TV

Still Game: "Something is burgeoning in Scotland..."

Ford Kiernan and Greg Hemphill reunite for Still Game and a 200,000-strong audience over 21 sold-out live shows. Beat that, Kate Bush

We are in the bar of a Glasgow hotel trying to get Ford Kiernan and Greg Hemphill to clown around for our shoot. How about a headlock? “We didn’t speak for seven years, we’re not going to play fight for the camera,” says Hemphill, 44.

In the years Still Game was off screen, the duo behind cranky old-timers Jack and Victor barely spoke. Now Scotland’s most popular comedy creations return with 21 sold-out stage shows at Glasgow’s 10,000-seater Hydro arena.

Still Game Live’s first show starts the day after the Independence Referendum. “There’s been a lot of serious chat and entrenchment. People will need a laugh,” says Hemphill. The shows also begin just eight months after the sudden death of Kiernan’s 12-year-old boy, Sonny. “Everyone has asked but I’m not talking to anybody about that,” says the 52-year-old.

But the prospect of 200,000 fans turning out for these hometown shows has put a smile on his face. “We originally booked four nights and thought we were being optimistic,” says Kiernan. “So we are chuffed to bits…”

So how has it been, getting all the gang backtogether?

Greg Hemphill: Revisiting old wounds and pressing bruises? It’s been joyful! We have rested, we have mended, whatever you want to call it – now we are back.
Ford Kiernan: I think the rest of the gang just thought, finally they have come to their bloody senses.

We never go near football, politics or religion, nor will we, it’s too divisive

The first show is the day after the referendum – do you need two versions?

FK: We toyed with that idea but can you imagine learning two whole shows? We never go near football, politics or religion, nor will we, it’s too divisive. We want to include everybody. But if we do another series with Jack and Victor living in an independent Scotland, we will write it in, won’t we?

GH: It is a strange time. Something is burgeoning in Scotland. Glasgow just looks different – there is a lot of optimism in the air.

Is it new work or a greatest hits set like Monty Python?

FK: If you go to see a pop group, you want them to play the hits. I saw Monty Python and that is what the audience wanted, which is fine for a sketch show. But it wouldn’t work for a sitcom – we are writing a big new narrative for the whole show.

GH: These characters are built to be laughed at by a live audience. There is precedent, isn’t there, in Mrs Brown’s Boys? This is bigger than the TV show; it is bursting out of the TV.

How was the reunion after all that time estranged?

FK: It was like trying to start a car after being parked in the garage for a long time. You might think the battery would be flat but we turned the ignition, it started immediately and we went off down the highway.

GH: We were just looking forward to getting back in each other’s company. And after having a laugh, the hunger to write new material for these characters we love so much came flooding back as soon as we started talking in the voices. Jack and Victor have an opinion about everything.

FK: In the years we didn’t talk I always used to think about what Jack or Victor would say.

Find your local vendor

Find your Vendor

Is your friendship fully recovered?

FK: It’s the same as it ever was. We didn’t talk much for seven years but we are back on form.

GH: We probably did too much together last time round. We were under enormous pressure, and to relieve that we would go to the pub. So we were in each other’s company day and night. And that takes a toll…

How much had you written when you sold out these 21 shows?

FK: [laughs] Not one jot!

GH: We feel a massive responsibility. We have put more into this stage show than anything we’ve ever done – writing, rewriting, listening, fine-tuning. It would be awful for Ford and myself to do a disservice to these characters because they have never done a disservice to us.

FK: I’ve seen Beyoncé, Michael Bublé and Miranda Hart at the Hydro. It is an awesome venue. At Miranda, I got a beer and went upstairs on a recce to hear how the laughter rolls backwards and forwards. The sound is incredible.

So what can audiences expect?

FK: You’ve already had more than we’ve given anyone else. We have been offered enormous amounts of money to do adverts as Jack and Victor. We turned everything down because the audience is coming in their droves to see us this summer. We are not taking the wrappers off until they’re sitting in their seats.

GH: Surprise is the vital element in comedy. We know the audience will enjoy it more the less they know – as soon as the lights go dark, it’s about that anticipation.

