Born: July 18, 1947;

Died: July 15, 2021.

IN his years at the celebrated Glasgow restaurants Rogano and The Buttery, Jim Wilson habitually went out of his way to look after the diners – celebrities and ordinary people alike – and ensure they had a perfect evening.

Sometimes, however, he had to be subtle. The prominent Herald columnist Jack McLean once waited in vain at The Buttery for a date to show up. “After an hour”, he subsequently wrote, “Jim suggested, kindly, that I may have mixed up the dates, knowing full well I had just got what is crudely known in Glasgow as ‘a dizzy’. I told him to serve me dinner and he sent me a bottle of conciliatory champagne on the house”.

Jim Wilson, who has died at the age of 73, was, to McLean, “the most sophisticated manager ever”. He lived for the job, whether he was working at Rogano, The Buttery, or the fashionable Charlie Parker’s cocktail bar. He had a remarkable eye for detail. Nothing was too much trouble for him. “He loved people, he loved catering”, says his wife, Gilly. “It was just who he was”.

He was born in Glasgow to James Wilson and Jane Veronica (Vera), the eldest of four siblings. The family moved to Perth when he was 14 “and I don’t think he and school got on after that – he left at 15”, says Gilly. He began working as a kitchen porter at the Isle of Skye Hotel in Perth. Shortly afterwards he moved to the MacDonald Hotel, near Giffnock, initially as a waiter before working behind the bar.

In the early 1970s he joined British Transport Hotels, doing seasonal bar jobs at Gleneagles and working in the winter at places such as Glasgow’s Central Hotel. His next stop was Glasgow’s Albany Hotel, where over a couple of years he mixed drinks for such visiting musicians as Neil Young and Status Quo.

Charlie Parker’s, where he became bar manager, was one of Glasgow’s first trendy cocktail bars. “It was very flash, very stylish for its time. It was the place to be, and the place where you couldn’t get in”, Gilly says. That much was true: Ken McCulloch, its owner, was once refused entry because he wasn’t suitably dressed.

Jim and his colleagues introduced the city to such innovative cocktails as Screaming Yello Zonker and Between The Sheets. He even appeared on TV, thanks to what was described as the world’s most expensive cocktail – its ingredients included aged Dom Perignon.

When the McCulloch-owned Rogano opened after a refurbishment in 1984, Wilson was behind the bar with the legendary John Mitchell. Ferrier Richardson, no less, was in the kitchen. “It was a fantastic opening crew”, McCulloch would later say.

Wilson could spot new trends in alcohol consumption long before others did. “I’m looking down the bar and everyone I can see is drinking cocktails”, he said in 2001. “Cocktails are becoming incredibly popular because people want the alcohol but they don’t want the strong burn-your-throat-as-it-goes-down flavour ... I think the Rogano is about to come into its heyday because the 1920s-type cocktails in stylish glasses are coming back”.

In time, he became manager at the high-class Buttery. “He loved the whole Victorian ethos of it, he loved the customers”, recalls Gilly. “Unless the customer had had a good night, Jim did not have a good night. His whole approach was to make people feel special. What counted for him was not the money that came in, it was how happy the diners were when they left.

For the time he was there, before it became Two Fat Ladies at the Buttery, he personified The Buttery. He chatted to everyone and he was just such a character there. He liked making people feel happy and special.

“He would hold a party night each Christmas Eve, with invited guests only, and from July onwards he would buy special presents for the people who would be coming. There was no mass-buying of standard gifts. If someone liked fishing, for example, he would buy them something related to that”.

Such shopping expeditions were his way of relaxing; he would also scout for new glasses, new cocktails, new menus. Insofar as he had any hobbies, it was The Buttery. “Most people never find a job they love that much”, Gilly says. “He had that with The Buttery”.

Health issues took him away from the Buttery some 20 years ago. After two years’ absence he returned briefly to the Rogano bar and then returned to front of house at The Buttery. But when a heart attack

10 years ago meant he had to step back from his career, “he just lost his heart to that because his work meant everything to him”.

Throughout his accolade-laden career Jim nurtured many fledgling restaurant personnel. And though he came across many celebrated customers from entertainment, industry, sport and politics, he valued the money paid by ordinary customers just as much as, if not more than, the bills paid by VIP diners.

He had met Gilly at the MacDonald Hotel in 1968. They married in 1971 and they went on to have a son, Simon, who also worked in catering for 17 years, travelling the world before opting for a career change to the mounted police.

In 2005, Jim Wilson was asked by The Herald for his favourite things. His response when it came to food summed up his passion. “Happiness”, he said, “would be sitting at a sun-bleached wooden table at the lobster shop at Crail harbour, eating freshly cooked lobster, drinking chilled Sancerre and watching the world go by.”

He is survived by Gilly, Simon and his grand-daughter Beth, a university student who is working as a part-time waitress in Giffnock.