Tag Archives: Scots

Scots wha hae an aggressive voice and Scots wha dinnae – Rab C Nesbitt versus Gordon Jackson

A few years ago, a Liverpudlian friend of mine who is of Indian descent (by which I mean to explain she has a gentle voice) went to Glasgow for the first time.

When she came back, she told me: “At first, I couldn’t understand why everyone I met was so angry and why they were all so angry with each other. Then, after about forty minutes, I realised it was just their Glasgow accents.”

That was no joke. She genuinely was initially confused.

It came to mind today when I heard Glasgow comedienne Janey Godley discussing Scottish football managers on both BBC Radio 4’s Today programme and on BBC World Service’s lunchtime Newshour. (There are now seven Glasgow-born managers of English Premier League teams.)

“There’s something that’s come through so much today,” Janey said in the Newshour interview, “and it’s that a Scottish accent equals aggression. It’s something that people like me have had to fight for a long time. People don’t say I’m a strong comic; I’m called a tough, aggressive comic because of my accent. But our accent isn’t always synonymous with aggression.”

Janey puts the “don’t mess with us” accent down to “gritty Celtic upbringing” in Glasgow.

But the bizarre other side of the coin is that British telephone call centres are often based in the lowlands of Scotland because a Scottish accent is also found by English people to be comforting and honest.

I am old enough to remember when this started and it was specifically to do with soft-toned Glasgow-born actor Gordon Jackson who, in the early 1970s, appeared in the high-rating ITV series Upstairs, Downstairs as calm, reassuring and authoritative butler Mr Hudson.

To cash in on his TV image, a financial services company had him voice their TV commercials and their business rocketed. He – and other Scots ‘voices’ – became much in demand for financial ads. One bonus was that, unless the words were rasped out in a clearly scummy Rab C Nesbitt type accent, the English were unable to socially place any Scottish accent: they could not label the accent as belonging to any particular ‘class’ or any particular area… the accent was just “Scottish” and came with images of financial probity and Mr Hudson style trustworthiness.

Cliche images, of course, are a fascinating area of illogicality. as with Rab C Nesbitt AND Mr Gordon Jackson both being the epitome of cliche Scottishness.

The Scots have an unusual dichotomy of cliche images. They are seen as both drunken petty criminals and morally-strict Calvinists… as both penniless jack-the-lads and dead-honest people canny with their money.

Perhaps Sir Alex Ferguson of Manchester United lies sandwiched somewhere between Rab C Nesbitt and Gordon Jackson.

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Filed under Racism, Scotland, Sport

Someone appears to be trying to screw me out of money I am owed and that never seems to end well

When I was newly 18 – just a couple of months after my 18th birthday – I tried to kill myself over a girl. It seemed like a good idea at the time. I’ve never regretted it.

But, being a novice at such things, I used drugs – aspirin, paracetamol and codeine. This was a mistake. I had always been shit at Chemistry in school. I always came last in Chemistry, except on one occasion when I came next-to-last. The Chemistry master wrote on my report A fair try and emigrated to New Zealand.

The reason I mention this is that people have always tended to mis-read me. For one thing, they misread nihilism for jollity: a very strange misreading, even if it is occasionally humorous nihilism.

But people (as always) read other people’s thoughts and actions based on their own psychological make-up. This seems to mean that most people think I give a shit.

And they assume that I will calculate consequences in the same way that they would. This is not necessarily true. When I get into a tussle of tiffs. I do calculate consequences, but I may calculate them (from other people’s viewpoints) unexpectedly, in the sense that a scorched earth policy or the Cold War nuclear concept of MAD (mutual assured destruction) does not worry me. I do try to warn people about this, but they seem to ignore the warnings.

They are so used to reading between the lines that they don’t really pay attention to what is actually being said.

If you have, at a point earlier in your life, assumed that you would cease to exist in 60 or 30 or 10 minutes time and if that was an outcome you decided was acceptable – welcome, even – then, trust me, risk calculation later in life may not be on the same measurement scale that other people assume.

