There were never any airs and graces about Buff Hardie, even as he was creating the mystical world of Auchterturra and enjoying decades of success with Scotland the What?
He and his colleagues, Steve Robertson and George Donald, may have become showbusiness luminaries and been showered with accolades including the rarely-bestowed Freedom of Aberdeen in 2008, but Mr Hardie, who died this week aged 89, never forgot his roots or his experiences of growing up at 90 Hilton Road in his home city.
The youngster and his family would take rides on the bus down to Union Street on Saturdays in the late 1930s, while there might have been a Sabbath outing to Hazlehead Park, but even as they caught the tram through the West End and passed the “wonderful granite houses along Queen’s Road”, they could only gaze and dream of living in these grand places.
As he later recalled: “My parents never did own a house or a car – in fact, they never owned very much at all, apart from the furniture and the clothes which they stood up in.
“Every three months, there would have to be the journey into Broad Street to the council offices to pay the rent, but that was offset, to some extent, by that other great regular money event: the paying out of the Co-operative dividend.
“This was a crucial element in the family budget: if ever you were going to get that new pair of shoes, it could only happen at divi time.
“But almost everyone was in a similar position. And there were plenty of things to enjoy.”
One of these was football and Mr Hardie was a lifelong devotee of Aberdeen FC and was attending matches at Pittodrie from an early age.
It was a passion which never diminished even as he moved into retirement from his work, both on stage with his STW? colleagues and as a dedicated champion of the National Health Service, which he joined after completing his National Service.
When he turned 80 in January 2011, the Dons made a special presentation to Mr Hardie and his son, John, recalled the pride which his dad derived from the gesture.
And Dave Cormack, the Aberdeen chairman told the Press and Journal of the enduring impact which the entertainer and football enthusiast had made on him and the club.
He said: “It was with great sadness that we learnt of Buff’s passing. He was a lifelong Dons fan and season ticket holder but, more importantly, he was a huge personality in our region both on and off HMT’s stage.
“His brand of Aberdonian humour will live on in our memories, in the Scotland the What? videos and the Dod and Bunty columns in the archives of Aberdeen Journals.
“The club’s #OurHome campaign, which aims to reignite civic pride in these troubled times, celebrates the unique characteristics of our region – from its amazing scenery to its history, heritage and language.
“Buff typifies much of what this campaign is all about. He was one of our region’s unique characters who played a big part in our culture through our own special humour and, of course, the Doric.
“He will be remembered by all the club with deep affection and genuine laughter.”
Mr Hardie was also a keen-as-mustard cricket aficionado who relished watching the great batsman Sir Don Bradman and his Australian ‘Invincibles’ visit Aberdeen in 1948.
It was an occasion on a scale which will never be repeated, with more than 18,000 fans turning up to watch the two-day contest as trams and buses hurtled across the city.
And, as he recalled: “We were piled into Mannofield and it probably wasn’t very safe, but we weren’t bothered about that. I was 17 and a lot of us were packed together like sardines, but we loved being able to see all these world-class players on a field in Aberdeen.
“When Bradman got his 100, we all cheered him as if he was Scottish. It was one of those occasions where you know you were watching something very special, something that would never happen again. And, of course, it was his last appearance on British soil.”
When the trio weren’t performing at HMT or touring Scotland and further afield, they were involved in charitable causes, or backing local business and encouraging academic pursuits.
Mr Hardie gave one of his most detailed and evocative interviews to the north-east oral historian David Northcroft, which was featured in the latter’s Aberdeen Lives book series.
He recalled this week: “Buff was – isn’t it terrible to have to use the past tense? – a great Aberdonian, an unrivalled observer of the north east character, always rendered in humour that was never anything but warmly affectionate, yet devastatingly incisive.
“He showed us ourselves in all our rich idiosyncrasies – the absurdities, the human frailties, all of the instantly recognisable oddities and daily absorptions but always in a humanely inclusive way. He never forgot that he was one of us too.
