KING of Clubs. We’re not talking golf, although he was a fair player when he was up for it.
Alex “Happy” Howden reigned near to supreme on the club circuit, writes John Gibson.
Few clubs have survived from the golden years and they spanned close on half a century, many with “variety” bills in miners’ and dockers’ social clubs that played to capacity, hundreds at each performance.
Happy had his following in the north of England but central Scotland was his favourite beat, particularly in his native Edinburgh and the Lothians.
His 50 or so years saw him pocket a pretty fair night’s pay for a good night’s work.
His trouble, or his popularity, with promoters and audiences was that he “didn’t know when to get off the stage”.
He had this life-long love affair with the microphone.
Happy Howden, who recently celebrated his birthday, was born 72 years ago in Leith.
A miner in the pit at Loanhead when he was 15, he was still “roughing” it when he was sailing out of Leith with Salvesens to the South Atlantic. He had five years as a bus driver with Edinburgh Corporation.
“I quit the buses because everybody was talking behind my back,” he recurringly relates.
He can’t help himself, the gags keep coming after all these years. I’ve heard them before, printed them before. “When I was boxing – I boxed as an amateur for 15 years – they nicknamed me the Horizontal Heavyweight and they’d call me Sweet Chariot because I was always swinging low.”
Given a free rein, the man is unstoppable.
“I named my dog Blacksmith because every time I skelped him he made a bolt for the door” and “As a teenager I asked my mum ‘Ma, I’m 16 now, can I wear a bra?’ ‘Definitely not, James,’ she said.”
Happy has been married 54 years to Freda.
They’ve had three children. Two are actors, having worked at the Lyceum and Citizens.
Their dad’s exploits as an actor saw him play the hangman for Martin Scorsese in Gangs of New York and in some of Irvine Welsh’s work.
Happy and glorious with it, Happy will be hospitalised soon.
“It’s the legs. Hardening of the arteries. It’s the golf I’m missing. I simply don’t play now, but I don’t have to count the strides to the first tee at Silverknowes from my home – all 174.”