The comedian Janey Godley has said of performing comedy: “If I ever stood in a room with 600 people and talked for 15 minutes and nobody laughed, then it’s no worse than having a gun held at your head and I’ve already had that, so it doesn’t really scare me.”

She speaks from experience.

In different circumstances, so do I, though I have never had a gun held at my head. Though there was that unfortunate incident with the young Yugoslav soldier sitting up a tree in a forest outside Titograd.

The fact I genuinely care very little about consequences may also have something to do with having had a Scottish – and Scots Presbyterian – upbringing. The world is full of greys. It is not black and white. But, whereas others may not see a dividing line between the shades of grey I see from my personal viewpoint, I do.

Most decisions and most things in life don’t matter. But, if I decide something DOES matter, then I know where I have drawn that line. One side of that pencil thin line is what is acceptable. On the other side of that pencil thin line is something that is unacceptable under all circumstances.

Up to that line, I am told I am very malleable. If that line is crossed, though, then I will attempt to rip your throat out.

My rule of thumb is three strikes and you are out.

Fuck the consequences.

Just thought I’d mention it…

Now, anyone got any money-making propositions they want to run past me?

Perhaps a job as a risk assessment advisor?

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What makes a cult movie? Does it just have to be ramshackle, rickety and unhinged? Like these.

Yesterday morning, I received a DVD in the post of the 2006 movie Special – Specioprin Hyrdrochloride which mad inventor John Ward had sent me.

According to the cover, Nuts magazine called the film “A huge cult hit”

I must have blinked. I have never heard of Special.

I guess, ironically, that is often the definition of a cult film.

Last night, I saw a special screening at the Museum of London of probably the biggest cult film ever made in Britain: The Wicker Man.

It is a film linked to one of the reasons I stopped drinking and I have family connections with its shooting.

It is often called a horror film but, despite Christopher Lee’s involvement as both actor and producer, it is not. It is just plain weird to an extraordinary extent; it has been called “a pagan musical” which, while being totally and utterly misleading, is not too far from the truth.

In fact, it is not as weird as director Robin Hardy’s next film The Fantasist – released a whole 16 years later in 1989 – that one takes the biscuit as the only film I have ever seen anywhere near Michael Powell’s bizarre 1950 movie Gone to Earth: one of the few movies which manages to directly link sex and fox hunting. Alright, maybe the ONLY movie to directly link sex and fox hunting.

For maybe the first 60 minutes of both films I thought This is the worst acting I have even seen in my entire life and The direction of this odd movie is more than a bit ropey. By the end of both, I had got half-used to the non-naturalistic style. But only just.

I think The Fantasist lasted maybe one week in Leicester Square before it was quickly taken off. When I saw it there, I was the only person in the cinema. I saw Gone to Earth at a one-off screening at The Cornerhouse in Manchester. When I left at the end, I recognised someone I worked with at Granada TV who had also sat through the movie. We looked at each other, speechless, united in our confused disbelief.

Neither The Fantasist nor Gone to Earth has really reached cult status. In fact, The Fantasist has simply sunk without trace.

Umberto Eco, the Italian who has an opinion on everything, apparently says a cult film has to be “ramshackle, rickety and unhinged” and that certainly covers The Fantasist and Gone To Earth.

When I first saw The Wicker Man, I definitely thought it was very ramshackle, very rickety, very rough-edged indeed and that the director was almost certainly unhinged. Since then, I’ve see it five or six more times (there are at least three different versions of it) and it gets better on repeated screenings. Though no less weird.

One of the problems is that  you only realise on a second and third screening just how good and how tight the script is. You have to have seen the entire film to understand why you are watching what you are watching. It was scripted by Anthony Shaffer, who also wrote Sleuth; his brother Peter Schaffer wrote Equus and Amadeus. Those are a couple of siblings who must have had interesting parents.

