Big Banana Feet. Credit: BFI
Big Banana Feet. Credit: BFI

Big Banana Feet: Lost Billy Connolly film comes to cinemas after being found on eBay

Nearly 50 years ago, Billy Connolly was in Northern Ireland filming Big Banana Feet. 

The edgy fly-on-the-wall documentary followed the comedian around the country’s volatile landscape at the height of the Troubles.

It was a challenging filming process. Just three weeks before Connolly arrived three musicians of a popular cabaret band were shot and killed by a paramilitary group.

The film had a limited release in cinemas in the UK, but shortly afterwards the distributor went bust and the film was lost. 

Only one copy remained in the Pacific Film Archive in California. But when director Murray Grigor left in the 1970s he was forced to leave the film behind as he couldn’t fit the reels in his luggage.

A video copy of that version was shown at the Glasgow Film Festival in 2012 but the film has never been seen since.

Now, thanks to determined Scottish film archivist Douglas Weir, who works at the British Film Institute (BFI), the film has been saved. 

For a decade, Douglas kept a close eye out for the film. Then, one day, he saw it for sale on eBay.

Douglas Weir restored the film alongside Murray Grigor. Credit: Eoin Carey/GFF.

He was immediately drawn to the 16mm film when he realised the seller had misspelt Connolly and banana. Douglas bid on the film and managed to bag it for £50.

‘My first memory is of seeing footage of Billy Connolly performing that was shot on film, rather than video, which made me want to investigate further as to where it came from,’ he said.

‘It’s the Big Yin, what’s not to love.

‘Due to lack of original film materials, the film has been unavailable for several decades and part of my job is to source the best materials for rare and unknown titles that are ripe for rediscovery. 

‘Big Banana Feet was one of them and one day it popped up for sale from a private collector.’

Douglas has spent the last few years restoring the film, using two rare 16mm prints, one held by the Pacific Film Archive collection in the USA and the one he found online.

He improved the film’s audio, colour and had dust specks and scratches removed from it. He even managed to add in jokes about religion that were censored in the original release.

And now the rarely seen footage is set to screened in cinemas.

Featuring iconic stand-up material and songs, there are also behind-the-scenes glimpses of  the Big Yin on the road with his crew, relaxing back stage and meeting the press.

The banana boots that give the film its title first appeared in 1975. Made especially for Connolly by Glaswegian pop artist Edmund Smith, they became a regular fixture of his 70s shows and are now on display in the People’s Palace, Glasgow.

‘The film materials that we located were first physically checked and repaired, then digitally scanned at high resolution and colour corrected, to compensate for the fading of the colours,’ Douglas said.

‘The rest of the restoration work was undertaken digitally by a company in London called R3store Studios, who removed specs dirt and scratches.

‘It was incredibly important to save this film as it’s a rare early glimpse of one of Scotland’s greatest entertainers, not just performing, but also offstage, and in Northern Ireland during the Troubles no-less.

‘I’m lucky to have such a satisfying job that allows me to intersect with the life of the films and filmmakers and hopefully give them another hundred years of existence, especially when the films are Scottish.’

The restored film recently premiered at the Glasgow Film Festival and will now be screening in cinemas from 10 May and released on DVD/Blu-ray by the BFI on 20 May.

Pre-order DVD/Blu-ray at BFI Shop:
Cinema screenings to be listed here:

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