WHAT more is there to learn about Billy Connolly? In recent times Scotland’s (if not the world’s) greatest comedian, has been fed to us like the concentrated orange juice our mothers collected at the clinic. We’ve been sugared with books on his life such as Billy and Made in Scotland, endless documentaries and a collection of stage material. And it was all sweet and enjoyable.

Now, Connolly’s memoir has been published. But do we need more repetition of the life of the former folk musician from Anderston, the welder statesman who went on to become a world star?

Well, the 78-year-old’s story is certainly retold but this time it’s prismed through the eye of a man at an acute point in his life. As a result, there’s an honesty that’s perhaps been covered up in the past. He’s still an achingly funny comedy philosopher; a glance at chapter headings of Windswept and Interesting confirm this; Never Run in Loose Underwear, Take Your Knickers Down and Dance. And, If Your Heart Stops, Apply Vinegar. Others such as ‘F*** Political Correctness and Stay Clear of Musicals reveal he is still unprepared to keep a healthy distance from controversy.

But be prepared to discover that this memoir is laced with sadness. The tough Glaswegian makes us ask the question; if he hadn’t had such a horrendous upbringing, would this mind have formed in the way it did? Would Billy Connolly have become so funny if he hadn’t spent his early life trying to make sense of abandonment and abuse?

If he weren’t told so often by his aunt and father his very existence was pointless, would he have been so desperate to be noticed? Connolly reveals that when once booked for a TV show in America, he was preceded by a drag queen singing I Am Who I Am. “When she came off-stage, her gaze met mine. I was wearing oxblood corduroy trousers, reindeer boots with curled-up pointed toes, a frilly polka-dotted satin shirt and a big gold hoop earring in one ear. As she brushed past me, she whispered in my ear; ‘Savage gypsy lover.’ See? She knew, and I knew.”

If he weren’t beaten so badly – and so often – would his voice have become a clarion call to the non-conformist, taking on a “blessed are those who yodel” philosophy in life? And you wonder if a sense of worthlessness has somehow contributed to Sir William Connolly revealing his winkle to the world, to over a hundred million TV viewers?

And does it explain his anger? Connolly batters almost as many people in his book as the books he once had to batter at school. He traces back his early school life and offers; “Apart from being battered mercilessly, I rather liked (my school) St Peter’s Infants. I enjoyed the atmosphere of all the boys and girls singing together and learning together.”

Connolly clearly loved being part of a ‘family.’ We were reminded of his mother running off with her lover, (his father was in the army) when young Billy was just four years old. He describes being looked after by his sister Florence and how much he adored her.

But he then moved in with his aunts, who resented the commitment. “Mona would torture and beat me every day.” It’s a tale he has told before. But the sadness in the young soul is underlined by the story of how, when still in primary school, he walked out one day and all the way to Hamilton, 12 miles away. Was he declaring that one day he would walk his own path?

Secondary school was more fun. The teenage Billy liked the geography teacher who smoked in class. Yes, he was belted every day for not doing his homework, but reckoned the punishment was better than sitting in the living room with Aunt Mona while doing schoolwork.

Thankfully, the youngster learned he could make his schoolmates and teachers laugh. He knew then he wanted to become a comedian. But the abuse by his aunt was then followed up by sexual abuse from his father, from the age of 10 to 14. “And for the following 20 years, until my father died, I just buried all that shame,” he admits for the first time. The abuse deeply affected him. He disliked being touched. Even as an adult he would sleep with the light on.

Teenage life would have been difficult enough to contend with, regardless of the molestation. Aged 14, his father moved the family to Drumchapel “a horrible wasteland – no shops, no cafes, no cinemas.” At least he had his own bed, and the abuse stopped.

A year later, Connolly left school, deemed to be an academic no-hoper. His first job was in John Smith’s bookshop in Glasgow’s St Vincent St. But the boy who failed so badly at school became the teenager who read everything he could, biographies that confirmed the notion you could pretty much forge your own path in life.

