Billy 'Uke' Scott

Music-hall star and virtuoso ukulele player

Billy "Uke" Scott was in the last generation of music-hall stars, topping bills in the early Fifties and entertaining audiences with light-hearted repartee and immaculately performed standards. He was a fine comic songwriter, particularly known for his skill with the ukelele, and many regarded him as the best player in Britain.

William Scott (Billy "Uke" Scott), ukulele player: born Sunderland, Co Durham 12 March 1923; married (one son, three daughters); died Southport, Lancashire 13 November 2004.

Billy "Uke" Scott was in the last generation of music-hall stars, topping bills in the early Fifties and entertaining audiences with light-hearted repartee and immaculately performed standards. He was a fine comic songwriter, particularly known for his skill with the ukelele, and many regarded him as the best player in Britain.

William Scott was born in Sunderland in 1923. As a child, he took piano lessons and then became a young singer with a jazz band. He made his variety début at the Empire Theatre in Newcastle in 1936 and gave his first broadcast the following year. To give Scott something to do during instrumental choruses, the bandleader passed him a ukulele and said, "Pretend you're playing this." The moment changed Scott's life and he set about learning the instrument seriously. Like George Formby, he favoured the banjolele, a combination of banjo and ukulele.

During the Second World War, Scott worked for Ensa (Entertainments National Service Association) and established himself as a versatile artist. He appeared in the films Rainbow Round the Corner (1943) with the organist Robin Richmond and A Night of Music (1944), a ridiculous caper about an Egyptian mummy who comes alive and wants to catch up on 3,000 years of partying.

After the war, Billy "Uke" Scott was in demand with a busy schedule in variety and pantomime, making his mark on the Light Programme's Workers' Playtime. He supported Gracie Fields, Will Hay and Tommy Trinder and for a time he was Max Miller's pianist. Miller recorded Scott's song, "Down By the Old Turnstile".

Scott's signature tune was "He's Only Singing for One", and his songs included "I've Got a Girlfriend", "You Go On With Your Show" and "What Is the Good of a Good Girl?" He liked light-hearted songs about contemporary activities such as "A Nice Prefabricated Home". In the 1950s, many variety theatres were being converted to Granada bingo halls and Scott mourned their closure in "Pro's Lament", singing, to the tune of "Granada",

The Palace at Chelsea went under the

thumb of Granada,

Now the Met, Edgware Road's had its

paintwork redone by Granada.

Scott would pick up a Martin ukulele and announce, "And now, just to prove that melody can be played on the ukulele . . ." Then he would launch into a stunning solo arrangement of "Lady of Spain", "Keep the Home Fires Burning" or "The William Tell Overture", with full orchestral backing.

In the Sixties, Scott became a theatrical agent and was very astute at assessing budding talent in variety showcases. He discovered the schoolteacher Tom O'Connor, who became one of Britain's top comedians. Unfortunately for Scott, he could not satisfy O'Connor's desire to be a US star and they parted acrimoniously in 1979.

With Tom O'Connor, Scott wrote "The Lord Have Mersey on Me" (sample lyric: "My feet begin to tingle, when I'm walking in the Dingle, The Lord have Mersey on me"). In the 1970s the singer and radio presenter Billy Maher recorded the song. He says,

George Formby would have several ukuleles tuned in different keys so that he could use the same fingering all the time, but Billy wasn't like that. You see all these fans at George Formby societies vamping on the instrument, but that wasn't for Billy. He had complete mastery of the instrument and he could play the melody as well.

Scott joined the Grand Order of Water Rats in 1952. He became the president of the Ukulele Society of Great Britain and he was performing in old-time music hall until 10 years ago.

Spencer Leigh

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Hire Manager - Tool Hire

£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is seeking someone w...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

That's a bit rich

The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference