All the world really is a stage for Scotland’s most theatrical clan
3 generations worked for 40 years at Gaiety venue
FOR stagehands working behind the scenes, the aim is usually to stay out of the spotlight.
But a group of backstage workers at a Scots theatre share a history so remarkable that their story begs to be told.
Three generations of one family were stalwarts behind the footlights at the Gaiety Theatre in Ayr for more than 40 years, and now their tale is to take centre-stage in a travelling exhibition.
Youngs of all ages brushed shoulders with the likes of Andy Stewart, Chic Murray and Kenneth McKellar.
The saga began when Andrew ‘Deb’ Young took up the role of stage manager in 1913, a role he held until 1955. Mr Young met his wife, Millie, at the theatre when she arrived as a dresser for a travelling show.
The couple had daughter Lizzie, who followed in her mother’s footsteps to become a wardrobe dresser before meeting and marrying Jimmy Thompson, a joiner and stagehand at the theatre.
They had five children who grew up treading the boards, babysitting for the stars and taking bit parts in pantos.
Among them are Barbara Mackie, 80, and sister Morag Fleming, 74, whose memories are to be told in heritage project the Memory Suitcase, which will travel around Ayrshire.
Mrs Mackie, who lives near Kilmarnock and retired from working in the theatre in 1966, said: ‘It was a magical way to grow up. Every time a volunteer from the audience was needed, we had to get on stage.
‘I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had my mind read or played a footman in panto.’
In the evenings their family home would be filled with the stars of the day, from Johnny Beattie to Jack Milroy and Val Doonican. The sisters danced with members of the cast after the curtain had gone down.
Mrs Mackie said: ‘I danced with them all – with Johnny Beattie and the three members of The Bachelors, an Irish singing trio.
‘They were all very respectful of us girls, although Andy Stewart was a bit of a chancer, and so was Sydney Devine. I used to knit socks for the Alexander Brothers, and babysit for Kenneth McKellar’s children and for Chic Murray’s children. We used to fall about laughing when Chic came to dinner.
‘I had my first date with my husband, Bill, at the Gaiety in 1959, and when we got married all the stars of the theatre were present.’ The Memory Suitcase project now aims to share such recollections of the popular theatre, which helped to launch the careers of household names such as Rikki Fulton.
Project manager Mirella Arcidiacono said: ‘It is an iconic venue for many performers and retains considerable affection in Scotland’s theatre industry.’
‘It was a magical way to grow up’
Curtain call: Barbara Mackie in the Ayr theatre
Limelight: The Gaiety, below, helped to launch the career of Rikki Fulton