FEATURE RAB C. NESBITI“
The most famous figure to emerge from Glasgow in 1990 was a far cry from the cultural ideal. Tom Lappin spoke to GREGOR FISHER, wanted in Strathclyde and beyond under the name of Rab C. Nesbitt. the scum that floated to the top of the BBC2 audience figures table.
unny old thing. celebrity. The two business lunchers engrossed in conversation about double density disk drives and how much a new gearbox is going to cost them. break offin mid-sentence to stare down the i length ofthe restaurant. After a briefpause. . one ofthem asks ‘isn’t that the fat guy on ' telly. with the bandage'?‘ l
And he‘s right. Gregor Fisher. sans head bandage or string vest is still unmistakeably Rab C. Nesbitt. Scotland's latest anti—hero. It’s not just the giveaway torso. it‘s in the eyes and the smile. only slightly more restrained than Rab‘s glazed grin. Not that Fisher is grinning very often. Early on he makes it clear: ‘I don‘t do a lot ofinterviews. because what journalists write is invariably a load ofcrap.‘ Not a promising start. and one that begs the question as to why he's doing this one. Presumably he‘s not that desperate for a free lunch and. let‘s face it. he’s not really in need of the publicity either. with a sellout stage tour and a hit TV series behind him.
Last year was like a hugely funny conceptual joke at the expense of ‘high art‘. There was Glasgow. basking in its role as European City Of Culture. getting stuck right into the Tramway. the Burrell. the Third Eye . . . and what was the city‘s biggest success in 1990? A shambling pavement philosopher from Govan. a self-proclaimed ‘fat bastard piece of scum‘ in string vest and head bandage. spitting out fish suppers and lager while delivering great lurching rants and pulling in a steady four and a halfmillion viewers on the BBC2 network. By the end of the year. discerning types from Plymouth to Inverness were practising their slurred ‘See youse . . . ‘. and Peter Brook’s Tempest could go hang.
Rab C. Nesbitt has gained a completely unexpected place in the nation‘s affections.
and not everybody in the culture mafia likes I it. There’s a certain uneasy feeling in some circles that this guy is undermining
Glasgow‘s credibility. perpetuating harmful .
stereotypes. and generally knocking a bit of
the gloss offthe ‘Miles Better‘ myth. These people‘s lives have been further blighted by Rab‘s recent venture into theatre. They could just about cope with him on the small screen. but to have him up there on stage I (and invariably playing to full houses) his
script dripping with references to ‘chipping l
T4 The List 28June— 1 1 July 1991
hardened snot off the furniture” and french-kissing with a mouthful ofchips. is invading their sacred territory. Working-class theatre is all well and good when it’s something like The Ship. or making points about noble and plucky communities struggling through. but writer Ian Pattison‘s unashamed celebration ofthe waster Nesbitt isn‘t culture. is it?
Fisher disagrees in no uncertain terms. ‘These people mystify me.‘ he says. ‘What irritates me. what I find tedious is the blinkered attitude of some people in the media. the Allan Massies of this world. who say things that seem to be totally ridiculous. just because it‘s the trendy “cerebral” critics‘ way of dealing with a play like Rab C. Nesbitt. They will say. like the reviewer did in The List. in that slightly superior tone. “if you like this sort ofthing. with jokes like ‘I didn‘t expect to be welcomed with open arms. but open legs would have been good‘. go and see it”. and I think “fuck off and wank somewhere else. " Ask the professor who was there the other night. ask the bricklayer. ask the complete cross-section of the public. . .‘
Not that what the critics have to say matters very much anyway. he admits. slightly embarrassed by the outburst. All the same he is obviously irritated by people’s attempts to pigeonhole Nesbitt as a cheap populist show of no real consequence. While admitting that ‘it‘s just a comedy show'. he takes umbrage at my assumption that it won’t be winning any Olivier awards. and he is scathing about elitist critics who look down their noses. ‘This attitude existed long before Rab C. Nesbitt came along.‘ he argues. ‘I‘ve seen official Festival productions in this city that have been reviewed in glowing terms. simply because they‘ve had a budget of.£25().()()(). a fancy director. a lighting man flown up from London and everyone’s gone “ebsolutely wonderful daaarling". and it’s been crap. It‘s like the Emperor‘s new clothes. He‘s standing there bollock-naked and they‘re too stupid to notice.‘
Fisher‘s reaction is understandable. in that Nesbitt is a rather more complex character than he is given credit for. Pattison bolsters up the scripts‘ lavatorial elements with some trenchant observations on working-class life. and a reasonably accurate portrayal of some ofthe miseries ofliving on Family
Credit in the 90s. Nesbitt is. as Fisher
- admits. ‘the sort ofguy you see in a bus
station and think “Oh shit. is he going up the stairs or down. if he's going up. I‘ll go
down.“‘. but he‘s more than that. and more
than a lazy stereotype. I Ie‘s an archetype.
5 He might be a stereotype to people who
walk around blindfolded. lfthey looked they‘d realise he‘s a fairly universal character in a classic comedy situation. He‘s trapped in a position he can‘t get out of. He‘s a guy like a lot of people. whether it be in Sussex or Drumchapel. everyone is trying. in their own sweet way. to keep their head above water. There‘s something very attractive about that. He doesn‘t get it quite right. but everyone likes to see someone trying.‘
‘We actually like the guy. you see. You
have to go beyond certain things and the way j
he communicates. He is a very dignified man. Sure. because he takes a drink. and
because he walks around in a string vest with 3
a bandage on his head. people think he‘s a foul-mouthed terrible person. He‘s not. I don‘t think it bears getting heavy about. He’s a survivor who sometimes talks a lot of rubbish and makes the occasional pertinent point about the way people live their lives. He’s not what he appears at first-hand to be. Ifhe were that. a foul-mouthed. obnoxious drunk. he wouldn’t have survived. and he wouldn’t be entertaining.‘
Fisher can’t be completely impervious to some ofthe criticisms. After all. he had his own doubts when Ian Pattison first mooted the idea for a Naked Video sketch. ‘No-one was very keen at first. least ofall me. It‘s no secret that I didn‘t like that idea of“Let‘s bash the West Coast ofScotland. what a load of headbangers live here. “ I just thought it was going up a certain path I‘d been several times before. That’s when you don’t look and don’t listen. and I didn‘t. I was missing it. It took a certain amount of persuasion from Colin Gilbert who produced the show. and after all pays my wages.‘
And the rest. as they say is audience figures. Fisher was as surprised as anyone by the success ofthe show. ‘Sure thing, you‘d be needing a lobotomy if you weren’t surprised. I could put forward various theories to explain his success. but whether they’re right or not. who can tell?” Needless to say. the concern ofthe BBC bigwigs that Rab‘s vernacular would be found