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I'm an arts journalist & PR consultant living and working in Scotland. I've been a journalist for more than 25 years. I write a regular column for Scottish quality newspaper, The Herald. I deliver a PR service with an arty bent and work on a consultancy basis with arts organisations, including Scotland's leading creative industries festival, XpoNorth & broadcast support body, ScreenHI. I am currently co-writing a book about the celebrated Scots artist, George Wyllie, with his daughter Louise. Instrumental in making a celebration of his life's work happen in 2012. For more information, see www.georgewyllie.com When I'm not being a mum/working, I talk to my dog. He laps it up. Contact me on janpatience@me.com (All work © Jan Patience)

Monday, 25 February 2013

Comedy Gold at Scottish National Portrait Gallery


Billy Connolly by John Byrne 2002
Some days at work are good days... I went over to Edinburgh's magnificently refurbished Scottish National Portrait Gallery last Tuesday on a beautiful sunny day to see this new exhibition as it was being hung.
The following feature appeared in The Herald Arts supplement on 23/02/13.
ITickling Jock is a really crowd-pleaser and a great excuse to delve into Scotland's comedic past. It's also an opportunity to dust down some fine portraits of our comedy greats, including a few who are not so well known today, but who in their day were giants of the Scottish stage and whose influence was massive.
Curator Imogen Gibbon has put together this exhibition with love and a large dollop of humour.
If you want a good laugh in a gallery setting... (and they do a nice scone too) get yourself down to the Scottish National Portrait Gallery for a look-see.
Tickling Jock: Comedy Greats from Sir Harry Lauder to Billy Connolly
Scottish National Portrait Gallery
1 Queen Street, Edinburgh
0131 624 6200
www.nationalgalleries.org
Until May 25, 2014
For the last few months Imogen Gibbon has had many interesting discussions with gentlemen of a certain age when she ventures down to her local pub after a hard week at work.
“When they find out what I’m working on, they all want to talk about it” she laughs. “Everyone over a certain age has really vivid memories of the golden age of Scottish comedy.”
Gibbon’s day job as a senior curator at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery has been a laugh a minute since she started delving into the archives to research Tickling Jock, which opens there today. 
She has also become a font of knowledge on everything from the origin of the name ‘Lorne Sausage’ (allegedly named after one Tommy Lorne, a Kirkintilloch-born comic who was a huge box-office draw in the interwar years and whose catchphrase was ‘Sausages are the boys’), to the little-known career of singer Kenneth McKellar as gag writer to Monty Python.
“It’s been a great project to work on,” she says. “Before I started on it, I knew about Johnny Beattie, Andy Cameron, Ronnie Corbett and Billy Connolly and so on, but tracing the path from Harry Lauder through to all the other comedy greats who paved the way for these well-known names, has been a revelation.
“We aren’t just including comics in the line-up, there are appearances from great comic actors too, such as Alasdair Sim and John Laurie.”
Tickling Jock, as the name suggests, is the polar opposite of a stuffy, buttoned-up exhibition, with visitors tiptoeing around the gallery frightened to make a sound.
“We really want people to laugh and for the exhibits to trigger off memories for people,” says Gibbons. “We have installed a couple of booths too with red velvet curtains, so that people can go in and record their own memories. They will also hear recordings and watch footage of some of the people whose portraits are on show.”
The exhibition opens with a recording of Harry Lauder’s 1904 song Stop Yer Tickling Jock, and includes paintings, photographs, sculpture and archive material charting the comic traditions of the period 1900-1975: from the age of music-hall, stage and gramophone through to radio, cinema and television.
Harry Lauder first found fame in 1900 and quickly became a major international star. He was the first British performer to sell a million records and one of the most fascinating photographs of the many on display here is one taken in 1946 at Lauder Ha’, his home in Strathaven, South Lanarkshire, showing the kilted ‘laird’ with his old friend Winston Churchill.
When Lauder fell ill in 1949 (he died the following year), Churchill wrote to him incorporating some of his famous lyrics in a good wishes letter: ‘grand old minstrel, keep right on to the end of the road.’
The exhibition’s cut off point of 1975 with Billy Connolly, marks a line in the sand which sees the metaphorical handing over of the baton from the ‘Scotch comic’ to the ‘Scottish comedian’.
Connolly’s appearance on the Parkinson show in 1975 – the one on which he told his infamous joke to millions of viewers about an unusual place to park a bike outside a Glasgow tenement – catapulted him to stardom.
In one fell swoop, Connolly had an audience that the old stagers of the Scottish theatrical scene could only dream of and it signalled the beginning of the end of the golden age of variety in Scotland.
The exhibition has also provided an excellent opportunity to dust down John Byrne’s fantastic portrait of Connolly, painted in 2002 to mark the comedian’s 60th birthday.
What this exhibition does beautifully and with more anecdotes than you can shake a tickle stick at, is explore the styles, settings and catchphrases that paved the way for the way we laugh today. 
Tickling Jock charts the history of these rich traditions: character comedians (Harry Gordon and Will Fyffe); clowns (Tommy Lorne and Dave Willis); double acts, (Frank & Doris Droy and Francie & Josie); impressionists and stand-ups (Janet Brown, Chic Murray and Andy Cameron). 
Many of the stars (Ronnie Corbett, Johnny Beattie and Andy Cameron) have loaned portraits of themselves for the duration. Cameron’s is by legendary Scots cartoonist, Malky McCormick and shows him in full-on ‘blue nose’ mode.
Tickling Jock also turns the spotlight on some top star turns, such as Lulu clowning around as Tommy Cooper during her as run as a Saturday night TV star in the late 1960s/early 1970s and Ivor Cutler portrayed in an oil painting in reflective mood, side by side with a bizarre yet haunting black and white photograph showing the Glaswegian-born humorist in his kitchen.
There are some extraordinarily fine caricatures by the late Glaswegian caricaturist and art critic, Emilio Coia. His subjects range from a Cubist-looking John Laurie (Private Fraser from Dad’s Army), drawn in the aftermath of the second world war and a lugubriously hang-dog Rikki Fulton in panto dame guise.
One of my favourite portraits is a wonderfully camp quick-on-the-draw pencil sketch by Coia of Walter Carr, famous as Lex McLean’s foil on stage and later as Dougie in Para Handy on television.
Really, there are too many names, faces and stories to mention in this engaging exhibition.
Visit and you will walk out with a big smile on your face, regaling all your friends with catchphrases of yore.
My favourite? Probably Walter Carr’s ‘Do ye want me to do it with ma teeth in or ma teeth oot?’. Or maybe Tommy Lorne’s ‘In the name of the wee man...’
Yes, the show must go on.

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