Billy Connolly's memoir reveals his secret of success with the ladies and life as a shipyard welder

With characteristic humor, Billy Connolly apologized for & # 39; depressing & # 39; fans after he described his life as & # 39; slipping & # 39 ;.

This followed a television documentary about his life that showed that he suffers from Parkinson's disease.

Here, in the last part of our serialization of the funny and scorching fair memoirs of the 76-year-old, he tells how he managed to change his job as a student in a Glasgow shipyard to start a career in showbiz . . .

When I was a boy, I had a vague idea, buried deep in me, that I wanted to become a comedian, but actually I would have liked to be an astronaut, no matter how likely it was.

In fact, I only mentioned it once. My school science teacher, Bill Sheridan, asked me in class: "Connolly, what are you going to do when you leave the school? & # 39;

Billy Connolly (left) enjoying a beer with the Scottish singer-songwriter Gerry Rafferty (right)

Billy Connolly (left) enjoying a beer with the Scottish singer-songwriter Gerry Rafferty (right)

"Sir, I want to be a comedian, & # 39; I said. The class burst out laughing.

& # 39; Well, I saw you & # 39; afternoon football & # 39 ;, said Sheridan. & # 39; I think you have already achieved that ambition. & # 39;

More realistic, I assumed that I would end up in the shipyards that dominated Glasgow.

If you stood at the top of the hill near our house, you could see the enormous ships. It seemed as if they were sailing right between the houses.

Billy Connolly with his wife Pamela Stephenson in 1985 (photo by Steve Fenton)

Billy Connolly with his wife Pamela Stephenson in 1985 (photo by Steve Fenton)

Billy Connolly with his wife Pamela Stephenson in 1985 (photo by Steve Fenton)

There was this grim industrial beauty to the scene. Ships were lined up right along the Clyde, with workers loading on the whiskey, railroad engines, and all the other things we carried out at that time.

It gave the city its heart and soul.

Really, I just wanted to leave: to experience the exciting and exotic world, the ships sailed away every day. But if I could not get on and sail on the ships, I could at least help them make it.

So I signed up at a shipyard, Alexander Stephen & Sons, to become a student.

I was 15 on the day I first walked into Stephen, in 1958, and it felt utterly exciting. I felt that this was where I would become a man. I went inside like a little schoolboy with a joddy voice and I would come out on the other side like. . . something else entirely.

A welder goes to work at a shipyard on the River Clyde in Scotland, which were major employers of the area

A welder goes to work at a shipyard on the River Clyde in Scotland, which were major employers of the area

A welder goes to work at a shipyard on the River Clyde in Scotland, which were major employers of the area

I will never forget the noise of that first day. It was so deafeningly hard that I thought my ears would fall off, and it would even have been a blessing if they'd done that.

I thought I could not possibly survive the constant deafening barrage, but fortunately, a few weeks later, it became a lot easier for me after I had sustained hearing damage, just like everyone else. So that was good.

There were six of us smudged teenage pupils, gathered in a tiny little welding school in the garden. I have kept in touch with one of them, Joe West, all my life. We went to school the same day, four and a half years old. We connected the Cubs, joined the Scouts and then became students together. Sixty years later we are still friends.

He even came to my 60th birthday party. There were rock stars and celebrities there, and Prince Charles and Joe fit in exactly. I introduced Joe to Robin Williams [the actor], saying: & # 39; This is my oldest friend. & # 39;

Less from the old, & # 39; Joe said.

Billy Connolly in front of the portrait of Jack Vettriano in mural in the Dixon street in Glasgow

Billy Connolly in front of the portrait of Jack Vettriano in mural in the Dixon street in Glasgow

Billy Connolly in front of the portrait of Jack Vettriano in mural in the Dixon street in Glasgow

When we worked better, we were sent to do small welding tasks on the ships, because the traders needed us.

One day I placed a washer on the QE2. I came by and the man said: "Hey, welder, do you want to make this washing machine for me?" I thought: Oh, great, it's the QE2! & # 39; And I did it.

Many years later I was in Sydney, in a hotel right opposite the Opera House, and the QE2 moved on. I went along and saw all the passengers arrive, and I thought to myself: "I wonder how my washing machine stops? "It seemed to be doing well.

Apart from being a student, I was the tea boy for the classmates. A cup of tea was not what it is now: there was not much Earl Gray or ginseng going on. They drank black tea, not milk, with four or five sugars, from cans from the Ministry of Food National Dried Milk.

