And the strand plays on
Gregor Fisher lost his shirt as a drunken Glaswegian philosopher and now he's been Rab'd of his hair in The Baldy Man.
Friday 07 April 1995
Remember perhaps the best of all the Hamlet Cigar ads, the sad bald man with three strands of hair plastered across a shining, Bobby Charltonesque pate who is vainly trying to snap himself in a photo booth? That fashion write-off - first seen on the cult sketch show, Naked Video - has now been decked out by Carlton for a six-part series of hapless capers.
The first shock about meeting Fisher (right) in the flesh is his resplendent head of brown hair. (He shaved his scalp daily to get that just-stepped- off-the-Kojak-set- look.) The second shock is the man's fluency; Nesbitt made his name as a boozing, brawling, blur of inarticulacy in dernier cri grimy headband and string vest. The Baldy Man goes one further: he doesn't even speak, using, like some bald wrestler, a language composed entirely of grunts and groans.
The silent movie element has brought inevitable comparisons with that other speechless slapsticker, Mr Bean. "Everybody says that," Fisher sighs, as he leans back in an armchair at a posh Chelsea Harbour hotel and drags on the first of a chain of cigarettes. "But everybody said when Nesbitt came out `This is a Scottish Alf Garnett'. My answer is, `Is Buster Keaton like Charlie Chaplin?' The Baldy Man is not as nasty as Mr Bean. He's a little guy just trying to get through another day with all this baggage - his vanity, his rank stupidity."
In the first episode, The Baldy Man attempts to become a male model. Leaving a shop in what he thinks is the nattiest pair of yellow boots, he slips on the pavement, sending passers-by and their shopping flying - a scene worthy of Keaton, or at least the Keystone Cops. Another episode echoes Tom and Jerry as, desperate to use the loo, the Baldy Man crashes through the toilet door, leaving an imprint of his body in the frame.
Despite this, Fisher says he has had no formal schooling in mime. "Just bog standard drama school training," he says in a rich Scottish burr reminiscent of John Smith's. "You always had to do punting a boat or that backwards walk that Michael Jackson does. It's never been of any damn use to me in the business, except for entertaining people when you're pissed."
Said to be Scotland's highest paid comic actor, Fisher owns a manse in North Ayrshire and a Rolls Royce. But he had humble beginnings. He left Barrhead High School with one O-level (in art and embroidery). After drama school in Glasgow, he had cameos in White Mischief and 1984. "I played the poor little guy - I would, wouldn't I? - Parsons, the next-door neighbour who shopped Winston."
Fisher went a few rounds with Shakespeare, but "there were times, having wrestled with it, when I wondered what the hell the point was''. He soon discovered, however, that his forte was comedy and he broke into the BBC Scotland Comedy Unit.
He began working on sketches for Naked Radio which metamorphosed into Naked Video, the show that gave birth to Rab C Nesbitt. In 1990, the year Glasgow was European City of Culture, Rab took on a television life of his own. In the process, Fisher became typecast: "There's no two ways about it. I'm that fat Scots chap - `What's his name? Fisher? Get him in for the part of the Scottish gamekeeper.'"
But Fisher doesn't mind that much; after all, Rab Nesbitt has become one of BBC2's most popular shows, attracting more than six million viewers, a figure matched on the second channel only by the likes of Torvill and Dean.
The fifth Nesbitt series starts filming in September, but Fisher is still at a loss to explain its success. "I'd like to think it's done well because it's true. People tune into some comedy and they see a nice cottage in Surrey and mummy's having trouble with her sticky toffee pudding and granny sits on it. You think, `who cares?' Nesbitt came along when there wasn't anything like it on telly. It's got a heart and it's real."
A little too real for some tastes. Nesbitt has been attacked for giving Glasgow a bad name. "Does that mean Pinocchio gives puppets a bad name?" Fisher asks. "We're not suggesting for a minute that Scotland is peopled by guys in string vests. Those who criticise are usually the chattering classes, but I always come back to the fact that if six and a half million people watch it, there must be something to it. If they thought `it's only some ranting, raving loony', it wouldn't have lasted this long, would it?"
So who is he based on, this ragged-trousered philosopher? "It's a bit of my dad,'' Fisher explains, "it's a bit of a farmer in Langholm, it's a bit of someone I saw in Glasgow Central one day. These people are always in stations, I don't know why. Or someone made an impression on some street corner, just standing railing at the moon."
Fisher is quick, however, to point out that Rab doesn't just stand on Scottish street corners. "Nesbitt is alive and well and living in New York, Sydney, Paris and Rome. You walk down 42nd Street to the bus station and you'll see him. He's a different colour and he's wearing a leather bomber jacket, but he's railing, he's there. The usual comment from taxi drivers is [breaks into Cockney cabby-speak], `Oh yeah, I watch that. I don't get it all, but I know what's 'appening.' That's the point. He's that universal."
The Baldy Man, too, is a familiar figure. "You see him every day, don't you? You think `Oh really? He's had knitting needles on that this morning. What is that going on there?'''
If there's one blot on the gleaming pate of Fisher's future, it's the Militant Baldy Tendency. "I don't get bald people coming up saying `Congratulations, I'm glad you've done this'. I get a lot of aggression about it. I've even had nasty letters from someone who says he lives very close to me and would like to do all sorts of unmentionable things. So I take notice if there's a totally bald man walking down the street towards me reaching for his inside pocket."
`The Baldy Man' starts on ITV at 8.30pm next Thursday 13 Apr
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