Emma Cowing: It’s not ‘Glasgwegian’ Billy, it’s just … old

Billy Connolly. Picture: PA
Billy Connolly. Picture: PA
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THE WORST thing about being a Scottish woman is having to deal with Scottish men.

Oh, calm down. I’m not talking about all of them. Some Scottish men are actually quite nice. The type of Scottish man I’m thinking of however, is the unreconstructed, hairy-backed Neanderthal stereotype that even in our enlightened world of Diet Irn Bru and a female deputy first minister occasionally lifts his head from his special fish supper in order to inform women not to get ahead of themselves. The type of Scottish man who thinks working after you get married makes you “a bit of a women’s libber”. The type of Scottish man who thinks it’s ok to call a woman a “c***”.

As a lifelong fan, I’m genuinely sorry that we must now add Billy Connolly, he of the banana boots, the purple beard and the best stand-up routine on toboganning ever written, to this list. On Saturday night, Connolly was doing a show in Killarney in Ireland when he started getting annoyed by a photographer who was taking pictures of him. The snapper, Valerie O’Sullivan, had been hired by Connolly’s own management team to take pictures of the comedian so could not, in any way, be deemed to have been invading Connolly’s privacy.

Connolly however, didn’t see it that way. Increasingly irritated with her antics, he allegedly launched into a tirade in which he apparently called her “a f****** c***.” The photographer then fled the stadium in tears. Connolly, meanwhile, seemed to find it all rather amusing.

“I told her to go away but she wouldn’t, so I told her to go away properly – in a Glaswegian fashion. It only takes two words,” he later said on RTÉ’s Marian Finucane show. Asked if he regretted the incident, the comedian said: “Certainly not. I’m very proud of it.”

Let’s just recap. A 70-year-old man gets a bit annoyed at someone he has hired to take pictures of him, presumably to promote his show. He hurls insults at her, including allegedly dropping the c-bomb, and then tells people he’s proud of it. That he acted in “a Glaswegian fashion”. That he was well within his rights and is actually rather chuffed to have directed misognystic abuse at a woman trying to do her job. G’on yersel’ Big Yin.

Connolly is doing absolutely nobody – including himself – any favours here. First of all it makes him look cranky and old, which is more than acceptable in comedians as long as they do it with a sense of humour and self-deprecation. Indeed, I’ve seen Connolly do it himself, and some of his skits on ageing and death (“The winter plumage is coming in now,” he’ll say, stroking his grey/white hair) are that brilliant blend of dark humour and self-awareness that is clever enough to resonate with audiences both young and old.

Behaviour like this however, just makes him look like an ageing, spoilt diva, used to getting his own way, and screaming and shouting if he doesn’t. A bearded, Scottish-accented Joan Crawford.

Connolly hates the press, and perhaps understandably. He was hounded by tabloid reporters when his first marriage broke up in the 1970s (apparently once hitting a Sunday People reporter he found lurking on his doorstep), and has long been a victim of the “tall poppy syndrome”, as well as the “I knew yer faither” attitude we Scots can be abominably good at hurling at people who have left Scotland and done well for themselves.

But this particular photographer was hired by his own staff, and was only trying to do her job. It is not her fault that the Scottish tabloids have put Connolly through hell over the years, nor should she have to pay the price for them.

But perhaps most off-key about Connolly’s remarks is his suggestion that he acted in “a Glaswegian fashion”. I don’t care that Connolly hasn’t lived in Glasgow for the best part of half a century, but I do care that he thinks that every man in Glasgow still swaggers around the place calling women “c***s”. I hate to break it to you Billy, but they don’t.

Glasgow today is a vibrant, progressive, forward-thinking liberal city. Of course there are still misogynsts here, as there are misogynists everywhere, but to typify such behaviour as Glaswegian is the sort of out-of-date stereotyping Connolly has always claimed to abhor.

Scotland has changed, its people have changed, and Glasgow has changed too. What a pity that Connolly, as an ambassador for this nation, does not seem to have changed with them.