FK: And when David Tennant comes out of the TARDIS, they’ll go nuts.

Surprise is the vital element in comedy. We know the audience will enjoy it more the less they know

Take me into your writing room – who types, who makes tea, when do you break for lunch?

GH: These days I type and we read it on Ford’s big telly.

FK: We have a dedicated office in my house. It says “F & G” on the door. We used to knock off at 4pm every day to play Countdown.

GH: They are cancelling it now.

FK: He is useless, that old bastard from The Apprentice. He is not my cup of tea.

You should go on Late Night Countdown – they have comedians on in pairs…

FK: We are not well known enough in England. If there was a Scottish one, Countdoon…

GH: C**tdoon!

FK: [sings Countdown theme tune. Mimes gunshot] ‘There’s a c**t doon!’

Going back to your writing process?

GH: The two of us write every line together. There has never been an instance where one of us writes something and then hands it to the other guy. That would be weird. We can sit for days and write nothing but then go for a pint and write half an episode. It can happen very quickly but you need to be together, working at the same time, laughing.

FK: Back in the day we were so busy we would get sandwiches delivered. We were ordering more and more. They came on a massive tray, do you remember? We would eat them all…

GH: And then fall asleep!

FK: Greg put the kibosh on it. He found a spider in his sandwich. Then we went through a period of eating two Scotch pies every single day – but he stopped that as well because he opened one and it looked like a brain.

GH: Ford used to get big bags of frozen prawns and put them into a curry-flavour Pot Noodle. We called them Pot Noodle Bad Boys.

FK: Some days we don’t even eat. We just follow each other about like two wee dogs talking in Jack and Victor’s voices.

Thanks for the culinary history of Still Game… So is this your rock star moment – are you the Scottish Kate Bush(es)?

FK: It is the thrill of a lifetime. This is the closest we will get to feeling like rock stars. We are getting to play to a stadium full of people – that is Beatles shite…

GH: Yeah, dressed in fucking Oxfam cardigans!

This is the closest we will get to feeling like rock stars

How are the discussions with the BBC about a new series going?

FK: Something is definitely happening, we just don’t know whether it is going to be a new series or a Christmas special. Or Still Game D’Movie…

GH: We have written a 90-minute stage show – we could write a film, no question.

FK: Let’s get these shows out of the road. That’s hard enough without deciding whether to do a world tour, write a movie or bring out a chocolate biscuit!

Some Scottish sitcoms have not been shown on BBC One in England. Is Scottish comedy still seen as niche?

FK: We had to fight hard to get Chewin’ the Fat and Still Game shown across the network. I’m sure some people down there see it as niche. Scotland could be much better represented on the BBC. Definitely.

Are you famous in London?

FK: We would need to punch a policeman to get recognised in London.

GH: Then they would mistake you for Pete Doherty. Again.

Are you back for good?

GH: My hopes and dreams for Still Game have changed completely, even from a year ago. I’d like to be performing these characters when I am their age. We were talking about Clive Dunn and how it is rare for actors to grow into a part. Normally the character gets older – Indiana Jones looks older in the fourth movie. By pacing it, we can make it last. But ultimately the audience decides, we are just sticks in the river…

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
Blue Lights co-creator Declan Lawn on 'massive responsibility of telling Belfast's stories'
Martin McCann as Stevie Neil, Siân Brooke as Grace Ellis, Katherine Devlin as Annie Conlon, Nathan Braniff as Tommy Foster
TV

Blue Lights co-creator Declan Lawn on 'massive responsibility of telling Belfast's stories'

Helen Lederer: 'There was no room for more women on TV in the 80s and 90s, the slots were taken'
Letter To My Younger Self

Helen Lederer: 'There was no room for more women on TV in the 80s and 90s, the slots were taken'

This Town cast and crew on how unrest and disruption forges creative genius: 'Music is the heart'
TV

This Town cast and crew on how unrest and disruption forges creative genius: 'Music is the heart'

Fool Me Once star Adeel Akhtar: 'Drama school felt like running away and joining the circus'
Letter to my Younger Self

Fool Me Once star Adeel Akhtar: 'Drama school felt like running away and joining the circus'

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know