ARNOLD BROWN FEATURE
radio and television. If he is cool. scathing and unflappable onstage. he is 100 mph. sentimental and gently spoken when he stands down. He chuckles periodically at his own jokes. as if startled by his capacity for wit.
Explaining the fascination for tearoom culture that surfaces in his book. he remarks: ‘I never felt good about pubs — you get all the trouble there. You never hear of a fray or a tight in a tearoom. with people shouting: “You just spilt my Earl Grey." That said. he grabs his black briefcase. shrugs on his overcoat and excuses himself before heading for the men‘s toilets. The journey into Brown‘s murky past is about to begin.
Apologising to taxi driver Jackie for the ensuing running commentary. the comedian settles into his seat. First pitstop is the Institute ofChartercd Accountants. where a sixteen-year- old Brown took nightclasses. intent on earning himself a decent crust. ‘Accountancy was suggested to me by a careers ofliccr.‘ he says. ‘lt was at the beginning of the alphabet.‘
Heading towards Glasgow's south side. we approach the Gorbals. where his grandparents settled around 1900 with hundreds of other Eastern European Jews fleeing political and economic oppression. Brown is intensely aware of the stereotypes historically attached to the Jewish community and is eager to explode them. onstage and off.
‘Jewish people are identified with wealth because they weren‘t allowed to work in the ordinary way.’ he explains. ‘ln the old country they weren‘t allowed to live in certain areas. have certain jobs or go to certain schools. They had occupations that didn‘t require outside interference. They were allowed to be money lenders and set up their own banks. but it was an environmental thing.‘ He breaks off. laughing: ‘lt wasn’t in their genes.‘
The taxi turns into South Portland Street and Brown laments the disappearance of the synagogue, he worshipped in as a child. His
ILLUSTRATIONS BY KEN COX
‘G-L-E-S-G-A. That‘s another way of spelling the name of this great city, the Second City of the British Empire.‘
sentiments are not religious: he needs a skull- cap for that night’s stage show. having lost his last one. ‘l've never been religious and I‘m not scared of (iod — he never did anything to mc.‘ says Brown as we drive towards Dixon Avenue. (‘rosshilL where the comedian was brought up.
The son of a ’mother mother' and a tailor“s presser who later owned a fruit shop in 'l‘radeston. Brown was raised in a tenement flat with no hot water or bath. The family did have an inside toilet — a status symbol he suspects disqualilies him from being working class. His eyes widen. even moisten as we approach (‘alder Street public baths. where his weekly ablutions took place until the age of fourteen. ‘The expectations of the working class were very
low,‘ he says. ‘I went to the bloody public baths once a week — that‘s why I had no friends. You were handed a towel and a piece of carbolic soapf
Brown trades memories with Jackie the taxi driver about the tearoom buzz. of their youth. then reminisces about being turned down by girls at the Plaza ballroom. The romance disappears as we take a sharp turn onto Victoria Road and he recounts coming face to face with religious bigotry paraded in the name of pride. ‘I was about ten and I didn't know what the Orange march was about. When I tried to cross the street. I was thrown back on the pavement.‘ Purtively. he muses: ‘The Orange march is a mixture of bigotry and rickets.‘ provoking loud laughter from Jackie.
Approaching the entrance to Queen's Park. from where on a clear day you can look right into the heart of Glasgow. Brown mellows out again. He is talking about football. a subject which naturally crops up in his shows and his book. Being Jewish. he had little interest in the Old Firm. preferring to support the now-defunct C‘rosshill team Third Lanark. ‘We weren’t supposed to go to football matches — Saturday was a religious day.’ he says. ‘We were supposed to think about religious things . . .‘ He pauses before adding: ‘l.ike Rangers and Celtic.‘
We debate whether to visit his birth place in Paisley Road West along the road from lbrox. where Brown returned to support Frank Sinatra at lbrox in 1990. It was the ultimate gig. played before a crowd of l0.000
But Brown's priority is tonight‘s audience and the bid to find a skull-cap. Remembering there was a synagogue in Garnethill when he was a boy. he bids farewell and turns his mind to the crusade in hand. '_l _ Arc You Looking xi! Mc, Jimmy? by Arnold Brown (/Wt’I/Illt’ll) is published on Mon 12 Sept (1! [7.99. Arno/d Brown is playing at the Tron Theatre, Glasgow on Fri 9 and Sat 10 Sept at H). [Sp/n, .[7( [6).
‘I'm talklng about that summer evening In July 1990, when l was the warm-up act for one of the world’s greatest slngers, Frank
Sinatra. It was held In the open alr before ten thousand “Swinging
lovers" at lbrox Park, the home of Rangers Football Club.’
The List 9 ~22 September l99-113