I had a twinge or two of anxiety when I saw down between Christmas and New Year to reacquaint myself with City Lights.
Dusted down from the archives for the festive season, BBC Scotland’s sitcom was a staple of the TV schedules throughout my teenage years.
Watching it again a couple of weeks ago, it was a delight to discover it had stood the test of time, thanks to the razor-sharp dialogue and hugely memorable performances from its main players.
Re-watching the first series was, however, tinged with sadness that its main star, Gerard Kelly, who played the bank clerk constantly harbouring dreams of making it as a writer, had passed away just over a decade earlier, after suffering a suspected brain aneurysm.I watched City Lights shortly after reading an interview with one of Kelly’s main co-stars, Andy Gray, his dodgy-dealing sidekick Chancer, who almost defined the phrase “loveable rogue” in 1980s Scottish culture.
In that interview, Gray had reflected on a roller-coaster few years which had seen him take more than a year out of performing after being diagnosed with blood cancer, make a comeback at the King’s Theatre pantomime in Edinburgh and then handle the impact of this year’s show being called off, along with another festive show in Milton Keynes, which fell victim to tightened coronavirus restrictions at the 11th hour.
I thought of Gray and his long-time panto co-stars Allan Stewart and Grant Stott as I drove past an empty King’s at the weekend, realising they would normally have been on stage for one of the final performances of the panto’s run. I also reflected on how much that one show has been missed so much by so many in the last two months.
Within 24 hours, I was trying to get my head around the news that Gray had passed away at the age of 61, the impact his death would have on all those he had shared a screen or stage with, and how much of a loss he would be to the Scottish entertainment world.
Despite his battle with cancer, Gray’s passing has come as a shock to so many who were unaware of his recent coronavirus diagnosis. His return to the King’s stage at the end of the 2019 had been a triumph and he and Stott would have brought their double act back to the Fringe last summer had the pandemic not forced the festival’s cancellation.
Both Gray and Kelly were adored by audiences of all ages as panto stars in Edinburgh and Glasgow, but should be seen as figureheads of a golden generation of entertainers, who helped shape Scottish comedy as we know it today.
Along with Elaine C Smith, Gregor Fisher and Jonathan Watson, they were unknowns at the start of the 1980s, but would become household favourites during the decade thanks to the success of City Lights, the sketch series Naked Radio and Naked Video, and Rab C Nesbitt.
Gray would rarely leave the limelight until his passing, thanks to countless stage, TV and film appearances during a glittering career which showed no sign of slowing down in his sixties. Like Kelly before him, he is simply irreplaceable.