Rab C and the Fitba

22 03 2013

I’ve just finished watching a Rab C. Nesbitt box set (Series 1-8). It goes without saying that I loved every minute of it but enjoyment wasn’t the only thing I gained, I was also able to repair the gaping hole in my TV comedy CV.

The hole was caused by the episode entitled “Fitba”; I missed it when it was originally broadcast and I don’t think I’ve ever regretted missing a programme as much. The regrets began immediately; the day after it had been on I listened to classmates describing the details of the episode, I was agog.  I can still recall the acute feeling of being gutted.

They never repeated the episode, not even in this multi-channel age, so my imagination developed glorious myths around the episode. Then I decided to forget about the episode until I saw the boxset 3 years ago, whereupon the gaping tear in my sense of having lived a full life reopened. The boxset finally darned the tear and I was able to finally see that the episode was as good as I expected. I could finally relax after 22 years.

As I watched the contents of the boxset I made two realisations; I was a bit of a young connoisseur when it came to television comedy – I’d already seen most of the episodes when they were originally broadcast – and there are hardly any mentions of “the fitba” in Rab C. Nesbitt. The second realisation struck me as a bit odd, the programme is set in the middle of Glasgow. There’s only one obvious mention of “the fitba”; the episode called “Fitba”;

As for other mentions, well, in one episode Jamesie  tells Rab that He, Andra and Dodie are discussing Celtic’s championship winning team. There are also mentions of glamourous European clubs in a couple of episodes and Jamesie wears a Scottish tracksuit top from 1986 in another episode.

Considering that the programme is set in Govan, the middle of Rangers territory, there are only three mentions of the Ibrox club; a doctor comparing Rab’s chances of surviving cancer to Rangers’ chance in the European Cup and Jamesie mentioning the word “Hun” twice. The first mention occurs when Andra has a heart attack in the pub;

“Someone says : “Look he’s turning blue”. Cue Jamesie Cotter : ‘Well that’s awright – he won’t mind – he’s a Hun !!”

The second mention occurs when Jamesie describes Gordon Ramsey. The second mention led to 67 complaints, which in turn drew the following comments from the actress that plays Mary;

“ELAINE C Smith has told viewers who complained about the Christmas Rab C Nesbitt show to “grow up”.

The actress, who plays Rab’s wife Mary, was angry that despite gags including child sex abuse and sexual references in a church – most of the 200 complaints were about the word “Hun”. 

 Character Jamesie Cotter used the word to describe chef Gordon Ramsay, a former Rangers player, angering fans.

Elaine wrote: “There are a load of things I thought viewers would complain about.  “Women in burkas singing ‘Don’t Ya Wish Your Girlfriend Was Hot Like Me?’, sexual references of a lewd nature, God references. “But the complaints were about Gordon Ramsay being called a Hun as a gag. I repeat a GAG … and one written by a lifelong Gers fan too.

“To all of them on both sides of this ridiculous divide I say grow up.”

That’s it, about six references to “the fitba” in 53 episodes

If you try to search out references for football in Rab C. Nesbitt using Google, like trying to find out which club Rab supports, there’s not much to enlighten us. I found a single straw-clutching article in the Evening Standard that connected Gennaro Gattuso to Rab via Gattuso’s clash with Joe Jordan. The biggest lead linking Rab with football came from this tantalising couple of lines in a review of a BBC Scotland radio phone-in show on 22 December 2012;

“Meanwhile, what team did Rab C Nesbitt really support?

That’s the question we asked when his old mucker Tony Roper (aka Jamesie Cotter) joined us in the studio.”

Alas we can’t hear the answer to that question, as the shows are no longer on the i-player, or anywhere for that fact.

Maybe the omission of football is a good thing from the comedy’s point of view. When was the last time you watched a football-based piece of comedy that was full of subtleties and nuances?  I guess that the mystery of Rab and “the Fitba” is a mystery that’s destined not to be solved, but then again there’s nothing wrong with that, life needs a little mystery sometimes.

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