City Lights star Dave Anderson’s return to Edinburgh finds him in a funny place for a Fringe show

Dave Anderson, couldn't quite believe his eyes when he took to the stage of Multistorey at the start of the Fringe, he was under a canopy but the audience were sitting in the open, their umbrellas up as the rain came down.
Dave Anderson with the cast of Chic Murray - A Funny Place for a WindowDave Anderson with the cast of Chic Murray - A Funny Place for a Window
Dave Anderson with the cast of Chic Murray - A Funny Place for a Window

The star of Chic Murray - A Funny Place For A Window, says, "We first did this show at the New Town Theatre two years ago, it's a very different experience this year. We had a very hardy mob yesterday, poor souls, sitting there in the absolute pishing rain. Very brave people."

Playing a car park was something he never aspired to, then?

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He laughs, "I can't say I did, especially on a rainy day. I had assumed it was a big tent, but no, we have cover but the audience don't. Now restrictions are being lifted maybe a canopy could be built because I really felt for the folk yesterday. I suppose they all hoped the rain would stop any minute, but it didn't."

Dave Anderson as Mr McLelland in City Lights with members of the castDave Anderson as Mr McLelland in City Lights with members of the cast
Dave Anderson as Mr McLelland in City Lights with members of the cast

To a generation of comedy lovers, Anderson, now in his mid-70s, is known to most as either Mr McLelland, Willie Melvin's long-suffering bank manager in the hit BBC Scotland sitcom City Lights, or Gregory's dad in Gregory's Girl. The actor’s other screen credits include the obligatory Taggart, on no less than four occasions, Soldier Soldier, Rockface and Still Game, not forgetting the much loved Edinburgh-set big screen comedy, Restless Natives. However, it was being cast in City Lights that proved a pivotal moment in his career.

"City Lights was a landmark in my working life,” he agrees. “Six years we did that. Before that I didn't work very much on TV and film so it was a kind of turning point for me. I think I got that off the back of Gregory's Girl as well, which is quite funny because there's another Chic connection."

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Gregory's Girl, he describes as an "extraordinary film."

"It still makes me laugh, it's slow though, but Bill Forsyth makes it work perfectly, although I don't think you’d get away with taking your time over a gentle gag these days."

Dave Anderson as Chic MurrayDave Anderson as Chic Murray
Dave Anderson as Chic Murray

Like Anderson himself, the subject of his current Fringe play, Chic Murray, was a well kent face on the Scottish entertainment scene.

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The piece, which started life in the A Play, A Pie and A Pint series, finds the 'comedians comedian' taking a musical look back at the ups and downs of his life and flawed career on what will be his last day on Earth - Murray died in Edinburgh on January 29, 1985, having gone from being a shipyard apprentice to topping the bill at the London Palladium.

Anderson met him a couple of times, and remembers, "I didn't meet him on the set of Gregory's Girl but I knew him around that time. In fact, he was my next door neighbour; my agent, who was also my next door neighbour, had a kind of lodging house and let out rooms, Chic was a regular lessee.”

Knowing Chic, however, hasn’t played any part in his portrayal of the comic, Anderson insists, modestly.

"The thing about this show is that the star of it is the script. It's incredibly well written and I just do the script. There are hunners of guys who could do Chic better than me but the script makes it work really well."

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A complex character in life, it would be interesting to know what Murray's reaction to a play about his life might have been, would he have loved or loathed the concept?

Anderson considers for a few moments, "Now that is a really good question. He made some strange decisions in his life. He turned down Francis Ford Coppola's The Cotton Club because he had had such a miserable time making Casino Royale with David Niven, he hated it, thought it was rubbish and he didn't want to do any more movies.

"But when he turned down The Cotton Club, Bob Hoskins created a career out of taking on the part, so who knows whether he'd be surprised or not. He had a fair enough opinion of himself, he knew that he was good, but I don't know if he knew he was that good and would leave such a legacy in Scotland.

"He is iconic, even Billy Connolly raves about him, so it doesn't surprise me that he is remembered, he had an ear for the absurd, for the daftness of simple everyday things and certainly made us all laugh."

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Anderson made his Fringe debut more than 30 years ago in a one-man show called 47.

He recalls, "It was a one-man show around the time when I was that age, in one of the smaller of the Assembly Rooms, The Wolfman Room or something like that, which held about 60 folk. It was about a guy who comes home to find that his wife has left him and he gets steadily drunker and drunker.

"After that, I couldn't wait to get back. I love Edinburgh at Festival time, I know a lot of Edinburgh natives don't and would rather it didn't happen so they could get on with their lives, but I really love it. The bustle is fantastic."

And after being locked down for the best part of 18 months, he admits being back in front of an audience again has been a bit nerve-wracking.

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"Of course, it's great to be back on stage but when you haven't done anything for a year and a half and suddenly you've got an audience and can be doing your stuff again, it's both daunting and exciting," he beams.

A Play, A Pie and A Pint: Chic Murray - A Funny Place For a Window, MultiStory, Castle Terrace Car Park, £16 (includes hot pie, pint or soft drink),

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