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Rab C Nesbitt (1989-99)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Rab C Nesbitt (1989-99)
Comedy Unit for BBC Scotland
8 series of 6 episodes plus 2 specials
DirectorColin Gilbert
ProducerColin Gilbert
ScriptIan Pattison

Cast: Gregor Fisher (Rab C Nesbitt); Elaine C.Smith (Mary Nesbitt); Eric Cullen (Burney Nesbitt); Andrew Fairlie (Gash Nesbitt); Tony Roper (Jamesie Cotter)

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Drunken wastrel Rab.C.Nesbitt lives with his wife Mary and sons in the Govan area of Glasgow. He spends most of his time in his local pub with his equally hopeless drinking pals, and holding forth on the absurdities and indignities of life.

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Rab.C. Nesbitt (BBC, 1990-99) seems strangely underrated a few years after its demise, but it stands up as one of the most popular, funny and daring sitcoms of the 1990s. It is also represents one of the key Scottish television programmes of recent years.

The show is immersed in Scottishness - a frequent English complaint is that the Glaswegian accents are incomprehensible - but takes an irreverent view of what it means to be Caledonian. While very much offering a view from within, Ian Pattison's scripts mercilessly poke fun at the more sanctimonious tendencies of nationalism, such as tartan wearing exiles, folk songs from the Hebrides, and the worst aspects of the 'remember Culloden' victim mentality.

In part, this approach comes from the show's strongly political tone, suggesting the irrelevance of this kind of nationalism to the lives of working-class people in Govan. However the failings of the proletariat are satirised too - working-class culture and its limitations are hardly romanticised through Rab and his drinking pals, who often proudly refer to themselves as 'scum'.

Rab (Gregor Fisher) started life as a recurring character in the sketch show Naked Video (BBC, 1986-1991) and the sitcom puts him into a wider context. He is a send up of the derogatory stereotype of the poor Glaswegian: frequently drunk, determinedly idle and none too clean in his string vest. Some laughs stem directly from this image and the similar failings of his equally hopeless friends, but Rab is also a sharp commentator on the world, delivering acid asides to the audience from his barstool. He is undermined in turn by the putdowns of his wife Mary (Elaine C. Smith) and the open scorn of his sons. 

Rab's musings directly to the viewer are reminiscent of the strong Scottish music hall and stand up tradition, exemplified by comedians like Chic Murray and Billy Connolly. The distinctive character of the show begs the question whether Scottish comedy is significantly different to the English humour familiar from most other British sitcoms. On the basis of Rab.C.Nesbitt, the answer is a qualified 'yes'. There is a more direct, tougher approach to political and social satire; a more anarchic approach to form; and if anything the humour is even darker - episodes of the series regularly managed to get hilarity from death, poverty and terminal disease. Hopefully Rab's achievements will be remembered as a benchmark for savage character comedy.

Phil Wickham

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Video Clips
1. The big C (1:49)
2. Daydreams (1:04)
3. Chat-up (0:20)
Complete episode: 'Growth' (29:31)
Naked Video (1986-1990)
The Sitcom Family