By Anne Pitcher
4th June 1933 – 7th November 2023
Jack Martin was an extraordinary storyteller who sadly died at the end of 2023. He will be sadly missed by all in the storytelling community, not only in Scotland but world-wide. Jack lived in Edinburgh his whole life. He became a storyteller after a lifetime as an entertainer and puppeteer, doing pantomime for 16 years and stand-up comedy on stage and in bars. For thirty-five years he worked full-time as a joinery instructor in a Rehab Team, providing support to psychiatric patients in the Royal Edinburgh Hospital. All Jack’s stories came from his imagination, often humorous and set in his own hometown.
Several storytellers shared their memories of Jack
Bea Ferguson: “I met Jack many years ago, when he was brought along to the Guid Crack Club by the wonderful John Fee -they don’t make them like those two anymore!
At first, Jack was reluctant to tell a story; “I am an entertainer, not a storyteller” he told me. Can you be one without the other? But he certainly entertained us all. His stories were all his own, full of humour, pathos and incredible imagination and he always left us sore with laughter and begging for more.
I asked him to tell a story at my 70th birthday party in the Bruntsfield Hotel. He wrote a story especially and I only wish I had asked him to write it down for me. Many of my friends were from other strands of my life and it was their first introduction to storytelling – he did us proud!
We worked together for several years in the Life Stories Group, where we went into Care Homes to tell stories. It is sadly no more, but Jack and I carried on individually and together we worked with the newly formed Dementia Group at the Festival Theatre.
Jackie Carothers: I knew Jack for over twenty years, as we were both members of the Edinburgh based Life Stories Group, storytelling at day centres, care homes and church groups. As a novice storyteller I was struck by Jack’s skill in building an immediate rapport with his audience and by the sheer marvel of his storytelling. He used his imagination to turn an ordinary or at least familiar event — a game of golf, participating in the Commonwealth Games, a visit to Jenner’s department store, a trip to Mars — into a hilariously improbable tale suitable for people of all ages. Comedy was in Jack’s bones.
Jack was always a star performer at the Guid Crack Club and Cafe Voices. He was the instigator of the “Tall Tales” Oscars and won the prize at least four times. Whenever he took the floor, the audience brightened in happy anticipation of the laughter to come and were never disappointed! He was a real ‘people person’.
Jack was very supportive to apprentice storytellers, including myself. He kindly appraised several of my storytelling sessions for older people, giving references for my application to the TRACS Directory of Storytellers. Jack remained my mentor, always willing to listen to me going over stories, helping me pronounce Scottish dialogue, always interested in my progress.
In 2015, I and several other storytellers got together to practise our stories before public performance, which soon became the “Burgh Blatherers” storytelling group, meeting monthly, putting on storytelling events at the Scottish Storytelling Centre. Some members of the group, like Bob Mitchell, have gone on have their own shows. Jack was an honorary member and always attended Burgh Blatherers’ public events. We were delighted when he contributed a story to BB’s first book of stories “From the Burgh and Beyond”.
Bob Mitchell, Chair of ‘Burgh Blatherers’:
“As a very new apprentice, I quickly realised that Jack Martin was something special, not only because of his wonderful, unique stories but also because of the respect in which he was so obviously regarded by so many. When the time came to apply for the register of storytellers, I was asked to provide a few short expressions of support from experienced tellers to augment those given by my two mentors. Such was the awe in which I held Jack, and bearing in mind the fact that I didn’t think he could know me all that well, I hesitated to ask him, but I did anyway. Jack’s thoughtful response was so generous and freely given that I was quite overwhelmed. And eternally grateful.
Living as I have done, in Haddington for the past fifty years, family excursions to Brunton Theatre pantomime in Musselburgh, was an annual, much anticipated highlight throughout my three children’s childhood (and beyond). Imagine my surprise when I realised many years later that the funny man who amused us in various guises for upwards of a decade, was none other than Jack Martin! Happy days and a true legend!”
Michael Kerins, ‘Better Crack Club’ Glasgow:
I first met Jack Martin at the same time as I met the late John Fee at Guid Crack in the Waverly pub in Edinburgh. Sometime around the turn of the century.
I didn’t realise then how much of an influence he would have in my life both inside and outside of storytelling.
