Obituary: Janet MacCormick

Theatre landlady who provided a home from home for performers

Born: 21 July, 1913, in Linthouse, Glasgow.

Died: 3 July, 2010, in Greenock, aged 96.

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Janet MacCormick was one of Scotland's great theatre landladies and the last of a dynasty to welcome an eclectic array of performers into the family's boarding house.

From Flanagan and Allen to Make Mine Music star David Hughes, actor Clem Ashby and dancer Lionel Blair, the stars of opera, variety and drama all enjoyed the hospitality of 20 Buccleuch Street, Glasgow.

And when she brought the curtain down on her role as a landlady, she discovered a new career across the Atlantic, impressing US millionaires with her considerable talents as a cook.

Known as Jenny, she was born in Linthouse, Glasgow, the daughter of joiner John Potter, who worked helping to build the Queen Mary at John Brown's shipyard, and his wife Janet.

Her grandmother Mary Martin was the first in the family to run the Buccleuch Street boarding house where she often found herself washing Bud Flanagan's shirt after his nightly performance.

Then her mother helped with the business, known for its warm, congenial but no-nonsense approach to catering for the stars who trod the boards at Glasgow theatres including the Pavilion, King's, Empire, Alhambra and Theatre Royal.

Meanwhile, MacCormick, who was educated at Elder Park School, became a sales assistant at Dallas's department store in the city's Cowcaddens, before marrying Neil MacCormick, whom she met at Glasgow's Cambridge Street Church.

They set up home in Cambridge Street and had three children, Neil, Morag and the late Fiona.

During the 1930s she helped her mother out in the boarding house before taking over the running of it herself in 1947.

The reputation of the digs spread as more and more performers recommended it as a homely place to stay, knowing that when they returned from the theatre late in the evening MacCormick would have supper waiting for them.

And there was always the prospect of a sing-song round the piano in the dining room - although many chose to eat in the convivial atmosphere of the kitchen.

Guests included stars of the Five Past Eight show and the performers she became firm friends with included singer David Hughes and actress Betty Hare.

For a time during the 1950s MacCormick also worked for Scottish whisky magnate Herbert Ross, who lived at Cove on the Clyde, while still keeping the Buccleuch Street address.

When he died in 1960, once again she took in guests from the theatre world. But in 1964, after her husband's death, she left Scotland for America, where her son Neil was already living.

Even as a little girl MacCormick had always liked to escape to the kitchen. She learned the joy of cooking and baking from her mother and she used to say that life in the kitchen gave her the greatest pleasure. In the United States she made good use of her culinary talents, earning a reputation as an excellent cook and a consummate professional in the kitchen.

News of her good, honest fare spread by word of mouth and she found herself working for some of the wealthiest families in the New York area.

Among them were Laurance Rockefeller and a Goldman Sachs partner. Those who appreciated her food included astronaut Frank Borman, Commander of Apollo 8, the first mission to circle the moon.

He was a guest on one occasion, when she was working for the Goldman Sachs partner's family, and made a point of asking to meet the person responsible for his meal. The CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite did likewise.

Regardless of the fame of the stars of stage or commerce who traversed her life, she treated all - from her Cambridge Street neighbour to her New York millionaire employers - with the same grace and always had the greatest respect for others, no matter their status.

She continued to travel between Scotland and America until she was in her 60s when she settled in Gourock with her daughter, Morag. Although she had lost her eyesight latterly she still enjoyed being in the kitchen, kneading the dough for bread and soda scones, using the feel of the dough to tell when it was ready.

Another skill that did not dim with the years was her ability to tell a good yarn.

"One of her most outstanding talents, which was available to all within hearing distance, was her story telling," said her son Neil. "Not fiction, mind you, but tales from her rich life," he added.

"She had a hard drive of unlimited size in her head with immediate downloading capability on demand."

MacCormick was a natural when it came to attracting and holding audiences, her confidential mannerisms ensuring the listener missed nothing.

She took great pleasure in talking about her life and, just around a year ago, two of her grandsons spent three days recording a small fraction of the stream of memories from the remarkable woman who was one of their greatest family historians.

She is survived by her son Neil and daughter Morag, five grandchildren and 12 great-grand- children.