Jimmy Johnstone’s contribution to ‘Let it Blaw’ was enormous. Remembered as the man who rewrote the Club Constitution which had fallen by the wayside, Jimmy was one of few to propose the Immortal Memory without notes. His devotion to the memory of Burns, the proceedings of the Club, its traditions and its welfare were considerable ……………..
Honorary Member of ‘Let it Blaw’
Born 18th June 1941 at Carstairs Junction
Died 30th May 2017 in Balerno
While the above list of credentials looks impressive, it barely begins to sum up Jimmy’s contribution to ‘Let it Blaw.’ Add “The Twa Dogs” on at least 7 occasions, a part in “Willie Brew’d a Peck o’ Maut” on at least 4 occasions, an “Address to the Unco Guid“‘ a few times, countless other recitals, administrative tasks and it’s not surprising that Jimmy Johnstone rose to be the Club’s Honorary President.
Jimmy was born on born on 18th June 1941 at Carstairs Junction, the only child of John and Margaret Johnstone, the last of four (possibly more) generations of the family to have stayed in Kirkpatrick Fleming, Dumfriesshire. John was a plumber on the railway and Margaret an excellent baker, a skill she learned from her time in service.
After attending the local primary school which he left as Dux, Jimmy attended Lanark Grammar School where his sporting aspirations outweighed scholastic ambition. Two careers were considered; he was offered a post as an Apprentice Quantity Surveyor but had also applied to Edinburgh City Police to become a cadet. His reasoning and choice for the latter job was that he would have fewer examinations; he was later proved very wrong.
Jimmy was initially rejected by Edinburgh City Police who preferred local recruits due to the small wages being insufficient to pay for lodgings. However, his father wrote to the Chief Constable saying that as he had supported him for 18 years, another year wouldn’t make any difference. So, in July 1959, Jimmy left home and moved into lodgings in Rutland Square, Edinburgh while working as a Police Cadet. He always recalled some of the lunches made by his landlady, with particular hatred saved for her cold mince pieces! Perhaps this had something to do with the countless thousands of chocolate biscuits Jimmy stole from colleagues over his 35 year career; a weakness for which he became somewhat notorious.
One year later, Jimmy was appointed Police Constable working initially in the south side of the City. It wasn’t long before he was accepted for the Accelerated Promotion Scheme following which he was promoted to Sergeant.
Those who ever experienced life with Jimmy in the police will recognise this tale of “Johnstone Policing” at it’s best. It’s a tale about the time a fight broke out in the Woolpack Inn in Bristo Street on a Saturday night.
The Woolpack Inn c.1967
The local bobby arrived and managed to quieten things down; everyone was happy. Jimmy arrived and was the sole cause of the fight resuming worse than ever. Amid the uproar, he jumped the bar chasing someone and promptly fell down the hatch towards the cellar breaking his collar bone. It’s believed this was the origin of the nickname “Jumping Jim” which followed him through the ranks for many years.
In 1975 he was promoted Inspector and transferred to the West End Police Station at Haymarket which covered as far west as Juniper Green. Among other postings as he continued through the ranks, were Chief Inspector at Oxgangs, Superintendent at Headquarters and Chief Superintendent of the Personnel and Training Department before returning to the West End as Divisional Commander.
In 1963 he met his future wife Barbara, originally from Birmingham, who was also working with the Police as a clerical officer. They settled in Corstorphine where daughters Lynda and Joan were born. Later, in their family home in Currie, they were blessed with another daughter Donna, and in 1976 the family subsequently moved to Balerno. Sadly, Donna, was taken from them in 1994.
Jimmy was very proud of the achievements of Lynda and Joan and the friendship gained from their husbands John and Stuart. However, if anything gave him more pride, it was his grandchildren, Cara, Scott, Ellie and Niamh, each of them in their own way an apple of his eye.
Over the years, Jimmy had many hobbies including shooting, fishing, bowling, gardening and his long line of Labrador and Spaniels which were welcomed on many sporting estates. Other interests included making walking sticks where he paid a keen attention to detail, donating many to needy friends and as raffle prizes. He was also a strong supporter of the Ravelrig Riding for the Disabled group where his do-it-yourself skills were often in demand although some would say that in doing a job, he always created another one!
