DOWN AMONG THE BIG BOYS FEATURE
episodes of the US sitcom Hf. ad Of The Class only two years after vehemently insisting that, ‘I would no more have a TV series than a nail through my forehead’. The move to LA. brought him packets of cash, network exposure to 37 million people and the Stateside success which had been eluding him for eighteen years.
A second sitcom series, Billy, didn’t set the airwaves alight, but the laid-back California lifestyle obviously agrees with the less volatile 50-year-old Connolly. ‘I love it in America,’ he enthuses. ‘I can do whatever I want and be whoever! please.’
British acceptance came last year with a South Bank Show tribute and another sell-out national tour to celebrate 25 years as a stand-up comedian. But his ambivalent love/hate relationship with Scotland continues; relations with the Scottish press are non-existent (see outbursts at the premiere of the folk tribute Acoustic Routes in 199] and the Sunday Mail’s muck-raking piece by his mother). His relationship with Glasgow, the source and inspiration of much of his humour still although now a thousand LA. valleys away, is equally problematic. ‘I do go into the pubs and see some of the guys I grew up with,’ he said on his return to Partick last year. ‘lt’s a great laugh, but I give it ﬁfteen minutes then get out of there. Why? Because I’m rich and it’s uncomfortable. For them. Aye. And for me. It’s notjust because I’ve got a lot of money but it makes then feel like underachievers and they’re not.’
As for any Doubting Thomases who think that Connolly the agent-provocateur has been buried under an avalanche of Hollywood schmooze with his smooth-skinned demeanour, check out his l99l video, Live at the Hammersmith Odeon or alternatively his car door sticker which proudly proclaims: ‘This car is lead-free and fart-free.’
I Marriage is a wonderful invention, but then again so is a bicycle repair kit.
OH THE USA:
I I was in England and Scotland and it ’s like being in a black and white movie. There is Technicolour here.
I I ’ve always felt that if you didn 't get to the US you ’ve had half a career.
DH WARNER BROS:
I Money talks and bullshit walks.
I I look at cardboard city and then I see all the Porsches and I think I can ’t live like them.
DH HEAD OF THE CLASS:
I Some of my old audience would deﬁnitel y think this spells sell-out. But then they resented my getting popular years ago.
I It really doesn 't stand up to analysis. It 's such a fragile little bird, comedy, especially mine. It ’3 like Chinese food, and you have to make it again the following day.
I It ’s the biggest sin of the politically-correct lobby of comedy that they start putting rules on something that is boundless.
QUOTES OOHHOLLY HAS NEVER SAID:
I I will never work in Glasgow again
I I love the Sunday Mail
The BIG man
Peter McDougall may have a reputation as the difﬁcult, vodka- swilling wild man of Scottish TV drama. But as Thom Dibdin discovers, the reality is an opinionated writer with a ﬁrm sense of what he wants to achieve.
he prize winning writer of 25 screenplays; featured in the Daily Iiecord on account of his drinking bouts and aggression; his first play for the BBC, Just Another Saturday denounced by the then head of Scottish Police, ‘llammer’ Melee, who claimed it would cause bloodshed on the streets. Peter Mcliougall is referred to as ‘difficult’ by many of the producers, directors and publicists who have worked with him, as if he were a naughty little boy, a thoughtless recalcitrant.
The truth is rather different. To be sure he drinks. llis opinion of directors is that they’re a form of life slightly lower than the earwig. lie denies neither, but that is the sort of myth creation which detracts from his writing, from the brutally honest depiction of the raw edge of working-class culture in Glasgow.
It is the subjects he chooses to write about which are difficult. Sectarian violence in Just Another Saturday, the violence of men who haven’t outgrown after-school fisticuffs in Just A Boy's Game, gang violence in his only screen adaptation: Jimmy Boyle’s autobiography, A Sense 0! Freedom and heroin addiction in Shoot For The Sun. Ills next project is potentially his most difficult to date: the screenplay adaptation of Jeff Torrington’s Whitbread award-winning novel Swing Hammer Swing. When BBC bureaucrats talk about the difficulty of working with him it is because he is intensely loyal to his subjects and to the screenplays to which he devotes considerable time.
‘If you took two years to write something and the director screwed it up, wouldn’t you fucking hit him?’ he asks, upstairs at The Ubiquitous Chip, one hand wrapped round a vodka and tonic. lie is a natural teller of tales: answers to questions are never simple, but long discussions, with his reply couched in a wide range of references. Throughout the interview he fuels his broad, sand-blasted, Glaswegian accent with a chain of roll-ups which almost invariably scorch the whiskers of his walrus moustache.
McDougall’s latest screenplay is Down Among The Big Says, the story of two families brought together by marriage. Inevitably, because Billy Connolly stars as Jojo, a professional gangster who mastenninds a daring bank raid, it is being sold on those twin strengths, celebrity and crime. “Down Among The Big Boys is about a bank robbery? My arse!’ he says. ‘It’s nothing to do with bank robberies, I never even intended it (the robbery scene) to last seven minutes, that’s the director, I went fucking crazy when I saw that - all that time breaking through walls: I’m talking about families here.’
Down Among The Big Boys was originally conceived by Mcllougall as a series of six films, with the first using the bank robbery as a device to bring conflict to the marriage. The twist, or one of them, is that Jojo’s daughter is marrying the policeman who is eventually assigned to investigate the robbery. later films would have examined the relationships within the different families, relationships which the 90 minute film only has time to hint at, but which are there to see
if you’re looking for more than a simplistic thriller.
‘The next film would have been about the police father and his wife, and the fact that she separates from him,’ explains Peter Mcllongall. ‘That would have been their own filer with maybe Connolly making an appearance, but that’s all. The third would have been about the two childron that got married, I would have made the strain on them because he’s taken her father’s money. Then another would have been about Jojo and his wife and the fact that she can no longer live with the fact that he’s manipulating her son-ln-law.’
The film breaks new ground for McBougall in a variety of ways. ‘lt’s the first thing that I’ve done that doesn’t have any violence in it,’ he says. The violence simmers under the surface, behind the most controlled performance of Billy Connolly's career. ‘Billy carried it, through the way he spoke and all the rest of it. Even walking into a bar, he only needed to turn his head: people came to him. That’s what I wanted from Billy, I didn’t want people with chisel marks all over their faces, that’s just nonsense.’
What Peter McDougall’ detractors miss is his integrity. lie is not only loyal to his script, railing against the prevailing climate at the BBC which has forced self-censorship into the film - his first where no-one says ‘fucklng’ even when the plot cries out for it- but also for up and coming actors and writers. lie makes sure that the talents which attract the likes of Connolly and Maggie Bell to his work also allow younger talent to shine. ‘l’ve been lucky,’ he says, ‘I put something back, because from working in a shipyard I’ve got to the way I live now. Fucking right: I’m lucky.’ 0 Peter McDougaII is the subject of a 8802 Late Show special ‘Big Boy’s Tale’ to be broadcast on Wednesday September 15.
Down Among The Big Boys is scheduled for broadcast on Sunday, September 19 as part of 8801’s Screen One season.
PETER McDOllGALl: ‘From working in a shipyard I’ve got to the way I live now. Fucking right: I’m lucky.’