But that was filling in time before his shipyard apprenticeship. Connolly has produced huge laughs over the years in recounting tales of life in the yards. But the reality is they were cold, bleak, noisy and dangerous places to work. At one point, the comedian reveals he was almost killed when he fell 40 feet from a ship into the Clyde and just three feet of water. All he broke on the day before his 18th birthday was his ankle.

He highlights the risks involved in his working day such as suffering a ‘flash’ when welders would be pained by a small flash of metal in their eye. The answer? “One man would roll the patient’s eye lid up like a venetian blind, put his tongue on the eyeball and slurp up the offending piece of metal and then spit it out.”

Connolly reckons he also lost part of his hearing due to the unrelenting noise. But the hearing loss meant at least he didn’t suffer so much at the time.

Yet, the danger and dirt of the shipyards almost commanded a sense of fun. Connolly reveals he used to electrify his workmates using electric welding gear and puddles on the deck above.

All the world may not quite be a stage, but for Connolly, the shipyards were. Older men demonstrated how to tell funny stories, not with punchlines, but simple stories. He soaked it up. He learned to use voices, such as that of a drunk man. “To be found funny by shipyard men was gold.”

This was approval. Acceptance. And love, of sorts, he never experienced at home – apart from his sister, Florence. Yet, the expansive mind wanted to experience more than welding ships together and telling tea-time tales. He considered joining the merchant navy, but his father warned him off. “It’s full of homosexuals!” he declared, ironically.

Instead, Connolly joined the Parachute Regiment of the Territorial Army and became a weekend soldier. “We learned how to march, too. Learning how to turn corners and how to stay in line was complicated but I enjoyed it. It was like dancing.”

The expectation would have been that the rebellious schoolboy would have struggled to take orders. But somehow, he accepted the rules that went along with being part of a fighting unit. It gave him an identity and a place in the world. And the opportunity to see the world and have fun.

At 21, his birthday ritual in Cyprus, he remembers, involved taking all his clothes off (except his socks) sticking a rolled-up newspaper up his bum and lighting it. “Then I had to dance on a table to see how long I could stand it, as the flame got nearer to my a***.”

It’s where he says he discovered his love for naked dancing. And of course, we remember his naked dancing in the Arctic Circle, (except for his fur boots). And his clothes-free dance around the statue of Eros in London’s Piccadilly Circus for Comic Relief.

What the cameras didn’t reveal however was the drunk Irish guy who yelled at Connolly in the street. “You’re a f****** disgrace. You’re. . . hic. . . offending the children.” He was puking all over the place. After the run I went into the theatre to put my clothes on, and he tried to follow me inside. The television crew was standing in a line so he couldn’t get near me, but he kept on (shouting). I said to the crew ‘When I say FIVE, separate . . . One, two, three, four – FIVE! On five, I shot through and smacked him in the face.

“A couple of hours later a policeman came out of the station and said, ‘You’re Billy Connolly?’ I said ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘I’m looking for you.’ I said, ‘What for?’ He said, ‘You punched a guy.’ I said, ‘And he f****** deserved it too.’ He said, ‘On your way.’”

Later, he tells of days punching a heckler on the folk circuit who kept shouting ‘F*** the Pope’ during a performance. In fact, vigilante Connolly tells of punching quite a few deserving subjects along the way, including the four men who racially abused an Indian waiter. He remains entirely unapologetic.

The easy communicator that he is now however is not always evident. Connolly’s tales of early visits to Glasgow dance halls and his inability to connect with the female of the species is underlined. He was certainly no savage, gypsy lover at that point. “I had no idea how to socialise with women. I just wanted one that would show up. Anyone would do.”

Yet, he was always determined to be noticed. “My ties were one colour and dead skinny, with a tiepin. The final touch was a pair of huge, gaudy cufflinks – an eagle standing on a ruby. Thirty bob a pair. And I looked as though I owned South Africa.”

In his early twenties, Connolly still didn’t have the confidence to become a comedian. He believed the older men in the shipyards were far funnier than he was. But when he hung around with his biker pals and made them laugh the self-belief grew. He watched Pete Seeger one night and fell in love with the banjo. That was the life he wanted; the hobo, biker musician, the independent spirit who would play at folk clubs and win over women.