Jack was a man of very generous nature, he and Mary were often guests at my special storytelling house parties, known as Best Seat In the House. Jack came and met my family and he showed my son Dominic how to engage with puppets. Jack was an expert in Punch and Judy.
Dominic still has the puppets that he and Jack made together.
Soon Jack and I became correspondents and we would write to each other. I still have letters from Jack that I don’t really want to show to anybody else but they were just so special. Jack and his late wife Mary came as guests to Glasgow as headliners at Better Crack. On one occasion he gave his £100 fee in cash to me and whispered,
“put this into S.L.A.T.E Charity and your projects for the Russian orphans.”
The Jack Martin I remember was a very kind man. Everyone who knew him will remember his humour and how marvellous he was at Tall Tales. Jack won the trophy, which he built and designed himself from a garden gnome, so often that new rules were brought in so that that year’s winner would present it to the next year’s successful storyteller. It didn’t stop him winning, it just meant he won it less often.
One of the many lovely experiences I had with Jack was when we headlined at a programme put together by Donald Smith called The Two Jacks and the idea was our images were to be super implanted on playing cards. I didn’t like the idea of him getting TOP BILLING being Jack and Michael. I suggested Michael and Jack and what a laugh we had about that. The programme went ahead as The Two Jacks and the cards used were Jokers and it was a great success. I wish we’d done more of those evenings; we were perfect foils for each other.
Jack’s generosity also extended to sending gifts to my grandchildren and once he sent me a little throne which I still have. It was for my character weetom. I asked Jack what this was about and he said.
“It’s because weetom is the King of Scottish storytelling characters, and he needs somewhere to sit!”
Jack was a man of very strong faith and I still have his letter wherein he asks me for prayers when his beloved Mary became ill, devotion personified. Jack loved Mary very much, they were married for a long time and had a marvellously strong family that were very much part of his life he brought his granddaughter Katie to Best Seat in the House here at my place in Glasgow and he was very proud of her making a living as a musician and going to Manchester to follow her dream.
Jack was a fine athlete, a long-distance runner and cyclist. He made up a very funny story based on a cycle ride that went skewwhiff and he was rescued by “Marilyn Monroe.” Jack’s mimicry and impersonation of “Marilyn Monroe” would let the audience think that she was in the room. With his breathless and exhausted voice, she was ever so ready to help and he was ever so ready to let her.
Jack as Santa with Bea Ferguson’s Grandchildren
Mark Foster, Jack’s son:
Jack Martin was an incredible man, a wonderful father, grandfather and great grandfather, who began life on 4th June 1933 in the St James area of Edinburgh, in a tenement flat. An only child, his family later moved to Lady Wilson Street within view of Edinburgh Castle. As a teenager he was given a magic kit, which started him on the road to becoming being a magician, later doing pantomimes as the Magician, Wizard or Baddie and even pantomime dame! He acquired his stage name and became Jack Martin. After time spent in National Service with the RAF, Jack set up his own joinery business. Later he worked in the Royal Edinburgh Day Hospital Rehab centre doing carpentry with the psychiatric patients. In September 1960 he married the love of his life, Mary, who sadly died in 2022 after 62 years of marriage. They had three children Martin, Mark and Simon and have six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
In their spare time, Mary and Jack did Punch and Judy and Magic shows together. Mark, their middle son recalled being the assistant, JOJO Bear, distributing Opal Fruits as prizes at these shows. Jack also did stand-up comedy in adult cabaret, children’s parties and magic shows. He was an extra on many TV series and films, such as ‘Still Game’, Taggart, Tutti Frutti, deriving many hilarious tales. He was regularly Santa in Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh. Jack naturally became a storyteller, being introduced to the storytelling scene by John Fee at the Guid Crack Club in Edinburgh, many years ago.
Jack had a deep Christian faith, evidenced by the kindness and good humour, which he showed wherever he went and in whatever he did. He was a very good runner and keen cyclist. In the 1958 Empire Games, he came fourth in the Marathon – the first three runners went on to represent their country in the Olympic Games. In the 1980 Marathon, as a Veteran, he was only 2.34 minutes slower than the winning younger marathon runner! Jack was still running to well into his 80s which kept him very fit. Sadly it was a heart attack which took his life at the age of 90 on 7th November 2023.