IF you have “hurdy gurdy gurdy, in the windae boxes” as an earworm, and have started to think Isa’s got quite nice legs, that’s a sign you’ve been watching too much Still Game.

I probably did during lockdown, revisiting the first season of the BBC Scotland comedy and binge-watching while eating biscuits and drinking cups ae tea. You say: “What is a man in your position, educated in Leith at the taxpayer’s expense and rising to be a middling opinion-hurler, doing watching such a programme, featuring low-life people who say how instead of why, ken?”

That is a bad point, well expressed. Here’s the odd thing about Still Game. The scenario is scuzzy. None of the characters is immediately loveable. Everyone is nippin’ everyone else’s heid. They’re all fly. They’re scheming schemies.

But, b***** me, the programme is heartwarming. For, beneath it all, the characters have soul. The place is, in the words of its ain crabbit auld heroes, “a sh******e” (note to storeroom: better order more asterisks; note to readers – you’ve no idea the sweat and tears involved in checking I’ve put in the right number).

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A word with asterisks Craiglang may be, but the fictional Glasgow estate – all grey, concrete housing filmed under cloudy, grey skies – is home. Residents feel a sense of belonging. They might want away, but like one real-life Lottery winner from a manky part of Edinburgh, would probably end up coming back.

For, against all the odds, they’ve formed a community. They’re always on each other’s case, but rally round when anyone is in trouble. You say: “Aye, that’s right. Just like ma bit. Not.” Fair point. It’s a low ideal, but perhaps some real-life places do resemble this, even if faintly and through the efforts of semi-official community activists.

Whatever the reality, I lay the conundrum before you: sense of belonging in a sh******e (please don’t count the asterisks; they’re starting to swim before my eyes) or lonely despair in a “nice area” (no asterisks)? As Herald readers, many of you are probably right posh while pretending still to be working-class, so which is it to be? Admit it: you’re torn.

In the unlikely event that anyone is unfamiliar with the frequently torn-faced characters and their situation in the BBC Scotland comedy, here’s a recap. Jack Jarvis, Esq and Victor McDade (played respectively by Ford Kiernan and Greg Hemphill, the show’s writers) are two pensioners who’ve been friends for 60 years and are now widowers living as next door neighbours in high-rise Osprey Heights.

They are men who have bitten the bullet and bought the bunnet. Jack’s offspring are in Canada, Victor’s in South Africa. They argue over everything – “That’s a loadie p***!” – not least how many bars of the electric fire should be on. But their bond is unbreakable.

They share a floor with Isa (Jane McCarry), the neighbourhood gossip (motto: “People huv tae know”; I wish this paper would put that under its masthead). They shop at Harrids (not quite Harrods), the corner-ish store run by savvy Navid (Sanjeev Kohli), a Muslim who wishes he could have a drink and a wee fly bet, and whose wife Meena (Shamshad Akhtar) slags him off with Glaswegian gusto expressed in Hindi or Punjabi.

Jack and Victor drink in The Clansman, the sort of cowp we’ve all entered inadvertently (or deliberately when under-age and it was the only place that would serve us). Running the bar is Boaby (Gavin Mitchell), mine host with a fine line in sarcastic welcomes (“Oh look, it’s Lambert and Butler”). It’s like that famous American sitcom, only renamed “Cheers, ya p***k”.


In these salubrious surroundings, our doddery duo are always likely to encounter Winston (Paul Riley), ever at odds with the bookie and never averse to a bit of benefit fraud and leccie-fiddling; Tam (Mark Cox), a “miserable b*****d” and professional freebie hunter; Eric (James Martin, a real-life pensioner), aye happy to chip in his tuppence worth; and Pete the Jakey (played by the late Jake D’Arcy), an odiferous alcoholic with a surprisingly vivid imagination, usually involving a lie that there’s more to him than meets the nose.

Other regular characters include Peggy (Lynne McCallum), the heavyweight husband-tormentor; Shug the Lug (Paul Young), an elephant-eared loon who can hear everything; and Chris (Sandy Nelson), the dim and lazy young postie.

The chemistry between the two main characters echoes real-life (despite one long sorted fall-out) with Kiernan and Hemphill, the former a hunner per cent Glaswegian, the latter also hailing from the city but with a healthy input of Canadian (his family emigrated there when he was 12).

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Like most good comedies, Still Game has poignant moments, such as when Jack is tempted to take up his daughter’s invitation to stay with her family in Canada. He decides against because, back in Glasgow, he still has £8 left on his electricity card.

The scripts are excellent, well paced with beginnings, middles and a bit at the end, ken? You might have thought it just a Scottish programme for Scottish people but, eventually, it went UK-wide and gained a large, enthusiastic audience.

It’s said to have had a dip around series seven (it had nine seasons in all), with some critics finding it tired, or possibly having blunted its edge for the new, UK-wide audience. One reviewer, with reference to another show about elderly persons, called it Last of the Summer Buckfast.

It’s also true that rude language can become too much of a crutch for comedies. But all that means hee-haw in the great scheme of things. Scots love Still Game. Live shows (50 so far) have always added extra nights to meet demand. And, although the TV series ended in 2019, there’s been talk in recent months of a prequel, with younger actors playing Jack and Victor.

In the meantime, we raise a glass of their own recently launched whisky (better than “that muck in the Clansman”) to the two curmudgeonly codgers and say: “So long and thanks for all the p***.”