The Top 50 Greatest Scots Of All Time, Ever! by Vladimir McTavish

Book review by Steve Bennett

Scotland: a nation full drunk, violent neds existing on a diet of high-fat foods, Buckfast and heroin. Unfair? Well, it’s the image most Scottish comedians peddle of their own homeland.

Yet it’s also the nation that’s given the world television, telephones and penicillin; Kier Hardy, David Hume and Harry Potter. But such great achievements never seem to feature much in the Scottish psyche – unless it’s on the football field, and ideally against England.

Vladimir McTavish’s ‘deliberately mischievous’ picture book is in some ways a celebration of his most heroic compatriots – though really it’s just an excuse to make the same old gags using the same old stereotypes.

Holding up the top 50, for example, comes Elvis Presley – a man so Scottish he once spent half an hour at Prestwick Airport. The reason for his inclusion? ‘He died of a heart attack at 42 – what could be more Scottish than that?’ Similar jokes appear on pretty much every page – at least it seems that way sometimes.

Likewise gags about terrorist-bashing baggage handler John Smeaton (at No 21, just above Bonnie Prince Charlie) or Susan Boyle (bubbling under) will be very familiar to followers of easy stand-up punchlines. It’s done with a good-natured cheekiness, and with the national self-deprecation many Scots seem to share, but not all that much originality.

On the rare occasion McTavish, the alter-ego of comedian Paul Sneddon, does offer more than an obvious, glib comment, he can be entertaining, imparting lesser-known facts or taking an oblique look at a famous character. But this book – a spin-off from McTavish’s regular Edinburgh Fringe shows – doesn’t really do deep. It’s presented like a kids’ annual, with big pictures – often nicked off the internet if their ragged resolution is anything to go by – a cartoony display, and very few words. There’s probably less than an hour’s reading here.

If The Top 50 Greatest Scots Of All Time, Ever! has a tone, it’s that the Scots are proud to be a bit rubbish; on that score, this book fits right in.

  • The Top 50 Greatest Scots Of All Time, Ever! by Vladimir McTavish is published by Kenton Publishing at £9.99. Click here to buy it from Amazon at £6.99.

Published: 27 Apr 2010

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