long as I can.‘
It seems to be something ofa double-edged blessing. however. Though he clearly loves the adrenalin rush of laughter — ‘it shoots through you like jungle juice‘ — he still finds the long slog of the panto season. which basically takes up three months of the performers‘ life. hard work.
‘lfit wasn‘t for the enjoyment that you get from the performance. it just wouldn‘t be possible. It used to worry me when l was very young. just starting in the business. and it became clear to me that I was going to be on the night shift as a general rule.‘
He becomes a little wistful. ‘I would make my way to the theatre and I remember seeing homes lit up — because it was winter. and dark. and people had their lights on and their blinds drawn — and it was so welcoming. I love going home. that‘s my favourite pastime. The idea that l was going to be going to work when these people would be settling down for the evening. you know. with the tea on . . . But I came to understand that what I was thinking was wrong. What was happening was that I was having a night out with 1500-1800 people. Because they‘ve had their tea and they‘ve all come for a night out and they‘re spending it with me.‘
Although he has built up an unshakeable loyalty amongst audiences in Scotland. however. in England he is not nearly so well known. It is not something that seems to worry him. He lived in London for four years— ‘I hated it‘ — and since then has stayed in Glasgow. harbouring no desire to leave. Why‘.’ ‘Well.‘ he says. reﬂectively. ‘apart from the usual — loving this country and liking living here — I absolutely prefer working to a Scottish audience. And I don‘t have much interest outside that as fa as work is concerned — because they understand me and I understand them.‘
The viewing figures for Scotch and Wry would seem to bear him out. ‘Well it‘s really forthem. It‘s truly ethnic in that way. There was a time when London wondered what was going on up here. you know these enormous figures we get. and wondered whether they should get in on it and have it down the network. But when they saw it. they stuck their noses in the air and said. “oh no. people couldn‘t understand that“. Any idea that we would anglicise it for consumption elsewhere was just out of the question. though — the producer. director and l ﬂatly refused. It‘s done for Scottish people and that‘s the way it remains.‘
Specific incidents. characters and references certainly might not travel. A sketch once turned on the appearance ofTV cop. Taggart; the series‘ best-loved character is the dour Presbyterian minister. l M Jolly. But I wonder whether Fulton thinks Scottish comedy itself has a particular identity? ‘That‘s one of those things that takes you into an intellectual discussion about “what is comedy‘.‘ says Fulton. laughing, and sensibly fighting shy of Pseuds‘
Corner. ‘I happen to believe that funnyis funnyis funny. . . I think basically a thing is funny so long as it’s presented with some regard to whatever ethnic community you‘re directingit at. But it‘sa very hard subject. that.‘
Pantomime is a different matter. however. Scotland is famous for its panto tradition. having avoided giving way to the TV star vehicle. ‘I think we still have in our panto the values we‘ve always kept.‘ says Fulton. ‘lt‘s a very individual art form. all on its own — it involves a curious technique. quite different from anything else.
‘lt‘s basically the total inclusion of the audience. You talk to them virtually all the time. That‘s not as easy as it sounds. because in straight plays you rarely break down the fourth wall. In pantomime it doesn‘t exist — but more than that. you have to reach out and bring the audience onto the stage.‘
Pantomimes elsewhere often fall down because the performers don‘t realise this. he feels: ‘There are moments in any performance when an audience responds in a particular way. because it‘s the natural thing for them to do. They expect to respond. And ifyou deny them the opportunity you actually take two steps back.
