For years now, The Stand Comedy Club has been boxed in by wire fences on all sides. It’s like working in a sort of POW camp.
There are times when I have felt like taking a motorcycle and doing a Steve McQueen over the wire, were it not for the fact that I don’t actually know how to ride a motorcycle and, let’s be honest, I think I’d more closely resemble poor little Angus Lennie, hanging off the fences having been done in by the dastardly huns, just before he went off to become legendary chef Shuggie McFee in that motel for the terminally declining acting career, Crossroads.
During the Fringe, when The Stand uses the old Police Club, 28 York Place, on the other side of the street, we’ve grown used to going out and rescuing tourists who have managed to stray into No Man’s Land. An idea briefly floated was that we should rope them together and send them out with a native guide, like a sort of Tram Roadwork Sherpa, who could safely guide them to the other side.
For a time there was a rumour that one of the flyering team from 2011 had gone out and was never seen again, but the plaintive cry of “Comedy Show today, sir? Funny show at 4.30, madam?” could be heard drifting along the deserted roads on cold winter nights.
Anyway, we’ve become used to darting across the ever changing road crossing on York Place, avoiding the workies and second guessing where the cones would lead you next.
Yesterday, wandering across the road at the National Portrait Gallery, I nearly got killed by a Megabus heading for Glasgow.
Lo and behold, York Place was open. The fences have gone. The cones have vanished. The veritable army of hard-hatted workies have just disappeared – well, I’m sort of hoping they’ve gone up to Shandwick Place to help out there.
As one we all stood in the newly opened street, blinking like moles in the sunlight. Why, we could just run back and forwards if we liked – some of us did – as long as we kept an eye out for random Megabuses.
Although, with our natural Scottish contrariness, we almost immediately started moaning about the traffic again.
Great aunt hit the wrong note
Speaking of the National Portrait Gallery, I was taking part in its great Portrait Lates events during the Festival. There is a fabulous exhibition on at the moment, called Tickling Jock, and it’s a collection of portraits of great Scottish comedians, up to 1974.
There’s a great roll call up on the wall of the mighty theatres and music halls where those early acts cut their teeth, including the Panopticon in Glasgow.
In 1916, my great aunt was forcibly ejected from the cheap seats of that particular establishment for spitting cherry stones at the trombone player. Showbiz. It’s in the family.
Frantastic double act deserves honour
Mind you, as I was talking to the visitors I was slightly stunned to discover that hardly anyone remembered that great Scottish comedy double act Fran and Anna, or to give them their Glaswegian name, Fran’N’Anna. It’s all one word there.
For those of tender years, Fran’N’Anna were redoubtable twins. They were of a certain age. No-one could be certain of that age, but we were fairly sure it was running well past the sixth decade.
Both dames sported mini kilts, fishnet stockings and vertiginous high heels, and completed the outfit with frilly jackets accessorised with Glengarry hats. There were feathers sticking out the top. This was either deliberately decorative, or unfortunate sparrows had become trapped in the sticky mass of Bel-Air hairspray.
They wore make-up that was lavish in its application and irresistibly reminded viewers of lumpy Artex slapped on a ceiling.
Without fail, they were wheeled out to entertain the nation on Hogmanay, singing Sir Harry Lauder’s greatest hits, such as A Wee Deoch ‘n Doris, which they sang with their trademark disco beat. I’m not making this up.
The older I get, the more I appreciate the sheer bloody mindedness of these queens of the Scottish stage who did not go quiet into those sensible Velcro-fastened brogues, teamed with matching suitable cardigans from Littlewoods, but who proudly went on to the end of the road in shoes they couldn’t walk in and skirts like pelmets.
Let’s get Fran’N’Anna back up where they belong, in a fabulous painting of them in their high-heeled glory.
Give me hall your memories
And finally, and this is a naked plea for help here, I’m trying to find out as much as I can about those great funny women who worked the Scottish Music Hall stages.
We’ve lost so much, but I’m hoping someone has playbills, scripts or memories of great women like Doris Droy, Maidie Dickson, above, and Renee Houston.
If you have any wee gems of information, please get in touch!