Billy Connolly: I first saw the Big Yin as he told the Halfway House's regulars what they should think about Edinburgh Festival – Steve Cardownie

I first set eyes on Billy Connolly one lunchtime back in 1972 in the Halfway House in Fleshmarket Close.

Wednesday, 25th August 2021, 4:55 am
Billy Connolly in front of Buckingham Palace during a visit to London in July 1974 (Picture: Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

This tall, loud, colourful Glaswegian was proclaiming to all within earshot (which was the whole boozer) that “Edinburgh wanted the Festival” and that we were “lucky to have it”.

I later found out that he was a member of the cast of the “Great Northern Welly Boot Show” which was being performed over the road in the Waverley Market.

Another member of the cast was the late Kenny Ireland who went on to become the artistic director of the Royal Lyceum Theatre Company and who I was privileged to work with as a member of the board. Kenny was a “weel-kent face” on our TV screens and last played the part of Donald Stewart on the hit comedy series Benidorm until his death in 2014.

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The news that Billy Connolly is to receive a lifetime achievement award at the Edinburgh TV Festival prompted me to think back to when I first saw him and although I saw his stand-up performance in the Baron Suite in 1974, it was the Halfway House encounter which is freshest in my memory.

That this brash, heavily accented comedian/folk singer from the west of Scotland had the temerity to tell all the pub drinkers that “Edinburgh wanted the Festival” and what’s more, we were “lucky to have it”, struck me as more than a wee bit gallus but those words stuck with me.

What’s more – he was right!

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