‘We do pantomime tip here better than almost anywhere else in the world. I think it does have to do with the variety tradition. but I don‘t think it is because of any kind of a cultural link. I think it‘s because of the people who have come from that variety tradition and have trained in a very specific way — to direct themselves to the audience. So that fourth wall comes down immediately. A variety performer would do that naturally.‘
Along with most of Scotland‘s other top dames. Fulton fears that this sort of hard-won knowledge might vanish with this generation. He has written and directed pantomimes. but stresses that nothing can replace actual experience on stage. Playing dame. for instance. is not something that comics. however successful elsewhere. can just drop into. ‘Pantomime itself is a very definite artform with a specific technique.
but dame is a separate technique again and very difficult. I remember [had to play dame the first time I ever did panto. I was very bad.‘
What his next move will be. he is not yet sure. He expresses some reservations to my suggestion that Scottish Opera will wrestle him from the arms ofpanto to play Siegfried and Don Giovanni in their next season. In fact. he points our. his next act might not take place on stage but on the page. He has several things to write. and one unfinished play already on the back burner. ‘Well I‘ve got to do something with the word processor. . . ‘
Search and Wry is on BBC Scotland on 31 December at 10.50pm.
lolanthe continues until 30 December at Theatre Royal, Glasgow.
See Panto A—2 and Classical Music Listings.
Andrew Burnet met.
‘Hull-()()!‘ booms a smartly dressed Stanley Baxter with a beam. and seizes me warmly by the hand. demanding information about ‘this list‘. (ilancing down at my jeans and unpolished shoes. I wonder anxiously which list he means. and whether I am on it. Fortunately . a journalist is on hand from Scot/am] on Sunday. who gives The List a glowing report. A n expatriate who has lived in London since l‘)5‘). Baxter has seen neither publication. but appears pleased.
Scotland‘s best loved ambassador. whose fame — unlike that of his closest rivals — has been established in exile. he is in Edinburgh (ironically enough) to film the latest instalment of the seminal l’arliamo Glasgow at Scottish 'l‘elevision‘s Gateway Studios. The ten-minute pearl of popular parlance. co-starring Dorothy Paul. was recorded in one evening and will be the toast of S'l‘V‘s l logmanay celebrations. to be taken in a single dram after midnight.
(‘reated by Baxter with expert advice from the noted linguist Alex Mitchell. l’arliamo (ilasgow is an educational series aimed at placing the Glaswegian tongue into its true social context. ‘lt‘s the lingua/ranra ofScotland.‘ says Baxter. ‘When you hear an Aberdonian child going “ERRAPERRAPL'IRRS()NNA- (‘l lERROl'jRRRliRR“ you know you‘re on the right lines.‘
The near-legendary series (of which this is thought to be the twelfth — though it is never easy to define the near-legendary) has apparently been well received south of the Border. but its incidental entertainment value is greater up here. Baxter explains: ‘In Scotland they laugh because they know what you‘re saying. then they read the caption and laugh again. and then when you
Stanley aer in full flow as Widow Twankey
‘ts Stanley Baxter.
give the translation they latiin a third time. In England you lose the first laugh.‘ According to popular myth. the series originated when Baxter and Mitchell saw an Italian-teaching programme on television. and were struck by its possibilities. Keen to strike a blow for his native culture. Baxter at once agreed to appear as both protagonist and learned interpreter.
To him. of course. this was a trifling challenge. l lis versatility is such that to play forty roles in an hour is not beyond the span of his talents. Having found his way onto the small screen in 1959 in the BB(‘ series On The Bright Side. he set to work on increasing his repertoire of faces and voices. This was also his chance to develop the ribald. face-pulling spoofs and caricatures which we now take almost for granted. (‘hannel-hopping to LW'l' in the early Seventies. he eventually became known as the man whose television shows were replete with scores of characters. all of whom bore startling resemblance to Baxter himself. Admiration and popularity blossomed. and at length BAFI‘A could overlook his skill and imagination no longer. In 1974. no less than five awards were bestowed upon the Stanley Baxter Big Picture Show. one of which acknowledged the make-up which could transform .loan Bakewell to the Pope and back again before you could say ‘two-shot‘.
Not content with being himselves all the time. he had developed a compulsion to imitate others. l lc was the first impersonator to do the Queen (’a very affectionate spoof.‘ he says. which was well received - as was Baxter himself. in due course — by Her Majesty); and it was while portraying John Gielgud as a game show host in 197‘) that he met with
\’ f; .3.
The List 23 Dec 1988— 12 Jan 19897