Even the direction of The Wicker Man – more than slightly eccentric at best – seems better and tighter on repeated screenings

The Wicker Man was originally released in the UK as the bottom half of a double bill with Nic Roeg’s much over-rated Don’t Look Now.

As I mentioned in a blog last year, at the time The Wicker Man was released by British Lion Films in 1973, Michael Deeley, the highly-talented and highly-regarded head of British Lion, reportedly said that it was the worst film he had ever seen. Years afterwards, the equally highly-regarded Cinefantastique magazine devoted at entire issue to The Wicker Man, famously calling it “the Citizen Kane of horror films”, while the Los Angeles Times said it was: “Witty & scary! No one who sits through it to the end is likely to find it easy to shake off.”

One of the most impressive things in it, as far as I’m concerned, is Edward Woodward’s spot-on West Coast Scottish accent. Britt Ekland’s accent is pretty good too, though she has the advantage of being Scandinavian – always a bonus with the bizarre Western Isles accent.

I have a particular affinity for the The Wicker Man because some of the movie’s scenes were filmed in Whithorn, Wigtownshire, where both my parents went to school. And the climactic sequence with the Wicker Man itself takes place on Burrowhead, off which one of my dead relative’s ashes were tossed into the sea – not because of the film but because he had spent many happy childhood days there.

Also the film – which is so bizarre it must have turned many people to drink or drugs – ironically contributed to my giving up drink. I was never much of a drinker: in my late teens/early twenties, I drank weak lager to be sociable because it was less horrible than Bitter. All I really liked was vodka drowned in orange juice or champagne drowned in orange juice – and they were a bit pricey as everyday drinks.

But I was reviewing films when The Wicker Man came out and the press officer at its distributors British Lion was clearly a very intelligent man who had simply been drinking for too long – it was part of his job – and it appeared to have softened his thinking processes. The sharpness of mind which he presumably once had had melted away. It’s one of the downsides of being a PR man.

I thought I don’t enjoy drinking anyway, so why bother when this can be the outcome?

So I stopped.

Ever since then, because I don’t drink, people have thought I am weird.

Well, OK, there might be other reasons.

But if you want really weird, see The Wicker Man.

And if you want REALLY REALLY weird, see The Fantasist and Gone to Earth.

Ramshackle, rickety, unhinged. With knobs on.

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Bitching about famous people. Your chance to guess – who is XXXXX, the lecherous showbiz groper?

Isn’t gossip a wonderful thing?

Yesterday, following on from my blogs about The downside of being a dead celebrity and Famous two-faced showbiz pond scum, I was having a wee e-chat with Scots comedian Stu Who about the “celebrities” we’d met.

He told me: “My own personal nemesis was XXXXX, who I found to be a particularly rude and lecherous auld cunt, when out of the public gaze… Lechery, of course, is no sin, but when a position of power is abused by touching-up young runners and crew in a ‘joking’ way, I just can’t keep quiet and had a couple of altercations with XXXXX …. not a nice man!!!”

This interested me, because I had heard XXXXX was a groper, but wasn’t sure if it was true because I’d met him briefly twice and both times he seemed very amiable, gentle and uncle-ish; he fitted his ‘family entertainer’ image perfectly.

Stu told me, though, that he found dealing with people like XXXXX “was all counterbalanced beautifully by some of the really nice people I have also had the privilege to encounter and work with… Some of them I literally ‘hated’ on TV before meeting them and I was subsequently gobsmacked to find out how cool and friendly they were in real life… Bob Monkhouse being the most notable.

“He’d been my pet hate for decades with his plastic appearance and gushing superficiality, but he turned out to be really pleasant, courteous and astonishingly supportive to this daft Glaswegian who’d been hired to do his warm-up for the Lottery shows.”

I have never heard anything bad about Bob Monkhouse whom I greatly admired. He was known for his great love of slapstick and his collection of comic silent movies. We had him as a guest on the very slapsticky children’s show Tiswas and his only stipulation up-front was that he should not be custard-pied in the face.

