Billy Connolly remains a lighthouse of joy in a sea of mediocrity: JAN MOIR on the comic’s confession his life is ‘slipping away’ to Parkinson’s disease
Billy Connolly has been talking about his Parkinson’s disease.
‘All my life I’ve got sick . . . the flu and pneumonia, various things, and they all went away. This isn’t going anywhere. It is going to get worse,’ he said, during his two-part documentary series Made In Scotland (BBC2, last part tonight at 9pm).
After being diagnosed with Parkinson’s and prostate cancer on the same day in 2013, the star is frailer in many ways, but still thinking positive.
‘The good things are there. The love we have for people is still there. And with a bit of luck the love they have for you is still there,’ the 76-year-old added.
‘All my life I’ve got sick . . . the flu and pneumonia, various things, and they all went away. This isn’t going anywhere. It is going to get worse,’ he said, during his two-part documentary series Made In Scotland (BBC2, last part tonight at 9pm)
Indeed, Connolly is lucky in so many ways.
A cherished grandfather, much loved father of five with a wife, Pamela Stephenson, who still adores him, plus money to ease his comfort through the declining years ahead . . . he has much to be thankful for, and he knows it.
Five years ago, he sold his Scottish castle where family and friends would gather for Highland reunions. Today, he mostly lives in Florida, where he paints, keeps his youthful spirit alive, wears snazzy trousers and, yes, plans his latest television adventures.
The first part of Made In Scotland was one of the best things on television over the festive season. It included some vintage clips of Connolly’s stand-up routines, which are still laugh-out-loud hilarious.
Billy Connolly visits Huisinish, Isle of Harris in the Outer Hebrides in an earlier episode of the series. Billy Connolly has used the series to talk about his Parkinson’s disease
With the exception of the Father Ted repeats and the American version of The Office (on Amazon Prime), I can’t think of a single thing on TV over Christmas that really made me laugh like he did.
Oh God, there were far too many smug line-ups on dreary panel shows — there was Jimmy Carr, Jonathan Ross, Lee Mack, an anniversary celebration of Goodness, Gracious Me, Mrs Brown’s Boys and yet more Jimmy Carr.
It was as if we had to be punished, rather than entertained.
Then there was Billy, a lighthouse of joy beaming across this grim sea of mediocrity.
Can you think of a single contemporary comedian on the circuit today who is even half as funny as he? No, me neither.
The thin gruel of their politicised and often embittered humour cannot compare with the soaring majesty of Connolly’s observational comedy.
And he carried on being funny after he got rich and famous, something that has escaped the likes of John Cleese, Steve Coogan, Eddie Izzard and Ricky Gervais.
Even his humanity is intact, along with his keen sense of the absurd and celebration of the ridiculous.
Three of the reasons why his comedy became universal, enjoyed by young and old alike. Three reasons why he has endured where others have not.
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Perhaps part of his success was that he was never really political. Well, that is not strictly true.
When I saw him in Perth on his small tour of Scotland in 2014, he called the Scottish Referendum ‘a load of s***e, a lot of patriotic crap.’ He also noted that he would ‘never get tired of kicking Nigel Farage’s a***.’
But these were more irritated asides rather than something to work a ten-minute routine around.
He supported himself back then by leaning on a small table and used a prompt-sheet to get him through the show. He talked about his Parkinson’s, explaining how he did two crosswords a day to keep it at bay.
He told the audience not to worry about his left arm, which had a tendency to drift upwards at an odd angle, locking into a position that ‘makes it look like I’m carrying an invisible raincoat’.
Last week, Made In Scotland revealed the creeping progression of the disease, and a hand that now shakes uncontrollably for long periods. Yet Connolly is still brilliant at being himself on television, talking straight to camera without pomp or affectation.
Billy Connolly visits Loch Ard, Kinlochard in an earlier episode of the series. Jan Moir writes: ‘There is an unspoken farewell roaming on the airwaves, almost as if Billy Connolly is explaining himself to us all, for one last time’
This programme wasn’t just about him, it was also about Glasgow in the Sixties, in all its grime and glory.
The horror of his own brutal childhood wasn’t mentioned and at no point, in the modish manner, did he seek sympathy or try to portray himself as a victim. Instead, he showed how humour alleviated the drudgery and harshness of life in the shipyards.
Yet despite the laughs, a terrible cloud of sadness hangs over these shows.
There is an unspoken farewell roaming on the airwaves, almost as if Billy Connolly is explaining himself to us all, for one last time.
It feels like he has taken charge of his own on-screen obituary — typical!
He certainly thinks this will be his last big television production, as he finds himself at the wrong end of the telescope of life.
His powers of balance, energy, hearing, seeing and remembering? They are all beginning to fail, he says, making one feel that the fashionable haircut and youthful clothes are a facade of sorts.
All these talents and senses once so freely given to him, are now being taken.
We find him preparing for what he calls his last adventure on a road that finds him ‘a damn sight nearer the end than the beginning’, just as curious about death as he has always been about life.
The final curtain hasn’t quite fallen yet, but he remains as inspirational as ever.
Mary needs a spoonful of menace
Emily Blunt attends the European premiere of the film ‘Mary Poppins Returns’ in London last month
Oh, I absolutely adore everything about Emily Blunt as Mary Poppins, from her sly smiles to her crisp blouses and those smart blue shoes with the red laces.
In Mary Poppins Returns, she fills the children’s heads with as much ‘stuff and nonsense’ as possible and speaks proper la-di-da.
