Billy Connolly: Portrait of a Lifetime, BBC 4, BBC iPlayer


Billy Connolly: Portrait of a Lifetime, BBC 4, BBC iPlayer

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p0535lq5/billy-connolly-portrait-of-a-lifetime

Billy Connolly might well be Scotland’s greatest export after whisky. Both ITV and BBC are competing to squeeze the last dregs of life out of The Big Yin. I’ve checked, he’s not dead yet. But he does have motor- neurone disease and he’s coming up for seventy-five. He said it himself, other people’s success tend to form an inverted U-shaped curve. His success is of the hockey-stick variety. Everything he shites turns to gold. Even his doodles are framed, exhibited as art in Glasgow’s People’s Palace. He’s come a long way from strumming a banjo and being a Humblebum. Remember Baker Street and Gerry Rafferty? Unlikely, unless you’re an old codger. Here’s a reminder. I once danced to this song, or at least moved my feet, which was much the same thing.

Billy Connolly conquered Scotland with his Wellie boots and took on the bigots with his Crucifixion.  He conquered London, by which I mean England, when he appeared on The Parkinson Show in 1975. But the Big Yin wasn’t as big as Benny Hill. Remember him? Semi-nude woman and eye rolling and a chase that went on for an hour.  That was comedy then. They’d chase you for that now. For drama try on Frankie Miller.  Billy Connolly had a part in Peter McDougall’s  Just A Boy’s Game, one of the Play’s for Today, everybody in Scotland watched and said—fuck—that’s us in Glasgow around 1979, the time of the first Referendum.  

Now fuck off with Boris fucking Johnson. It wasn’t until Braveheart in nationwide cinema that its small-screen reach could be matched and let’s face it, Braveheart was Mel Gibson chalked blue and talking shite.  But in the United States, where they they’re not keen on anyone that’s not American and even then they’re a bit iffy, Billy Connolly is known. He’s a brand. That Scottish guy with the hairy face that’s been in a couple of films, nobody much watched.  But Billy Connolly’s loaded anyway, so that makes him half American. It doesn’t matter. He’s one of us.

I’ll tell you a secret, I remember Billy Connolly and I heard his jokes, but I didn’t laugh. I’m funny that way. I get them, I really do. He’s a representation of the guy we all know that’s funny as fuck.  Connolly is a nostalgia feedbag for a better Scotland that you can strap over your nose to feel better. I like him better now. I often chuckle at his jokes now I know the punchline, in a way I never did then. Drumchapel, a desert wae windows—that’s genius, in anybody’s language.

Billy Connolly is still working, he must have Cadogan Street on his back. 5000 folk died while waiting to be re-assessed and that’s no joke. That’s the Scotland we live in now, so there’s a lot to be said for nostalgia.

While the BBC archives are trawled for stuff that tells the Billy Connolly story it’s wrapped around a poor man’s excuse—it’s all about art. Here’s the sketch, three different artists get to paint a picture of the Big Yin. Cover your ears, I never thought I’d say I was a conservative, but see that modern art-shite. I’ve really got no standards worth talking about. Here’s my preference reading from left to far right:     John Byrne, Jack Vettriano and Rachel Maclean.

Carl MacDougall (2001) Painting the Forth Bridge: A Search for Scottish Identity.

painting the forth bridge.jpg

I’m sure I’ve got a Scottish identity. You might have one too.  I wasn’t looking for mine, but here it is. We’re all Jock Tamson’s bairns.  It doesn’t lie in that ear squeal we hear on every channel when counting down to New Year. Or the cheuctering twirling plaid and stripping the willow. Or the Scottish and Rye of The Still Game. These to me are fanny water.

Listen instead to Anton Chekhov in A Dreary Story which sounds to me very Scottish, and not just a remark about the weather, he offered the observation ‘Tell me what you want, and I will tell you who you are’.

Funnily enough as Roman Catholic of quasi-Irish parentage I want much the same as the individual described by Edwin Muir ‘as the most important figure in Scottish history’.  I want the same as John Knox. ‘I want a school in every parish, a college in every town and a university in every city…and regular, organised provision for the poor.’ In other words, I want to be Norwegian.

The only thing that seems to unite Scots is summed up by Sorley MacLean in the fact we’re not English. We’re not a Braveheart nation, but we are a nation. The future in not in the cheviot, the stag or the black, black oil, even although more of the black stuff has been found in the North Sea. Fossil fuels are the past. The future is green. Scotland can be one of the greenest nations in the world. Let us adapt to it together and stop listening to rich men’s lies. And in the words of Norman MacCaig let Scotland and its people be like its ballads and poetry of the people and for the people:

All of them different –

Just as a stoned crow

Invents ways of flying

It had never thought of before

No wonder now he sometimes

Suddenly lurches, stalls, twirls sideways,

Before continuing his effortless level flight

So high over the heads of people

Their stones can’t reach him.