Wendy Glass caught up with the men behind Scotland’s favourite and funniest pensioners, Ford Kiernan and Greg Hemphill
The live version of Ford Kiernan and Greg Hemphill’s incredibly popular BBC sitcom was triggered when the two comedians put aside their differences after what they describe as ‘a seven-year scratch!’
“We simply burned out,” Ford told the Scots Magazine. “One day, Greg downed tools and said ‘I don’t want to do this’ and I said ‘Good – because I want to do that.’”
For the next seven years, Ford and Greg went their separate ways. However, no matter where they went or what they did, one question followed them around and eventually the pair decided to bring the pensioners back – but this time on the stage.
After tickets for the initial four shows sold out in minutes, more shows were added and, as a result, for three weeks last November, Osprey Height’s mischievous pensioners appeared at The SSE Hydro, which has a 13,000 capacity.
“I’m like a prize fighter – I want to get in front of that crowd,” said Ford.
Still Game started life as a stage show, with Ford and Greg making their first appearance as Jack and Victor in 1999, before progressing to the legendary BBC One Scotland comedy show Chewin’ The Fat and then Still Game.
“The BBC were taking a risk because Still Game was about young guys dressed as old guys but the pathos and the warmth worked,” said Greg.
“I think people recognised and identified with the characters,” added Ford. “Wouldn’t it be nice to be that spunky at Jack and Victor’s stage of life?”
Jack and Victor were joined on stage by the other members of the Still Game Gang, including the eternally immature Winston Ingram (Paul Riley); Boaby The Barman (Gavin Mitchell, who is the only member of the cast who plays his age!); Navid Harrid (Sanjeev Kohli), king of one-liners and owner of the local corner shop; Isa Drennan (Jane McCarry), Osprey Heights’ insatiable gossip queen; and the ever-scrounging Tam Mullen (Mark Cox).
Getting into character
Fifteen years since they first appeared as the two widowers and lifelong friends, 52-year-old Ford and 45-year-old Greg admit that it’s not quite as much of a struggle to look like pensioners these days! However, the transformation still requires an hour and a half in make-up.
“My sister told me I’m better looking as an old man,” reveals Ford. “But I don’t think I’ll go for the moustache and I already have less hair than Victor!”
Greg reveals that his biggest worry about resurrecting the very dapper Victor has been his weight. “When I reach that age, I’ll be lucky to be that skinny as that old guy.”
“Greg beats himself up about his weight,” says Ford, shaking his head. “Whereas I’ve always been Jack’s shape!”
“We look up to Jack and Victor,” continues Greg. “I think we’d all like our retirement to be as much fun as theirs!”
Ford explains that they have a great respect for the older generation. “It’s too easy to discount people when they get old but they’ve learnt a lot and seen a lot and have lots to say.
“I had a great relationship with my Uncle Barney and Greg had a great relationship with his grandfather Sammy. They were both really interesting, funny people, full of life and stories – people to look up to. It was after talking about them that we decided to write Still Game – Uncle Barney and Grandfather Sammy were the inspiration for Jack and Victor. “
“I’m not sure what my grandfather would think of that,” adds Greg. “Whenever I had a stand-up gig, he would ask me, ‘What time will you be finished acting the goat?’!”
A close bond
Ford and Greg met when they were doing stand-up on the Scottish comedy scene.
“Our paths often crossed and one night, we went to the pub, discovered we had the same sense of humour and got on like a house on fire.”
Greg and his wife, Lesley, and Greg and his wife, Julie, became good friends, even holidaying together.
“We were desperate for a holiday and I booked a place called Faliraki on the Greek island of Rhodes. I’d never heard of it before and neither had Greg – and it was bedlam. As well as people getting drunk everywhere, we were having dinner one night when we heard screaming and a woman had fallen down a sink hole in the street!”
After Greg’s recounted the tale of rescuing the woman in question, Ford reveals that another Kiernan/Hemphill holiday may well be a possibility. “But no’ to Faliraki!”
The two couples continued to meet up when children came along and I suspect the bond between the families must have helped Ford and Lesley when their 12-year-old son died suddenly at the start of 2014. But that’s a subject that’s understandably off limits for today, when this warm and funny man whose heart must have been shattered is only too aware that it’s his job to make people laugh. And with his right hand man back beside him, that’s just what he’s doing.
Ford and Greg describe themselves as comedians, actors and writers – but none of these jobs were on Ford’s list of possible careers when he was young. Having set up his own car washing business while still at school, Ford went on to be a forklift driver, an assistant in a tailor’s shop, a security guard, a barman, a chatline centre manager and a radio presenter – to name but a few.
“I only arrived at this job when I was 36,” says Ford. “I appreciate the huge myriad of things I did before because all the different people I met helps me when I’m writing. I would never have set out to be an actor or a comedian.”
Which, it transpires, is the complete opposite to Greg. “I set out to be an actor. I was at that awkward gangly age at school where, if you found something that you could do that was cool, you stuck with it. Or rather, as I did, cling to it like a life vessel!”
As they finish their pints, Greg, who once Tweeted that if anyone else asked him to bring back Still Game, he would axe it forever, reveals that he now credits Still Game’s legion of fans for the return of Still Game.
“Every day, we were asked when Still Game would be back,” says Greg. “It now feels such an honour to be doing this.”
And there’s more good news for Still Game fans… According to Greg and Ford, there’s a very high chance the show will be returning on our screens.
“We are talking to the BBC and we really just need to decide what the format will be,” reveals Ford. “Is it going to be a series? Is it going to be on the national network? Is it going to be a Christmas special? We’ll all just have to wait and see – us included!”
Hungry for more Still Game?
We have an exclusive interview with Naveed (Sanjeev Kohli) in our September issue!
Click here to get yourself a copy.