After-dinner speaker, teacher and musician

Born: July 8, 1946;

Died: June 12, 2019

STEWART Coull, who has died aged 72, was an ebullient, larger-than-life character who became one of Scotland’s premier after-dinner speakers travelling up and down the country.

Born in Co Down in Northern Ireland, he was immediately identifiable by his strong Ulster accent and was a natural raconteur who combined an impish wit with a gift for language that frequently had his audiences reduced to tears. He drew on his Irish background to create some of the funniest and most legendary tales that will endure long after him.

Who could forget the tale of the aliens who arrived at the Garvaghy Road and when challenged declared themselves to be Martian? “Not down this f****** road you’re not,” replied the stony-faced policeman.

Then there was the story of the pygmy flute band that intended to parade down the republican Falls Road playing the Sash. This particular saga wound its way Dave Allen-style through a variety of different gags as Stewart battered out a drum roll on the table. Where it ended often depended on how many other jokes Stewart could fit in amongst it.

Joke telling, however, was not simply what it was all about to him. As the doyen of the after-dinner circuit, he took it upon himself to encourage and nurture new talent and it was to him that many of his colleagues turned to for advice, counselling and to resolve disputes when someone stole someone else’s gag.

It was the same with his music. A talented banjo player he would happily take centre stage but was ready to step back when he spotted someone more talented.

It was this humility combined with genuine warmth and love of his fellow man that made him such a joyous man to be with. Fellow after-dinner speaker John McKelvie noted at his funeral: “He always made me feel I was his best friend but I look out here today and I realise there are 300 others of you.”

Born of an Irish mother and a father from the north-east of Scotland, James Stewart Coull enjoyed an idyllic childhood with his two sisters Elizabeth and Caroline. After school he went to Trinity College Dublin where he met the love of his life, Helen, and then progressed to Queen’s Belfast for his teaching diplomas.

In 1970 they arrived in Scotland and Stewart taught English at Airdrie Academy before becoming head of learning support at Uddingston Grammar. His insightfulness and patience saw many a young pupil through bumpy schooldays and he was always delighted to meet a former pupil usually responding to a shout of, “Mr Coull” on the street.

Stewart Coull was not a man content, however, to simply enjoy his adopted country. As ever, he returned friendship with a great deal more. He was instrumental in setting up Cumbernauld Rugby Club and played and coached there. He also helped establish a partnership with French rugby club Bron which added a cosmopolitan touch to nights out once a year and was a reason for Stewart to try out his French. He was also a stalwart of Condorrat Bowling Club.

He took early retirement from teaching and launched himself wholeheartedly into the after-dinner circuit. He and former Scotland goalkeeper, Alan Rough, would often go out as a double act giving Stewart the opportunity of lots of new material – the Alan Rough medical wonder gloves for example, wear them and you’d never catch anything.

Sadly 20 years ago, Stewart Coull was diagnosed with Parkinson’s and in the last four years deteriorated so that he could no longer play his beloved banjo.

He is survived by his wife, Helen, his daughter, headteacher Rachel, and his son, Stephen who like his father is a gifted musician.