Pianist, entertainer and member of Scotland the What?
Born: June 16, 1934; Died: September 30, 2013.
George Donald, who has died aged 79, was a brilliant Scottish pianist and a member of the famous Scotland the What? comedy team.
He grew up in Huntly, Aberdeenshire, and was educated at the local Gordon schools before graduating from Aberdeen University. It was there that he met up with William D Hardie and Steve Robertson, who had already established themselves as writer and performer in the annual student shows at His Majesty's Theatre, Aberdeen.
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Little did the three friends know what fame lay ahead for them all as they followed their student performances by forming the Aberdeen Revue Group in the late 1950s. The three performers continued in the group through the 1960s until they decided to call it a day, with a farewell performance at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe of 1969.
For this occasion, they called themselves Scotland the What?, which was a satirical response to the national boast of Scotland the Brave! However, this last goodbye was such a success, in which they were acclaimed as the funniest show at the Fringe, that they had to rethink their decision to call it a day. As a result, their so-called farewell appearance was just the beginning of greater fame for Scotland the What?, which continued for the next 26 years. Not only were they funny, their performances around the country also spread the humour of Aberdonianism to a world-wide audience. In doing so, they took over from the great Harry Gordon, who was coming to the end of his career.
Scotland the What? was comedy and music at its sophisticated best, with Donald at the piano, playing and singing in a show which had regular dates all the way from Aberdeen to London's West End. They mostly used their native Doric but it could be cleverly modified to suit "foreign" audiences and soon they were household names through the land.
As well as performing, all three members of the comedy act had substantial professional jobs. Donald was a teacher and followed his post as a languages teacher at Robert Gordon's College in Aberdeen with his appointment as assistant rector of Perth Academy.
By 1983, however, the demands of the stage meant all three members of Scotland the What? giving up their full-time jobs to become full-time professionals. By now they were regular entertainers for the Royal Family at Balmoral and honours came flooding their way. Following on honorary degrees from Aberdeen University, all three received MBEs from the Queen - and then, in 2008, the Freedom of Aberdeen.
By then, Scotland the What? had reached their final "farewell", with four weeks of capacity audiences at their spiritual home of His Majesty's Theatre. However, Donald continued performing with Steve Robertson on National Trust cruise ships, while his wife Isobel would accompany him as the ship's doctor.
Donald had also gained a name in California, where he and a partner had an annual circuit of musical engagement. Even then, remarkably, he was fighting cancer year after year, still performing at home and abroad. He was predeceased by his stage colleague Robertson in 2011.
So Buff Hardie is now the last survivor of Scotland the What? In a tribute yesterday, he said: "George was a vital part of the show's chemistry. More than that, he was a very good friend for 55 years.
"He was ill for many years, as long ago as the time we were given the Freedom of the City of Aberdeen. But he carried on performing for years afterwards. That took courage."
He added: "He was a great performer - as a pianist and accompanist. I don't know anyone else who could have done what he did. He was incredibly versatile.
"We came to be known as couthy and classy - it was George who made us classy."
The Lord Provost of Aberdeen, George Adam, also added his tribute to Donald. He said: "George Donald was an exceptional musician, a brilliant entertainer and a true gentleman.
"His talents as a pianist inspired countless pupils and performers, and everyone lucky enough to see him on stage with Scotland the What? went home with broad smiles on their faces. Our thoughts are with his family and friends."
Donald died at his home in Perth after a long illness, bravely borne; Aberdeen City Council had its flag flying at half-mast yesterday as a tribute.
He is survived by his wife Isobel, son Stephen and daughters Marianne and Claire.
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