As soon as Stephen's doors closed in the morning, it was a man's world inside-rough, rude, raw, and hilarious. Everyone smoked and everyone cursed. Every second word was & f *** & # 39 ;.

Billy the Kid: the class burst out laughing when I said I wanted to be a comedian

Billy the Kid: the class burst out laughing when I said I wanted to be a comedian

Billy the Kid: the class burst out laughing when I said I wanted to be a comedian

They talked about work and the bosses of the factory and football, and amazing, mature things like getting drunk and having sex.

For me it was heaven. I have no doubt that this is where my comedy originated for the first time – trying to do the same by telling stories and messing around.

Stephen's traders had insults for the other transactions. When a platter sat down on a job, he was told: "You could lay down soup!" If you wanted to roll up a furniture maker, you told him: & # 39; You could join hands at Hogmanay! & # 39; An electrician who did not get things done was informed: & # 39; You could not get juice from a Jaffa! & # 39;

Stephen felt exactly where I needed to be.

I met the most extraordinary characters there. I remember a guy who was working the big steam bus – THUNK! THUNK! He had wrapped a wire around his forehead and dangled in front of him, with a lit cigarette hanging in front of his mouth. It was his own invention and I thought it was fantastic.

We pupils had a little bit of a bad reputation for playing practical jokes about the trader.

A trick sneaked behind people and read the metal horseshoes in the heels of their work boots on the deck. Or we painted the heels with silver paint. It was really funny to see these big boys walk away with painted heels, like early glamor rockers.

We also ripped quite a bit of that out of us.

The welders were fond of sending us to the stores with nonsensical messages. They would ask us to get some tartan paint or a bubble for the level, and then we were running away to get a lot of laughing laughter in the shops.

Billy drew controversy because he said his life slipped & # 39; by Parkinson, but shortly afterwards he apologized

Billy drew controversy because he said his life slipped & # 39; by Parkinson, but shortly afterwards he apologized

Billy drew controversy because he said his life slipped & # 39; by Parkinson, but shortly afterwards he apologized

Health and safety were not really a big priority in the Clyde shipyards in the late 1950s.

Sometimes when welding on the bottom of a ship, the thick yellow vapors turned my lips black. I stopped to go out and smoked and the boys who worked at the pipes in the engine room above would snow asbestos snow on me.

I would look like I had turned grayish. It is quite remarkable that I lived to this enormous age. When the whole garden came up, it was so noisy that you could not hear what someone said more than two meters from you, so the workers used their own sign language to warn each other when a boss was behind them.

It was like a rogue tribe of the Scottish industrial semaphore. When someone of us saw a manager arrive, we knocked about it to let everyone know.

If it was a foreman, we would tap our upper arm with three fingers, like the three stripes of a sergeant.

Sir Billy assured fans that he was "not dead" after a program in which he documented his battles with cancer and Parkinson's

Sir Billy assured fans that he was "not dead" after a program in which he documented his battles with cancer and Parkinson's

Sir Billy assured fans that he was "not dead" after a program in which he documented his battles with cancer and Parkinson's

There was another sign language that I did not understand for a while. When someone wanted to know the time, they put their hand to their stomachs and threw them out. I always wondered, what is that? Then I thought they were trying to have a fob watch. If they had done it to you, you should try to imitate the time back.

At the end of the day, the big siren and the thousands of professionals all sounded up the exit.

There were quite a few disabled workers in Stephen's, many wounded in the war, and they stood in front of the others a few minutes, so they did not get busy. Anyone who passes through the fences while stumbling out must have thought: "Jesus! That shipyard is a bloody dangerous place! & # 39;

I suppose it was like a big transition rite in Stephen & # 39; s, and when I stepped into my apprenticeship, I started to feel less like a nervous boy and more like a man.

Dapper: Billy in 1990 long after the big growth spurt that caused him no longer a & # 39; midget & # 39; used to be

Dapper: Billy in 1990 long after the big growth spurt that caused him no longer a & # 39; midget & # 39; used to be

Dapper: Billy in 1990 long after the big growth spurt that caused him no longer a & # 39; midget & # 39; used to be

It helped that I suddenly had a big growth spurt and was no longer a dwarf. When I was at the welders at lunchtime or a tea break, I started to get the confidence to beat up a bit.