Gradually, banjo performance took over from welding. Gradually, comedy routines took over from banjo playing. But the banjo launched him into theatre. The first play he ever saw, Clydeside, was the one he appeared in at the Citizens’ Theatre, alongside banjo player Tam Harvey.

The pair formed the Humblebums, which found considerable success and then Gerry Rafferty was added to the line-up – and then Harvey was exited. Rafferty taught Connolly self-belief, but then Connolly and Rafferty had to split. Both were becoming too good at what they did best.

Along the way, Connolly reveals he did his best to understand the opposite sex. But he never knew whether they really liked him or were laughing at him. “‘Oh, you are so funny. You are my best friend.’ “I’d be thinking, ‘I’ve got plenty of friends. I want a fire-breathing hootchy-cootchy dancer’.”

He didn’t marry one. Instead, he married interior designer Iris Pressagh. That marriage didn’t work out – both, he says, were alcoholics. And she didn’t believe he would achieve success – fatal to any marriage. But he met TV comedy star Pamela Stephenson and she was able to convince him their relationship was more important than his relationship with the bottle.

Success continued. But so too does the pervading sadness. Connolly had a Number One hit in 1975 with DIVORCE, yet he felt “undeserving, worthless,” and that everything he had would disappear. Sooner or later, he’d be “unknown and penniless.”

Instead, he went on to become a film star, a worldwide comedy star. But did he find happiness? “I suspect happiness is having the liking for yourself and having a joy in being with yourself. And I’m not sure I have that.”

It’s hard to like yourself when your mother has abandoned you. He met Mary Connolly as an adult, but he was too distracted/lost/confused to ask her the key questions; ‘How could you have walked away and left on their own a four-year-old and his six-year-old sister? How terrible was your life that you could do that?

Connolly wishes he’d asked the questions. And because of how we feel about him we wish he had too.

Perhaps this partly explains his itinerant life. The comedy star is now living in Florida. Yes, he’s lived in Glasgow’s West End, in Aberdeenshire, London Los Angeles and New York. But the father-of-five doesn’t seem rooted. He has hundreds, perhaps thousands, of friends – but seems happy enough to be with whoever lives nearby.

His mind however continues to explore; to ask questions. And he still can’t resist the chance to shock. When he once boarded a plane, while wearing black and white spotted shoes, the flight attendant declared how much she liked them. He replied, ‘Thanks, I had them made abroad. The shoemaker had a big box of Dalmatian puppies, and you could pick your own.’ “It was the only time in my life I’ve been smacked in the face by a member of air crew.”

Connolly’s life story often veers away from the subject, but then returns. Rather like his stage shows. But how can you mind the narrative being interrupted by questions as; Why do men have nipples? Why aren’t we all Jews, if Jesus was one?

What do we learn from the comedy star, apart from understanding his battle to make sense of the past? What does he derive great pleasure from? It transpires it’s digestives. And pizzas. But not fancy ones. He likes baby rhinos and lava lamps.

What does he hate? Reality TV, game shows, brussels sprouts (his aunts would beat him if didn’t eat them). He doesn’t like going on holiday – it reminds him of work – “and the Covid lockdown suited me lovely.”

He watches TV evangelist shows but hates them and shouts at the television. He can’t stand golf. “For me gold was always something done by pr***s who dressed like tourists in their own homes.” He isn’t at all keen on musicals. “Most musicals just give people an excuse to say obtuse or ridiculous things. Like in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers when they sing ‘Gotta get me a woman before the snow comes.’ You should have your ar** kicked for that.”

Such comment reminds us to read Connolly’s book. We have to imbue anything he bottles and sells, in whichever form because we are unlikely to ever see his like again. He is the flower of Scotland, a sometimes-jaggy thistle with a proud, purple beard who provokes us and helps us look at life differently and makes us scream out loud with laughter.

And our lives have been hugely enhanced by having him around.

Windswept and Interesting is published by Two Roads, priced £25.