Saturday, April 28, 2012

Another extreme 'Role Model'

Arguably an even more dangerous example, an even more unlovely reprobate than Father Jack Hackett, Rab C. Nesbitt was a comic character created by Ian Pattison and memorably brought to life by the actor Gregor Fisher. Originally appearing in an '80s BBC2 skit show called Naked Video, he soon graduated to his own sitcom which ran through most of the '90s (and I've just learned that, after a lengthy hiatus, the show was revived a couple of years ago). Rab was a stereotypical Glaswegian drunkard, irascible, unreasonable, occasionally violent, and a neglectful father and husband. However, as with that other great fictional pub regular Terry Collier, there was a basic decency that shone through, a genuine love of family and loyalty to friends, and also a warped sort of idealism - he was almost able to persuade you that dole-sponging was a rational and even noble life choice!

This might well be his first-ever appearance...

The show was notable for tackling darker and more serious subjects than typical sitcoms, albeit in a blackly comic and sometimes rather surreal way. (There was obviously no way that Rab's lifestyle was sustainable, either economically or in health terms. In one episode it was claimed that his liver had literally exploded while he was drinking, leaving an indelible blood splatter on the ceiling of his local boozer. But he miraculously recovered from this 'setback' and had soon returned to his old ways.)

It was also famously uncompromising in its use of authentic Glasgow accents and dialect. Many viewers in England complained that they never could get the hang of it, and requested sub-titling. I found that I warmed up to it pretty well after an episode or two, but there were always a few things I failed to comprehend; and I worry that, after so long without seeing the show now, I would struggle to get tuned in to its language again. 

My first group of students here in China were bound for a Scottish university, and I wanted to show them some of Rab to alert them to the fact that not everyone in the UK spoke with my 'Received Pronunciation', that there would be some special difficulties for them in understanding the local people where they were going. There was no YouTube in those days, so I was relying on friends back home to send me a DVD or a videotape, and no-one came through for me. Perhaps it's just as well: it would have scared the bejesus out of my poor charges!

I was once compared - by a lady friend! - to Rab's invariable hanger-on, a whiny, manipulative would-be lounge lizard named Jamesie Cotter. I think she intended it as flattery of a kind: Cotter was marginally better looking, dressed 'sharp' (by comparison to Rab!), and hence, in this sordid milieu, was something of a ladykiller. He was, however, utterly selfish and amoral, with none of Rab's redeeming virtues, a completely despicable character. 

I would far rather be associated with Rab - eternally downtrodden but pugnaciously resilient, an impassioned stream-of-consciousness philosopher, a dependable friend. These are qualities worth admiring.


Anonymous said...

Good piece and good points!

Froog said...

Thanks, Mike, glad you liked it. I might have guessed you'd have a soft spot for Rab. Presumably you have fewer comprehension problems than I do.

One of our private treasures in the UK, I think: one of the truly great comic characters, but he doesn't seem to have travelled beyond our shores at all. Most English speakers haven't got a clue what's going on, and it would be very difficult to dub or sub-title or translate it effectively. It's an astonishing performance by Gregor Fisher, a career-defining role