Rab C Nesbitt

Long-running Scottish TV comedy (on its 8th series as at June 1999) written by Ian Pattison, which has become part of the national consciousness in Scotland. Not quite so popular in the rest of the UK: mainly because Southerners (and even some Scots) have trouble understanding the extremely broad Glaswegian accents of the characters. Said to have needed sub-titles when shown in the States.

Most of the characters are self-described "scum" floating around Govan, one of the most depressed suburbs of Glasgow: although the show never seems to touch on the really violent and dangerous criminals (drug dealers etc.) who frequent such areas in real life. Some Scots hate the series, considering that by perpetuating the stereotype of Glaswegians as workshy alcoholics it harms Scotland's international image - while others feel that laughing at your own national stereotypes is the mark of a mature people.

The eponymous hero, Big Rab (Gregor Fisher), is a perennially unemployed and unwashed drunk, coarse and often violent but basically kind and affectionate. He lives with his strident, competent wife Mary Doll (Elaine C Smith) and their two rowdily pubescent sons, Gash (Andrew Fairlie) and Wee Burney (Eric Cullen). Following Eric's withdrawal from the show just before the end of Series III, due to a depressive breakdown, Burney disappeared - either to art college or to a juvenile detention centre - and his place in the Nesbitt household was taken by a cousin called Screech (David McKay).

Although technically Eric's was a supporting rôle, many fans of the series consider him to have been the real star. After Eric left, the show went on to do Series IV-VIII , but most fans of the show say it was never the same without him. It's noticeable that the BBC issued the whole of Series I-III (apart from one of the special extra episodes) on video, where they were and continue to be popular - but it brought out only a selection of episodes from Series IV, and none from the later series.

The show is more or less a sitcom, since it follows the life of a single family and their friends: but Roseanne was never like this. The plots and characters are Grand Guignol, tending towards the surreal: at one point, for example, the characters included Peter, Prince of Darkness, the local Satanist - complete with an Alsatian guard-dog with a plastic unicorn-horn tied to its forehead with elastic.

A TV reviewer writing for The Daily Mail (Nick Griffiths, 18th June 1999) had this to say about the last episode of Series 8:

"Rab C Nesbitt mixes effortless performance, social comment and wanton stupidity, and this... is more daft than most. Mary's English accountant cousin Hugh is overcome by Scottishness and makes a break for it through the window to seek his supposed roots in Govan. Rab and Jamesie are off to one of Big Barney's legendary parties, unaware that Barney has gone insane after Frank Sinatra's death and now wears nappies. At Mary's alternative bash, Andra is performing his party piece of spontaneously haemorrhaging from his ear. And it all ends in a scrap."

Like many British comedies of the eighties and nineties Rab C Nesbitt is carpeted with wall-to-wall sexual innuendo, and is often queasily crude. However it also has extremely witty, believable dialogue (for those who can actually understand it), and a profoundly serious core. Big Rab's drunken philosophical ramblings, generally addressed directly to the camera, are used to explore major themes in human nature and culture with a dry unsentimental eye - with Wee Burney as a sort of wise-cracking Greek chorus, poised to puncture his father's philosophical balloon and bring him back to earth with a bump.

Drawing of cast of Rab C Nesbitt
Outlines of drawing of cast of Rab C Nesbitt




Barbara Rafferty

Ella Cotter


Eric Cullen

Burney Nesbitt [Wee Burney]


Elaine C Smith

Mary Nesbitt [Mary Doll]


Gregor Fisher

Rab C Nesbitt


Andrew Fairlie

Gash Nesbitt


Tony Roper

Jamesie Cotter

Go to Main Menu