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Top comedian loved burgh home

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Lex-McLean-1-wTHE top Scottish comedian of his age, Lex McLean, lived in Helensburgh for many years and loved the peace and quiet of his home across the road from Kidston Park.

Born Alexander McLean Cameron on April 30 1907 in a drab tenement at 6 Rosebery Place, Clydebank, he was the son of iron moulder Donald Cameron (1871–1951) and his second wife, grocer Mary Howe McLean (1876–1948).

He began his career as an organist playing at Clydebank’s Pavilion Theatre, and after the Second World War he became a huge star in variety and pantomime shows appearing all over Scotland.

He became known as Sexy Lexy because of his risqué comedy patter and the content of his sketches.

Lex-McLean-footieBut away from the stage and back home at his villa at 2 Cumberland Avenue overlooking the Gareloch, he was a quiet and private man with a big heart and a love of sport — in particular his beloved Glasgow Rangers. He also loved walking his collie dog Glen.

His father worked at the huge Singer sewing machine factory, like most people in that part of the world at that time, and it seemed inevitable that young Alexander would leave school and go to work at Singers.

Instead he created his own unforgettable presentation on stage. Although following in the footsteps of Tommy Morgan, his protagonistic appearance was seen on stage when he wore wild jackets and told straight to the point Glasgow-orientated humour.

He also refused to admit that his jokes were deliberately dirty. Like beauty the meaning was in the eye of the beholder, and his act was passed by the Lord Chamberlain.

The Pavilion Theatre in Glasgow’s Renfield Street was almost his second home, and he once said: “The audience come along expecting a good show, and that is exactly what I give them.”

Minutes after the end of his Pavilion shows he would hurry away — uncharacteristically for show biz — to catch the last train from Queen Street Low Level home to Helensburgh Central where he had parked his car.

As soon as he could, he would be back at the burgh home he bought in 1959 with his wife Grace Isabella Dryburgh, a former dancer and dance troupe leader whom he met during a summer season at Burntisland, and she would have his supper ready for him.

Lex-McLean-3-wWhile he enjoyed sailing in the Gareloch and the Clyde on his yacht Dolphin 2 and playing tennis, football — in particular Rangers — was his great love, and he could be found at Ibrox at every home game.

One of his best-known rhymes was: “Puff, puff, puff, the train came down the line . . . Celtic 0, Rangers 9.” That sort of line was the way many remember Lex, as being the last of the knock-about comics.

At the peak of his popularity in the 1960s he appeared in the BBC Scotland comedy series Lex and Lex Again, and in 1970 he won the STV Theatre Award for the best light entertainment programme, The 70 Show.

In a tribute on the Scottish Music Hall and Variety Theatre Society website, Society chairman Derek Green writes that Lex was almost certainly the last of Scotland's great music hall comedians, and did much to nurture the talents of other Scottish performers.

From the late 1950s to the early 1970s he packed the Pavilion from May to October with record 24-week six-day seasons of twice nightly performances with a regular change of programme. Audiences could number 3,000. He also starred in Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen.

In 1961 Lex turned up to play in a charity football match in Clydebank, with fellow comic Larry Marshall kicking off. Lex brought a showbiz team to meet a team of lads from a local dairy, and his side won 3-2, but the real winner was the then Scottish Council for Spastics, now Capability Scotland.

Lex-McLean-2-wLex suffered a brain clot in 1970 and it was the start of the deterioration in his health. But he fought on, with constant and affectionate care from Grace, and he said he would never have survived without her courageous nursing.

He died at home from pneumonia and heart problems on March 23 1975. An old friend who was also a very amusing speaker and ardent Rangers fan, the Rev James Currie of Dunlop Church in Ayrshire, conducted the funeral service at Dalnottar Crematorium, Clydebank, three days later.

Soon after his widow began to suffer from ill health herself, and she passed away after suffering a stroke in 1980.

Derek Green writes: “In a new millenium, Lex is still fondly remembered by his colleagues from showbusiness and many of the audiences who visited the Pavilion each night to see his shows.

“It is sad that the Scottish Variety theatre is not as popular now as it was in the 50's, 60's and early 70's, although Lex's memory is still carried on with stage tributes to the great man himself.”

  • The top picture is a BBC press release photo of Lex with Walter Carr in an episode from his 1970 BBC Scotland sit-com 'Lex Again'; (left) Lex with Larry Marshall at the charity football match; (right) presenting a prize to Rosneath girl Belinda Anderson who won the Miss Pears title; and (left) Lex signs an autograph for a local Gala Queen.
Last Updated ( Saturday, 24 December 2011 18:17 )  

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LocalHistory-wAt the first Open Meeting of 2019 at Helensburgh Civic Centre on Wednesday January 30 at 7.30pm Trust directors will tell the stories relating to several local images from bygone years.

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