Back then, Billy Connolly walked on water, and turned it into wine. Or, so it seemed. He was “The Big Yin,” Glasgow’s favorite son. Every household seemed to own a Connolly album, or had been to one of his sell-out concerts, where even grannies queued for tickets, and wee kids knew the patter for his routines “Jobby Weecher” and “The Crucifixion” off by heart. He was a phenomenon, and in 1975 Connolly was on the verge of national and international success.
This short film captures Connolly at home in Glasgow, where he performs to a sell-out audience, visits his school and the Clyde shipyards where he first worked, and talks about his life.
Scots who rushed to buy it have discovered that their new “smart” gadget can’t understand them. This is true despite the fact that their phones are set to “English (United Kingdom)” under the “language” setting for Siri, which doesn’t seem to take the distinctive Scottish burr into much account.
“What’s the weather like today?” Darren Lillie said hopefully into his iPhone recently here in the Scottish capital, in a demonstration for an American reporter.
Lillie, 25, is Edinburgh born and bred, and his thick accent shows it.
Siri thought for a moment, then decided it best to repeat what it thought it heard.
“What’s available in Labor Day?” it asked.
Lillie shook his head. “I don’t even know what Labor Day is,” he said ruefully to the American, who told him.
In other clips, “Can you dance with me?” gets misinterpreted as “Can you Dutch women?” and the question “How many miles are there in 10 kilometers?” elicits the helpful, if irrelevant, response: “I don’t see any email for yesterday.”
Lillie admits to adjusting his speech patterns to get Siri to understand him.
“I find I speak slower. It’s like when I speak to tourists,” he said to the American reporter, who felt at once both patronized and relieved.
Hardly news, and the kind of story best suited to the “Jings! Crivvens! Help ma boab!” kind of headline, allowing for the usual nationalistic rebuttal, name-checking Edinburgh-born inventor of the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell turning in his grave, and the success of such Scots accents as Schir Schean Connery, Ewan MacGregor, Kelly MacDonald, Robert Carlyle, Billy Connolly and Craig Ferguson, mcetc mcetc. But really, it just made me of Stanley Baxter’s excellent Parliamo Glasgow from the 1960s, and this wonderfully apt sketch from present day and the rather splendid Burnistoun.
In 1979, rock singer Frankie Miller landed the lead as Jake McQuillan in Peter McDougall‘s brilliant play Just A Boys’ Game. It was an incredible piece of casting for what was one of the best dramas produced for British TV in the seventies.
Indeed, it is fair to say McDougall, along with Dennis Potter and David Mercer, wrote some of the greatest and most powerful dramas produced during this time:
There can be no better justification for the modus operandi of the BBC drama department of the 1960s and 70s than the discovery of Peter McDougall. The most original Scottish voice of the era, McDougall might never have been given a break at any other time in broadcasting history.
McDougall started work at 14 in the Clydebank shipyards, alongside Billy Connolly. After a few years, he left and moved to London, where he became a house painter. One day, while painting actor and writer Colin Welland’s house, the young McDougall impressed the future Oscar-winner with his tales of marching and mace throwing in an Orange Walk. Welland encouraged McDougall to write his story down, which became the Italia Prix-winning drama, Just Another Saturday:
Just Another Saturday was first broadcast on 7 November 1975, as part of BBC2’s Play For Today. Britain, then as now, was a place of great inequality. Sectarian troubles in Northern Ireland were at their height. Issues of Scottish independence/devolution were in the spotlight, with the collapse of traditional industries such as shipbuilding on the Clyde, and the associated poverty, mirrored by vast wealth promised from North Sea oil in Scottish waters.
The script, screenplay, direction, film stock, lighting, photography, sound recording and editing of Just Another Saturday combine to give an understated, real-life appearance; making the emotional impact of picture and dialogue all the more intense. The use of brief close-ups of very human details add hugely to the emotional effect; faces in the crowds tell, evocatively, of Scotland’s pride and sadness. Outdoor shots especially show powerful visual imagery. The Duncan Street violence is that much more disturbing because much of it is hidden from view.
The play is about beliefs and innocence, and the desire to escape. As Lizzie tells John, “at least you believe in something”; Dan despises all “the organisations” on both sides of the Glasgow Protestant/Catholic divide: he ridicules what he sees their moral hypocrisies, like “suffering for the cause”. There is pointed irony in the fact that the only injury John incurs over the whole day is from a confused drunk. Dan points out the divisions that the organisations cause and the many contradictions from Scottish history that make their positions absurd. His quiet socialist conviction is delivered with great pathos.
Director John Mackenzie was flabbergasted at McDougall’s raw talent, and claims the finished film barely contained a single change from the original draft of the script. However the Glasgow police blocked filming on a drama they feared would cause “bloodshed on the streets in the making and in the showing.”
There wasn’t bloodshed, but considerable outrage that McDougall had highlighted so many of Scotland’s ills. McDougall was undeterred by the controversy, going on to write: The Elephant’s Graveyard (1976), with Jon Morrison and Billy Connolly; Just A Boys’ Game (1979), with Frankie Miller, Ken Hutchison, Gregor Fisher and Hector Nicol; A Sense of Freedom, the story of Scotland’s notorious gangster, Jimmy Boyle: Shoot for the Sun (1986) with Jimmy Nail, and told the dark story of heroin dealers in Edinburgh; Down Where the Buffalo Go saw Harvey Keitel as US Marine stationed at Holy Loch naval base, and the slow disintegration of his life; and Down Among the Big Boys the story of a bank heist with Billy Connolly.