There was no problem with this and he mentioned it right up-front when he was booked; but none of us could figure out why he didn’t want to be ‘pied’ – it seemed perfect for his image and he was in no way pompous; he was a lovely man. Our only wild guess was that he wore a wig – but we had never heard of him having one, I have never read of such a thing and it didn’t look like he had a wig. So, to this day, it remains a complete and utter mystery to me.

I’ve been luckier than Stu Who.

I’ve actually only ever worked with one person who played the “I’m a star” bit.

People told me Chris Tarrant was a bit up himself when Tiswas first hit big but, when I encountered and later worked with him, he was a joy: a total laid-back professional. He was nothing like his image – he was a highly professional, highly sophisticated, cigar-smoking reflective fisherman – and a good bloke.

I’m sure his anarchic image can survive that description.

But you can never tell what people are really like.

A few years ago, at a special National Film Theatre screening of her father Anthony Newley’s indescribably odd film Can Hieronymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness?Tara Newley confirmed that her mother Joan Collins had decided to divorce him after attending the premiere of the movie. According to Tara, Joan had never seen the finished film before that screening. And, if you have ever seen the autobiographical movie (in which Anthony Newley, Joan Collins and their children all appear), you can see why she divorced him. I seem to remember reading an interview with Joan Collins in which she loved him but couldn’t live with him.

I am not surprised.

I once tried to book Anthony Newley on Channel 4’s The Last Resort With Jonathan Ross and failed.

I talked to his agent while Newley was in the US and before he came to London to appear in a West End stage show. The agent was happy for him to appear on The Last Resort and Newley was keen to appear on the show. The trouble was that our TV show transmitted live from 10.30pm in Wandsworth and Newley was on stage until around 10.30 in the West End.

It would probably take him at least 10 minutes of show over-run, applause and rushing out of the theatre (still in costume and make-up) to get out onto a street where a car could pick him up. He was even prepared to ride pillion on a motorbike to do the journey. But there was no way to guarantee at that time on a Friday night in London that he could be got to Wandsworth and into the studio in time for any meaningful appearance on The Last Resort.

So we had to abandon the idea. No problem.

We had wanted him on the show. He had wanted to appear.

We were all the best of chums and no-one was to blame. It was just one of those things.

A couple of weeks later, I got a phone call in the Last Resort office.

“Hello, it’s Tony Newley,” the voice on the other end said.

He was phoning from his shower in a Park Lane hotel. I could hear the water in the background.

“Can you believe they have a telephone in the shower?” he asked me.

He said he wanted to apologise for not being able to appear on our show.

I said there was no problem because it was just the timing which had proved impossible. We would have him on in future in a flash if we could.

But he wanted to say sorry.

There was no need for him to make the phone call and certainly no need to make it to me – I was merely the show’s researcher, not the producer.

But he made the call.

I always thought very highly of him after that.

I still don’t know if Can Hieronymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness? is a good film, though. And I have seen it three times. It is certainly bizarre.

But Anthony Newley, on the basis of my one phone call with him, seemed a good man.

On the other hand, though, on the basis of two brief meetings, XXXXX seemed OK to me.

Who can tell?

Gossip is an in-exact art.

________

NB… I should point out that XXXXX, a well-known entertainer, is definitely not any of the people named in this blog and I have never mentioned him in any previous blog.

________

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Filed under Comedy, Movies, PR, Sex, Television, Theatre

Famous two-faced showbiz pond scum + dancing in urine and the near-fatal ‘accident’ on live TV

I recently wrote a blog about The Downside of Being a Dead Celebrity.

Scots comedian Stu Who commented that he had had the “pleasure …of meeting, and socialising, with an astonishingly wide range of musicians, actors, comedians, writers, and celebrities with no discernible talent other than being ‘well-known’.”

