Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Goodbye, man about whom I know more or less nothing


Kenneth McKellar has died at the age of eighty-two.

I've always known the name, and had a vague idea that he was a Scotsman who sang traditional songs on tv wearing a kilt. But I'd never actually seen or heard his work until last year, and it's not until now that I learn from his obit in Gramophone magazine that he was a proper, well-regarded tenor who chose light ent over the operatic stage because he found the life "like living in a goldfish bowl."

He was a major cultural icon, particularly of Scottishness, in the sixties and seventies, his name coming readily to the lips whenever the subject of kilts or sporrans was raised. (All I can't say for sure is just how often the subject of kilts or sporrans was raised. If our household was typical: not all that often.)
Two references that always stick in my mind are the bit in The Burkiss Way when Chris Emmett goes to the doctor because his left leg is feeling a bit Scottish, and is eventually diagnosed with Kenneth McKellar of the knee by doctor Nigel Rees, and the line in the great Morecambe and Wise sketch where Eric, resplendent in platform boots and fake chest hair, announces he has "jumped on the pop bandwagon", but later admits that he has to get the tufts of fake hair back to the supplier by the end of the evening because "Kenneth McKellar's doing a Sunday concert and he wants them for his legs."
Bloody hell, that was a long sentence.

Anyway, when the scumbags of the BBC suffered a momentary lapse of uselessness a couple of years back and started issuing complete and unedited Morecambe and Wise shows, I finally got to see McKellar at work. He's charming, devilish handsome, has a laugh, and delivers this blistering rendition of one of my favourite howling songs If It Takes Forever, I Will Wait For You.
I have a jewellery box shaped like a little piano that plays this melody. It used to be my grandmother's. That remains the best version I know, but Kenneth is a close second. You'll notice he's got trousers on, but otherwise this is a faultless performance.

Godspeed ye on yer way, Kenneth lad.