From schooldays, Jimmy maintained a strong interest in the works of Robert Burns. Jimmy joined ‘Let it Blaw’ in 1977 at a time when Eddie McCue had just taken over as President, Willie Shanks did all the administration, and Harry and Robin Rankin provided most of the entertainment as they’d done for over twenty years. In those days, Toast Lists looked very similar from year to year but, at the Club’s Centenary Supper in 1981, Jimmy was finally allowed to speak proposing the Toast to ‘Guests and Artistes.’ That was the start of 36 years’ active participation in Club affairs and appearances at Burns Suppers all over Scotland.
Jimmy ‘Addressing’ the Haggis at Ballathie House, Perthshire
Two years later in 1983, Jimmy proposed the first of his three Immortal Memories at ‘Let it Blaw’ and was, thereafter, one of the leading players in deciding what did and what didn’t happen in the Club; whether he was elected to do so or not. When serving on the Committee, Jimmy took notes of every word spoken, every job allocated, ready to criticise when things weren’t done properly and, even when not on the Committee, those charged with running the Club had to do things correctly and on time or risk being held to account by Jimmy counselling them in front of everyone at the AGM, over a pint or two in Brows, or literally anywhere else such poor souls had the misfortune to cross his path. In parliamentary terms, Jimmy became the “official opposition” taking the Government of the Club to task about anything that displeased him. Unfortunately, and to many cronies’ painful irritation he was, more often than not, quite right.
In 1985, Jimmy proposed the Toast to ‘Let it Blaw’ and that year also saw the first of countless renditions of “The Twa Dogs” with Alex Hood; Jimmy took the part of the Laird’s dog Caesar, while Alex (knowing his place), the Ploughman’s Collie Luath.
Jimmy became renowned for his recitations which included “The Address to the Unco Guid“, the “Address to a Haggis” and, of course, his favourite “Tam o’ Shanter.” All such performances, and they were “performances” not merely recitations, were word-perfect but, unfortunately, Jimmy could often be critical of anyone falling below his high standards. It is however important to remember that while constantly striving for something that in his eyes approached perfection, he would just as soon be part of the Supper banter throwing scathing and hilarious comments at anyone who looked a likely target. Jimmy (nor anyone else) didn’t think himself a singer, but he somehow frequently took part in Let it Blaw’s hilarious renditions of “Willie Brew’d a Peck o’ Maut” with Jack McCaig and, initially, Loppy Ramsay who, in his later years, was replaced by Alex Hood.
Jimmy is the head beneath the combined weight of Jack and Loppy who, on this occasion, was playing the part of the barman serving drams after each verse; there was only one rib broken!
In late 1988, Jimmy was appointed President of the “Lothian & Borders Police Pipe Band,“ something he eventually admitted over drink that he knew nothing about. However, like everything else, he threw himself into the world of Pipe Band music, became an expert at herding pipers and drummers in roughly the same direction (no mean feat), and took the Band on several overseas trips.
In 1989, Jimmy was elected Vice President of ‘Let it Blaw’ and served four years before taking over as Club President for the suppers of 1993 and 1994. Unfortunately, increasing police commitments caused him to step down from the Presidency a year before the end of his three-year term. By that time, he was President of the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents and, having had charge of policing at both Murrayfield and Tynecastle for years, became acknowledged as the national authority on the policing of sports grounds; a job which took him to all corners of the UK.
Jimmy was awarded the MBE for services to policing in 1993, and retired from the police service in October 1994. Many people have retiral events of one kind or another but for Jimmy, it wasn’t to be a small function room, or back room in some darkened bar, he hired Murrayfield Stadium. Admittedly, not all 69,000 seats were filled, but the largest function room at Murrayfield was bursting at the seams throughout a hilarious evening which began with Jimmy and Barbara being led by the Police Pipe Band from the gates of Murrayfield to the rear of the west stand.
On leaving the police, Jimmy went into private security being appointed head of security at Ross Breeders, Scottish & Newcastle Brewery, the John Martin Group, and Heart of Midlothian Football Club.
