In the taxi on the way to Glasgow's Theatre Royal the cab driver asks me what I‘m doing. ‘Seeing Rikki Fulton.‘ I tell him. ‘Oh say hallo from me.‘ he says.

This strange mixture ofdistance and affection, the feeling that they know him. colours many people's attitude to Rikki Fulton. People will shout chummily to him in the street. or pump his hand like a rarely met friend. ‘Sometimes you can be approached in the wrong way.‘ says Fulton. ‘You know. when you‘ve got


Rib-tickling. wise-cracking. side-splitting. wacky. . . The List talks to some of the people who are going to be funny over Christmas. To kick off. Rikki Fulton talks to Sarah llemming.

half a pound of mince in your hand

and someone slaps you on the back.‘

He leaves the picture to grow in your mind. Over the past thirty-five years Fulton has achieved the status in Scotland of near folk hero; his

. Search and ll'ry programme on New Year‘s Eve tips the viewing figures at nearly 3 million: his pantomimes sell out in a wink last year‘s (‘inderellw Fulton and Walter ('arr appearing as Ugly Sisters. achieved a box office

Rikki Fulton in lolanthe

turnover of over {600.000. This year. he looks a little tired. as though carrying the weight of these figures on his back. While he will be appearing in his usual place on TV at Hogmanay. in the tenth anniversary of Score/1am! Wry. on stage he is to be found in the unaccustomed company ofScottish ()pera. playing Lord Chancellor in [alum/w at their invitation.

‘I think my first reaction was to say. “oh now wait a minute. that's a wee bit far fetched." says Fulton. ‘1 don‘t know yet whether it was a good idea or not.’ He fingers a plate of sandwiches. meditatively. We are sitting either side of this plate of sandwiches. buried in a quiet little room. many corridors away from the backstage bustle. where large opera singers rumble back and forth going ‘rum-ti-tum‘. and fairies rip past you in lacy bodices. Fulton. a little weary and worried two days before opening night. is disarmineg candid. evidently finding opera rehearsals hard work. "l‘he way of working is not the way we do it on the other side.‘ he says quietly. This is his operatic debut although he has always made plain his interest in classical music. he has never actively courted Covent Garden: ‘Well. I haven‘t been going around saying I must do Turandot . . .‘

Fulton‘s dry. soft-spoken delivery. his ability to put an audience into the aisles with just a twitch ofthe eyebrow or an acutely timed pause. has been honed down over years. He is famous for his ad-libbing— the secret. he says. being a cast-iron comic structure to begin with. plus years ofexperience ofaudience reaction but is possibly at his funniest when. clad in something frilly and absurd. he simply stands on po-faced dignity. He actually started out as a straight actor. but it didn't take long to discover that comedy was his bent: ‘Unfortunately it was when l was doing a straight thing on radio. I kept being ticked off because the studio was in uproar. Funny things to say would just pop up and I couldn't do anything about it. I just had to say them.‘

His comic career has now completely eclipsed any idea of going straight. ‘I had to face that one some years ago.‘ he says. a touch resignedly. ‘I got the urge to do some straight acting and it wasn‘t very satisfying. Then I realised that making people laugh is what I do best - and it‘s what people expect. At the preview of Gorky Park. for instance, the minute I appeared on screen as a very nasty man the audience roared. I realised I should just keep on making them laugh. as

6 The List 23 Dec 1988 12 Jan 1989