My comical stuff came to mind as the drunken would-be Dean Martins and Frank Sinatras, whom I used to hear in my childhood, amazed at the late night parties: & # 39; When the moon strikes you like a big pizza pie. . . That's Amore! Hic. "

I could get them pretty well. I still do it sometimes in my act.

Having a salary meant that in my late teens, when I started drinking and dancing, I could buy some nice clothes. I wore American shirts with long, pointy collars, as in the Mafia films, and a three-button suit with ventilation holes at the bottom of the trousers.

My shoes would be winklepickers or white moccasins, until I got a pair of basketweave shoes with Cuban heels. I also bought a pair of pink shirts and pink underwear, to the great annoyance of my father.

The strange thing was that wearing pink made me popular with the ladies, even because it made me deeply suspicious between the men.

My Saturday night in Glasgow started in the Corporation Baths. I would take the bus to the city in my exuberant clothes and pay half a crown for a delicious deep hot dip in a large metal public bath.

Billy Connolly and wife Pamela Stevenson during Bafta Tribute to Billy Connolly at BBC Television Center in London last year

Billy Connolly and wife Pamela Stevenson during Bafta Tribute to Billy Connolly at BBC Television Center in London last year

Billy Connolly and wife Pamela Stevenson during Bafta Tribute to Billy Connolly at BBC Television Center in London last year

I would put on my best clothes, make myself a shoe polisher at Glasgow Central station and then descend to the Saracen head.

The Sarrie Heid, as everyone knew – and still does – is in the heart of Glasgow. It claims to be the oldest pub in the city, and it is absolutely the most famous.

In many ways, the Sarrie was not the wisest pub to take part in a sharp Italian suit with three buttons with matching handkerchief and tie, white short raincoat and moccasins.

The most famous function of the Sarrie used to be a ceramic sherry barrel that stood on a portal. The little man who collected the empty glasses around the bar threw in the dregs of the drinks.

If it was full, they would sell you a glass of it. It was called White Tornado and it was a favorite among the customers. It usually dripped on the floor under the barrel, where it had eaten a hole in the floor. But it was not bad.

After we all had breathless scraps and cigarettes in the Sarrie, we crossed the road to Barrowland to dance. Or, if I'm honest, try to attract a girl.

Connolly in front of Buckingham Palace during a visit to London, July 26, 1974

Connolly in front of Buckingham Palace during a visit to London, July 26, 1974

Connolly in front of Buckingham Palace during a visit to London, July 26, 1974

The women all stood along the wall and the men stood along the edge of the dance floor. You would choose one and then get your nerves to walk over the no man's land to where she stood and ask that important, timeless question: & # 39; Do you dance? & # 39;

If the girl is your & # 39; No & # 39; said, what you should never do was & OK; & # 39; say and ask the girl next to her. Because you could eventually go in line. . .

& # 39; Are you dancing? & # 39;

& # 39; No! & # 39;

& # 39; Are you dancing? & # 39;

& # 39; No! & # 39;

& # 39; Are you dancing? & # 39;

& # 39; No! & # 39;

. . . all the way along the line all the way to the door.

I did not have a bad chance of success to let the lasses dance with me – it must have been my three button shirt and Cuban heels.

It is now 33 years since I last drunk something and I do not miss it for a second.

One morning in Glasgow last year, I saw a guy with a cigarette in the doorway of a pub and stumbled over. Celtic had won the Scottish Cup two days earlier and he was still celebrating.

Eh, Billy, have a drink! & # 39; He suggested.

& # 39; I have not had beer for more than thirty years, "I told him.

& # 39; Yeah, well, you need one! & # 39; He said.

The Scot participates in the seventh annual race of the Nancy Davis Foundation to erase MS Gala at the Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles, California, on April 28, 2000

The Scot participates in the seventh annual race of the Nancy Davis Foundation to erase MS Gala at the Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles, California, on April 28, 2000

The Scot participates in the seventh annual race of the Nancy Davis Foundation to erase MS Gala at the Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles, California, on April 28, 2000

I'm lucky I could stop drinking – but many other people were not so fortunate.

The merchants in the shipyard always tried to get money for brewing. If I think of it now, many of them were deep in alcoholism, but at that moment it all seemed perfectly normal.

On Sunday evening, two tables were set up in the cemetery next to Stephen's. On the one table there would be a lender who would lend the men money against usury. At the other table would be a man selling cheap liquor – wine that tasted like vinegar.

The workers would receive their short-term loans and then go straight to the next table to fuck it away.

