Two of Scotland’s best-loved comedians have nicknames related to their height – The Big Yin and The Tall Droll – but aside from their 6ft-plus stature, it was Billy Connolly’s adoration of pioneering funnyman Chic Murray that forged links between the two.
Billy was not only inspired by Murray’s surreal form of storytelling, he also took pleasure in performing his rib-tickling tales during his own stand-up shows.
After one such joke during his 1994 World Tour of Scotland – the one about the German pole vaulter – he quipped: “They should have a statue to Chic Murray in Edinburgh.”
And 17 years later, that call was answered – almost.
In 2011, owner of the Oran Mor venue and long-running champion of the arts in Glasgow, Colin Beattie, commissioned a larger-than-life statue of the two comedians.
Entitled The Patter, the £100,000 piece depicts the pair at opposite ends of a see-saw, Greenock-born Chic standing upright with Billy hunched over – a nod to how he would always “look up” to his predecessor.
But the 7ft statue has never been erected in public – and instead has lain in storage for the past eight years.
Mr Beattie said the statue was intended for the grounds of the Oran Mor – but his hands are tied due to a land dispute with Glasgow City Council.
He wants to reclaim a small strip of pavement on Great Western Road which used to be a garden in the grounds of the building when it was the Kelvinside Parish Church. The area was sold to the council long before the Oran Mor came into being.
A petition has been running since 2011, urging the council to hand the land over to the Oran Mor – but bosses have cited pedestrian footfall and damage to the trees among their reasons for refusing the bid.
They said an advertising drum was also refused permission for the same reason.
“I have serious frustrations with this,” Mr Beattie said. “The north elevation has sat in limbo for 40-50 years.
“I thought here’s the perfect opportunity to put in the statues for Billy and Chic and got carried away with that.”
The idea for the statue came from a meeting between Mr Beattie and artist David Annan – who were originally discussing a statue commission for Scots poet Edwin Morgan.
They realised they were both mutual friends of Billy Connolly and the family of Chic Murray, who died in 1985.
They immediately decided to move forward with a tribute to the two.
Mr Beattie said he has the backing of Billy, as well as the approval of Chic’s daughter Annabelle and son Douglas.
“What Billy would tell you is Chic was his idol,” said Colin. “Even Chic’s joke about the woman’s nose that got stuck in the rail track – that inspired Billy to do his bike joke.
“That’s why we had Chic standing on the see-saw and the fulcrum off-centre, with Billy always looking up. Their dynamic dictates that.
“I’m sure Billy would concur that Chic Murray is his soulmate.”
Chic Murray: “If it weren’t for marriage, husbands and wives would have to fight with strangers.”
Billy Connolly: “Marriage is a wonderful invention: then again, so is a bicycle repair kit.”
Chic Murray: “If something’s neither here nor there, where the hell is it?”
Billy Connolly: “Why should I learn algebra? I’ve no intention of ever going there.”
Chic Murray: “Kippers – fish that like a lot of sleep.”
Billy Connolly: “A well-balanced person has a drink in each hand.”
Over the course of his career Mr Beattie has run a number of notable venues in and around Glasgow including the Lismore Bar and the Renfrew Ferry – all, he says, contained pieces of artwork that nodded to Scottish culture.
He believes the statue of Billy and Chic could become one of the country’s significant landmarks if plans ever move forward.
He said: “Public art gets into your bones and this work could be as important to Glasgow as Greyfriar’s Bobby is to Edinburgh or Molly Malone in Dublin.
“I’ve had numerous venues and what I like to put in them is a bit of social history as reference point – so when you’re inside it moves the scope of conversation on from things like Rangers and Celtic.”
Eight years on, the desire to place the statue has not waned – patrons of the Oran Mor are still urged to sign Mr Beattie’s petition.
Unsurprisingly, several signatures were given following the venue’s run of Chic Murray: A Funny Place for a Window. The show, which previously ran at the Oran Mor’s A Play, A Pie and A Pint series, has also been aired on BBC Scotland in a new theatre series.
It comes ahead of the 100th anniversary of Chic’s birthday – 6 November, 1919.
After a brief spell in Edinburgh, the statue is now in storage in a warehouse in Lanarkshire.
Whether it will see the light of day again remains to be seen.
All images subject to copyright.