‘You’re getttin’ it McQuillan’.
I’m old enough to remember this when it was first broadcast 8th November 1979. Peter McDougall’s portrayal of working class life hit a nerve. It helped that large chunks of it were filmed in Clydebank and Drumchapel (I’ve since been told it was Greenock and Port Glasgow). Marathon shipyards featured. Or it might have been John Browns. We’re on the nostalgia trail.
By day Jake McQuillan (Frankie Miller) works in a crane. We see him up there with the seagulls. Toasting his piece of Sunblest on the electric fire. This was a time when Clydebank had shipyards. Titan Crane, was still working and not a museum piece, it and other cranes dominated the skyline. At St Andrew’s school art teachers regularly asked us to draw a crane. We could see it over the roofs of the tenements..
By night Jake McQuillan is a hard man. We first see him in a pub, with his best mate Dancer Dunnichy (Ken Hutchison). I’m sure some of you would be able to identify the pub. Remember when we had pubs? The boys are drinking exotic mixtures, halves, double measures that cost £1.90 for four drinks and you still get ten pence change. We’re in you go out with a fiver and get pissed territory.
Thursday night. Time for a fight. McQuillan can’t be a hard man, unless he’s tested. But he’s getting too old for the game (it’s a Boys’Game) and had put down his blade. When some daft bird nudged into Dancer’s back and they get into an argument. You know what’s going to happen. The shutters are going to come down and blades are going to appear. This is a portrayal of working class life with the chibs down.
McQuillan can put down his blade, but he’s a scalp worth taking. Other boys want a part of him.
Dancer, his sidekick, takes him away from work. ‘I declare Friday, a public holiday’ and into the embrace of booze and the institution of Clatty Bella. Entrance price, one bottle of your finest Eldorado or VAT 69. The Buckfast of their day. Nobody accused monks of making Eldorado or VAT 69 and profiting from alkie’s alcoholic tendencies, especially since that’s got too many syllables. Clatty Bella has no electricity and no bath towel, and the throw over the couch would walk Dancer down to the harbour and fling him in. But she’s one of the good ones. She’s one of us. The kind that Tories loved so they could vote down free school meals.
The backstory of McQuillen not having a mum and dad and staying with his grannie (Jean Taylor Smith) and his granda (Hector Nicol) is a chance to see how working class folk once lived.
Ironically, Tanza (Gregor Fisher) who went on to become Gregor Fisher, Scottish institution, in his autobiography, told the reader how his da (or was it his granda?) used to batter down on the ceiling to tell his ma (or grandma) to get the breakfast on. His Ma did what she was told, without any lip. This is man’s world.
Here we see Grandma running after Grandpa, dressing him, and putting him to bed. Brushing his false teeth and sticking them in his gumsy mouth. Deprivation comes in many forms.
McQuillan is aping the life of Grandpa, who also ran with the gangs and was the hardest of hard men, who killed McQuillan’s da. This is also part of the boys’ game.
Saturday shift. The loveable Dancer and the likeable Tanza are wanting a bit of drunken fun. But they’re drawn into a game not of their making. If you run with the wolves argument. McQuillan springs into life when they’re attacked. Dancer, an innocent, victim.
For McQuillan that’s just the way it is. Tanza, another innocent, bangs the roof of the Panda car and blames the police. ‘Where were you?’
Frankie Miller gets to sing the eulogy and sets himself up for another little number in Peter McDougall’s Just Another Saturday. It’s the same story, but set to the tune of The Orange Walk. Billy Connolly was in it. It might have been called The Elephant’s Graveyard. Can’t remember. Remember, when he used to be funny? Aye, nostalgia gets you there and that little kick.