Remembering the extraordinary life of Johnny Beattie

Funeral will be held on Friday for the legendary Scottish entertainer.

On the day Johnny Beattie died there was an outpouring of deeply affectionate tributes from a whole host of celebrities who straddled some of the decades in which this much-loved and incredibly versatile performer plied his trade.

I say ‘some’ of the decades in which he performed…

Such was Johnny’s longevity that it would have been impossible to amass tributes from living performers who were with him at the very beginning of his career. The fact is he outlasted most of the big names.

He had professional stamina, did the man from Govan, combined with a novice’s enthusiasm for every job.

What, however, unites all of the tributes is the genuine warmth with which they were delivered.

Showbusiness manages to house egos, sometimes gargantuan ones. The poignancy of the appreciations made clear that Johnny Beattie was a man with no side, who had time for everyone and who looked on every job as one worth doing to the very best of his ability.

I, for one, think his life worthy of celebration and his memory ripe for cherishing. His 63-year career is a timeline which mirrors the huge changes not only in Scottish entertainment but in broader society.

He did his national service. He worked in Fairfields shipyard. He played the last show at the Glasgow Empire. He was a staple in the pre television age of variety. He was a straight actor, a stand-up comedian, a panto dame and a TV gameshow host.

Johnny Beattie might be remembered by young people today as the old guy from River City. Their parents might remember him from Taggart or Rab C Nesbitt or the gameshow he hosted for STV, Now You See It.

Their grandparents might well remember him from the golden era of variety when the belly laughter in theatres provided a release from the drudge of industrial living.

Johnny was the unbroken chain in all of this, and he showcased a range of talents few could match. He also combined this with an encyclopaedic knowledge of acts and routines through the decades and he could spontaneously recite whole sketches from performers past and present.  

Beattie was not only a master of his craft but a high chronicler of what made a country laugh.

The term ‘all-round entertainer’ is sometimes used to denote that the person never quite made it in any genre. The fact is that Beattie was indeed an all-rounder who could have made it in any one of the disciplines in which he starred. It was the diversity of his talents that ensured he was around for a long, long time.

Given his eminence, any self-belief that he had earned a sense of entitlement in the respect stakes would have been forgivable. But those who worked with him attest to his groundedness, perhaps learned from his Govan upbringing. His dad was a road sweeper and his mother a factory worker. Not even being the Dux at St Gerard’s Secondary School appears to have gone to his head.

His gentlemanly demeanour and instinctive courtesy always struck me as being a common feature in people of his generation. In village Scotland, I have met people who knew Johnny well and all had only kind things to say about him.

I only ever met him twice and I was impressed that the man who was a big star was even bigger in the stakes of being a humble man.

Brian Beacom’s lovely obituary in The Herald recounts a conversation when the journalist asked Beattie if he had a darker, edgier personality whether he would have been a more successful comedian. ‘Perhaps’ was the reply, but Johnny doubted he would have lasted as long.

Entertainers come and go but that was never the case with Johnny Beattie. He went on and on and on. 

The secret of his success was not much of a secret.

It was the magic of his talent and for that we should all be grateful for the unadulterated joy he gave so many and for so long.