He said: “Some of TV’s funniest and most charming are utter pond-scum, whereas many of the more obnoxious, grumpy, outrageous, aggressive, and tough-nut celebs are actually cuddly, sweet, and rather charming behind their rough-cast exteriors. This experience led me to suspect that there was a distinct corollary to be learned – i.e. the nicer they are on-screen, the bigger a bastard they are off-screen and vice-versa.”

I had come to exactly the same conclusion as Stu.

There are some interesting reversals, though. Stu mentioned in his comments at the bottom of my old blog that, the first time he met Shakin’ Stevens, he thought the Welsh singer was grumpy and rude. But, when he worked with him again, says Stu: “I mentioned that he’d been an obnoxious prick on our previous meeting, we established the date of the occasion in question and Shakey then recounted the rather horrible personal events that had led up to that day in Edinburgh when I’d met him and I totally understood why he wasn’t very chummy or affable under the circumstances.”

Before I worked with her, I had seen children’s and TV gameshow show presenter Sue Robbie on-screen and thought off-screen she was probably a slightly stuck-up, head prefect sort of person. Totally wrong. She turned out to be absolutely lovely. No ego. A wonderful person to work with.

I also presumed the late Marti Caine would be up-herself, as she was a talent-show-to-stardom person and looked a bit damaged on-screen (therefore dangerous off-screen). I could not have been more wrong. I don’t normally gush, but…

Marti was, I think, the most wonderfully warm, modest, lovely “star” I have ever met. She was an absolute joy to be with. Talking to people who worked with Marti Caine is a bit like talking to people who own Apple Mac computers. They go on and on and on about how wonderful, marvellous, friendly etc etc etc… She once told me – and I totally believe it is true – that, although she’d liked the showbiz glitter to begin with, all she really wanted to do was be a housewife. She told me she really enjoyed hoovering and cleaning the house, but people would phone her up with offers of ludicrous amounts of money which she felt she’d be mad to turn down, so her career continued.

She was everything you could hope for.

Like Stu, I have found performers’ on-screen personas are often the opposite of their off-screen ones. If I fancy some star or think they seem great, the last thing I would ever want to do is meet them, because they will probably turn out to be shits.

Having said that, I have only ever worked with one awful “star” who, alas, shall be nameless because I don’t want my arse sued off and the English legal system is a gambling pit of shit-juggling.

Some stories you can never be certain of.

James Cagney never did say “You dirty rat” in any film.

Michael Caine never did say “Not a lot of people know that” – well, not until it became an accepted ‘truth’ that he did say it and then he said it as a joke.

Word of mouth always spread untrue stories and now the internet spreads urban myths in seconds like politicians spread bullshit.

Several people have told me the story (also on the internet and apparently printed in a national newspaper) that, in the 1980s, during the London Palladium run of Singing in the Rain, Tommy Steele would dance the climactic title song in the rain while water poured down onto the stage from giant overhead tanks and the rest of the cast and backstage crew watched (as he thought it) admiringly from the wings. What he didn’t know was that he was so disliked that many of them routinely pissed in the water tank before every show and watched to see the resultant mix of water and piss pour down on Tommy’s head.

In my previous Downside of Being a Dead Celebrity blog, I mentioned how veteran TV producer Michael Hurll went for the late comedian Charlie Drake’s throat in a Chortle interview. My mad inventor chum John Ward, after he read the blog, reminded me about Charlie Drake’s ‘accident’ in 1961.

John told me: “I was having tea last year with somebody who ‘was there’ at the time and had quite a lot to say about that ‘bloody awful little man’…”

I remember as a child seeing the ‘accident’ when it happened. Because I’m that old. And because it happened on live TV.

Charlie – a big big star at the time – appeared in BBC TV’s The Charlie Drake Show every week. It was live and he was known for his physical comedy. On this one particular night, as part of a slapstick story called Bingo Madness, he was pulled through an upright bookcase and thrown out of a window on the studio set. There was then a very long pause when nothing happened and then the credits rolled. The next morning’s papers reported that Charlie had been knocked out by going through the bookcase and was unconscious when thrown out of the window.

