Touring Scotland in 1973 as if it were uncharted Dagestan, the journalists George Gale and Paul Johnson eventually reached Glasgow. They found much to divert them: motorways that bulldozed their way through the city’s heart, the parochialism (in their eyes) of the national newspapers, the seductiveness of the red sandstone tenements and the seriousness and speed of the drinking. All of which contributed to the day-trippers labelling Glasgow ‘the most foreign town in Britain’.
Bred in the bone Glaswegians would doubtless take this as a compliment. As Michael Fry points out in what he estimates to be the 160th history of the erstwhile second city of the British Empire, they need little excuse to hymn their birthplace’s unique credentials. As one of its many laureates once said, ‘Glasgow was the greatest town in the world from the moment I realised I was seeing it.’
Fry, a journalist and popular historian, is not from Glasgow. He hails from Edinburgh, which, though it lies a mere forty-five miles to the east, could be in another galaxy for all Weegies – as snooty Edinburghers call them – care. Fry, however, has spent many hours toiling and supping