OUR Icon this week does not exist. Also, Brigadoon’s origins appear to lie not in Scottish legend but in an ancient American musical which has parallels in a German fairy story.

Ach, wha’s like us, eh? Well, pretty much everybody, as it turns out. But we live in a bonny enough place (in parts) and are the last people on Earth at whom it’s permissible to titter.

The Lerner-Loewe musical alluded to above opened on Broadway in 1947. 
A 1954 film version starred Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse, while a 1966 US television version featured Robert Goulet and Peter Falk.

So, what’s the story? Well, New Yorkers Tommy Albright and Jeff Douglas travel to the Highlands to massacre our wildlife, as many foreign visitors do.

The Herald:

Alas (not!), they get lost on their first night out. Hearing music from somewhere, they head thither for directions back to their inn.

What do they find? Why, a fair of course, with tartan-clad, diddly-dee people neglecting economic growth in favour of capering. They live in gaffs with thatched roofs and get pissed in the mist.

Kilties in peculiar millinery dance on their toes and, amid such scenes of appalling moral degeneration, songs are sung, including (later in the story) the ever-popular Almost Like Being In Love, and another one about “Waiting On Ma Dearie”. Dearie me.

But you – yes, you – need not be snooty about this. The Broadway musical ran for 581 performances, while in London’s West End it clocked up 685. The film based on the musical is clearly loved by many.

One fan on YouTube said “Scotland hasn’t changed a bit. I was there only last week.” Yep, Brigadoon is virtually a documentary.

Back to the story. Local lass Fiona invites the wanderers to tea and, soon, she and Tommy are making eyes at each other. What traditionally follows such tomfoolery? Correct: the two go off together to gather heather for a forthcoming wedding (not theirs).

Material loss

Jeff, meanwhile, has been gadding about with another sonsie lass, whose overtures he spurns. Subsequently, he suffers the cruel sartorial ignominy of having to wear tartan trews after his proper troosers were torn on a thistle.

Well, we’ve all been there.

Eventually, the two tourists learn the village’s secret. Centuries before, to protect idyllic Brigadoon from change (in some versions of the tale to protect it from the English during the Jacobite Rebellion), the local minister struck an agreement with yon God to have Brigadoon disappear, reappearing only one day every 100 years  when it could be seen and even visited by outsiders in an atmosphere of joy and celebration.

The Herald:

All Brigadoon ratepayers are forbidden to leave or the joint will disappear forever. Tommy asks if, hypothetically (wink-wink), an outsider could be allowed to stay.

Village schoolmaster Mr. Lundie tells him: “A stranger can stay if he loves someone here … enough to want to give up everythin’ an’ stay with that one person.”

As the aforementioned wedding gets under way, jilted lover Harry has a pop at snogging the bride and, in the ensuing outrage, makes to leave Brigadoon, causing panic among the inhabitants.

There seem various versions of what happened next: i.e. Harry got deid. In one, a rock falls on his heid. In another, Jeff trips him and he falls fatally. In another, Tommy stops Harry at the bridge but is knocked oot as the two scuffle. 

Harry climbs a tree to hide but is accidentally shot by Jeff, who’d skipped the wedding to go killing beasties for pleasure.

Back in the unreal world, Fiona reveals her love for Tommy, and he reciprocates, telling her he wants to stay in Brigadoon with her. Jeff tells Tommy that’s mental and convinces him it’s all been a dream. They depart. Fiona fades into the mist.

Scotch missed

BACK in New York, unable to forget Fiona, Tommy tells his beautiful socialite fiancée (“the only Scotch she knows comes out of a bottle”) that he cannot marry her and, along with Jeff, returns to the spot where they found Brigadoon. But there’s nothing.

As they turn to leave, they hear the music again, and Mr Lundie appears, saying: “My, my! You must really love her. You woke me up!” Tommy waves Jeff goodbye and disappears into the Highland mist to be reunited with Fiona.

Happy ending: yay! But what are the story’s origins? 

Some say they lie in a traditional German tale about the village of Germelhausen, whose bells ring out across the Bavarian mountains, attracting visitors who are never seen again.

Interestingly, or arguably otherwise, the signature song Almost Like Being In Love refers to “a bell that’s ringing for me”. The plot thickens. 

However, writer Alan Jay Lerner said he’d never heard of the Germelshausen story until after he’d completed the first draft of Brigadoon. 

In his own subsequent research, he found many legends of disappearing towns in various countries’ folklore, and declared their similarities “unconscious coincidence”.

Perhaps a clue lies in the name itself. Some say Brigadoon comes from Brigid, a Celtic goddess of fertility, and doon as in, er, not up. 

Others cite Brig o’ Doon, a 15th-century bridge near Alloway, a former village now a suburb of Ayr that was the birthplace of top poet Bobby Burns.

In the last verse of his Tam o’ Shanter, the Tam under advisement is chased by Nannie, a witch. He manages to escape over the brig but she pulls his horse’s tail off. “The carlin caught her by the rump/And left puir Meg wi’ scarce a stump.”

Among all the myths, we leave you with indisputable facts. Brigadoon is a suburb of Perth, Australia, and a neighbourhood in Kentucky, where there’s also a Brigadoon State Nature Preserve.

A low note

IN 2021, a pastiche called Schmigadoon! premiered on American TV, with a bickering, backpacking New York couple becoming trapped in an old musical which they cannot leave until they find “true love”.

The Herald:

In the film Four Weddings And A Funeral, Gareth (Simon Callow, inset) exclaims on seeing Highland dancing: “It’s bloody Brigadoon!” In Groundhog Day, a film about a small town stuck in a time warp, the end credits roll to the sound of … Almost Like Being In Love.

In politics, unionists bring up Brigadoon as a take on the “fantasy” of independence. But let’s not get into all that malarkey. Life’s too short.