I missed out on Gregor Fisher’s reading of his autobiography in Dalmuir Library recently. Tickets only. It’s a small place. Sold out. Gregor Fisher is a ‘National Treasure’ ran an advertisement campaign to promote a play ‘Yer Granny’ he was in. And on the front page of his book, the tagline from The Telegraph reads: Rab C Nesbitt is the most memorable comedy character Scotland has ever produced’. There’s a lot of good will to be tapped around Rab C. There’s a little bit of him in most working-class Scots, although many would be loath to admit it. The conflation between Gregor Fisher and Rab C is a common one. It’s a bit like Harry H Corbett in Steptoe and Son. Portrayal of the character offers a comfortable life in a profession that jobs are hard to come by and fiercely competed for. Yet Gregor Fisher wants to be more than a string vest, bandage on his head and the sum of Rab C Nesbitt’s collected wisdom and folly. I say autobiography, but it’s Melanie Reid that does the writing.
An easy enough read, you could comfortably read it in one day, if you had a mind to. I didn’t. For all the Shakespeare truths and literary maxims offsetting chapter headings the writing is bland and the formatting uneven, with blank pages adding to just over 300 pages. Reid reminds us that before Rab C, his apogee, Gregor done his training in theatres all around Scotland and England. He was a renowned Bottom in A Midnight Summer’s Dream, for example, (there’s a joke in there somewhere if you want to have a look). Whisper it, so fucking what, I’m not a fan of Shakespeare and would much rather watch The Simpsons, which is far funnier, is in fact funny, when A Midnight Summer’s Dream casts a spell and pretends to be, and I’d much rather watch Rab C than Oberon. But I’m working class, got a chip on my shoulder Clyde wide. Rab C is one of us.
The heart of the book can be found at the end of the book: ‘Nobody knows his past’. When Gregor Fisher was three-years old he was adopted by John and Cis Leckie. She was a real mother to him, he was an old bastard. That was normal for the tail end of 1950’s Scotland.
‘Three thumps-never more, never less. No cheery ‘Hallooo!’, no cry of That’s me, Cis, just three dictatorial thumps on the bedroom floor with his foot. John Leckie wanted his breakfast.’ [no comma after Halloo, new sentence]
He sets out, with Melanie Reid, to find out what happened to his family. The short answer is his mother, Katherine (Kit) McKenzie had an illegitimate child, named Anne, with a farm worker in 1946 who promptly disappeared to Australia. Then she had two children with pillar of the Kirk, and rather more well-to-do William Kerr, who was married, with three children of his own and was old enough to be Kit’s grandad. Kit had a weakened mitral valve in her heart and she died when Gregor was three. While unusual, even for those hard times, it’s hardly a big reveal. John Lanchester’s autobiography about his parents, set around the same timeframe, for example, found that his mum came from a big Irish Roman Catholic family and that she had been a nun for about twenty years before marrying her father. That’s what I call a big reveal.
While studying the few snapshots of Kit the reader is told she was a good-looking woman, broad, friendly face [big ba’ face] and looks like Gregor. I’ll let you reach your own conclusions here. Inevitably, William Kerr might be old, but has the clichéd twinkle in his eye, just like Gregor. Guff.
The most interesting parts of the book take their lead from T.C. Smout, A Century of the Scottish People, which showed how working class families of seven to ten shared one room and played bingo for a bed. I’d like to think we’ve come a long way since then but fear we’re moving back in that direction. Fisher asks a question of his newfound relatives and the reader, if The Boy from Nowhere, wasn’t a national treasure and well-known actor, but a habitual drunk or druggie would they have embraced him and his past in the way they did?
Of course they would Gregor. Of course they would. And publishers would be reaching out and offering you a book deal. Do I look buttoned up the back?