On Friday evenings, the lenders stood outside the shipyard waiting for the men to come out with their pay and pay with interest. They would always have a heavy bond with them to encourage the men to pay.

I loved it in Stephen & # 39; s but at the same time I could not shake off the feeling that there should be more in life. I knew I wanted that. . . be someone, even though I was not entirely sure who or what.

By the end of my teenage years I had a lot to do with folk music and I would daydream to play it one day.

When I was in my twenties, I started to experiment with my appearance and to develop the extreme hair that I hold onto to this day.

My internship ended the following year.

Scottish comical Billy Connolly with his wife Pamela Stephenson, circa 1990

Scottish comical Billy Connolly with his wife Pamela Stephenson, circa 1990

Scottish comical Billy Connolly with his wife Pamela Stephenson, circa 1990

In the meantime everyone on the construction site knew that I wanted to leave to try to be a musician. One day Bugsy, one of the older employees, asked me when I wanted to stop with the yard.

& # 39; I think in six months, & # 39; I said.

& # 39; Oh, you will not do it, & # 39; he said to me.

& # 39; What do you mean? & # 39;

& # 39; If you postpone it now, you will switch it off again. Those six months pass and then you say that you leave six months later. Then you do it again. & # 39;

Bugsy looked at me when I picked up his words.

"Believe me, there is nothing worse than being an old man, still inside, thinking of what you could have done if you had come out when you were young, & # 39; he said with feeling.

F ***! I thought I'd better stop there! It took me about two weeks to get my bag together and then I was from Stephen's.

I have not kept in so much contact with shipyard workers. When I went back a few times to drink a pint with the boys in the garden bar, I had an earring, he wore a jester pants and he was decorated with beads. Of course they took the p *** mercilessly.

Connolly attends the Third Annual BAFTA / LA Britannia Awards on 17 March 1991 at Bel Age Hotel in West Hollywood, California

Connolly attends the Third Annual BAFTA / LA Britannia Awards on 17 March 1991 at Bel Age Hotel in West Hollywood, California

Connolly attends the Third Annual BAFTA / LA Britannia Awards on 17 March 1991 at Bel Age Hotel in West Hollywood, California

In 1971, the Tory government of Edward Heath declared that they had no shipyards or "lame duck & # 39; industries would subsidize more, because they called them charming. The shipyard went into liquidation, although it had a complete order book and was on schedule to make a profit next year.

I had been out of that world for a couple of years, but I went to the demonstrations to show support and come after the merchants.

One day the whole of Glasgow marched with the workers: there had to have been 80,000 people.

Anthony Wedgwood Benn was the main speaker and I took my banjo and played a few small songs. It was a great day and I was proud to be a part of it.

I will never forget the nobility of those workers, even after they were fired.

I have always been a trade unionist, I am still and I was so proud of them. I fully identified with them and what they were going through. I would march with them tomorrow, if everything would happen again.

Sir Billy Connolly after being knighted by the Duke of Cambridge during an Investiture ceremony at Buckingham Palace, London in 2017

Sir Billy Connolly after being knighted by the Duke of Cambridge during an Investiture ceremony at Buckingham Palace, London in 2017

Sir Billy Connolly after being knighted by the Duke of Cambridge during an Investiture ceremony at Buckingham Palace, London in 2017

The shipyards gave Glasgow the dignity of labor for generations. We have built the best ships in the world: the Queen Mary, the Queen Elizabeth, the QE2. We could say: & # 39; That's ours: that's what we do. & # 39;

Some time ago I went with Pamela [my wife] to see the Queen Mary, who is now docked in California.

We sat in the ballroom on the ship only to look at the marquetry on the walls, beautiful work. I said to her: & # 39; That is made by wee men in hats and overalls. & # 39; They just did it and sent it to the world.

I believe the shipyards made me the man I am. I think back to them with great affection and affection, and with love.

But by the age of 20 I could take the highway right there, and that was what I did.

I was no longer that little boy-voiced boy. I did not quite know what I was, but I knew that I was hairy and bearded and that the world was there for the taking.

When I left the garden to play music and make fun, I gave myself three months. And that was 50 years ago.

n Adapted from Made In Scotland: My Grand Adventures In A Wee Country by Billy Connolly (BBC Books, £ 20). © Billy Connolly 2018. To order a copy for £ 16 (offer valid until January 28, 2019, p & p free), go to mailshop.co.uk/books or call 0844 571 0640.

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