Yorkshire Post - YP Magazine

Uneasy prey


Sir Billy Connolly’s Windswept & Interestin­g has the Big Yin share grim tales but this is no misery memoir.

Windswept & Interestin­g by Billy Connolly

Comedians like to tell stories about how acting the clown in childhood was a defence mechanism to distract and deter the bullies and some of them may even be true.

But Billy Connolly, who trumps the rest at humour to claim the title of the world’s greatest stand-up, has just trumped them at grimness as well. In his memoir Windswept & Interestin­g, the Big Yin relates tales of unimaginab­le cruelty. Actually, the casual sadism of 1940s and 50s Scottish schoolteac­hers isn’t so much of a shock because as you read you can hear Connolly in his stage shows impersonat­ing these chalkdustf­lecked monsters, making them seem funny. “The nuns were very violent,” he writes. “Their punishment tool was a 12ins ruler they’d crash down on our knuckles, even in infants’ school.”

But it’s what happens to him at home in Glasgow which takes your breath away. It cannot be mined for laughs so you’re not hearing his raucous voice. There’s Auntie Mona: “She’d smack me in the face so my nose bled. She whacked me with wet towels, kicked me, battered my head with her high-heeled shoes. But her speciality was humiliatio­n – grabbing me and rubbing my dirty underwear in my face.” Once, rather than return home after school, he trudged 12 miles the other way – to Hamilton. “I thought a lot about drowning myself in the Clyde.”

And it gets worse. We know all about Connolly’s comic timing but how about this sentence for tragic timing: “My father sexually abused me for years.” It comes just as his dad, William, learns about Mona’s tyranny and you think he’s going to put a stop to it. “A horrible, secretive routine,” Connolly says of the ultimate betrayal from the age of ten to 14. “And for the following 20 years – until my father died – I just buried all that shame.”

But we cannot position Windswept & Interestin­g in the Misery Memoirs section, not with the Big Yin involved. There’s a lot of love in the book, not least for his sister Florence. “Florence bathed me, fed me, dressed me.”

Young Billy, possessed of “a face that would get you a scone at every door”, was forced to wear wool swimming trunks. Unable to afford Brylcreem, he’d sneakily suck cream from the nozzle. He chuckles at such privations so we can, too. He made friendship­s in the playground which endured for 70 years and can remember when his dad was a dad, buying him flippers, encouragin­g him to take up the banjo, turning him onto PG Wodehouse.

But Connolly discovered Charles

Dickens by himself aged 12 and learned French from tapes. “Everything I achieved in life came from Partick Library.” And the key thing: that he could make his own way in the world.

Not entirely unaided, though, for he acknowledg­es the camaraderi­e of camping mates and biker gangs where he discovered he could make others laugh. And the Parachute Regiment and working as a welder in the shipyards made him feel

“like I belonged in the world, that I was no longer prey … I felt like a successful human, a man”.

There are laughs as Connolly riffs on various likes (biscuits, fishing, babies,

snow globes, cowboy boots, the hairynosed wombat) and dislikes (musicals, wholemeal bread, religious piety, board games). But he soon returns to the dark side to ’fess up to his street-fighting years on the folk scene and keeping the paparazzi at bay, his battle with the bevvy and how a drunken prank on a bus almost killed Michael Caine and the break-up of his first marriage.

His mother’s desertion and Auntie Mona’s habit of producing his soiled pants when girls called round caused him to be scared of most things, not least the opposite sex. It all worked out fine, though, when Pamela Stephenson took him in hand. “I’m a lucky bugger,” he remarks more than once.

The Parkinson’s disease he contracted in 2013 restricts his banjoplayi­ng but not his shouting at the

TV. Now based in Florida, he’s been determined to give his kids the love and support he didn’t get, and he writes: “I feel happy just as I’m about to go to sleep… I’ve always imagined that would be the feeling you get before you die.”

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 ?? GETTY . ?? CRUELLY BETRAYED: Some of Connolly’s revelation­s will take your breath away.
GETTY . CRUELLY BETRAYED: Some of Connolly’s revelation­s will take your breath away.

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