Edinburgh Book Festival: Gregor Fisher, "Tough Childhood of a Comedy Hero", Review

Rating (out of 5)
Show info
Gregor Fisher and Melanie Reid with Jenny Brown in the chair.
Running time

Gregor Fisher wheeled in Melanie Reid who was in a wheelchair following a riding accident some years ago and then said in his very Glasgow voice, "Hello Edinburgh" which brought the house down!

"I've always wanted to do that. What terrible weather you have over here!" he said.

From that moment he had won over the audience. Jenny Reid at last got a look in and reminded the audience that Gregor Fisher was best known as the string-vested, Govan philosopher, Ralph C. Nesbitt of television fame. He also appears in Gillies MacKinnon's remake of Whisky Galore.

Melanie Reid recounted how Gregor had three sets of parents by the time he was three. Of course, he could not recall any of these as he was too young. Gregor interjected, "well there you are I'm a bastard!" But Mel Reid said she preferred to think of him as a 'love child'.

Apparently his father was the same age as his grandfather and was a man in his fifties and an excise officer so he must have had some position in society. But Mel reminded us all that this was in the 1950s and therefore there was a great deal of shame attached to Gregor Fisher's position.

Gregor described how he had discussed the selection of his future wife with a mutual friend who said, "don't you think you are aiming a wee bit high?" To be honest, Gregor said, "I married above myself". He cheerfully accepted the situation for what it was.

When Gregor was finally persuaded to write his life story he was introduced to Mel Reid who was described to him as 'a journalist'. Initially there was a lot of distrust from Gregor's side but gradually this was overcome, however, when Mel had completed the first few chapters she sent this to Gregor. There was a long delay before any reaction and then Gregor suggested meeting. Clearly the present 'ghost writer' system of authoring was not working and would not work, so Mel took on the project with Gregor and toured the mining villages of central Scotland to discover the background to his early life. From this "The Boy from Nowhere" was created.

Gregor took time to describe the person who he knew as 'his mother'. His real mother, he found out, was killed in a fire. He never knew her. He said that she was a small, diminutive woman with red hair that she would frequently attack with a comb that had been dipped in dye that she carried round with her. He noticed that the dye never quite reached to roots of her hair, so there was always some tell-tale strands of grey showing. But his mother was the person who wiped his nose - and those other parts when necessary!

When he was fourteen he asked his mother where he had been christened. It was then that she told him that he was an adopted child. Although he had been a quite cheeky child to his mother there is no doubt that he was fortunate in having a very loving home.

He told the story of when he was in a play at the Royal Lyceum in Edinburgh and the play was to have a special night when HRH Princess Margaret was due to come to the show. Everyone was given two tickets so Gregor decided to give these to his mother and her sister Agnes. This was fine but Gregor's mother decided to wear a tiara which she had found on a stall at a jumble sale, so far so good - but the tiara did not have all its stones so his mother filled up the spaces by using the silver paper which came from the Capstan cigarettes which his father smoked!

"They'll never know, and in the dark and they'll never spot the difference!", said his mother. Of course there was then a picture of the two of them on the front page of the then "Glasgow Herald" with their necks craned to see the Princess during the singing of The National Anthem!

Gregor touched on another incident when he was in a show with Moira Shearer and he thought it would be nice for his mother to meet the star who had been seen by everyone in "Red Shoes". He recalls his embarrassment when his mother said, "Very nice dear, but what do you do?" He was mortified!

He then said that he had been working in a pub in Langholm because his father was always glad to see the back of him for a break, when he received this letter from someone who claimed to be his sister. They arranged to meet and the rendezvous was by the Lost Property Office at Glasgow Central Station which was all he could think of at the time. They met off and on for some two years and managed to piece together what had befallen them both over this time.

One of the loose ends was to be an excursion to meet Aunt Ruby who lived in Alloa. He recalled the time as he was in panto in Glasgow and he had a powder blue Mercedes, so he and his sister drove off to Alloa. At this point he interjected, "Anyone here from Alloa?" One man put his hand up to great amusement and Gregor asked, "Well, are you related to me? No? Thank goodness for that!"

Anyway he could sense that Maureen was nervous and they could see a man up a ladder at the side of the house, so they went up to the front door with some trepidation and rang the bell, Gregor started saying that they did not want to cause any problem, but at that she snapped, "I've got workmen here" and then closed the door on them! They distinctly saw the curtain twitch as they got in the car and went back to Glasgow.

But Gregor was determined to find his real mother's grave. He had searched the cemetery records and then thought she might have been cremated, so he went to the Central Necropolis in Glasgow and met with a chap who promised to help who was dressed in formal pin-stripe trousers but with a T-shirt and a liberal array of tattoos. As the man went for the book of records he recalls thinking, "My God, it's terribly hot in here!" Little wonder as they were just beside the furnace! Eventually the man came back with the name they wanted and the name was there but beside it was the statement, "Unmarried."

This was superb entertainment.

The Boy From Nowhere(Jun 2016) by Gregor Fisher and Melanie Reid is published by Harper.