“Yet he carried this off with modest self-deprecation, as if his own triumphal standing among us was, for this product of a Hilton council house upbringing, a matter of surprised wonder. He was truly a local hero.”
As his reputation grew, Mr Hardie could have dined out with the great and good every night if he had chosen that path. But, befitting his working-class upbringing, he was somebody who kept his feet firmly on the ground even as his imagination soared into the stratosphere.
One example was provided by Stuart Devine, the owner of Aberdeen’s renowned Ashvale chipper.
He recalled: “Buff was a real favourite around the north-east and was obviously famed for his part in Scotland the What? who truly were the very best in Doric comedy.
“We ourselves used the guys for a series of TV commercials and ‘The Ashvale Fish Supper, ohh fit fine’ is still remembered to this day.
“Buff would be a regular in our takeaway queue on a Friday night and was always a complete gentleman to everyone he encountered and he will long be remembered by everybody.”
His love of Doric was unstinting and typically whole-hearted as he helped nurture the language wherever he and his colleagues ventured.
Little wonder his death has been the catalyst for rich tributes from others who have dedicated themselves to preserving and enhancing the Scottish tongue.
Frieda Morrison, director of Scots Radio and the catalyst for the Doric Film Festival, was regularly in Mr Hardie’s company and relished his passion and creativity.
She said: “Buff was an inspiration who brought a light and a smile to our north-east culture and shared it with a worldwide audience.
“I had the pleasure of performing with Buff and watched him work his magic with an audience without any script or notes, but with ease and almost understated effort and, within minutes, he had everybody in the audience holding their sides laughing.
“With his unique observations of the north east character, his comedic timing and empathy with the audience, we were privileged to enjoy his genius.”
Professor Greg Gordon, Head of the School of Law at the University of Aberdeen and part of the comedy group the Flying Pigs, which also started life through the Aberdeen student shows, says he owes much to the influence of Buff Hardie.
“Buff had a long involvement with Student Show, first appearing in 1951 and remaining involved writing, directing and producing them long after he had graduated right up to the time that he formed Scotland the What? with Steve Robertson, George Donald and director, James Logan.
“His interest in and support for student show and the Doric continued throughout his life and he was a very generous source of encouragement and constructive criticism.
“He was a permanent fixture at first nights and he, along with Steve and George, established the Scotland the What? award which is given annually to the member of the student show company who has gone above and beyond in contributing to the success of the show.
“Through his work with Scotland the What? he brought great joy to many in Aberdeen and was a source of civic pride as well as a reminder of the value of local culture at a time of great transformation, as the city became the oil capital of Europe.
“He championed the use of Doric and through his example inspired future generations to write and perform in their local tongue. He was a mentor and friend to many, myself included.
“I will miss him hugely.”
Buff will never be forgotten
Robbie Shepherd is one of the most weel-kent faces in Scotland: bandleader, broadcaster, musician, P&J columnist and stalwart Doric campaigner.
He paid fulsome tribute to Buff Hardie’s myriad qualities.
Mr Shepherd said: “He was such a talented lad, a real professional and such a down-to-earth easy-going character.
“I was privileged to often be in the company of the three men who made up Scotland the What? and I always admired their sheer professionalism when on stage.
“They seldom used props or costume, just a bonnet, a scarf or whatever would identify the character. The three dovetailed so well together and I never saw them fluff a line and the trio richly deserved being given the Freedom of the City of Aberdeen.
“Buff will never be forgotten by all those who knew him as a supreme entertainer and a genuinely nice fellow.”
George Boyne, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Aberdeen said: “The University was deeply saddened to learn of the death of Buff Hardie.
“As an alumnus of the university and honorary graduate, he had a connection with the institution dating back more than 70 years.
“Indeed, the Scotland the What? trio first met at an Aberdeen Student Show in the 1950s and continued to entertain us all for many decades.
“He will be remembered with great affection by our community and our thoughts are with his friends and family at this sad time.”