was a good singer. My mother was a cabaret singer. In those days they would go around doing dinners and so forth."

At one point, Michael's father worked at the real-life Downton Abbey, home to the Earl of Carnarvon, and Michael would play with the earl's son. It made for an interesting childhood, although one not without sadness - he lost a brother to meningitis - but the world of stage and theatre would offer a compelling escape. He recalls walking five miles down a country lane at the age of 12 to see a show.

"I sat in the audience and was stage struck. From then on, there was nothing else I wanted to do but go on stage. I never wanted to do anything else," he remembers. "I would come back from school and go up to the bedroom in front of a long mirror and would act things I'd seen in the pictures - Humphrey Bogart and such."

In his late teens, he told his mother he was leaving for London to pursue a career as a performer. She gave him £4 and waved him off. After three days of job-hunting, Michael heard about ENSA. He went for an audition and, instead, was offered a job as a driver supporting performers in Abergavenny. He took it. After the performers' show, he was offered a "spot". He had never been in front of an audience. Recognising Michael's inexperience, the show's boss offered to help him and gave him some material. "He was marvellous and he cultivated me," Michael recalls. "And that's how I started."

When Michael later joined the Royal Air Force, he was put into the medical section, but fearing he would collapse at the sight of blood, he spoke to his father, who, fortuitously, was butler to Air Chief Marshal Sir John Slessor, who was head of the medical services in the RAF. Michael met with Slessor and told him: "I can't stand this. I could do something better. I could perform in the gang shows." So he was sent to London, where he met Peter Sellers, Frank Thornton and Dick Emery.

Later, when Michael went on to have a part in the 1950 classic Ealing film, The Blue Lamp, starring Jack Warner and Dirk Bogarde (Michael still has a copy of the original script), the director, Basil Dearden, would say to him, "Don't go anywhere, stay in London." Dearden reckoned Michael could be the next Ian Carmichael, a big star in his day. "He said, 'There's plenty of work down here,'" recalls Michael. "But I didn't stay."

Later, after doing a small role for the BBC in London, the same comments came again. Michael Mills, then head of comedy at the BBC, also told him to stay. "But I said, 'No, I've got to go back to the Palace Theatre in Dundee to rejoin Jack Milroy.' I would never have let him down. And after that I never went back to England."

Michael seems wistful about what could have been, and his inner landscape is hard to map in that respect. "I often wonder what I would've done if I had stayed there [London]. But I've had such a fantastic life in Scotland, I would never regret it; it's been wonderful. Meeting all these people."

But does he still wonder sometimes? "Yeah … I do," he smiles, "but I don't regret it. There's no way I regret it. I've made so many friends here. You can never …" He trails off.

Missed opportunities - if you want to call them that - there may have been, but Michael is a Scottish showbusiness legend. He remembers BBC DJ Ken Bruce telling him so, too. "Scotland's been very good to me. The people of Scotland have been very good to me," he says, recalling how the plan to support Milroy in Paisley was only meant to last five weeks.

Even that, he says, was down to fortune. "Everything's been chance, really. And then through that, I met Rikki Fulton and that led to Francie And Josie."

But he has also done broadcasting, he is keen to remind me, including six and a half years, every Thursday night, on Radio Clyde. "It's been a very varied career," he surmises.

As his ninth decade draws to a close, Michael has earned the right to name drop and live through his past accomplishments. But he also lives through the lives and futures of his offspring. Back in the living room, when I suggest - judging from the photos on the wall - that his family is also one of his greatest achievements, Michael says I'm right. He has three grandchildren, Mark, Grant and Fraser, all successful in their chosen fields. His daughter Yonnie is features editor at the Ayrshire Post and his son Christopher is a film editor in Glasgow. "I remember the day when he was six years of age and I took him to the studios and sat him on my knee and said, 'How would you like to do this one day?' and he said, 'Oh yes, I would.' I never dreamed for a minute he would become one of the best film editors in the country. So I'm very proud. We've had a very good family."

We say goodbye and Michael sends me happily on my way with some retro Cartoon Cavalcade badges and stickers.

A few weeks after we meet, I email Michael regarding a few points we chatted about. He informs me he has just come out of hospital, having been taken in a few nights before with a suspected heart attack that transpired to be a hiatus hernia. Thankfully, he is fine.

"So all is well," he writes. "I feel as fit as a fiddle. Still looking for work and ready for another 80 years." n

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