Obituaries: Solomon ‘Solly’ Mackintosh, showman

Solomon 'Solly' McIntosh, showman who owned the popular Fun City fairground in Portobello. Picture: Contributed
Solomon 'Solly' McIntosh, showman who owned the popular Fun City fairground in Portobello. Picture: Contributed
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SHOWMAN who owned the popular Fun City fairground in Portobello

Name: Solomon Mackintosh, showman and owner of the Fun City fairground in Portobello. Born: 19 February, 1924, in Caldercruix, Lanarkshire. Died: 3 May, 2015, in Edinburgh, aged 91.

SOLOMON Mackintosh, always known as Solly, was brought up travelling around Scotland with his showman father and tightrope-walking mother. He kept up the family tradition as a fairground prize stall and bingo operator and ended up owning the popular Fun City fairground by the beach in Portobello.

When Fun City was founded at the turn of the 20th century by his wife’s grandfather, part of the Italian-Scottish Codona family, it was the first fairground in Scotland – and the second in the UK – on a permanent site, closing only in winter.

By the time Mackintosh took over the fair in the early 1970s, it was already beginning to fade from its post-war heyday as Scots discovered cheap package holidays to faraway and warmer places such as Benidorm and Lloret de Mar. But children and their parents still enjoyed the famous red-and-white helter skelter, the roller coaster, Big Dipper, dodgems, waltzer, ghost train, merry-go-rounds and gaily-painted sideshows and stalls, many of which the artistic Mackintosh painted himself.

It was a time and place of innocence, as children wolfed down candy floss, candy apples or delicious ice cream from Arcari’s – believed to be the inventor of the “99” – to the sound of pipe organs belting out tunes such as Yes, We Have No Bananas and the lapping surf from the Firth of Forth.

That would usually be before or after they splashed around in the nearby open-air swimming baths, the Lido, where a certain Edinburgh lad called Sean Connery once worked as a lifeguard. Visitors poured in from as far away as Glasgow, as a change from going “doon the watter” to Rothesay or Dunoon on the paddle steamer Waverley.

Solly Mackintosh did his best to keep the fairground going in the shadow of the historic Portobello pottery kilns, but after his retirement in 1986, with the foreign package holidays even cheaper and the spread of TV and video games, Fun City gradually passed its sell-by date and ground to a close. For a time, some amusement arcades remained but they, too, eventually succumbed to home video games and were demolished. To Mackintosh’s chagrin, his beloved Fun City became derelict and littered with empty Tennent’s bottles or dog mess until it was cleaned up and replaced by blocks of flats.

Solomon Mackintosh was born on 19 February, 1924, in the village of Caldercruix, Lanarkshire, just outside Airdrie. His parents were Thomas Macintosh, a Glasgow-born travelling showman, and Irishwoman Eveline Macintosh (née Paulo), a tightrope walker in the itinerant Paulo’s Circus. Part of the Italian-Scottish Paulo family of Picture House owners, she was related to Scotland’s most famous showman and fairground family, the Codonas. As a result of this background, young Solly was educated in numerous schools around Scotland as well as in circuses and fairgrounds.

He travelled the country as a showman with his parents until he was 19, when he was called up during World War Two. He served with the Royal Corps of Signals, helping provide battlefield communications and information systems, until his officers noted his talent for singing and posted him to entertain the troops in India and Singapore. After the war, one of those officers, Captain Philip Dale, who became a well-known TV producer, offered to get Mackintosh an audition, but he turned it down to help run the family business.

In 1947, he married Cathie Butcher, a marriage that would last nearly 60 years until her death in 2007. Part of the Codona family, she, too, was brought up in fairgrounds, notably in Fun City itself.

From the late 1960s, Mackintosh had his own stalls in Fun City as well as a popular prize bingo hall on Portobello High Street. He also worked as a PE instructor before gaining joint-ownership of Fun City with a partner, Sammy Evans, in 1971. After a disagreement, they put the fairground up for auction at Dowell’s auction house in Edinburgh’s George Street in 1974, with all of Scotland’s carnival families bidding. Determined to keep it as a fairground, Mackintosh bought it back as sole owner for £63,000, a small fortune at the time.

He would retain it until his retirement in 1986, by which time fairgrounds and circuses, the latter partly due to animal rights activists, were very much passé.

Fun City had brought to Solly Mackintosh the pleasure it had given to so many children and adults, but it occasionally brought him grief. In 1983, a five-year-old Portobello girl, Caroline Hogg, wearing a princess dress for a birthday party, was seen in the fairground with a “scruffy-looking man” who had led her there by hand and put her on a merry-go-round. Ten days later, her body was found in Leicestershire. She had been the victim of serial killer Robert Black, a van driver from Grangemouth, who is serving a life sentence. Fun City stepped up its security and surveillance.

In 2007, Mackintosh dealt with the police in a less tragic case. By then an 83-year-old widower, he answered his front door to two “CID officers” saying they were doing a “crime survey.” Mackintosh had dealt with usually friendly police all of his life. He immediately noticed their shoes were not regulation black, but black-and-white. “They flashed a badge at me but I knew it wasn’t a real police one because officers carry warrant cards, not badges. I told them I didn’t need anything and they walked away. Anyway, I keep an old police truncheon under my pillow. So I’m prepared.”

It turned out the “cops” had been striking in and around Edinburgh for several days, stealing thousands in cash and valuables from elderly or vulnerable residents.

After selling Fun City, Mackintosh retired in 1986 and spent his time travelling, not as a showman but as a tourist with Cathie. He was a member of Duddingston Golf Club, in the shadow of Arthur’s Seat, for 40 years and played until he was 87.

He was an extremely talented man, turning his hand to anything, notably carpentry. He was also a talented artist, painting many fairground machines and backdrops during his career. His art work was mentioned in a book of showman’s art, and students from Edinburgh College of Art regularly arrived at Fun City to study and photograph his paintings. He kept up his singing throughout his life and became an accomplished drummer. All of that brought him the nickname “Super Sol”.

Fun City is long gone but Porty residents of a certain age cannot walk the promenade without hearing ghostly sounds of pipe organs, Wurlitzers, cracking coconuts and laughing children.

Solomon “Solly” Mackintosh died in Edinburgh’s Western General Hospital. His wife of almost 60 years, Cathie, predeceased him. He is survived by their daughter, Becca, her husband, David, and grandsons Cameron and Lewis.

PHIL DAVISON