John Gibson: Return of a horizontal heavyweight

Alex “Happy” Howden, an old mate and he’d go flat out to tell me a story. Literally.

I nicknamed him the horizontal heavyweight when he boxed for the Leith Victoria amateur club, pictured below. He revelled in it.

“I was never knocked out but I don’t mind confessing now that I all but succumbed to canvas burns on my back,” he quips. This spilling from a man who quit his job as an Edinburgh council bus driver “because people were talking behind my back.”

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Happy, you have probably sussed, used to make a really comfortable living as a comic on the club circuit when they were playing to capacity audiences. Before television put them on the dole.

We’d not been in touch for ages and I’ve been renewing our acquaintanceship because Gangs of New York has been back on TV.

Happy had a minor role but large enough for him, at his Silverknowes home with wife Freda, to rate it the career highlight.

“It was, after all, directed by Oscar-winning Martin Scorsese and starred Leonardo DiCaprio” and Happy, 74 this month, added: “We filmed it in Rome where I found Mr Scorsese and DiCaprio, who was build like a store horse, most approachable. No cut about them at all.”

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Happy has been obliged to forsake his hobby, golf. He lives across the road from the Silverknowes course.

“I’ve hardened arteries. The legs have gone,” he explained.

Still gagging after all these years, he has strength enough to raise a laugh. The funster in him persists. “I can no longer swing a club but hopefully I can raise a giggle.”