On Tuesday night on Radio 2 there was an hour-long programme in tribute to the late Chic Murray. If you are wondering who on earth the late Chic Murray was, you will not be alone. He was in fact a Scottish comedian called Chick Murray, oddly spelt Chic Murray, who was dear to the hearts of many people who grew up Scottish and completely unknown to almost everyone else.
The programme lined up many famous Scots – Billy Connolly, Brian Cox, Bill Paterson, etc – to testify how Chic Murray had made them fall about laughing when they were young, but very few Englishmen were on hand to echo the praise. There was Barry Cryer, of course, who had worked briefly with Chic Murray in Leeds in the early 1960s, but that doesn't prove a lot, because Barry Cryer is lucky enough to have worked with everyone in comedy who ever lived...
Billy Connolly once concluded mournfully that Scots comedians can never win. If they stay in Scotland and settle for mere local fame, it is said scornfully of them that they are not good enough to go to London and make it big. If they go to London and make it big, they are said to have sold out and forgotten their roots.
Well, Chic Murray never sold out. He remained a Scottish secret. He was one of a series of comedians like Jimmy Logan and Rikki Fulton whose fame never really percolated south of the border, but whose comedy was lodged in the bloodstream of native Scots.
The witnesses to how good Chic Murray was used the same sort of adjectives to describe him over and over again. "Quirky... surrealist... inconsequential... off the wall..." as if Murray had been some sort of stand-up Edward Lear or Salvador Dali.
In fact, as the extracts from the archives showed, he was really an amiably ambling, mildly eccentric tale-spinner whose style may have been eye-opening back then, but which seems pretty safe and bland beside the mad modern day excursions of a Ross Noble or Eddie Izzard.
Ross Noble was on the radio the other day in front of a home Geordie crow d, explaining to the audience that they would have to put up with long diversions ahead, as that was the way he worked.
"Mark you," he said, "it doesn't always succeed. I was doing this in Glasgow the other day, rambling far from my chosen subject, when a guy near the front came up with a heckle I had never heard before. 'Focus!' he shouted. 'Focus!' I think hecklers are getting more technical than they used to be, don't you... ?"
In the old days, I guess, someone like Ross Noble might well have remained a secret on Tyneside, but nowadays, thanks to TV and the comedy circuit, and Edinburgh and radio, it must be very hard for any good local comedian to remain buried in his own backyard.
There was a series on Radio 4 recently called Mark Watson Makes the World Measurably Better. I had never heard of Mark Watson, but I liked the title and gave it a whirl. I became hooked. Mark Watson is very funny, very imaginative, with lots of presence, and I am glad they were giving him lots of prizes up in Edinburgh this year.
He is also Welsh. In the old days he might never have got out of Wales. Not many comedians did. In the long, long days between Harry Secombe and Max Boyce, what Welsh comedians ever made it across the River Severn? Secombe only got out because he was sent to Africa to fight in the Army, and was careful not to go back toWales when the war ended, and you felt that Max Boyce only made it out of Wales on the back of Welsh rugby supremacy. A comedian who based his act on Welsh rugby today would be a melancholy figure indeed.