One reason only: the final whistle
BBC1 Schottland/iPlayer ***
SIR Kenny Dalglish, Graeme Souness, Kirsty Wark – you could see from the great and good who turned up to wave to the show, the importance of Just an Excuse in Scottish life.
Unfortunately, you might also see why this was the last appearance of the show on BBC1 Scotland, which has been shown on Hogmanay weekly since 1993. If, in politics, a week is a long time, it’s an eon on TV. For Fran and Anna Retirement Home, the exhibition, which originally replaced Scotch and Wry, was as ripe as Still Game had been before.
The final episode, under producer Phil Differ and star of the show, Jonathan Watson, was an hour-long blend of homage, scattered here and there with a handful of new sketches. Inevitably covid-driven and evident, the contemporary stuff was not much to hold the audience.
Watson’s observations of the big names, King Kenny, Sir Alex, and the top-notch goons, led by Frank “Where’s the burdz?” McAvennie, is what we came for, what we’ve always come for, for better or worse. With the exception of Fergie, everybody praised Watson for hitting them just right, from the childlike glee of McAvennie (“Brilliant”) to the very taciturn declaration of Souness (“He got me.”)
From Cosgrove and Cowan to new duo Muriel Gray and Kirsty Wark (a Waitrose Statler and Wardorf like no other), there was a minibus full of famous BBC faces, all of which displayed the legendary skill of Only An Excuse to draw female audiences who didn’t give a damn about soccer.
“Everyone took it with humor. It was just funny. If you can’t laugh at yourself, you have a problem, don’t you?”With humor, everybody took it. It was just funny. You have a problem if you can’t laugh at yourself, don’t you?
Indeed, Scotland laughed at herself only an excuse – at the fitba madness, the sentimentality, the inextinguishable fantasies of recovered grandeur.
It had bravely discussed the ugly stuff here and there too, sectarianism among them in the first place. The Cadbury ad parody featuring an ape, Phil Collins ‘”In the Air Tonight” and the “Sons of Larkhall” drum, repeated last night, with its audacity, always took the breath away. This was very gutsy comedy, the sort of thing that scared types kept away from if they didn’t get into trouble down the road (or, heaven forbid, worse). Just an excuse, attacking both Celtic and Rangers with equal gusto, got away with it.
If some of this edgier content had existed, the show may have lasted longer. But this is the age of Frankie Boyle and Charlie Brooker, the era of no prisoners being taken. With open arms, humor should not be accepted by the culture that mocks it. For instance, you will never catch David Steel celebrating the representation of himself in Spitting Image as a little squirt in the jacket pocket of David Owen, or Norman Tebbit loving his ‘skinhead’ look.
Overall, it was just an excuse to be a supporter of soccer and Scottish culture in general. The same old face that every Hogmanay had turned up was evidence that even though nothing stood still — he died, she moved on, the grandchildren came in — certain things will always remain the same.
Watson, the greatest man in Scottish comedy, was at the forefront of it all, the performer who held the show almost single-handedly for more than a quarter century. He reduced the popular faces of soccer to their essence, like a crazy chef, and watched us spill our bread and suck it up. It’s time to move on with him.
Time, too, to get to the end with Just an Excuse. The new face of Scottish sport is more likely to be young and female than to be middle-aged and male, as we were reminded in the last show. Scotland needs fresh humor, material that portrays an evolving country, even though we should still maintain the opportunity to laugh at ourselves for the sake of heaven.
It was time at the end of the hour to take the common coat and head for the bells. What better way to do that than with a montage to the new, unofficial Scottish anthem, Yes Sir, I Can Boogie. Dear Just An Excuse, you could dance like Travolta in your youth, and for that we are offering you a very, very dear farewell.