The story was that someone had ‘mended’ the breakaway bookcase between rehearsals and the live TV show. John Ward tells me this someone he knows who was there at the time says balsa wood had been replaced by real wood, though this is not quite the story  Charlie Drake himself told (here on YouTube). The implication (not shared by Charlie, of course) was that he was so disliked (which he certainly was) that the bookcase had been intentionally ‘firmed up’ to injure him. He fractured his skull, was unconscious for three days and it was two years before he returned to the screen.

The moral?

Don’t piss on the backstage crew or they may piss on you…

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Bad language in Scotland?

Last night I went to a very interesting talk at the British Library by author and publisher James Robertson about The Guid Scots Tongue.

It was a bit like Scots comic Stanley Baxter’s legendary series of Parliamo Glasgow sketches in his 1960s and 1970s TV shows. But with genuine academic credibility.

James Robertson seemed to confirm that Old English developed into Middle English south of the border and into the “Scottish” language north of the border and that, ever since then, people have bemoaned the ‘fact’ that Scots is dying.

I remember Melvyn Bragg saying in his ITV series The Adventure of English that, before Henry VIII, English was a dying language only used by the underclasses. The upper ruling elite spoke Latin and Norman French. But, when Henry decided to split from the Roman Catholic Church so he could knob the wife of his choice, he created the Church of England and commissioned ’The Great Bible’ – the first authorised translation of the Bible into English not Latin. This was distributed to every church in the country and rescued English from its decline and possible extinction.

Last night, James Robertson pointed out that, when King James VI of Scotland took over the English throne in 1603, became King James I of England and brought the Scottish court to London, one of the things he did was to commission the 1611 translation of the Bible into English – the Authorised King James Version of the Bible – which was distributed to every church in England, Scotland and Wales. Ironically, it was never translated into Scottish and this strengthened the hold of the English language in Scotland.

My mother’s grandmother could not speak English until she came down out of the hills. She was born and brought up in the Highlands of Scotland and spoke Gaelic – pronounced Gaah-lick not Gay-lick. She only learned English when she came to the village of Dunning in Perthshire. Or, some might say, she only learned “Scottish” when she moved to Dunning.

Historically in Scotland, after a certain point, Gaelic was the language of the Highlands and so-called “Scottish” was the language of the Lowlands.

I have never believed there was such a language as “Scottish”. To me, it’s clearly a dialect of English (as opposed to Gaelic which IS a different language). Wikipedian debate will no doubt run for decades about it.

If you disagree, haud yer wheesht, dinnae fash yersell aboot it and try no to be too scunnered.

Most languages, dialects and accents are a dog’s dinner of sources. Fash apparently comes from the Old French fascher and ultimately the Latin fastidium. Scunnered apparently has its origins in Middle English. Nothing is pure, not even Baby Spice. Only the French try (unsuccessfully) to keep their language pure.

I was born in Campbeltown near the Mull of Kintyre on the west coast of Scotland. My home town pipe band played on possibly the dreariest song any Beatle ever wrote. When I was three, we moved to Aberdeen in north east Scotland. My parents had friends along the coast in Banffshire where the locals speak to each other in an almost totally incomprehensible dialect which theoretical academics now apparently call Buchan. I call it bloody incomprehensible.

A few years ago at the Edinburgh Fringe, I think I saw a comedy show entitled 100 Shit Things About Scotland though I can’t seem to find any reference to it. Maybe I just imagined the whole thing. But one of the 100 shit things about Scotland I thought I heard was the fact “There are some accents even WE don’t understand”.

Bloody right. Buchan fer yin.

When I was eight, we moved to Ilford in England – it is theoretically in Essex but actually on the outer edge of East London. Over the years, I’ve lost my accent; I never chose to.

So what I’m trying to tell you is I’m interested in language. Perhaps you guessed that.

On the version of the recent Census form distributed in Scotland there is, for the first time, a question about whether you can read/speak/understand not just Gaelic but also the so-called “Scots” language – though how many supposed Scots language variations there might be I cannot even begin to imagine. The words people use in Dundee, Glasgow and Thurso are very different.

