Scotsman article 23 May 2004 

Scotsman article 23 May 2004


Why Jack and Victor will burn their kilts

AS IRASCIBLE old rascals Jack and Victor might colourfully put it from their vantage point at Osprey Heights: "What a shower of bastards."

Ford Kiernan and Greg Hemphill, the comedy duo behind the hugely successful TV sitcom Still Game, have launched an outspoken attack on London-based BBC executives, accusing them of being anti-Scottish "arseholes".

The pair, who drew in an astonishing 1.5 million viewers for the first episode of the third series, say the Corporation will only network the show across the UK if they tone down their Scottish accents.

Kiernan and Hemphill say BBC chiefs hinted they should be aiming for "Monarch of the Glen with humour" if they wanted the goings-on in fictional Craiglang aired south of the Border.

But in a two-fingered salute to English BBC broadcasters, the pair, who shot to fame with the hit series Chewin’ the Fat, said they were calling the first episode of their next series ‘Burning the F****** Kilt’.

They also threatened to give the characters elocution lessons to teach them to talk in a Home Counties accent. "Then we’d get our BBC network slot on a Sunday night," Kiernan told Scotland on Sunday.

Hemphill and Kiernan have enjoyed spectacular success with Still Game, which features the adventures of pensioners Jack and Victor, who live in a 1960s tower block called Osprey Heights in the fictional Glasgow community of Craiglang.

BBC Scotland says the show is enjoying the highest viewing figures north of the Border for any programme in the past five years.

The first episode in the third series attracted a total of 1,520,100 viewers, a figure which includes the Friday programme, the repeat on Sunday and the viewers who taped the episode to watch later.

This figure makes it the most watched BBC comedy episode in Scotland ever, outperforming Chewin’ the Fat, which at its height averaged 610,100 viewers per broadcast. The chat show McCoist and MacAulay attracted an average of 960,000 viewers.

Kiernan and Hemphill now want the show rolled out across the BBC’s UK network.

Kiernan said that although they were still in negotiations, they had been told in meetings with London executives that they would have to tone down their accents so their jokes could be understood.

Hemphill said: "I think the BBC are making rather an arse of it to be honest. I’m not talking about the people who commission the show. I’m talking about those arseholes down south."

Kiernan added: "They [BBC London bosses] have implied that we would need to tone it down as the accent might be a barrier across the UK.

"They are looking at a sort of Monarch of the Glen with laughs. It would have to be a flattened out Scottish accent.

"So Jack and Vic are going to get elocution lessons and get lovely Home Counties accents.

"The next episode will be called ‘Cucumber Sandwiches’ with Isa [who plays the local gossip] handing them round, and the next, ‘Anyone for Tennis’. It will all be rosy and we’ll get the Sunday night slot down south."

He added: "It’s a Scottish show. The accents are quite broad, but we’ve pointed out that shows like Father Ted and Auf Weidersehen Pet also have accents, but no one would think to accuse them of being too broad.

"It’s just a terrible cliché about battering up the Scots because it’s an easy thing to say: ‘I can’t understand your accent, mate.’ But we’ve been told in no uncertain terms about our accents. We’ve been absolutely blown away that there’s a belief that they won’t understand the accent, which is utter nonsense."

Kiernan said he thought the series was so popular because he and Hemphill had tried to make the characters as real as possible.

"It has a big heart as a programme," he said. "People really like the characters and they make you laugh."

Fellow actors said BBC chiefs in London were making a mistake in not snapping up the show.

Actress Maureen Beattie said: "I think it is a great shame. I always think of the film The Godfather. The first time you watch it, I defy anyone to understand what on earth Marlon Brando says in the first 10 minutes. However, if you persevere you can understand and enjoy it."

Comic actor Sanjeev Kholi, star of Goodness Gracious Me, who also features in Still Game, said it made his "blood boil".

"If you follow their thinking to a logical conclusion, then the programme would only end up being watched in the west, or, even further, just by the people of Craiglang. That, of course is very thin ice, as it’s fictional," he said.

"There are people, for example, in Aberdeen and Lewis who watch, so why is there some kind of comedy passport that stops at Hadrian’s Wall?

"I have anecdotal evidence that people in Newcastle and Manchester have heard about it, have got hold of it a copy and loved it. Half of Scotland is watching it, so it has been tried and tested. What more do the people in London want?"

Pru Rowlandson, a commissioning editor at Edinburgh-based Canongate books, said many authors had had international success when writing in Scots and it should be no different for TV comedy.

"The accent is not hard to understand at all," she said. "I know some of my friends had trouble for example getting through the first page or so of Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting, but had no trouble after that."

When Scotland on Sunday contacted the BBC’s London offices they refused to respond to the criticism, saying it was a matter for BBC Scotland.

Ewan Angus, commissioning editor (television) at BBC Scotland and the executive producer for Still Game agreed the show should be networked, but was markedly more diplomatic than his stars.

"I think the appeal is the jokes and the situations, which have universal appeal," said Angus. "There are not a lot of specific references that an audience outside of Scotland wouldn’t get.

"Viewers in Scotland get subjected to Cockney accents and indeed look at all the American films that are imported. It’s time we got some more Scottish accents out there. The important thing is that it’s funny and there is a broad appeal."

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