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

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