Cover image for Billy
Stephenson, Pamela.
Personal Author:
First [Overlook Press] edition.
Publication Information:
Woodstock, NY : Overlook Press, 2002.

Physical Description:
xii, 291 pages, 24 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 24 cm
General Note:
Originally published: London : HarperCollinsEntertainment, 2001.
Personal Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PN2598.C77 S74 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



Billy, the revelatory, poignant, and wildly entertaining biography is written by the woman who knows him best--his wife.With insight and objectivity, Pamela Stephenson, a clinical psychologist, takes us through the heartbreaking and hilarious life of a comic legend and what made him the man he is today. The descriptions of Scottish life evoke the poignancy of the Ireland in Angela's Ashes as she tells of the troubled, abused. and desperately poor child in the docklands of Glasgow who grew up to shock and awe audiences around the world with his notoriously bawdy humor and a remarkable range of performances as a brilliant comic, a serious actor who played opposite Dame Judi Dench in Mrs. Brown , and the star of the U.S. television show Head of the Class.

Author Notes

Pamela Stephenson was born in New Zealand and, like her husband Billy Connolly, was originally a comedian. Pamela and Billy currently live and work in Los Angeles, where she is a clinical psychologist.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Glaswegian Billy Connally is the self-styled bad boy of British comedy. His comedienne wife tells his story in a loopy, amused-by-the-world manner that perhaps mirrors his comedic style. Because Billy isn't as well known stateside as, say, the AbFab crowd, any such resemblance will be lost on Yank readers. Still, the style lends a rollicking, Monty Python-ish feeling to the proceedings. Billy apparently plays the tough-talking, irreverent iconoclast (using the f-word wherever, whenever possible) to audiences eager to be "transported to places where petrol prices, the baby sitter, [etc.,] are replaced by tyrants and tenement buildings, by little old ladies in fat, furry coats, and the ubiquitous noisy farts." With material like that, it is odd he isn't better known in the States. Also odd is the difference between recent photos of him inside the book and those on the cover. Inside, he is completely gray, while on the cover, he isn't at all, and his with-it Mephistophelean moustache and goatee make him look like a much younger, tough-talking, irreverent iconoclast. --Mike Tribby

Publisher's Weekly Review

The most celebrated comedian in the U.K., Billy Connolly makes headlines and sells out arenas like a rock star. But he's barely cracked the recognition barrier here in the U.S.: the closest he's come to American fame is a one-year stint as the teacher in the 1980s sitcom Head of the Class. This book, written by the comedian's wife, tells the story of Connolly's life, beginning with an Angela's Ashes-esque childhood. Raised in Glasgow's slums, Connolly was abandoned by his mother, abused by his aunt and later by his father. His future fame as an outrageous, hard-drinking, banjo-playing, absurdly dressed hippie-comedian is constantly measured and contrasted against the poor sense of self that the author roots in his childhood. Former comedian Stephenson (she was a Saturday Night Live cast member in the mid-'80s) is now a psychologist and Connolly's most ardent fan. She fills the text with glowing anecdotes and humorous quotes, not to mention a large dollop of name-drops. The only real problem with this audiobook is Stephenson's gentle tone. Her soft voice tells Connolly's highly dramatic story in the quiet way that a mother may read a bedtime story, which is odd considering the wild and crazy behavior she describes. Based on the Overlook hardcover (Forecasts, July 1, 2002). (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

