A history of Scottish art is coming shortly to our screens. Beatrice Colin found out why Billy Connolly now loves the smell of turpentine.

ame must be a drag for Billy Connolly. Wherever he raises his head. crowds of fans appear in coaches. from behind bushes. clutching cameras, pens and a sense of familiarity. Like Sean C. he’s one of the exiled media nobility. refusing to talk to the press but always having a few minutes spare to chat. sign and smile. This autumn. he’s been spotted filming in Rome. the South of France. Connecticut. London and all over Scotland.

But this was no stand-up routine-round-the- world. Now he’s playing the straight man. Almost. As the presenter of The Bigger Picture. a six-part series on the history of Scottish art. Connolly has been travelling through the centuries. giving his own definitive version which will be piped straight into your living room. No more long-winded pontificators wearing corduroy trousers: Billy. the people’s famous friend. brings high-brow to all-brows. ‘For me. he’s in a direct line from Lord Kenneth Clark of Civilisation in the l960s.’ says

producer. John Archer. ‘Then there was Robert Hugh and Shock of the New in the late 703 and early 80s and now Billy. He‘s a born storyteller. just right for today.’

And so. with arms flailing. eyes blazing and a voice like grated chocolate. he effortlessly weaves stories with punchlines and facts, illuminating Scotland’s art history with his own enthusiasm. ‘Billy is a big art collector.’ points out Archer. ‘He has a large collection of Aboriginal art but he claims that by the time he became interested in Scottish art. he was too famous to visit the galleries. Art was something he was keen to learn more about. so he learns with the viewer. making this journey through time. It was a real change in direction for him and he really enjoyed it.’

The six episodes have been written by Andrew Gibbon Williams. also an occasional contributor to The List. Split into six periods which cover Classicism. Portrait painting. Landscapes. Romanticism. Modern and Contemporary. each 30-minute programme is a whistle-stop history lesson of large events. with explanations of how they related to the art of the times. Contemporary artists punctuate the programmes. enlivening the past: Ian Hamilton Finlay at Little Sparta. Earl Haig painting a landscape. David Donaldson in his Provence home and John Bellany painting a portrait of Connolly.

But some may see The Bigger Picture as ; another step in the ghettoising of Scottish " culture. patting itself on the back for past 5 achievements while other countries think ahead. think Euro. ‘When we came to thinking about the title for this series. we could have called it. Local Heroes.” says Archer. ‘But what we wanted to stress was that Scotland had its own history of art but that history has been influenced by what’s been happening in the rest of the world. in Rome in the 18th century or France in the 19th century or America in the 20m century. It has taken in other influences and it’s not a closed-off place.‘

‘That’s why the title is The Bigger Picture; it’s!

8 The List 17 December “N343 January I994