George Duffus (1944 – 2002)
1200 people from all walks of life, including many stars from Scottish entertainment, attended the funeral service of George in St Andrews Parish Church, Dundee. His wife, Ann (Baird), and their two daughters Lynne and Lesley requested that the service ‘catch the tone’ of George’s irreverence for the ‘serious’ or unreal – and the service became a celebration of George’s humour, his refreshing candour, his abundance of talents and his contributions to the lives of so many of us.
George was born in Dundee, on 1st June, 1944 and began life in the Hawkhill area.
‘My father was given injections for malaria and other exotic diseases and then posted to Mid Craigie Barracks!”
‘He slept at home every night of the War – and as a result there’s now myself, my brother and my sister!’
After a spell in Blairgowrie, George’s family moved to Greenock where George was a contemporary of singer Peter Morrison. They both attended Scottish Schoolboys Association camps together and developed an appetite for performing by providing the evening entertainment put on by each tent at the camps.
When he was 15, George returned to Dundee and became a pupil at Morgan Academy. Those of you who knew him may remember his idiosyncrasies – duffle coat, pink-rimmed glasses, Lambretta scooter – but you will remember his quick humour, beautiful voice, athletic talent and rugby skills. If you were a rugby player you will remember (hopefully, the sounds – but not the sights) of his renditions, in the showers and at the back of the bus, of every rugby song ever composed.
George was a superb, talented athlete who was capped twice for Scotland; was the Scottish Schools Triple Jump Champion; beat the High Jump champion; was Dundee Schools champion at Triple Jump, High Jump and 800 yards and regularly brought home many trophies from Highland Games everywhere.
George met Ann in the French Class in Morgan – but many say Miss Darroch orchestrated more than music! George and Ann were both involved in singing with George winning the Leng Medal and both participating in ‘Trial by Jury’, music festivals and singing groups.
A memorable moment was George playing King Lear in ‘Excerpts from King Lear’, produced by H.A.Taylor, supported by a number of other teachers. The production was entered for the Festival and won its class, and one teacher was overheard to say ‘we will need to begin all over again and it will be some time before we have such talent.’
George left school in 1963 having given a great deal to the life of the school in sport, music, acting and humour. He said himself:
‘I left with a few O Levels – and even fewer
Highers – because I was obsessed with sport
and entertainment. I was far too busy to get
on with doing my homework.’
George, about the time he left school, had begun singing in the ‘Underworld Café’ in the Perth Road. He made £1 per night to begin with and then he started a folk club there and ‘made a turn’ on the bookings.
He also starred in show after show, year after year in the Downfield Musical Society.
George was a winner and in 1968 he entered the Golden Ladder Talent Competition and, realising that the competition was full of singers, he differentiated himself from them by adding comedy – he won the competition! A smart move for someone as naturally funny and quick-witted as George. He then started taking engagements as a comedian, singer and after-dinner speaker.
In 1967, to the amazement of those of us who had shared the highs and lows in the long courtship, George and Ann made it to the altar. Ann has always been George’s greatest audience, but could also be his best critic and the creative tension and passion between the two talents remained throughout their marriage. Ann, a primary school teacher, supported George throughout all his activities, even although it meant him being away in the evenings, and when Ann felt she would like to pursue a job with Grampian TV and then later as a music teacher, George fully supported her decisions and together they worked for each other. Lynne, their eldest daughter was born in1973 and Lesley in 1978. In later years George was always keen to talk about his family. It was obvious he felt very privileged to have family and he guarded their well-being and took great pride in their development and their individuality.
There is no doubting that George was extremely intelligent and able and he quickly became the youngest ever Insurance Inspector in Scotland at 21. George became a Fellow of the Chartered Insurance Institute and went into business with a friend, Gavin Cargill (from Waid Academy) whom George had met whilst competing in athletics for Scotland. They formed a successful company called Waid Morgan in 1973 and George remained in this business until 1983 when he left to pursue a full-time career in his real passion – entertainment.
George always said ‘yes’ to requests from friends and in 1977 George was asked to perform to the prisoners in Peterhead. He accepted the challenge and brought some other performers with him. They performed to 300 prisoners and the evening was a complete success.
George’s talent shone through and he landed a job with Radio Tay in 1980. The next year Grampian TV gave him a six-week show.
In1984 George and Ann bought the Pickletillum Inn in Fife and built up this hostelry into a good going business before selling it on – to concentrate on the new opportunities that were coming his way in entertainment.
This was a busy year – he also went to America with Moira Anderson, to the Scottish Heritage Festival and performed before an audience of 4000.
From 1984, George starred in over 200 TV appearances including having his ‘own show’ on Grampian TV – ‘Its George’. His other appearances included:
Shammy Dab – with Andy Cameron
The Big Break
Random Choice – Quiz Show
Funny you should say that
Its George – Channel 4
Children in Need – presenter
Telethon – presenter
He also starred in 20 pantomimes throughout the major venues in Scotland.
At the peak of his outstanding career George created many unforgettable characters – the Dundee Wifie! Dundee Clippie! Schoolboy! Wuman Polis! His genius was to have these characters say and do the most outrageous things and yet those watching and listening would say:
‘Mey, that’s affey – but ye ken – its true!!’
George had the gift to help us all – ‘see oorsels as ithers see us’!
George spoke, starred and sung in every type of circumstance from the House of Lords to friends’ special occasions – if he could, he would!
George also had an outstanding talent for accents and his mimicry was unrivalled in Scotland. Buff Hardy of ‘Scotland the What’ said, ‘George was the master at reciting ‘The Rumour’ – his range of accents was exceptional.’
At his funeral, some of Scotland’s best known comedians said, ‘George was one of those rare comedians – a genuinely funny man!’
He was – but he was much more! George was a loving husband, proud father, talented athlete, businessman, singer and actor, consummate mimic, and a good and generous friend who gave himself and his services willingly. He played the fool – but behind the mask was a perceptive, challenging wit who gave us all so much and leaves us so much the poorer for his passing.
George took ill in January 2002 and was diagnosed as having cancer of the oesophagus and after a very brief illness died in Ninewells Hospital , Dundee on 7th February, 2002.