Irrational Encounters With The Modern World

Dubious Claims To Fame – 16

It is a shame that I termed these stretched anecdotes about minor brushes with celebrity as dubious – in hindsight, this one would be better classed as notorious.

I grew up just outside Glasgow, but close enough that I always called myself Glaswegian. My childhood weekends were spent, almost without fail, in the nearby town of East Kilbride. It is a vastly depressing collection of roundabouts connecting housing estates in which you could be lost for years, with a town centre that gradually expanded and was roofed over to form one of the biggest indoor shopping malls in Europe. They were unjustifiably proud of this, and I fucking hate shopping malls. I hate the sterile, homogenised design of them. I hate that there are prescribed paths that can’t be deviated from (as opposed to city centres with quiet side-streets), the piping in of nauseating music, the mandatory air-conditioning – which would be  a lot less appealing if they just called it what it is, recycled breath – and I hate the fact that every shopping mall offers pretty much the same shops and chain stores. I once read an in-house magazine I got with a pair of boots, due to a lack of other reading material on a lengthy bus-ride home, and the international shoe shop was celebrating that they had just opened a branch in Dubai. There was nothing in the picture to differentiate this Dubai branch from the one down the road from me. I fucking hate shopping malls.

East Kilbride was bigger than the town I grew up in, and my remaining grandparents both lived there, and so we regularly went to the shopping centre prior to visiting them. There was a nine-screen UCI cinema in the newest part of the centre, back when such things were a novelty, and for a very long time you had to travel to EK to find a branch of any of the many fast food “restaurants” that now (over)populate every high street. I spent too much of my life in that awful mall, as I also worked in it for nearly four years, and I consider it a blessing that I no longer have to venture there. I purposely avoid the much closer St. Enoch Centre and Buchanan Galleries too, such is my aversion to this clinical and uninspired shopping “experience.”

One day, many years ago now, I was in EK’s shopping centre and saw the huge crowd gathered around the (thawed-out) ice rink. The crowd sprawled all round the sides of the rink, filling both levels of the nearby food court and spilling all the way up both sides of the stairway that rose to a half-landing and then doubled back to reach the level of the cinema. People of all ages were pressed several deep against every barrier, craning to see. At the time it was exciting and novel, back when television and the people on it were magical and enchanted. It became clear that they were filming part of a talent show.

This was not your Pop Idol or X Factor, this was far more amateurish and (presumably) far less engineered into the guise of a soap opera. It was in the public conscious, certainly, but to a much lesser extent than those slickly produced, Cowell’s-pocket-lining contests which eventually followed. This was one man, then a household name on the back of his extensive performing and presenting careers, inviting people to get up on a makeshift stage and “have a go” – whatever their talent or skill, they would be filmed as he watched, laughed, or occasionally joined in as farcically as possible. The show was called “My Kind Of People.”

In hindsight, we all know precisely what kind of people were Michael Barrymore’s kind of people – and if you don’t know, watch a few repeats of Mock The Week or read this. Back then, though, he was most famous for Strike It Lucky/Rich.

There isn’t much to say, which is why I foreshadowed this by calling it a stretched anecdote, but I did stick around long enough to watch some jugglers and singers, and to see them film a few crowd shots. Barrymore would be seen driving around the country in his sports car, which he would then drive into each location. He was filmed a few times “arriving” on the empty ice-rink, doing laps and waving to the crowd, and we were all instructed to cheer and wave back. The way I remember it, it actually had more in common with Stewart Lee’s opening (fifteen years later) for his first series of Comedy Vehicle.

I think I watched the episode I had seen being filmed, but they had changed the opening and none of that footage was used – par for the course, as I discovered when I began working in the industry – however, as fleeting and disconnected as it was, that was probably the closest I’ve come to having a claim to infamy instead.

*** Edited to add the note below ***

I posted this blog to my facebook and twitter accounts, and am amazed that my friend Craig has been able to link me, almost immediately, to this very episode on youtube.

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