There are some great common words. Dreich is almost un-translatable into English in less than an entire paragraph. Crabbit is just a great and appropriate sound. As is Peelie-wallie and many others. But there are amazingly diverse words all over the UK – Perth, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen have wild variations in words, let alone Tyneside, North Norfolk, the Black Country and Devon. They are not separate languages, though.

English is a wonderful language because it has so many variants and has hoovered up so much from other languages – cascade, table and situation are all unchanged in spelling from the original French but pronounced differently. The arrival of radio, movies and then television may have homogenised the English language and be slowly eliminating a lot of dialect and accent variations but, with English now the de facto world language, there are going to be hundreds of variant languages growing up in coming years to rival past pidgin English.

Indeed, this seems to have already happened with BT call centres in India. I don’t know what they are speaking, but it’s no form of English I recognise.

Perhaps I am just mare than a wee bit glakit.

Several times in bookshops, I have picked up Irving Welsh’s novel Trainspotting and looked at the first page then put it back on the shelf. It looks too difficult to read, though lots of English people have, so it must just be wee me. I remember at school in Ilford, for some extraordinary reason, we had to read Sir Walter Scott’s novel The Antiquary and I found it incomprehensible in places; heaven knows what my English classmates made of it. They never said. Must be just me.

When I edited Scots comedienne Janey Godley’s autobiography Handstands in the Darkwhich reads a bit like a cross between Edgar Allan Poe and the movie Gladiator – the two of us had to decide how to write quoted dialogue which could be printed on the page, as she was brought up in East Glasgow where dialect, slang and strong accents prevail. Should we write it with all the dialect words intact or spell words phonetically? Both of those would mean it might be difficult for readers in London, let alone New York or Sydney, to understand.

Eventually, we decided to slightly Anglicise the dialogue but to include Scots words which would be easily understandable to non Scots… and to print some words phonetically so there would be a feeling of accent – for example, we printed the “police” as the “polis” throughout, because that is how it is pronounced in Glasgow and it is a distinct yet not too confusing word. It felt like you were reading genuine Scots dialogue, even though it was slightly Anglicised. I was wary of using the Glasgow word close, which means an indoor stairwell, because, in Edinburgh, it means an outdoor alleyway.

It’s a sare fecht.

Look, I could go on for hours about this. Think yourself lucky it stops here.

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Myths, dangers and curses of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe

(This blog appeared on Chortlethe UK comedy industry website)

I went to the Edinburgh Fringe Roadshow in London on Saturday and a couple of people asked my advice because they have decided to perform on the Fringe for the first time this year. Then, on Monday morning, a non-performer who appeared briefly as a guest at last year’s Fringe e-mailed me about the possibility of staging a full show throughout this year’s Fringe in August. On Tuesday morning, an established comedy act phoned me about returning to the Fringe after a gap of several years. And, yesterday afternoon, I got Skyped by someone who lives in mainland Europe about coming to the UK and playing the Fringe for the first time.

On Saturday, I asked about the long-and-widely-quoted statistics that the average Fringe show audience comprises six people and the average Fringe-goer is only in the city for three days. The Fringe Office told me both were urban myths.

Fringe Chief Executive Kath Mainland, in fact, told me that 50% of Fringe audiences come from Edinburgh (ie the EH postcodes). And that does not include the large numbers of Glaswegians who commute to Edinburgh Fringe shows. If true, it would mean that over half the audience is coming from lowland Scotland and performers should perhaps tailor their shows more towards Scots audiences if they want to get bums on seats.

Like all Fringe statistics, of course, even that one should be treated with a pinch of salt. The only way of knowing who goes to the Fringe is if punters buy tickets in advance and give their postcodes. The vast numbers who buy tickets with cash at the venue on the day don’t do that. And all Fringe statistics are mightily skewed by the fact no-one does nor can know how many punters attend the increasing number of free shows – let alone where they come from.

