Billy Connolly’s Route 66 Review

BILLY CONNOLLY’S ROUTE 66: Thursday 15th September, ITV1, 9pm

Scottish comedian/actor/friend of Michael Parkinson, Billy Connolly is inviting you with him on an epic journey across America via its famous highway, Route 66, in a show aptly named Billy Connolly’s Route 66. He literally does invite you; he says it at least three times in the first 15 minutes utilising his warm Scottish brogue. So it’s a personal road trip just you and him, two cameramen, a sound guy, the director and the million or so viewers who are also watching.

Despite my cynicism of the format, it genuinely does feel like he is your personal tour guide, showing you places you may never normally think to visit and regaling you with tidbits of local history, coloured by his obvious love of the country.

It all begins in Chicago, where he ascends to the top of the Sears Tower (which is apparently now called the Willis Tower – I’ve gone done some learning from this show too) and immediately activates my vertigo by standing in the 1,353 feet high glass-bottomed skybox. As he admires the scenery (and I cling to the arms of my sofa) his passion for the city is evident and actually quite infectious. He takes a tour of the speakeasies where gangsters did their gangstering and the young, the hip and the alcoholic got their drink on during the prohibition of the 1920s. It’s genuinely fascinating stuff. For instance, did you know that notorious gangster Al Capone was responsible for the inception of the ‘sell-by’ date? Take that Michael Palin. We also get his views on Donald Trump’s architectural influence on Chicago: “Trump pulled down the Chicago Sun building and built that piece of shit… He wants to be the President? The place would be in the toilet if he became the President.â€? I think I love him.

Billy then jumps into a ridiculous bike contraption thing (I have since been informed that he is riding a Boom Lowrider LR8 Muscle trike and that I’m an awful bastard for mocking a marvel of automotive design) and begins his journey along Route 66, stopping to admire giant advertising signs and to taste pie. It’s not all frivolity and baked goods however, as he does get into some of the darker underbelly of Americana through his meeting with artist Preston Jackson and their discussion about the race divide that dogs US history.

While it isn’t groundbreaking television, it is a funny, informative and breezy documentary/travelogue that is made engaging by Connolly’s quick wit and warmth.