How 'bigger peanuts' in Edinburgh gave Gregor Fisher his first break on TV
GREGOR FISHER, star of Rab C Nesbitt and soon to be seen in How The Grinch Stole Christmas at the Festival Theatre, is recalling the moment he regained consciousness after suffering a heart attack in the garden of his home in France.
“I woke up and there were all these firemen looking down at me and I thought, ‘Surely she’s no phoned the wrang number, what are firemen doing here? A lot of use they’re going to be,” he laughs. It’s typical of the actor who confesses to a love of making people giggle. Although, on that occasion it was no laughing matter as he admits he didn’t expect to wake up.
“In France the ‘pompiers’ are the first responders and some of them I knew because they were all local boys...
‘Bonjour Monsieur Fisher, ca va?’
’Naw, no ca va’.”
That was nearly three years ago and despite living in rural France, two hours later Gregor was “on the slab in Angoulême with a couple of stents fitted.” With a grin, he sums up the experience, “I fell down. They put a couple of stents in and now I cannae eat as many chips as before.”
The memory has been stirred by our location, a room in Surgeons’ Hall, below the venue’s famous pathology museum. The place stirs another, more tragic memory for the actor.
“When I was a wee boy, my mother was brought to Edinburgh for this cutting edge - pardon the expression - operation at Royal infirmary. She had a hole in the heart and the operation didn’t work. Funnily, nowadays she would have got a stent and that would be the finish,” he muses.
The actor didn’t really return to the city until the late-70s when he worked at the Royal Lyceum. It was there, in 1977, that the late Rikki Fulton gave him his break into television.
“The first role I came to play here was Touchstone in As You Like It,” he recalls. “I stayed in a very untrendy place at the time called St Stephen Street, it was a bit tumble-down and there were a lot of multi-coloured, stretch, stripy jumpers to be seen. There was a shop full of them down there. I was rather keen on them.
“Rikki and I did a show called The Diary of a Scoundrel. It starred Ron Bain, Rikki Fulton was in it, and I had a very small part as Rikki’s servant. I remember there was a routine going on with peanuts, I had to catch them in my mouth and I wasn’t very good at it. For some unaccountable reason Rikki took to me and one day said, ‘Perhaps you should have bigger peanuts. Do you think that would help?’"
Gregor effortlessly slips into the voice of the legendary funny man.
“I asked him, ‘Where am I going to get bigger peanuts?’ He replied, ‘Ask the stage management to pick out the bigger ones and only give you the bigger ones.”
He laughs, “I didn’t know I could do that. But Rikki, in our long association, was always very patient and encouraging. He and Kate didn’t have any children and I think maybe there was a bit of that going on. Anyway, he said to me one day, ‘I’m doing this thing on the BBC, I think I should speak to them as I think you’d be very useful’."
Gregor admits that at the time he’d been in the business long enough to know talk was cheap, but “low and behold” Fulton was as good as his word.
“In the beginning, like a lot of these people, he was the funny man, he was the boss, he was in control, but later when you had proven yourself to him, he would encourage you to, ‘See how that goes,’ which was him saying, ‘You can try that...’ Bless him.”
Fulton quickly discovered what millions have since realised through series such as Scotch & Wry, Naked Video and Rab C Nesbitt, Gregor quite simply has funny bones.
“Have I? Och, I’d kiss you if I thought you’d like it,” he laughs, “Nobody tells me that any more.”
Just how funny his is, audiences at the Festival Theatre will be able to discover when he stars as The Narrator in Dr Seuss’ hit musical How The Grinch Stole Christmas.
He says, “I come on at the top of the show, do some narration, talk to the kids and introduce the story,” he explains, “I get to be part of the fun, set the scene and come in for a nod at the end of what is a classic Broadway show and a fun story.”
How The Grinch Stole Christmas, Festival Theatre, Nicolson Street, 26 November to 1 December, £28-£48, www.capitaltheatres.com