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How Scots lingo became all the radge

RECENTLY I was at a dinner party. It was quite posh, not my usual thing. But I was struck by the number of radges present.

Not actual radges at the table holding their forks the wrong way or anything, I mean the number of times the word cropped up in polite conversation.

One woman - English - was a teacher and used it describe her pupils. Then - because it's such a versatile word - she used it describe how mad her pupils made her.

How times have changed. Thirteen years ago, the humble radge was merely doing OK. For my generation of state school radges in Edinburgh, the word was still in use, but its solitary appearance in popular culture - The Rezillos' 1979 punk classic 'I Can't Stand My Baby': "I think I'm going crazy/I think I'm going radge" - was a distant memory.

Then in 1993, Irvine Welsh published Trainspotting and the radge went global. Suddenly, the street patter of Scotland's capital city was understood everywhere.

Such is the word's versatility these days, I would not be surprised to learn that in film and television circles the patois is known as "talking radge". It's not hard to imagine Channel 4 executives getting very excited when the idea for Low Winter Sun was first pitched to them. For here was a primetime drama which would tick all the necessary boxes of inclusion - nations, regions and radges.

I only caught up with Low Winter Sun for last week's finale so cannot speak with authority as to its quality. But I do consider myself an authority on radge-ness and thought the English actor Mark Strong coped pretty well with the lingo.

It seems unthinkable nowadays, with the radge very much in his pomp, that Scottish actors were ever handicapped by their accents. But I've interviewed two for these pages recently who suffered in this way when they left Scotland for London.

Last month Peter Capaldi told how, back in the 1980s, his accent prevented him from getting an agent. He'd already starred in Local Hero and so was far from being a nobody.

Then last week Alan Cumming revealed how, around the same time, he was advised to pretend he was English at auditions. He did this once, felt like a fraud, and vowed he'd never do it again. "Imagine a black person being told to act white," he said. "It totally changed my personality."

But while Capaldi and Cumming suffered during the 1980s, two other Scots turned their disaffection, and their uncompromising Scottishness, into art. The Proclaimers' 'Letter From America' with its grim litany of industrial closures reeled off in rough-hewn accents, was a hit, if not quite from Miami to Canada, then in a lot of other places, and gave Craig and Charlie Reid the licence to continue belting out songs in their own un-received pronunciation.

Last week it was announced the Proclaimers' story is to be turned into a stage musical. I have my misgivings about these karaoke songbook shows but would make an exception for this one and look forward to hearing lusty renditions of 'Letter From America', '500 Miles', 'Sunshine On Leith' and the rest in London's West End.

Leith is almost as dear to the Reids as Auchtermuchty so radge-ness will have influenced their work. The musical promises to be a vernacular spectacular but the apotheosis of the radge remains Trainspotting.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the film version and, while the movie toned down the radge-referencing for Middle England as well as Middle America, it made Scottish actors hot.

Here's a thought: if Scottish actors in the 1980s were required to pretend they were English, was there a "tyranny of Trainspotting" the following decade which persuaded their English counterparts to affect "fit o' the Walk" tones? It would only be fair if there was.

On October 8, Irvine Welsh is to get the South Bank Show treatment. Lord Bragg will be given a guided tour of the port, before interviewing Welshie in Leith Dockers' Club, which featured in both book and movie.

The big question is: Bragg may walk the Walk, but does he talk the talk? Does he have a go at "talking radge"? I really hope so. Then we can get David Cameron to try it.

 
 
 

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