January 2, 1978
IT all began one morning in 1975 when a Glaswegian taxi driver recognised the hung-over passenger slumped in the back.
It was Michael Parkinson, then Britain’s most famous television talk show host.
“You like the funny men, don’t you?” asked the driver.
“I do,” replied Parky.
“D’you know the Big Yin?”
“You should have him on your show.”
Screeching to a halt, the driver jumped out and disappeared into a shop. When he came back out he was clutching a copy of the album Billy Connolly Live.
His simple words were “Play that”.
Parkinson did (eventually) and the rest is history.
Now Billy Connolly holds the record for most appearances on the legendary chat show, having been a guest on 15 occasions.
His final appearance was on Parky’s penultimate show, on December 16, 2007.
But it was that first appearance that sealed the deal and made the Big Yin a household name.
And it was one joke in particular that split the country’s sides and announced the birth of a new star.
In the limousine on the way to the BBC TV studios for the first appearance, Billy’s manager, had warned him: “Whatever else you do, don’t tell that joke about the bum. You’ll ruin everything.”
Did the near-the-knuckle comedian obey that order? Of course not!
As the interview went on Billy – resplendent in his trademark long thin beard and wild hair – suddenly acquired a mischievous glint in his eye.
“I hope I can get away with this, it’s a beauty,” he said.
The camera cut to Parky nervously fidgeting with his collar. What on earth was he going to say next?
“This guy was going out to meet his friend in the pub,” began Billy.
Entertainment entrepreneur Frank Lynch buried his face in his hands. “Oh no, Billy, not the one about the bum!”
But there was no stopping him.
He continued. “How’s it going? Fine. How’s the wife? Oh she’s dead. What? I murdered her this morning. You’re kidding me on! No, I’ll show you, if you like. So he goes away up to his tenement building, through the close, and there’s a big mound of earth there and, sure enough, there’s a bum sticking out. He says, ‘Is that her?’ He says, ‘aye.’ He says, ‘Why’d you leave her bum sticking out?’ He says, ‘I need somewhere to park my bike.’
Cue Connolly, Parky, the studio audience and the country exploding with laughter.
Four decades on and the Big Yin is still making the world laugh.
For all those years making millions of sides ache from guffawing, he deserves his place high up the list.
And to think, it all began with a cheeky bum!