So, as always, performing at the Fringe is like juggling spaghetti in the dark and, when you get there, like standing in a cold shower tearing up £50 notes. This year, the uncertainties are even greater – not because of the recession but because of the rapidly changing nature of the Fringe – especially the crumbling of the box office for middle-ranking comedy shows. It happened last year and is likely to happen even moreso this year.

There are two types of show at the Fringe.

There are the traditional shows where audiences pay for tickets. And the free shows put on by the original PBH Free Fringe and the separate Laughing Horse Free Festival.

On Saturday, the gloriously entertaining Peter Buckley Hill of the PBH Free Fringe (a notable former Malcolm Hardee Award nominee) said he has had an 85% increase in applications for the PBH Free Fringe this year.

This is not surprising.

Paid-for show tickets are usually around £10 each – that means £20 if you are a couple and, if you see three shows in one day (which is not uncommon), that is going to set you back £60. For that amount of money and with limited time and vast numbers of shows on offer, you want to make sure you are not throwing your money away. So you pay to see ‘safe’ acts you have seen on TV or, at least, very long-established Biggish Name acts with a known track record.

People used to go to the Fringe and ‘take a punt’ on a show which sounded like it might be good… though it might be shit. That was what the Fringe was about. The excitement of the unexpected and the chance of stumbling on future stars.

What is increasingly happening now is that audiences are prepared to pay for the TV names they know. And they are prepared to take a risk by visiting several free shows. But excellent, experienced comedy acts playing paid-for venues who have not had TV exposure are seeing their audiences fall year-on-year. I know of at least three top-notch comedians who are not going to the Fringe this year because the potential on the paid-for Fringe in major venues is increasingly risky – they will still make a profit but the profit-to-hassle ratio has changed – and they cannot be seen to play free shows because it would lower their professional reputation with reviewers and the media.

It can cost £7,500+ to stage a good comedy show in a major venue at the Fringe.

The Fringe is alive and well for Fringe-goers who want to take a free punt with a high risk of seeing shit… and for Fringe-goers who want to pay to see re-heated TV acts of known quality. But the Fringe is increasingly difficult to financially justify for excellent, experienced live comedians with no TV exposure.

Another factor this year will be the death of the Fringe in the new town.

Edinburgh is two cities – the ‘new town’ (Georgian) and the ‘old town’ (medieval).

With the move this year (for at least three years) of the major Assembly venue from George Street in the new town to George Square in the old town, all the Big Four venues will now be clustered around Bristo Square, George Square and the Cowgate.

People may decide to go to a specific show in the new town, but the four places where punters will come to vaguely sit down and only then decide which show to see will be the Pleasance Courtyard, the Udderbelly Pasture in Bristo Square, the Pleasance Dome in Bristo Square and the George Square gardens which will have, I understand, two new Assembly venues in them. So street flyerers will get more passing trade and bums-on-seats potential in or near Bristo Square/George Square/Cowgate (as well as in the traditional maelstrom of the High Street on the Royal Mile). If someone flyers in the new town near a venue, they will be flyering in isolation and not picking up other shows’ punters.

This August will be particularly interesting to see and particularly uncertain for performers, yet the lure of the Fringe is still almost irresistible. There is that 85% increase in people applying to perform at PBH Free Fringe venues.

Uncertainty is almost an aphrodisiac for performers, but the financial repercussions are incalculable and go on and on.

What will happen next year when the end of the London Olympics overlaps with the beginning of the Edinburgh Fringe? Who knows?

For years, I have tried to find someone who can juggle cooked spaghetti for one minute and have always been unable to find anyone. But I have blind faith success may be possible. In that respect, I suppose I am much like Fringe performers going to Edinburgh.

The Fringe is an ongoing Chinese curse: May you live in interesting times.

(NOTE TO READERS IN THE USA: The British English phrase “bums-on-seats” means something more financially sustainable than it does in American English)

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