William “Buff” Hardie, a pivotal member of the renowned Scotland the What? trio, has died at the age of 89.
As reported in the Press and Journal, the Aberdonian – who formed the trio with his friends Steve Robertson and George Donald – was taken into hospital on November 21, where he tested positive for Covid-19, was diagnosed with pneumonia, and died in the early hours of Monday morning.
He was the last surviving member of the comedy revue act who had no idea of the impact they would have when they travelled to the Edinburgh Festival in 1969 for what they imagined would be their farewell performance.
In his “real” job, Mr Hardie, who advanced from a childhood in Aberdeen to graduating from Cambridge University, was the secretary of the former Grampian Health Board.
His life was transformed when the Scotland the What? show earned glowing reviews from the critics, and every subsequent show was applauded to the rooftops when they performed at their spiritual home, His Majesty’s Theatre, in Aberdeen.
In an interview last month, Mr Hardie said the trio were as surprised as anybody else when they burst into the spotlight.
He said: “We performed at the Fringe in a small church hall with an hour-long show and our pitch was: ‘Three men, two chairs, one piano – and the promise that you won’t leave without laughing’. One of the first people who saw us was Neville Garden, who had just sat through four hours of Wagner at the Usher Hall and was ready to laugh at anything –which he did.
“The next day, his crit in the paper declared he had just seen ‘the funniest show in the festival’ and we never looked back.”
Thereafter, the group devised a new series of sketches and musical numbers every two years, which they unveiled to packed audiences at HMT, before touring Scotland and other parts of the world.
Although their last hurrah was in November 1995, they later received the Freedom of Aberdeen from the city council.
The conferral took place in April 2008 at HMT and since then, only Scotland football star Denis Law has had similar recognition.
Mr Hardie recalled last month how he had been interested in showbusiness from an early age, but had been advised against making a career of it by his father.
Yet he persevered and relished his stage career even as different honours were bestowed on STW?.
As he said: “We had no idea we would become so popular, it was remarkable. We were given the Freedom of Aberdeen, we were made MBEs and we received an honorary degree from Aberdeen University.
“I think of it as being honoured by Town, Gown and Crown”.
Mr Hardie is survived by his wife Margaret, son John, daughter Katharine and five grandchildren.