Your all-time great Scots

Category: Misc./General Career News | Posted by: admin
Article Date: May 13, 2007 | Publication: Scotland on Sunday | Author: Stuart Kelly
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WHAT do a medieval knight, Sean Connery, Russian avant-garde design, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lemony Snicket and clockwork robots have in common? Tangentially at least they have all contributed to the success of the winners in our poll to find the Greatest Ever Scots in six artistic fields.

The word 'list' has two very different meanings. On one hand, it's an item-by-item record, sometimes ranked in order of merit or preference. On the other, it means to tilt and swerve; as in a boat listing in a storm. Our lists to find Scotland's Greatest Ever Actor, Actress, Artist, Band, Comedian and Writer seem to encompass both meanings - and now that the results are all in (at Scotland on Sunday at least, if not at Holyrood) the final list does as well. Attempts to discern trends or figure out what the final outcomes mean veer at every turn. As a snapshot of what you think are our country's greatest artistic exponents, it's a complicated and interesting picture.

First off, the winners. None of the candidates we put forward took the top slot in this category, but with an overwhelming 64 per cent, the Greatest Ever Scottish Actor goes to Bathgate's own David Tennant. Now, don't get me wrong - Tennant really can act. He was superb as Jimmy Porter in Look Back In Anger at the Lyceum, was a wonderfully deft Touchstone in As You Like It, and, in TV dramas such as Secret Smile, showed he can be genuinely sinister. But we all know why he's here: he's the Doctor. And he's a very, very good Doctor (especially when deactivating "gorgeous" clockwork robots). But is it really acting? Isn't it just "pretending to be Doctor Who out loud", rather than in your head, as (by my calculations) 4.815162342 per cent of the male population under 35 do?

Damn Famous, yes, but Greatest - not yet. In the Actress category, however, the public eschewed present success and voted for time-sanctioned talent, giving the accolade to Deborah Kerr (only, I presume, because we forgot to include Molly Weir). Kerr was nominated six times for an Oscar, but never won - still a record - and was eventually given a lifetime's achievement award in 1994. Her credits could easily double as a Greatest Films list: The Life And Death Of Colonel Blimp, Black Narcissus, Rodgers and Hammerstein's The King And I, An Affair To Remember, The Sundowners - and more, including a turn in the original Casino Royale. With the beach scene alongside Burt Lancaster in From Here To Eternity alone, she imprinted herself forever in film history.

So one current and one classic. In the Greatest Artist category, the winner is a contemporary classic; the painter John Bellany. Bellany's distinctive style and palette combine traditional painterly qualities with a personal, surreal mythology drawn from his upbringing in Port Seton. Although you have to attune to his idiosyncratic style, it's still obviously figurative 'art' in a way that installations, minimalism and performance art might be considered more contentiously so. Even with subjects as disparate as Sean Connery and an Eyemouth fishwife, you always know it's a Bellany. His nearest contemporary in the poll, Alison Watt, has always veiled herself behind the canvas, whether it's a portrait or one of her astonishing fabric works; Bellany, on the other hand, has made himself his subject, most movingly in the sequence he painted during and after a liver transplant. That his work - and self - are so recognisable might explain his success here, and provides one in the eye for the tiresome debate over Jack Vettriano.

Although in the recent poll of Scotland's Greatest Band the winners were Belle and Sebastian, in our poll the winners are art-school indies Franz Ferdinand, with 37 per cent of the total. Music fans are such a fractious bunch that we could easily have asked for Greatest Punk, Rock, New Romantic, Indie, Dance, nuFolk etc etc and still have had people coughing into their coffee in disbelief that the Cocteau Twins had been so grievously overlooked. Franz Ferdinand's success certainly can't be doubted - their debut album went platinum, and they've played seemingly everywhere from Tokyo to Vina del Mar. The distinctive Russian avant-garde design of their album covers not only nods to their art-school background, but brands them very effectively. They've even been at the Edinburgh Book Festival. Most of all, they live up to their own claim to make "music that girls can dance to". But it's an odd winner nonetheless. They've never had a No 1 single, for example, and their only major advert branding to date is L'Oreal Vive Pro and the Green Party. So there's one other gong they could easily swipe (from current holders Arctic Monkeys) - Band most frequently name-dropped by politicians trying to look cool.