It all makes sense in the film, which has marvellous moments and truly scrumptious knits, quite the most excellent woollies ever seen on the big screen, including that ravishing cream polo neck Michael Caine wore in The Eagle Has Landed.
Yet something is missing.
What? Too many forgettable songs — and not enough delicious terror.
The original Mary Poppins, which starred Julie Andrews and her amazing octaves, featured a scary woman, a fierce dog and a terrifying chase through sooty London. This one has Lin-Manuel Miranda, firing charm on all cylinders.
To become classics, children’s films must have an element of danger.
Look at Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, with a Child Catcher who is still terrifying, all these years later. And don’t get me started on the squirrels and the liquidated children in Charlie & The Chocolate Factory.
A spoonful of menace helps the medicine go down. But sadly that won’t ever happen now.
His mum’s right: give cave hero Tim a gong
Thailand-based Tim Acton helped in the marvellous rescue of the Thai Cave Boys last year. Yet he has been left off the New Year Honours List — and his mum is upset.
While other Brits involved in the rescue received MBEs, the George Medal for bravery and the Queen’s Gallantry Medal, Mr Acton has missed out on honours.
His mother, Lynne, said: ‘I think it is awful. I know he didn’t do it for recognition or reward, but when you see everyone else get honoured it just feels wrong.’
Thailand-based Tim Acton helped in the marvellous rescue of the Thai Cave Boys last year. The boys are pictured in hospital after their rescue with a picture of diver Saman Kunan, who passed away during the rescue attempt. Tim Acton helped to raise money in memory of the diver
Tim is probably embarrassed that his mother has spoken out — but she was right!
Not least because he has had to have major knee surgery after aggravating an old injury in the caves.
He has also helped raise money in memory of Saman Kunan — the retired Thai navy Seal who suffocated during the rescue attempt.
Why has brave, kind Tim not been honoured?
Perhaps the committee were too busy trying to persuade the American singer Ariana Grande to take an honorary damehood. He is not a star or a silly actress, so he didn’t get one.
We can’t judge dementia divorcees
In yesterday’s Femail, a lawyer wrote of the increase in what she calls the ‘dementia divorce’. Apparently, increasing numbers of spousal carers are desperate to escape their marriage, no longer able to cope.
One imagines a good care home would solve more problems than a bad divorce, but who can know the horror that goes on behind closed doors?
Dementia can make formerly loving people unrecognisable: helplessly vacant, angry, violent, over-sexed, confused or frightened. Their life as they knew it is over — and, often, as their spouse, so is yours.
Apparently, increasing numbers of spousal carers are desperate to escape their marriage, no longer able to cope [File photo]
Reading MailOnline comments on the article opened a heart-breaking window to this silent suffering. The grandfather who called the police at 2am to tell them his grandson was trying to kill him. The 98-year-old woman who looked frail, but needed four people to restrain her.
The 82-year-old who’s been caring for her 94-year-old husband who, for 15 years, has had dementia that’s turned him into a critical, unkind, demanding agoraphobic.
There’s the exhausted wife who took a year to regain her health after her husband died. The grandmother who is aggressive and endlessly repeats herself, making life a torture for her husband.
And another husband, who’s had dementia for more than a decade, takes five showers a night, knocks on neighbours’ doors at 3am and leaves the gas on and taps running. His wife has constant panic attacks, high blood pressure and depression.
Some readers were shocked by the idea of leaving their suffering partner. One wrote: ‘I took my vows seriously and will love and care for her to my last breath.’
Another had a different view: ‘Dementia destroys everything. Your finances, your dreams, your marriage, your sense of self; everything is subsumed by the soul-crushing grind of being a care-giver to the empty shell of your spouse.’
The important lesson is that it is impossible for any of us to judge unless we have suffered ourselves. And that we must all try to help those who are going through this torment.
Don’t use the Doctor to prove how right-on you are
What has happened to Doctor Who, which has lost almost half its audience over a series, down from nearly 11 million to six million?
The New Year’s Day episode had the lowest audience since the show made a triumphant comeback in 2005.
Can the blame be placed on having a female doctor for the first time, in the form of Jodie Whittaker (right)?
The New Year’s Day episode, above, had the lowest audience since the show made a triumphant comeback in 2005 [File photo]
No, for while she might have lacked the passion of David Tennant or the charm of the great Tom Baker, she wasn’t as bad as the terrible Paul McGann.
Instead, the problem was that the show became too preachy and political, a vehicle for writer Chris Chibnall to display his impeccable liberal credentials across the time travel franchise.
There was always a hard-Left subtext, Brexit jokes, a Trump character talking of his devotion to guns and an entire episode devoted to the black civil rights campaigner Rosa Parks. Critics said how marvellous, but the viewers have hated it.
That is what happens when you forget that your primary job is to entertain your audience, rather than show everyone how marvellous and liberal you are. Next.
It is Twelfth Night tomorrow, the official end of Christmas: time for the tinsel to come down and real life to resume.
Where I live, some Christmas trees have already been dumped on the pavements, denuded of decoration as they await the recycling collection. Could there be a sadder sight, or a more poignant reminder of the swift passage of time?
Each discarded tree had a brief, but blazing, life: plucked from the earth, chosen from dozens of others, then bedecked, admired and adored, garlanded with sparkle.
For a few weeks, they were the heart of the home, the star. Now, they have been cast adrift in the gutter, used as lamp-posts by passing dogs, and, all too soon, they will be pulped. What a piercing metaphor for life.
Happy New Year, everyone!
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