Billy "Uke" Scott

Billy "Uke" Scott

Billy "Uke" Scott (born William Scott, March 12, 1923 - died 23 November, 2004), was a British music hall star who inspired three generations of ukulele players, composing, singing and writing a "teach-yourself" ukulele manual.

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 debut aged 13 at the Empire in Newcastle.

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 Magic" (1944).

After the war, Scott was in demand with a busy schedule in variety and pantomime, especially on the Moss Empires touring circuit, and making his mark on the BBC radio programme "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, from more than 100 he composed, of which 30 were published, 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",

His preferred choice of instrument was the traditional wooden ukulele because of its sweeter sound, rather than the more strident banjolele favoured by George Formby - though he played both. George Formby would have several ukuleles tuned in different keys so that he could use the same fingering all the time, but Billy had complete mastery of the instrument and could play the melody as well.

A popular radio performer (he was one of the biggest variety stars in Britain in the 1940s and 1950s), his ability received its own tribute on BBC radio when, in a Goon Show script of 1954, Peter Sellers says: "Thank you, thank you. Tonight I have included in my repertoire Schubert's violin sonata, guest soloist Billy 'Uke' Scott".

On the radio Billy always finished his spot by picking up a Martin ukulele and saying, "And now, just to prove that melody can be played on the ukulele..." 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, with the death of Variety, 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, and helped the early careers of Jimmy Tarbuck and Mike Yarwood. Scott was of the subjects of a TV programme, "The Impresarios", presented by Melvyn Bragg. But the lure of performing proved too much, and in the early 80's he discreetly put the word about that he wanted to work on stage again. To his surprise he was not forgotten. He played summer seasons, pantomimes, and one-night stands in vintage form.

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 the mid-nineties. He was a guest of the George Formby Society in November 1999 at the Winter Gardens, Blackpool, where he was made an Honorary Member. He spent an hour answering questions about his career, and closed by playing two numbers, his appearance being regarded as the highlight of the meeting. One of his final appearances was at the Musical Hall at Ilkley in January 2002, in a charity variety show alongside Jimmy Cricket, the Bachelors, Dottie Wayne and Steve Galler. Scott was married to Ann and had one son, and three daughters.His last years were spent in Southport, Lancashire.

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