These days, McDougall’s work is rarely seen on TV, as those now in charge of drama commissioning are but mere “civil servants”, more interested in focus groups, audience figures and mediocrity, than genuine talent. It’s a shame, for McDougall is the best and strongest voice to have come out of TV over the past few decades.
McDougal’s Just a Boys Game is an equal to Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets, and contains some of the finest performances put into a TV film - watch out for comedian, Hector Nicol’s sly performance as the elderly hard man, whose respect Miller wants to earn, as well as brooding Ken Hutchison (from Straw Dogs) as Dancer and a young Gregor Fisher (who later starred as Rab C. Nesbitt) as Tanza, and Katherine Stark as Jane. It is an brilliant, brutal and unforgettable film.
The astounding Just a Boys Game (Play for Today, tx. 8/11/1979), was another ‘play in a day’, pursuing hard man Jake McQuillan, whose life of alcohol, violence and emotional impotence is threatened by the arrival of a younger, razor-wielding thug. Jake’s casual ‘boys’ games’ ultimately result in the death of his only friend.
Featuring some of the strongest violence the BBC had ever dared broadcast, it was stunningly photographed by Elmer Cossey and featured McDougall’s most crackling dialogue and richest characterisations, all brilliantly evoked by a cast headed by blues singer Frankie Miller in a performance that melts the camera in its intensity.
Miller sadly suffered a brain hemorrhage in New York in 1994, while working on new material for a band with Joe Walsh of The Eagles. Miller spent five months in a coma, after which he went through rehabilitation. In 2006, Frankie released his first new material in almost twenty years, Long Way Home.
The rest of McDougall’s ‘Just A Boys’ game’ plus ‘Just Another Saturday’, after the jump…
In the mid-1960s, Billy Connolly formed a folk group with Tam Harvey called The Humblebums. Connolly sang, played guitar and banjo, while Harvey was accomplished Bluegrass guitarist. The duo made a name for themselves playing venues and bars around Glasgow, most notably The Old Scotia, the famous home to Scottish folk music, where Connolly would introduce each song with a humorous preamble, something that became his trademark, and later his career.
In 1969, The Humblebums released their first album First Collection of Merry Melodies, it was soon after this that Gerry Rafferty joined the band. Rafferty had previously played with The Fifth Column, which also featured his future Stealer’s Wheel partner, Joe Egan, and had scored a minor hit “Benjamin Day” with the group. Rafferty’s arrival into The Humblebums changed the band’s direction and Harvey soon left.
The New Humblebums, or Humblebums as most still called the pairing of Connolly and Rafferty, began to achieve far greater success with their mix of Rafferty’s plaintive vocals and melodies and Connolly’s upbeat tunes and fine guitar playing. That same year, the duo released their first record together and band’s second album, The New Humblebums. The album was a major-hit in Glasgow and was well-received nationally. Amongst its most notable tracks were Rafferty’s “Look Over the Hill & Far Away”, “Rick Rack”, “Her Father Didn’t Like Me Anyway” (later covered by Shane MacGowan and The Popes), “Patrick” and “Coconut Tree”. While Connolly contributed the single “Saturday Round About Sunday”, “Everyone Knows” and “Joe Dempsey”. The album’s famous cover painting was by fake “faux-naïf” painter Patrick, aka legendary playwright John Byrne, author of The Slab Boys, and subject of Rafferty’s song “Patrick”..
The Humbelbums’ success was compounded with the release of their next album, Open Up the Door, in 1970. Here was Rafferty’s “Steamboat Row” (later covered by Stealer’s Wheel), “I Can’t Stop Now”, “Shoeshine Boy”, “Keep It To Yourself” and “My Singing Bird”; along with Connolly’s “Open Up the Door”, “Mother”, “Oh No” and “Cruisin’”.
If this had been a Hollywood film, the next part of the story would be international success and world domination, but this was Glasgow, and Connolly and Rafferty wanted different things. Rafferty wanted to concentrate on the music, while Connolly was finding he was more interested in talking to the audience and being funny than performing as a folk-singer. A split was inevitable. Rafferty went to form Stealer’s Wheel with Joe Egan; while Connolly started his career as a comedian.
In today’s press, Connolly is quoted as saying of his friend and former bandmate:
“Gerry Rafferty was a hugely talented songwriter and singer who will be greatly missed.
“I was privileged to have spent my formative years working with Gerry and there remained a strong bond of friendship between us that lasted until his untimely death.
“Gerry had extraordinary gifts and his premature passing deprives the world of a true genius.”
During the late 1940s and early 1950s, Scotland carried out a series of social experiments, which dealt with an acute housing shortage caused by the sudden increase in the post-war population. Over two decades, thousands of working class families were moved out of slum tenements, from the city of Glasgow, into a series of New Towns, literally modern housing schemes, scattered across the country.
In 1947, East Kilbride was designated as Scotland’s first New Town, with the aim of bringing together “new methods of production and assembly in order to create dwellings, serving humanity and also reflecting a type of technological progression.”