Forgoing the Craig Hills, Armando Ianuccis, Rhona Camerons, and even our own Frankie Boyle, the top spot for Greatest Comedian went to the Big Yin, Billy Connolly. I almost feel sorry for Billy. He has tried to reinvent himself as a serious actor (as Uncle Monty in Lemony Snicket's A Series Of Unfortunate Events or as Queen Victoria's loyal ghillie in Mrs Brown - let's pass over Garfield: A Tale Of Two Kitties or The Man Who Sued God), as a travel writer (with tours of Britain, Australia and New Zealand) and even as the subject of case studies by his wife, the celebrity psychiatrist Pamela Stephenson (Billy, and Bravemouth: Living With Billy). And what do we remember him for? Big Banana Boots and saying jobby (or rather j-ooaahh-bby) on TV. But here's to him, the Harry Lauder de nos jours.

The winner of the final category, Greatest Writer, is the real surprise. Not Spark or Gibbon. None of the brat pack - no Irvine Welsh, Alan Warner, Duncan McLean. Not even the Great Triad of Rankin, Rowling and McCall Smith. Not even Burns. No, astonishingly, and to my mind wonderfully, our Greatest Writer is Sir Walter Scott. I'd be willing to bet a fairly large sum of money that not everyone who voted for Scott has read all of the Waverley Novels, the 10 book-length poems and the 36 Miscellaneous Prose Works. I'd be surprised if many had even read Waverley. But 'Scott the Brand' is a global phenomenon. It's not just Edinburgh, with its Waverley Station, Steps, Bridge, Hotel and Bar. There's Waverley Typewriters, Waverley Housing, a city in Canada called Waverley, Waverley Ale and even an attractive Waverley camisole smock worn by Sienna Miller. Tony Blair famously claimed that Ivanhoe, about a medieval knight who helps heal the nation's divisions, was his favourite novel. As the French novelist Stendhal said, "he invented us all".

So are there any lessons to be learned from these results? Well, all of them, crucially, have reputations beyond the shores and borders of Scotland. A New Yorker can watch Doctor Who or Night Of The Iguana, see a Bellany of Shanghai in the New York Museum of Modern Art, watch a DVD of Billy Connolly, download a Franz Ferdinand track, and there's even a statue of Walter Scott in Central Park. Maybe the next time the Executive (if we have one) puts together Tartan Week, they might think about where they're going to, not where they're coming from.


To celebrate the first issue of our new magazine on April 15, we asked you to choose the greatest ever Scottish cultural icons. Here's how your favourites fared

Who do you believe is the greatest male actor? per cent of votes

David Tennant 64 per cent

Gerard Butler 16 per cent

Sean Connery 6 per cent

Ewan McGregor 5 per cent

Alastair Sim 3 per cent

Who do you believe is the greatest female actor? per cent of votes

Deborah Kerr 27 per cent

Shirley Henderson 25 per cent

Michelle Gomez 18 per cent

Kelly MacDonald 18 per cent

Una McLean 4 per cent

Who do you believe is the greatest writer? per cent of votes

Sir Walter Scott 46 per cent

Peter McDougall 15 per cent

Muriel Spark 10 per cent

Alan Warner 7 per cent

Lewis Grassic Gibbon 6 per cent

Who do you believe is the greatest artist? per cent of votes

John Bellany 25 per cent

Henry Raeburn 23 per cent

Alison Watt 18 per cent

Paolozzi 17 per cent

Joan Eardley 10 per cent

Who do you believe is the greatest band? per cent of votes

Franz Ferdinand 37 per cent

Simple Minds 18 per cent

Proclaimers 15 per cent

Belle & Sebastian 5 per cent

Incredible String Band 5 per cent

Who do you believe is the greatest comedian per cent of votes

Billy Connolly 69 per cent

Ronnie Corbett 16 per cent

Stanley Baxter 6 per cent

Elaine C Smith 3 per cent

Chic Murray 3 per cent