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Will Fyffe Junior

Blue Collar Rat


Water Rat Number: 827. Initiated into the Order on 23 September 2001

Proposer: Past King Rat Wyn Calvin. Seconder: Past King Rat Roy Hudd

The following Eulogy was written by and spoken, at Will?s funeral, by Past King Rat Roy Hudd:

When I first heard the sad news about Will I just couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe Will's age. He never seemed old. Every time we bumped into each other he looked exactly the same. He never aged. Perhaps it was because he never really grew up. That was why I liked him - I liked his piano playing, his musical arrangements, his ideas, his love of the music hall and his sense of humour. Apparently that was something he'd always had - His mother used to tell a story about Will, as a little lad, wanting a set of drums. She told him, "Sorry" you know Daddy doesn't like a lot of noise when he's at home. Young Will replied, "But I'll only play them when he's asleep". He got the drum kit.

He never intended to be a musician though he was good at it . His father, wisely, advised him, "Always stick with the piano playing son. You never know when it might come in handy". Indeed he began by giving Sunday concerts at the Usher Hall in Edinburgh during the War as well as playing for the great Will senior to the front line troops in North Africa and Italy. He wanted to be a film cameraman and he became one till 1949 when the the recession in the movie industry meant he had to go back to his piano playing. It certainly did come in handy then and for the next well over fifty years.

During the golden years of variety he became, without doubt, the musical director everyone wanted. The list of his satisfied clients is a who's who of show business. Allan Jones, Evelyn Laye, Frankie Vaughan, Petula Clark and, perhaps most specially, the eccentric, and magnificent, Josef Locke - what a team they were. So much so that when the story of Jo Locke's life, Hear My Song was chosen for the Royal Film Performance Will was there to play when Jo Locke sang to Princess Diana.

Will and I really got to know each other in panto, Dick Whittington in Richmond. What a cast that was. Richard Murdoch, Hugh Lloyd, The great Jack Tripp as Dame, Honor Blackman as Queen Rat, June Whitfield as the Fairy, John Hanson as the Sultan of Morocco, Anthea as the Cat and Will as musical director. I think, possibly, the best pantomime team ever. It was then, I realised, that he had something special that most musical directors don't have. Of course he accompanied like a dream but after about six weeks of twice a day pantomime, you do become rather jaded, you start to forget wether it's a matinee or an evening and you start to hate not only kids but their Mums and Dads as well. You look at the conductor who, ninety nine times out of a hundred, looks as bored as you are and it becomes hard hard work. When you walked on and looked at Will you got a beaming smile back, an expression that said, "Come on kid. This lot have never seen it before. Give it all you've got." And you did!

Apart from his time with Josef Locke Will had two other great show business partnerships. First - hIs years with Ronnie Hilton. He loved these and told me Ronnie was a lovely bloke but a real sucker when it came to charities. He told me how he, Ronnie, was talked into presenting some prizes at a Red Cross meeting. They were greeted by the President of the Red Cross, the Countess of Malmsebury. Shaking Ronnie by the hand she said, "I've so enjoyed listening to your gramophone recordings many times Mr. Hilton." And turning to Will said, "And of course I saw, and admired your father, Will Fyffe, whenever I saw him at the London Palladium." They had a couple of glasses of sherry and her Ladyship introduced them to the audience: "Ladies and gentlemen here is that famous star of radio and television - Mr. Roland Hill." Ronnie, as was his wont, accepted this without a word. Will, as was his wont, just about suppressed a huge laugh but shut up when she carried on, "and with him is his friend and pianist, the son of the very famous Scottish comedian - Harry Lauder junior!

I don't think, like so many other offspring of famous people, he resented his Dad. All I remember him saying was what a wonderful actor Will senior was. He was always so anxious to show everyone just how far ahead of his contemporaries his father was when it came to real film acting. He was always interested in film and he got together a terrific print of Owd Bob (he thought one of his dad's greatest roles and he was so happy to show it to anyone he thought would appreciate it. I saw it, with his admiring running commentary, about half a dozen times. Will junior was right, his Dad, like him, was a one off.

The only other person I knew who had similar great affection for their Dad was Anthea Askey. Will must have spotted a like soul because their relationship turned into his third great partnership. Anthea and Will paired up and brought great joy to each other and everyone who saw them - on and off stage. Their joint Presidency of the Somerset & West Music Hall Society was a great period for music hall in this country and lasted till Anthea's sad exit nine years ago.

A couple of years back I had to go to Gleneagles Hotel to be part of a firms 'do' for Dulux paint and I thought perhaps that Will might like to come and play for me. Back to Scotland and all that. He, myself and my wife arrived and I registered at the desk. The man behind the desk, who I swear played Fraser in Dad's Army, looked at me as if I should have used the tradesmans entrance and commented "Ah you'll be the turn." I said "Yes" and, although he didn't quite say, "We're all doomed!" I knew that's what he meant. He registered us two and then said , "Anyone else" I said, "Yes," and gave him Will's card. It stopped him dead in his tracks. He looked at the name and said "Will Fyffe" "Will Fyffe Is he here" I said, "He's over there". It was as if the clouds had scudded away and the sun beamed down. That craggy old disapproving face broke into the broadest of smiles. "Well, well, well" he said. "Will Fyffe" I said, 'Well it's not Will Fyffe the singer of ' Belong To Glasgow' you know." "I know that mon' he said. "Will Fyffe senior was the finest music hall minstrel and film actor of them all but Will Fyffe junior was the best musical director the Gaiety Ayr ever had." And with that the whole atmosphere changed. Debbie and I were immediately upgraded but Will got a suite!

The hotel put on a fabulous firework display that night- for Dulux paint-and Debbie, Will and I watched it from armchairs on the balcony of Will's suite. We then spent the next wonderful few hours talking, laughing and swopping gossip and boy did he know some! It was where I learned so many stories, repeatable and unrepeatable, from Wills vast collection. It was an evening that I wish had gone on forever. And Will's life was one that I wish had gone on forever too.

Thank you Will, sleep well.

Past King Rat Roy Hudd
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