GREGOR FISHER FEATURE
‘llesbitt’s sometimes screaming in top gear and this character never gets into top gear. It’s very gentle.’
disappoint Para purists, but frankly, he doesn’t care.
‘There will be people who say Para Handy would never have worn a bowler hat on a ship.’ he says, pausing before adding: ‘but I don’t want to alert them to that. We’re not televising some list of the number of rivets on a puffer, we’re trying to make a television series.’
The run of six 50-minute episodes was shot on a £3 million budget in various picturesque locations along Scotland’s west coast. ‘Every inlet, we were up it, if you know what 1 mean,’ says Fisher gleefully. Some of those places reminded him of childhood holidays, away from his Neilston home on Glasgow’s south side. ‘The filming was a laugh and it was also uncomfortable,’ he says. ‘Force seven or eight gales driving in your face — there’s nicer ways to spend a day.’
Producer of the series is Colin Gilbert, BBC Scotland’s head of comedy and the man responsible for bringing us such gems as Naked Radio, Naked Video, Scotch & Wry and of course, Nesbitt. He beat several other interested parties eager to squeeze Fisher into Para Handy’s shoes, following the recent lapse of copyright for Munro’s tales. ‘lt’s not a case of resurrecting Para Handy,’ he says. ‘lt’s just doing it, like Liam Neeson doing Rob Roy. When we were doing Nesbitt, we were often thinking about other charcters Gregor could do. He’s absolutely tailor-made to do Para Handy.’
Besides the obvious creative ones, Gilbert has sentimental reasons for plunging into Para’s charmed world. His mother Fiona Clyne acted in the 1953 Ealing comedy The Maggie, based on the Para Handy tales. To create the all-new Para Handy, he had to unearth an original puffer to pose as the Vital Spark. He hopes the 1943 Royal Navy vessel VIC 27 will last long enough to finish filming a second Para Handy series next year.
Gilbert’s inspired thinking teamed Fisher with Rikki Fulton, who plays Don Macphail, chief engineer of the Vital Spark. The two comic institutions go back a long way. Fisher remembers grappling with a six-line part beside Fulton’s starring role during the 19705, before joining him on the Hogmanay comedy sketch show Scotch & Wry. ‘He was the journeyman and I was the apprentice,’ says Fisher reverently. Obviously the relationship has evened out over the years, allowing the actors to abandon discussions about their craft. Between bouts of filming and swarms of west coast midgies on the Para Handy set, they tackled ‘metaphysics’, says Fisher.
With nine Para Handy episodes in the bag and another three planned, hopes are high for the lovable character. Whether the public will take to him with Rab C. Nesbitt’s awesome shadow hanging over him remains to be seen. Fisher has only this to say: ‘1 don’t think it will be light the blue touch paper and stand back. Nesbitt hit the spot right away — this is a slow burner that will creep up on you.’ Cl Para Handy is launched on BBC 1 on Sunday 31 July at 8pm.
‘ ' WA:- *1
) Sean Scanlan, Gregor Flsher, Andrew Falrllo, and ltlklrl Fulton
The crew of The Vital Spark; (lett to right
The List 29 July—ll August 1994 9