Obituary: Anne Fields, singer, comedy feed and show director

Anne Fields, variety theatre singer and last of Scotlands female comedy feeds. Picture: Contributed

Anne Fields, variety theatre singer and last of Scotlands female comedy feeds. Picture: Contributed

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Born: 26 October 1932 in Dalmarnock, Glasgow. Died: 30 July 2016, in Crosshouse Hospital, Ayrshire, aged 83.

Anne Fields was Scotland’s glamorous variety theatre singer and the country’s last surviving female comedy feed, who in a long and varied career covering 65 years, appeared in summer seasons, reviews, variety shows and pantomimes and was feed to numerous Scottish comedians including Johnny Beattie, Jack Milroy and Edinburgh’s Hector Nichol. She later produced and directed shows and was passionate about saving Ayr’s Gaiety Theatre from closure.

Anne was born Jean MacKenzie Logan in the Glasgow district of Dalmarnock, the oldest of Elizabeth and Frank Logan’s three children. It was her father who sparked her interest in singing. Frank was one half of the double act Clifford and Clinton who performed a song and dance routine in community halls and park bandstands around Central Scotland. On sensing young Jean’s interest in show business, he showed her what he called stage techniques which included the art of addressing an audience. Aged six, she made her first public performance singing at the school concert at Damarnock’s Springfield Road Primary School.

Six years later, in 1945, during the family’s annual holiday to Rothesay on the Isle of Bute she played one of the babes in the Winter Gardens summer panto Babes in the Woods having successfully applied to an advertisement for children to appear in the production. Also in the cast was another young hopeful – a teenager named Jimmy Logan who later went on to international fame. These early appearances gave her the necessary experience to handle the first of many professional engagements.

That took place in 1948 when she appeared at Barrfield’s Pavilion in Largs. Arriving at the venue for the summer season, she saw her new stage name on the bill. Until then, she’d appeared in amateur shows under her family name, but to prevent any mix-up with the Logan family of Ma and Pa Logan and their family members, she was no longer Jean Logan. She was now Anne Fields, having taken the surname of her agent Billy Fields and the first name from Anne Mair Hairdressers’ salon adjacent to Billy’s premises.

It was a hectic introduction to show business. To cater for holidaymakers, the show had two changes of programme each week, which meant 32 changes in the 16 weeks season. Mornings and afternoons were spent rehearsing new songs and learning lines for the numerous sketches for the forthcoming change of programme, with evenings taken up in two performances of the current production. During the run of the show, she experienced her first laugh. It happened when she had to slap the comedian Tommy Lester in a cross-over sketch. Tommy had expected a slap from her right hand but as he approached her, Anne hit with her left hand causing Tommy to land dazed on the floor.

When the season ended, she’d gained wide experience, a repertoire of songs and an extensive wardrobe of stage clothes. However she owed the sum of £174 to her father who’d paid for all the dresses and the band parts required for the songs but, following the Largs show, a three month winter season at Edinburgh’s Palladium theatre enabled her to pay back the debt.

This was at the time when variety theatres had long seasons and from Edinburgh she went on to join comedian Aly Wilson for a spring season at Glasgow’s Empress Theatre. Then in 1950, Anne appeared in the first of many seasons at the Tivoli in Aberdeen. She particularly enjoyed the excitement of performing in sketches and comedy routines with a new fresh-faced front cloth comedian in the cast – Jack Milroy. Jack kept her on her toes by deviating at will from the script in order to gain a laugh; experience which stood her in good stead when she went on to work with Tommy Morgan at Glasgow’s Pavilion. He too, would ad-lib in the middle of sketches but by this time Anne had learned to take such deviations in her stride. In the Pavilion’s programme, she was billed as Anne Fields – Soubrette, performing what she called “sweet songs”, many of them made famous by Master Joe Petersen but she was versatile; she could seamlessly move from an elegant singer to sending herself up in a comedy role.

She went on to work with a wide variety of Scottish comics including Denny Willis, Glen Daly, Tommy Lester, Walter Carr, Johnny Beattie, Pete Martin, Lou Grant, Billy Rusk and Hector Nichol adapting her timing to suit their individual techniques and styles. Two years working with Hector Nichol at Glasgow’s Ashfield Club, where the audience enjoyed and expected risqué humour and double entendres, was a world away from the gentle lines she’d feed to Walter Carr in front of family audiences in the theatre with which she had the longest association – the Ayr Gaiety.

Her initial appearance there was in Robert Wilson’s show, The White Heather Group in 1957. And in 1961, she performed in the first of the theatre’s summer shows known as the Gaiety Whirl. Johnny Beattie was in the cast in the same year and that led to Anne’s long association acting as feed to the comedian, particularly at the Gaiety, the theatre which she reckoned she’d played more than any other.

Anne was married to Ron Robson, a former member of the harmony group The Jones Boys. Ron left the singing quartet to become co-presenter with Bill Tennent on STV’s nightly current affairs show Here and Now. When Ron died prematurely, she moved from their home in the Queens’ Park area of Glasgow to Galston where her sister Sally Logan and husband Joe Gordon lived. The new location allowed easier access to the Ayrshire theatres and clubs where she regularly appeared.

In 1987, having been performed on stage for nearly 40 years, she became a director and directed her first show at Kilmarnock’s Palace theatre – a pantomime. Thereafter, a pattern evolved; she’d appear on stage in the summer months and in the festive season, she’d direct pantomimes, mostly at the Palace working with Jimmy Nairn, Jackie Farrell and Denny Willis. Denny had essentially retired from the theatre but “came back” to appear in these productions.

Anne continued in that pattern, additionally appearing every year in the Scottish Variety Shows staged mainly in Rothesay, Glasgow and Ayr, and when the Gaiety closed its doors she was amongst those who fought against the closure. Without the Gaiety, the variety shows were performed at the town’s Citadel with Anne appearing in production numbers and acting as comedy feed to Johnny Beattie.

She often remarked that she wouldn’t have lasted in the business for so long had she not added to her role of songstress by being a comedy feed and directing shows.

Anne loved what she did and latterly toured venues giving talks on her life in show business.

Her health began to fail towards the end of 2014 but she continued to retain her interest in show business. In mid-July she was admitted to Crosshouse Hospital where she died two weeks later. She is survived by her sister Sally.

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