Scotland

Johnny Beattie: 60 years In The Limelight

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Media captionEntertainer Johnny Beattie marks his 60th year in showbusiness and is the subject of a new television documentary

Johnny Beattie bounds to the front door of his Glasgow tenement with the energy of a teenager.

At 86, he's got far more enthusiasm than actors half his age.

He barely even sits down - dashing downstairs to ask the builders to keep the noise down during our interview, then nipping through to call the newsagents to hold a copy of the paper which contains a profile of his actress daughter Maureen.

Variety theatre is what Beattie is best-known for.

Image caption Johnny Beattie, now 86, pictured in the early 1960s

Like many before him, and after, he honed his entertainment skills while holding down a job in the shipyards.

"They were tough places. None of the health and safety you'd get today," he recalls.

"They were dangerous and that was an escape route."

Beattie escaped in the 1950s, touring with a theatre company in a bit part, and before long, writing and starring in the show.

Variety theatre inspired him - performers such as Lex McLean, whom he later portrayed on stage - but it quickly became his career.

Image caption A young Johnny Beattie photographed backstage in his dressing room in a 1950s variety theatre show.

His long career also goes from pantomime to drama, quiz shows such as Now You See It, and family entertainment like Welcome to The Ceilidh.

Even a rap record.

"I was Scotland's first rap star," he says with a grin.

"I was sitting there in the other room, writing a pantomime for the Ayr Gaiety when the Scottish Top 30 came on. 'At number 27, it's Rod Stewart, at number 26, it's Elton John and in at number 15 it's Johnny Beattie with The Glasgow Rap'. I nearly fell off my chair I laughed so much."

He continues to champion variety theatre.

He's Honorary President of the Scottish Music Hall Society and fought hard to save both the Winter Gardens in Rothesay and the Gaiety in Ayr.

The latter reopens on Friday after a massive refurbishment programme. He's pleased about that, but quietly modest about his role. It's the second campaign he's fought to save the place from closure.

Image caption Actress Maureen Beattie with her father

And of course Beattie is still acting. He's played the part of loveable pensioner Malcolm in the BBC TV show River City since it began 10 years ago.

His own background often fuels his character and his living room looks a lot like the one Malcolm has in the show.

And while many may argue variety has fallen out of fashion, Johnny Beattie has kept it alive, not least by inspiring a new generation of variety performers - many of whom performed at his sell-out diamond jubilee concert in Glasgow in May.

Beattie is typically deadpan.

"You mean I'm the only one left that isn't deid?"

Does he ever consider taking a back seat?

"Not at all. As long as I can still turn up, learn my lines and be of use, I'll keep on doing it. What other job is like it? And you get paid to do what you love."

Watch 'Johnny Beattie: In The Limelight' on BBC One Scotland on Wednesday 12 December at 20:00 GMT.

The programme will be available on the BBC iPlayer for seven days following transmission.