Aidan Smith's TV week: Billy Connolly Does ... (Gold), Jeen-Yuhs (Netflix), The Promise (BBC4)

Fourteen months ago, a programme called Billy Connolly: It’s Been a Pleasure looked like the last we would see of the Big Yin. With Parkinson’s forcing him to quit the stage, STV’s tribute wound down in the Florida Keys as he got ready for some quiet fishing in a very loud shirt.
Sofia Essaidi in The PromiseSofia Essaidi in The Promise
Sofia Essaidi in The Promise

Even though Connolly, as he received the good wishes of famous fans electronically, roared “I’ve changed my mind: I’m coming back!”, that pretty much seemed to be that. But - hurray! - here’s Billy Connolly Does … (Gold).

Still in that very loud shirt he’s casting a line in the hope of hooking a yarn or just an observation that might not have been heard in half a century on the road. There are, it seems, plenty more where The Jobbie Wheecher came from. And the stuff that he’s half-forgotten about is funnier than many comics’ best.

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The first of this series is subtitled Behaving Badly. On tour he behaved like a rock star. Connolly and crew would pitch up in a new town, check into the hotel and someone would shout “Changes!” They all had to gather back at the bar wearing what they could find in their rooms - “bedsheets, pillow cases, tablecloths, and if it was a Hospitality Inn, the strips of paper across the loos.”

Kanye West's mum Donda tells the wannabe rapper to touch the sky but keep his feet planted on the groundKanye West's mum Donda tells the wannabe rapper to touch the sky but keep his feet planted on the ground
Kanye West's mum Donda tells the wannabe rapper to touch the sky but keep his feet planted on the ground

Was The Jobbie Whecher Billy’s “Stairway to Heaven”? Or was that The Last Supper or maybe the one about a novel spot for parking the bicycle? Well, he actually hung out with Led Zeppelin, even enjoyed a hurl in their private jet. Rock’s biggest hellraiser was Keith Moon so of course Connolly hooked up with him, too. Billy then flew to Australia and by the time he’d landed Moony was dead. “I’d only known him for a few hours and was really looking forward to having him as a friend.”

There are quite a few poignant moments. Of Gerry Rafferty, his old pal from the Humblebums, Connolly says: “I miss him terribly. When we were together we were killing time; he was going to do this other thing and so was I. But for a few happy years we played darts, got drunk and pissed ourselves laughing at the world.”

The impresario for one of their gigs in Gourock doubled as an SNP rabble-rouser who owned a van with a loudhailer. At 2am in nearby Johnstone the folkies commandeered the vehicle and alerted the populace about a hundred snakes having escaped from a truck. “Leave your house now,” they yelled. “Old people should be carried. Everyone assemble on the steps of the town hall.” Rafferty was on his deathbed when Connolly bid him farewell. “I said: ‘Do you remember the night we smoked the Bible?’ Gerry said: ‘Oh aye, and I remember the blonde.’”

Connolly was seeing friends succumb to excessive lifestyles. The night Pamela Stephenson beckoned him to her hotel room he’d already knocked back 20 brandies. She handed him an ultimatum and he came to realise that getting wasted all the time wasn’t a great idea. “It’s not the land of promise. That’s a lie - a good one, but a lie all the same”.

The Big Yin looks back on his hellraising days in Billy Connolly Does ...The Big Yin looks back on his hellraising days in Billy Connolly Does ...
The Big Yin looks back on his hellraising days in Billy Connolly Does ...

I bet the Big Yin could, if he felt the urge, rap. He’s bound to be better at it than Louis Theroux who “freestyles” most horribly in this week’s edition of his Forbidden America series (BBC2). Perhaps, though, we should leave it to the experts such as the subject of the Netflix documentary Jeen-Yahs, though Kanye West isn’t really the star of the opening instalment - rather it’s his mother Donda.

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We’re following West’s attempts at the turn of the century to secure himself a record deal and it’s a long road he must travel, back and forth between his native Chicago and the east and west coasts, while failing to impress the hip-hop establishment.

Friends filmed these treks not knowing West would eventually make it big, touch the sky, marry a Kardashian and consort with Trump. He was admired as a producer but not, initially, as a rapper. After one failed audition he says: “I know theys mad at me cos I won’t give them a beat for free.” He appears to talk in rhyme, for following another disappointment, wondering if his “authenticity” had been doubted, his parting shot is: “Are you gonna hold that against me cos I didn’t kill nobody?”

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West looks in on Donda who admires his latest bling. “Another piece of jewellery and you’ve not even bought a home yet?” Then Donda proffers her good advice: “Even though you’re humble an’ all it’s important to remember that a giant looks in the mirror and sees nothing.” Later she cautions: “When you’re up in the air, stay on the ground, too.” But he didn’t really listen to Mom, did he?

There is some godawful dubbing on Netflix right now - the Italian potboiler Devotion being a case in point - so it’s nice to be back among the subtitles on BBC4 on Saturday nights, squinting through tiredness and the wine haze but enjoying what’s been called the new Spiral. The Promise is that and it’s not. Same story-runner, another French policier, a tough female lead again, but Capt Sarah Castaing (Sofia Essaidi) patrols a rural beat in the south-west while Laure would struggle with the macabre elements of this tale of snatched girls and Gilou would probably choke on all the fresh air. It’s good, though, and remember Spiral began like that before becoming great.

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