Edinburgh Life Stories, part four: From cueing Hercules the bear on stage to Portobello during the Glasgow Trade holiday

FROM brewing tea on the beach to helping Hercules the bear on stage at the Playhouse and dealing with a particularly well-endowed female dancer, some of the recollections featured in the Living Memory Association’s Life Story podcasts are unexpected to say the least.
Portobello's famous open-air pool, EdinburghPortobello's famous open-air pool, Edinburgh
Portobello's famous open-air pool, Edinburgh

James Yorkston was born in 1934 and was brought up in Portobello’s Mitchell Buildings. Long gone now, they sat on the site currently occupied by Aldi.

In the podcast Growing up in Portobello in the 1940s and ’50s, he related tales of Portobello’s famous outdoor pool, Glasgow Fair fortnight, beach ponies and delivering milk with Teddy the Clydesdale. In later life James would spend 12 years at sea, but his love of water, including diving from the top diving board of Portobello’s much-missed open-air swimming pool was always there.

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“The High Dive, 36ft... that’s no high. I loved diving. I loved swimming. See in the summer, that was the best pool in Britain. It had the waves as well. Every hour the waves would come on and you had a raft at the middle of the pool you could swim out to through them. I remember it as a bairn, in the summer you would see them queuing to get in and then you only got an hour before you had to get out.”

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Every July, Glasgow Fair fortnight would bring an influx from the West to Portobello, which would see James and his family decamp as their flat was let out for the duration. “We’d go and live with granny for the Glasgow Fair fortnight - we had the Roberts family who came through every year and stayed in our flat.”

With so many visitors, it’s perhaps not surprising to discover that with only two hotels, not everyone could find lodgings.

“There was The Royal at the top of Bath Street and The Central, along nearer Joppa, but there wasn’t many hotels, or as they called them lodging houses. There were plenty places they could camp, one we called The Coup, at the back of our buildings, and there was a bit up at the Seafield Road, they could camp there too. People came all year round because the beach was so long. In the good weather, it was never empty. We used to go down in the evening when they had all gone and you’d be surprised what you found, rings, money, watches, the lot.”

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He adds, “Portobello didn’t want for anything, it had everything going for it and 13 pubs; the King’s Cross was the last pub in Portobello, you had the Battery Bar at the bottom, the next pub was The Forresters and The Plough was the other side of the road, then you had The Bluebell and there was one across the road from that too, on the corner. Then you could walk along to the Brighton Bar and then there was another along from there as well.”

He might have been too young to visit the pubs at the time, but that didn’t mean James was too young to work.

“I had my own wee milk run with Dumfriesshire Dairies when from when I was 11 or 12. I’d be up six to get loaded up when the lorries came in with the milk, and then out by half past six. There was four of us on the wagon what fun we used to have. We’d take Teddy back to the stables usually at the back of eight because school started at nine o’clock.”

Around the time James was doing his milk round, in Tollcross, Jean Bell, who was born in 1933 and brought up in Dumbiedykes, worked as a ‘call boy’ at the King’s Theatre. In Back Stage at the Playhouse and Kings Theatres, 1950s & 1980, she gives a unique insight into the backstage world of two of the Capital’s best loved theatres. “At the King’s I worked as a dresser to Hope Jackman, Stanley Baxter and Harry Gordon, who was in the main dressing room because it was his show - The Five Past Eight show.”

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Three decades later, Jean was still working in theatre, this time as a dressed on the Lena Zavaroni Christmas Party at the Playhouse.

“In 1980 The Lena Zavaroni Christmas Party was Allan Stewart, Bob Carolgees with Spit the dog and Hercules the Bear with Andy Robbins the wrestler. One of the jobs I had was to help them bring Hercules up the stairs on cue for Lena saying, ‘Here’s Hercules...’ but we were usually still trying to get him up stairs. He was a beautiful beast.

She continues, "There were a lot of beautiful slim dancers and they had a quick change at the side of the stage... they went from dresses, which just dropped off, to hot-pants that had wee bib things as one of the dancers was rather well-endowed she had to have a bra on underneath. So I’d be standing with this bra. First night she came off stage, her arms shot through the bra and knocked the lens out of my glasses. The next night the same thing happened. The third night she didn’t and said, ‘Oh, I’ve not knocked your glasses of tonight.’

“I said, ‘I didn’t have my glasses on’.”

Listen to the full Life Story Podcast free online: James Yorkston - Growing up in Portobello in the 1940s and 50s https://lifestory.libsyn.com/growing-up-in-portobello-in-the-1940s-and-50s and Jean Bell - Back stage at the Playhouse and Kings Theatres, 1950s and 1980 https://lifestory.libsyn.com/back-stage-at-the-playhouse-and-kings-theatres-1950s-1980

NEXT: Growing up in the Grassmarket of the 1920s and 1930s

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