Frankie Boyle’s Tour of Scotland****


STREET fighting man of comedy that he is, you might expect Frankie Boyle to get his retaliation in first. So it proves in explaining why he, of all people, is transitioning from Robespierre to Portillo and fronting a cosy travel show. Next he’ll be taking Sandi Toksvig’s spot on The Great British Bake Off.

“There comes a time in every comedian’s career when he decides to do travelogues,” said Boyle at the beginning of the half hour. “In fact, among comedians the phrase ‘gone to do travelogues’ is slang for when someone dies.”

He had another reason to hit the road, other than working to pay the bills like the rest of us. His trip round the old country was preparation for another tour, with Boyle trying out stand-up material in small clubs before playing the big venues in Glasgow and Edinburgh. He racks up rehearsal time and a holiday, the viewer gets to find out his take on Glencoe. And what a take it was.

First stop is The Stand in Glasgow, where some hapless punter had forgotten to switch his phone off when Boyle came on. This allowed the comedian to say something deeply offensive in the first five minutes of the programme. I would like to think it was a sort of early warning signal to those who might have tuned in expecting Judith Chalmers.

The first part of his journey took him from Aberdeen to Oban, with stops for interviews and musings to camera along the way. He met a hermit called Jake, who turned out to be marketing a holiday home well off the beaten track in Aberdeenshire (even hermits can multitask). It looked like a caravan up a tree because it was.

Boyle thought it was the kind of place he would come if he was in witness protection. He and Jake got on famously. That’s the thing with Boyle: he is a pugnacious sort but a surprisingly good interviewer. Okay, you got the impression now and then that the chat was engineered so that he could crowbar in a prepared line, but by and large he listened well, and he had a gentle, softly spoken way that got the best out of people.

It wouldn’t be Boyle, though, without some eyebrow scorching material, and his visit to Glencoe sparked a riff that linked the 1692 massacre to Jimmy Savile, one time resident of the area. Ooft. But there was considered material too, as when Boyle and Andy Wightman MSP talked about land ownership. Fewer than 500 people own half the land in Scotland, eh?

He dropped in on the Findhorn community (“Another f****** caravan”), and Cruachan power station, where beautifully crafted wooden artworks on the wall had him reminiscing about doing the readings at Mass when he was a boy. There was a story about horses that revealed the Glaswegian’s deep, dark secret: he’s a soppy bunny at heart.

Boyle has done a travel show before, about Russia, but this was his first in Scotland. Like any comic who tackles Caledonia, he knows he has very big banana boots to fill. As with explaining why he was doing a travelogue, he addressed the Billy Connolly question directly.

On the ferry from Oban to Mull, one of his favourite crossings, he said he watched Connolly’s programmes when younger and used to love the way he spoke so lyrically about the Scottish landscape.

Boyle had a go himself, referring to the light and how it changes, before conceding that Connolly was one of a kind, peerless. “He’s really atypical for a Scottish man.”

That does Boyle, and Scottish men in general, something of a disservice. With three parts to go, I hope he has another try at finding his inner Robert Louis Stevenson. Then again, next week finds him in Edinburgh during the festivals. I expect swearing will be involved.