The biography Billy by Pamela Stephenson was one of the books which my brother gave me during my recent visit to his home in the Netherlands, he is obviously trying to make room for more books, like most of us.
I started reading it on the six hour ferry trip from the Hook of Holland to Harwich and almost got to the end of it when it was time to roll off the ferry.
Pamela Stephenson is of course Billy Connolly’s wife of some 30 odd years and as she is now a clinical psychologist it seems that she is the perfect partner for him. Her profession must certainly be a help with understanding the complex personality which is Billy.
As a Glaswegian myself I recognised a lot of the descriptions and experiences of life in the city. I lived the first five years of my life in a different part of the city but so many of the stories of Billy’s early life brought back memories of back courts where the ‘big’ boys spent their time doing crazy things, jumping over wash house roofs and such, the pre-cursor to those people who participated in that mad building running and jumping craze of a few years ago – what was that called?! I well remember my sister shouting “Mum, Jacky’s dreeping!” – meaning that my brother was risking life and limb by dropping down from very high walls.
This book was first published in 2001 and Stephenson tells of Billy’s life from birth until then. His childhood was incredibly traumatic as he suffered physical and sexual abuse within his family on a daily basis, it’s quite incredible that he survived it and turned into the multi-talented person that he is now.
Billy is the first to admit that there are loads of guys in the west of Scotland with the same snappy ability to make people laugh, it’s just part of the character of the west, and something that I really miss.
Sadly Billy has recently been diagnosed with early Parkinson’s and prostate cancer – both on the same day, how unlucky is that? But he’s not downhearted and seems to be making a fine recovery from the cancer anyway. If you’re a fan of Billy you’ll find the book really interesting, although given the subject matter it’s obviously not a laugh a minute.
Living near Glasgow as I did back then when he was just beginning his career I occasionally saw Billy around the place, sometimes in John Smith’s Bookshop perusing the books, he’s a keen reader, then of course he moved to Drymen when he started to get quite well known within Scotland, again not far from where I lived. My brother rubbed shoulders with him at various things to do with shipbuilding back then in the late 1960s when Billy was doing the folk stuff which kicked off his career at the same time as working as a welder.
The thing which brought him to the notice of the wider public in the rest of Britain was his take off of Tammy Wynette’s song Divorce, in 1975. He was on Top of the Pops with it and his version got higher in the charts than Tammy’s.
He followed that up with a spoof of YMCA in 1976.