Bing Hitler talks pantos to Graham Caldwell. Photo by Douglas MacGregor. If there were to be a prize awarded for the year‘s most bizarre panto then it could already be on its way to Glasgow‘s Tron Theatre. For their first departure into ‘traditional’ seasonal theatre. Michael Boyd and Co have chosen to put on Sleeping Beauty. No ordinary Sleeping Beauty. this one features Take the High Road's John StahI as the evil Doctor Vincent Hex. Jake D‘Arcy as Spiro. the pantomine fly and. strangest of all. the ‘outrageously funny‘ Bing Hitler as Prime Minister
of Vulgaria. When the plans were announced earlier this year the reaction was such that it made the news columns of the Glasgow Herald and Evening Times. After all. wasn‘t
Bing Hitler the man whose language made Billy Connolly look like a
cissy. whose album boasts ‘millions
ofswearie words‘. — the man who has appalled thousands from Maryhill to the (‘afe Royale? And they‘re letting
him loose on children . . . never can a
pantomime have been so eagerly
anticipated in years.
‘It's a simple tale ofeveryday Royal folk in Vulgaria who are frightened by an everyday pantomime dentist.‘ explains Bing. otherwise known as Craig Ferguson. who. together with Peter (‘apaldi. co-wrote Sleeping Beauty. ‘lt‘s very traditional in many ways.‘ The storyline is much the same as the fairy story with a few alterations such as the Prince and Princess meeting before the awakening kiss. ‘I didn‘t really think that was on.‘ says Craig. ‘all credit to Jacob and Wilhelm. but nah . . . nochance. Waking up aftera hundred years and falling in love with the first geek you meet? No. no . . . not allowed.‘ Not that he has anything against traditional pantos which he has loved since he was a lad — the first time he ‘laughed my head right off‘ was seeing Stanley Baxter in Mother Goose and he has long been a fan of comics such as Larry Marshal and Francie and Josie — ‘very sexy acts!‘
The intention was to write an up-to-date panto which would appeal to a wide audience in a different way. "There are ways of making a show a family show without making it a “family” show — with double entendres that the kids won‘t get and the adults will. . . that's an easy enough cop out and was out from the start.
The pantomime fly was jokingly explained away as being cheaper
than a horse (‘You know the kind of budget we work on‘). but an evil dentist? ‘I thought dentists were fucking evil anyway. Anybody that wants to drill teeth for a living. . . Jeeesus!‘ But wholesome entertainment nevertheless? Given his reputation there might be some lingering doubts. He insists there are no swearie words. ‘I didn‘t want to alienate adults through swearing because it‘s adults who would be alienated rather than kids. . . although “fuck” would shock them.‘ He goes further in defending the play against would-be critics. ‘If there is sex in the play there is just a feeling of it there for all to see as opposed to smut. because there is no smut in this pantomime whatever.‘
Ferguson‘s arrival on the comedy scene was by a circuitous route. He started out as a musician. playing drums with The Dreamboys together with Capaldi before moving on to join James King and the Lone Wolves. In my experience drummers are invariably disinclined to take a back seat. continually seeking attention outwith their station. A man of Ferguson‘s sensibilities was unsuited to such a role. ‘It was useless. I wanted to be a star!‘ Stardom. in fact. escaped him in the first instance when the Lone Wolves celebrated his departure by immediately signing a record deal. Strangely enough. Ferguson says he was ‘dead sick‘ at that particular turn ofevents. ‘Maybe that‘s why I went to New York.‘ And it was. indeed. to the Big Apple that Craig turned in 1984. more specifically to the Comic Strip on 78th Street. When he was not ‘training‘. as he now describes it. he supported himself by doing part-time construction work. New York audiences he describes as aggressive. ‘the same way Glasgow audiences are aggressive‘. It was an aspect of performing that he turned to his advantage and has surely been instrumental in forming his stage persona.
Doing a pantomime is however rather a dramatic departure for a man who has recently come to public prominence as the self-styled leader of the Scottish Nazi party. It must have involved a great change in approach? ‘Not as much as I thought I was going to have to. The style doesn‘t change — obviously I can‘t swear as much but the delivery and the venom that Bing has and the attitudes he has are still there. He‘s still the same character. . . it‘s just slightly modified in a tethered sort of way.‘
It‘s a departure that is only the first of many for Ferguson. This New Year sees him starring in Scottish 'I‘elevision‘s Hogmanay Show alongside Muriel Grey. Jimmy Mulville. the wonderful Elaine C. Smith. Lloyd Cole and others. In the run up to the panto‘s opening night he has been filming during the day and rehearsing at the Tron in the evening which he admits is hard work. but fun. About his own contributions to Gus‘s revamped Ne‘er Day he is. unfortunately. tight-lipped. ‘Sorry. no comment. . . I‘ve been told to keep my trap shut.‘
Next year sees more I V work as
well as the lead role in Gogol‘s play Gamblers, which will be premiered at the Tron before moving on the Edinburgh‘s Traverse Theatre. He would. he says, like to try movie work although ‘this.‘ he gestures around backstage at the Tron. ‘is my first love.‘ At the press launch of Sleeping Beauty. he intimated to me that 1987 would see the demise of the Bing character which has carried him to fame—wouldn‘t his ‘killing off” at this stage be a tad premature? ‘He‘s not going to like die on stage. He‘s still there. stillwill be there. If I‘m still doing him in twenty years time. but doing other things as well. then I‘ll be happy. You can‘t write for just one character forever.‘
This character. however. has reached as far as London where Ferguson has been invited to perform at the Comedy Store
He is in several minds as to whether to go (‘isn‘t that a clique down there?‘), but says he will very probably act on his agent‘s recommendation. Although he doesn‘t say so you perhaps sense that Ferguson thinks that if Mayall. Elton and Co were Glaswegian they could be found drinking spritzers in the Ubiquitous Chip.
Bing may not yet have taken the Smoke by storm but he has created enough attention in Scotland to even warrant a feature in the Daily Record — an experience which has made him all too aware of the tribulation of stardom. ‘It made me look the biggest prick that ever lived . . . they did a butcher job on me that I find unforgivable.‘
His experience has left him a wiser man determined to be ‘absolutely straight‘ with the Press from whom he deserves better. His outrageous humour may not be to everyone‘s taste but his act is in no way indicative of his character. Offstage he is a friendly. open and amusing man who acknowledges that he is fortunate to be in his current position without having had to go through the usual acting channels ofdrama school and Rep. although he does feel that he has served ‘some sort of apprenticeship‘ through his work both here and in America. He is particularly proud to have been chosen to lead in Gamblers. ‘It‘s going to be agreat . . .great . . .‘ ‘Challenge.’ Isuggest. ‘Well. yes. . . I didn‘t want to sound like somebody on Wogan.‘
To return to Sleeping Beauty. Ferguson professes to be unaware of the almost visible air ofanticipation surrounding its opening although he is keen that it is not seen as ‘The Young Ones Go To The Pantomime. which it certainly isn‘t.‘ His
reputation. he hopes. will not put people off and he would like both adults and children to come and see it. ‘Ifthey‘re expecting swearie words and blazing sex on stage then they‘re going to be sadly wrong. . . but. ifthey want something very different but definitely pantomime then I hope they‘re going to be
happy. Sleeping Beauty starts at the Tron
Theatre, Glasgow on 12 Dec. Bing Hitler is also in Scottish Television's New Year show — see media lsitings.
6 The List 12 Dec — 8 Jan