Living With Billy Connolly by Pamela Stephenson

In the bestselling biography of her husband, Pamela Stephenson brilliantly charted the Billy Connolly's incredible life from an abused child from the desperately poor tenements of Glasgow to the comic icon he is today. It's an inspirational story, which she told with personal and professional insight with funny as well as touching, funny and harrowing anecdotes.

But her follow-up is a different tale altogether. Whereas Billy packed 59 eventful years into one volume, Bravemouth desperately pads one dull year to fill the same space.

Connolly's detractors, perhaps driven by envy, have always bemoaned his lifestyle today, portraying him as a class traitor living the Los Angeles lifestyle and rubbing shoulders with the Establishment, including the Royal Family.

In reality, most people don't begrudge him the trappings of success, recognising what he had to endure to get there - and, above all, his talent. But in one money-spinning book, Stephenson undoes much of this image.

Bravemouth reads like one of those tedious round-robin newsletters that self-absorbed families send around every Christmas, to the entire disinterest of all around them. Only this one stretches to more than 240 pages and will set you back £19.

So we learn all about the minutae of what happened to the Connolly family over the course of a year, no matter what the relevance. For huge tracts of the book, Billy isn't even around - off filming with Tom Cruise and the like - with one chapter devoted to the wife and kids' trip to India, with the man himself barely meriting a mention.

In case you give a damn, Stephenson found the subcontinent 'spiritual', but lived in fear of getting the runs and found the relentlessly harsh poverty depressing. Now tell us something a thousand gap-year students don't bore us with every year.

Stpehenson is also prone to regurgitating huge passages of irrelevant detail. We hear about Lakshmi Bai, Queen of the Jhansi, or the finer details of a Fijian welcoming ceremony. It's odd to find, in a biography of a comedy hero, passages like: '[Somalialand] shares its borders with the Republic of Djibouti to the west, the Federal Republic of Ethopia to the east and Somalia to the east. The Somaliland Protectorate, as it was known, came under British rule from 1884" What happened Pamela? Swallow a textbook?

Much of Stephenson's diversions go are into her own field of 'sexology' (which apparently passes for a real science in California) and sometimes prove quite interesting, though again utterly out of place.

When Billy is mentioned, Stephenson usually focuses on the trivial, as all the good stuff was used up in her first book. Every time he appears, his outfit is described, and she constantly protests his down-to-earth nature, even if the incidents don't seem to offer much in the way of evidence.

Guests at his lavish 60th birthday party in his Highlands estate, for example, were all given umbrellas bearing his face, just on the off-chance rain might spoil the spectacular fireworks display they had put on. Very modest - and then they have to tell us all about it.

Many passages are devoted to the build-up to this bash, on which the Connollys probably spent more in one night than a Clyde shipworker might earn in a decade. It's all very luvvie, and surely of no interest to anyone.

As part of the seemingly endless birthday celebrations, the family trotted off to Fiji, where Stephenson casually mentions she 'arranged for seven traditional outrigger canoes to be carved by local woodworkers', as if that's the sort of thing we all do on our holidays.

There, predictably enough, they fell in love with the simple life lived by the locals, and wondered wistfully about the wrongs of materialism before flying back to either their multi-million dollar Californian home, vast Scottish retreat or Maltese bolthole.

This really is a book that could win Connolly a lot more enemies.

Steve Bennett
September 15, 2003

Bravemouth: Living With Billy Connolly by Pamela Stephenson is published by Headline at £18.99. Click here to buy from Amazon at £9.49

Published: 22 Sep 2006

Today's comedy-on demand picks

FRINGE ON FRIDAY

The virtual events that are trying to fill the Edinburgh Fringe void kick up a gear tonight with the first Fringe Friday gala gig, hosted by Suzi Ruffell, Jason Byrne doing a gig from his Irish home town, and the Free Festival co-ordinating a busy on-line line-up

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... including a new YouTube sketch series from comedy ventriloquist Paul Zerdin and Graeme Garden in conversation.

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