In the United States, comedian/actor Billy Connolly is best known for playing the teacher in the sitcom Head of the Class. In the U.K., however, he's a superstar, and this book was a huge best seller there. While it could use a subtitle and some tweaking for the U.S. market, it remains a candid (more matter-of-fact than melodramatic), sympathetic, and insightful biography. Credit "the unlikelihood of his extraordinary life," as well as the author: Stephenson, a performer turned psychologist, is Connolly's (second) wife. Growing up in Glasgow, Billy suffered poverty, abandonment, and abuse. His worldview expanded in the shipyards and the army. As a banjo player on the folk scene, Billy discovered his gift for verbal and physical comedy and gained fame especially as a song parodist. Stephenson was the first to challenge him about his drinking which "turned him into a mean, violent, out-of-control nutter with psychotic rage" but he not only cleaned up, he and his new wife took custody of his two children from his first marriage. Billy, writes the author, doesn't appreciate "beige people," and, as a man who got his nipples pierced after he turned 50, he certainly isn't one himself. For most performing arts collections. Norman Oder, "Library Journal" (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Billy Chapter One 'Jesus is Dead, And It's Your Fault!' Billy Connolly, King of Comedy, Master of Mirth, Chancellor of Chortling, as his children have been instructed to address him, is quivering in the wings of the spectacularly cavernous Hammersmith Apollo theatre. 'Pamela, what the hell am I going to say to these people?' Horrified, I turn to face him. Oh God, here we go ... he's not bluffing. Now there are two of us heading for a full-blown fight-or-flight fit. Is it possible that this time, the first in history, he might actually freeze, forget, stammer, storm off stage or batter someone? I do not fancy witnessing his death by four thousand excitable Londoners. They begin to roar as his name is announced, clapping in unison and stamping their feet. It's the start of tonight's war, the one he always declares then dreads. 'You'll be OK ... ' I watch him arm himself mentally with an opening shot. As usual, he'll take no prisoners. I'm a white-knuckled wimp when the enemy's battle cry reaches its pitch ... then suddenly he's off. A blinding circle of light assaults him and I see his face change to a fighting calm. 'Scot of the Anarchic' is stepping out fearlessly into the front line. He might be gone for quite some time. The bastard's done it again. Frightened me to death, and he's going to win after all. I peer out into the centre of the fray and witness a beautiful armistice, achieved in the first few disarming sentences from his scowling, apologetic mouth. There is always such a peace for him out there in that spotlight, probably the only place he's truly happy. Each time, it seems he's given another chance, a chance he's driven endlessly to re-create; it's a chance to gain mastery, to triumph over -- he can almost see their faces out there in the audience -- Mamie, William, Mona, Rosie. I notice that tonight it is especially Rosie who must be slain as he launches into hilariously savage tales of algebra and abject humiliation. He is strutting, striding, tilting at windmills. I'm thinking, how weird that he is so aroused, furious and vindictive, yet his face at times seems almost beatific. Swathed in disgustingly musty wing velvets, I peek out at the front row. As individuals, these are hardly soldiers: T-shirted people, they are settled in comfortably to be transported to places where petrol prices, the babysitter, the in-laws, are replaced by tyrants and tenement buildings, by little old ladies in fat, furry coats, and the ubiquitous, noisy farts. It will all end in tears and some very sore bellies. I can finally breathe. He is blessed; encircled most brightly not by forty thousand watts but by his own fiery, evangelical fuck-youness. ℘ Ironically, Billy's very earliest memory is one of being terrified by a circle of light. Until he was three years old, he and his beloved sister Florence slept in a curtained-off alcove in the kitchen. One evening she aimed a mirror reflection onto the wall, allowing it to pirouette and chase him until he screamed for mercy. He had been born right next to that alcove on the kitchen floor, all eleven pounds of him plopping out onto freezing linoleum. The rage that followed this unceremonious introduction to the world has never left him, although it was a serendipitous launching for a future enemy of the bourgeoisie. For eight months he nestled in a wooden drawer with not one Fisher-Price contraption in sight. His family's living arrangements were similar to those of thousands of other inhabitants of Glasgow, a city that had come to be defined by row upon row of late-nineteenth-century apartment buildings known as 'the tenements'. These fine architectural soldiers had originally been created by Glasgow's Improvement Trust, as model housing for working-class families. But by the time the Connollys moved into half of the third floor of 65 Dover Street in Anderston, many of them had deteriorated into rotting slums that would need more than a spot of paint to 'take the bad look off them', as Billy would say. The classically derived elevations in red or yellow sandstone were usually pleasant enough, but the interiors were thoroughly depressing. A dingy central staircase, stinking of cabbage and cat piss, spiralled upwards to the flats. Two or more poky apartments were squeezed into each floor, usually with just two rooms apiece, and a communal lavatory out on the landing. Some families were lumbered with the 'coffin end', or corner apartment, which was even smaller than the rest. The buildings themselves butted right onto the street and were usually entered via an interior alleyway known as a close. The 'Wally' closes, as some were called, were beautifully tiled halfway up the wall, with a leafy motif running along the top. Such finery, however, ended abruptly at the threshold of a darker, often treacherous, tunnel known as the 'dunny' (short for dungeon), that dead-ended in an enclosed rear courtyard, itself a veritable assault-course of broken bicycles, flapping knickers, and reeking middens. Considering it now through a haze of nostalgia, Billy says the Glasgow tenement is a New York brownstone without a fire escape. Some of the buildings certainly had grandeur and, like their New York counterparts, are now sought after by the well-to-do. Billy's first home was not one of those. The Dover Street flat had only two rooms: a kitchen-living room, with a niche where the children slept, and another room for their parents. The entire family bathed in the kitchen sink and there was no hot water at all. As an enduring legacy of his early cramped existence, Billy is now quite uncomfortable in large living spaces. He sighs over the phone to me from fabulous hotels all over the world: 'They've gone and upgraded me again. Bloody Presidential Suite this time.' I let him off lightly, because I know it's a genuine problem for him. Others who achieve renown cannot wait to sprawl sideways on a California King four-poster with a big-screen TV in every corner and a whirlpool on the deck, but not Billy. He has never really liked our Los Angeles house because of its unfamiliar spaciousness, and prefers to hide out in his tiny study for hours on end, drinking gallons of tea and plunking on his banjo. Billy . Copyright © by Pamela Stephenson. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold. Excerpted from Billy by Pamela Stephenson All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgementsp. xi
Introductionp. 1
1 'Jesus is dead, and it's your fault!'p. 5
2 'He's got candles in his loaf!'p. 30
3 In Search of a Duck's Arsep. 53
4 Oxyacetylene Anticsp. 66
5 Shaving Round the Acnep. 84
6 Windswept and Interestingp. 99
7 'I want to be a beatnik'p. 119
8 'See you, Judas, you're getting on my tits!'p. 136
9 Big Banana Feetp. 146
10 Stairway to Hellp. 163
11 Captain Demento and the Barracudap. 180
12 'That Nikon's going up your arse!'p. 194
13 Legless in Manhattanp. 208
14 There's Holes in Your Williep. 218
15 Pale Blue Scottish Personp. 236
16 Nipple Rings and Fart Machinesp. 264
Epilogue: Life, Death and the Teacup Theoryp. 283