Secretary of the Scottish Music Hall Society. An appreciation

BOB Bain, secretary of the Scottish Music Hall Society and also the editor of the society’s quarterly magazine, Stagedoor, made an enormous impact in promoting the public’s awareness of Scottish variety theatre and artistes.

His interest in showbusiness began when, aged eight, he accompanied his parents to a variety theatre show at Glasgow’s Metropole, and he attended every music hall and variety theatre north of the border, including Scotland’s oldest, the Theatre Royal in Dumfries.

He began collecting theatre-related items in the 1950s, and in the1980s his interest intensified when his wife Eleanor was given some material which belonged to her grandfather, Norman MacLeod, who was half of a double act known as The Norman Brothers. Bob was fascinated by the information he gathered, to the extent that it prompted him to research other Scottish artistes. He also became particularly interested in all aspects of Glasgow’s Empire and over the years amassed an amazing collection of Empire-related material.

His collection soon extended to hundreds of programmes, posters, showcards and contained personally autographed photographs of leading Scottish stars Andy Stewart, The Alexander Brothers, Lex McLean, Stanley Baxter, Jimmy Logan, Rikki Fulton and Bob’s favourite comedian Jack Milroy.

His archives contained video tapes of stage shows, variety theatres and early TV shows of Lex McLean. There are also costumes and musical instruments used by clown Billy Crotchet plus stage suits worn by Lex McLean.

Bob’s favourite item in his collection was a large board which had hung in the dressing room of C. Arthur Wilcox, musical director of the King’s Theatre Edinburgh in the early 1900s. At first sight, the board appears to show an abstract design. However, closer inspection reveals the pattern is made up of over a hundred autographs of celebrities, some written horizontally, some vertically and others squeezed in haphazardly, and among those is the autograph of Harry Lauder.

His knowledge of the variety theatre brought him to the attention of the Sir Harry Lauder Society and Bob was invited to join. The society’s membership was dwindling at that time and, in order to appeal to a wider membership, the name was changed to the Scottish Music Hall Society. Bob was voted in as secretary and to publicise the existence of the new society, he suggested promoting a series of exhibitions. They proved to be successful to the extent that the society’s membership increased dramatically, with new members from not only Scotland and England, but also from the USA, Canada, Australia and Cyprus.

The interest created by these exhibitions led to Bob being invited to give talks to small theatre-related groups and organisations. The first of these was to the Women’s Theatre Group and his success at that talk led to Bob suggesting to the society that they should expand their activities. He came up with the idea of two annual lunches, one in Glasgow and one in Edinburgh, where nominated show-biz personalities could be presented with an SMHS award for services to entertainment. These events proved to be extremely popular, leading to the introduction of similar showbiz-related talks being given throughout the year at Glasgow’s Tron Theatre.

Whether promoting the society, organising events or editing and preparing the society’s magazine, Bob was always full of enthusiasm and was passionate about publicising interest in the variety theatre in Scotland. Bouts of ill-health in the summer of 2018 forced him to slow down and he spent many weeks in and out of hospital where he was treated for cancer. He is survived by his wife Eleanor, their daughter Barbara-Ellen and sons Roddy and Stewart.

Norman Christie