In 1996, Jimmy was appointed Club Bard, a position he held for five years. When Lionel Sparrow and he were invited on a shooting trip to Mexico over the period of ‘Let it Blaw’, rather than get someone else to read his “Bard’s Oration,” Jimmy instigated one of the best practical jokes ‘Let it Blaw’ ever witnessed.
Fred Murray, Lionel Sparrow, & Jimmy Johnstone
with what passes for a ghillie in Mexico
Jimmy recorded his Oration before leaving for Mexico with the intention that it be played on two large monitors located on the stage in the Kestrel Hotel. With the technical expertise of Club Member Ken Falconer in the background, Chairman Alex Hood jumped to his feet to make a sudden pre-planned interruption of Gordon Grant in the middle of his recitation of “Willie Wastle” due to “the Club’s live satellite link with Texas coming in“, the Company watched in utter amazement as the monitors burst into life.
The “live link” started with Ken’s brilliantly arranged static interference, then a countdown for the link going live, then the NBC Sports Channel giving basketball results before, “live” from Texas, we saw Jimmy bedecked in his shooting gear. He was stumbling with his words, twice asking the TV crew if he was “live” and if he should go ahead, before wishing the members of ‘Let it Blaw’ a Good Evening and apologising for the breaking signal. He thereafter launched into his Oration on the Satellite Link. On completion, Gordon Grant complained bitterly to the Chair over his recitation being interrupted at the whim of some modern contraption prior to picking up “Willie Wastle” at the precise point he left off.
Two, if not three years later, a certain Club Member was still heard wondering how a wee Club like ‘Let it Blaw’ could have financed such a thing on an annual subscription of £2. Jimmy, Gordon and Ken should have received Oscars for their performances that night.
In 1997, ‘Let it Blaw’ enjoyed a unique occasion when the Toast to the Immortal Memory of Burns was proposed by Jimmy together with long-time friend, former colleague and very popular local Councillor, Hugh Fraser MBE QPM. A duet the like of which none of us have seen elsewhere.
Jimmy took a few years away from ‘active’ participation in the Suppers but he was back in 2009 again proposing the Toast to the Club and later served another three year spell on the Committee.
In 2012, Jimmy joined an elite group of Club members when he proposed ‘the Immortal Memory of Robert Burns’ for the third time. His Toast told the story of soldiers leaving Leith by train during the first World War only to be involved in the Quintinshill Rail Disaster on the way south. It was a very personal story involving his family; the Text of Jimmy’s Toast can be read by visiting Quintinshill Rail Disaster.
In 2014, Jimmy was elected Honorary Vice President of ‘Let it Blaw’ and, on the death of his long time sparring partner Jack McCaig, elected the Club’s Honorary President in 2015.
Jimmy died on 30th May 2017 at his home in Horsburgh Gardens, Balerno. For many individuals in the many walks of life Jimmy trod, it was the end of an era. The number of mourners who filled the large chapel at Mortonhall Crematorium was testament to the affection and respect which he inspired, and of course the Club was well represented. Club President Iain McSporran was proud to have been asked by the family to sing “Ae Fond Kiss“, that most eloquent song of farewell, at the end of the service. Iain’s belief that Jimmy had always appreciated his rendition of the song was only slightly dented when Deputy Chief Constable Iain Livingston in his eulogy mentioned that Jimmy had been tone deaf! Returning to something mentioned earlier, Jimmy’s funeral concluded with his family distributing endless chocolate biscuits to departing mourners as payment of long-standing debts.
If Jimmy was in your company you knew it. He didn’t understand the concept of being in the background and thrived on leadership whether it be a major police operation or a ‘Let it Blaw’ committee meeting. He could be loud and demanding, yet just as easily thoughtful, friendly and humorous. He had an outrageously funny streak sadly seen less in latter years but, those who remember, will forever do so with a smile.
They threw away the mould after creating Jimmy Johnstone. Don’t waste your time looking for another; you’ll not find one.
“An each took aff his several way,
Resolved to meet some ither day.”
Our thanks to Lynda (Johnstone) Whittaker, Lionel Sparrow and Fred Murray for their assistance in telling Jimmy’s story.