(A version of this blog was also published in the Huffington Post)
Ian almost took part in the second inaugural Malcolm Hardee Comedy Punch-Up Debate which I staged at the Edinburgh Fringe this year, but he managed to bugger his back in Glasgow and could not get over to Edinburgh.
The success of his long-running Rab C. Nesbitt TV series in England has always surprised me, given the extremely Scottish dialogue.
With the new BBC2 series of Rab C. Nesbitt about to be unleashed on screens across the UK this Wednesday night – 25 years after the character first appeared on screen in Naked Video – I thought I would ask Ian some questions.
This may prove to have been a mistake.
Never mess with a comedy writer…
Q – Is the series a comedy or a drama?
A – At times it appears to be one then the other.
Q – What genre is in your mind when you are writing it?
A – I have no genre in my mind when writing it. My mind never speaks for me and I return the compliment by never speaking for it.
Q – You live in the posh West End of Glasgow now – So what do you know in 2011 about the lives of these dodgy Weegies in Rab C Nesbitt?
A – You are so right to ask this question yet, in a strange way, so wrong. If I, Rab, or anyone else had money, do we really suppose we would cease being ourselves? Glasgow is small. One need never venture far in search of the piquant aroma of poverty; a fragrance that in our city remains impervious to the whims of fashion.
Q – Are the characters based on real people?
A – They seemed real at the time. But then, doesn’t everyone?
Q – Was anyone else ever considered to play the role of Rab C?
A – I believe Lady Astor of Hever was approached to play the role. Legend has it that the string vest chafed her nipples.
Q – Has the enormous success of the TV series been an albatross around your writing neck?
A – Most definitely. Were it not for the intrusion of Nesbitt I might have enjoyed a life of quite contemplation on the roof of Asda, picking off pensioners and clergymen with an air rifle.
Q – The script is broad Scots. In the past, you have made up some of the dialect words, haven’t you?
A – Stornoch. But never so much so that it thrums the groobles. For instance, I would never snash the viewer’s brumpton with a parochial yappa. I find that context invariably stoors the benburb and smoothes the gismet, as I’m sure you’d happily concopulate.
Q – Did you think Rab C. Nesbitt could ever be even screened in England, let alone become very successful, when it is written in – in effect – a foreign language? Surely even people in Wigtownshire would have some trouble with it?
A – Funnily enough, I’m just back from Wigtownshire. The last words the Provost of Whithorn said to me, as I was honoured with one of the town’s ceremonial small brown loaves were, “Be sure to tell John Fleming we have no trouble understanding Rab C Nesbitt.” I hope this is some help to you in your quest for truth.
Q – Whither Nesbitt?
A – Perhaps thither, perhaps not.
Q – Whither Pattison?
A – Yes, I shall, most decidedly whither; which is to say continue to evade the real world.
There is an interesting YouTube clip here about Scottish dialect words – which opens with a very brief clip from a Rab C Nesbitt episode.