FOR those of a certain vintage, the news that the comedian Craig Ferguson has abandoned the TV studios of Los Angeles, for the sandstone-and-trimmed-bush bourgeois of the West End of Glasgow, is strangely comforting.

From Bing Hitler bouncing off the walls of the Sub Club, to this silver fox ambling down Byres Road, with the vintage microphones and starlet parades of late-night US TV in between, is one of those Scottish journeys to take some pleasure in.

However, we also live in a global village. And Ferguson must surely have known that, when he dumped on his home town Cumbernauld in a Wall Street Journal interview last week, it would make it to his local newspaper shop instantly.

Cumbernauld was “a community of the future, a modernist experiment conceived by planners who didn’t have a clue”, as the WSJ reported Ferguson saying. It was all flat roofs that caught the rain, “absurdly wide” roads, “lousy concrete” everywhere, no stores or restaurants.

The homes were “affordable, soulless housing for ground-down workers” that looked like “German machine gun turrets, but with welcome mats”.

Ooft, ouch, etc. Ferguson has previous form here, describing the town as “Scotland’s one problem” on his CBS Late Late Show in 2012: “everything’s broken, all the windows are broken, all the doors are off their hinges”.

You don’t go to Craig Ferguson for judicious, equable commentary. But the issue of Cumbernauld’s “soullessness”, while needing itself a bit of interrogation, poses a wider and more interesting question: what might give a place “soulfulness” in Scotland? And really, is a self-regarding university suburb the answer?

Even in his WSJ routine, Ferguson shows he is well read enough to anticipate the most serious objections. Cumbernauld was indeed a “community of the future, a modernist experiment”.

Look up the 1970 Cumbernauld, Town For Tomorrow documentary on YouTube, and marvel at how blithe their supposedly cutting-edge assumptions were.

The National:

The cars flowed seamlessly above ground, and the pedestrians flowed seamlessly below. The “megastructure” of the town centre – from above, it looked like a Gerry Anderson spaceship had landed in a giant, scrubby field – would “expand and change, responding to previous mistakes”.

The film explicitly contrasts Cumbernauld’s citizens and families, sauntering gaily across footpaths framed with trees and rock displays, with the grim bustle and dust-clouded demolitions of 1970s Glasgow.

The human flows of Cumbernauld might have been carefully planned. But for Ferguson, they allowed him to wander off, his mother “finding me at the footbridge over the freeway singing to cars speeding by … was always eager to escape my hometown”.

It’s not hard to find other accounts of a 1960s and 70s childhood in Cumbernauld. In 2017, the University of Edinburgh’s architectural historian Diane Watters wrote an entry on the town, for Yale University’s guide to the buildings of Lanarkshire and Renfrewshire. She was a double expert, having grown up there in the same period as Ferguson.

In a blog post, Watters notes that Cumbernauld has been “celebrated, neglected, and reviled – in that order”. The celebration is worth remembering, she notes. “In a single typical week in 1968, the town was visited by 18 French architect-planners, 13 Danish engineers, 23 Dutch members of the International Society of City and Regional Planners, the city architect and deputy city engineer of Auckland, New Zealand, and three delegations of US architects and estate consultants.”

Watters’s own memories accord with news quotes from her era. “The children I saw (they went about in shoals) were having a whale of a time with never a car to bother them”, said one visitor. “The town has the neighbourliness of Glasgow without its grubby streets, and the privacy and freshness of the countryside without its loneliness”, said another resident.

Watters says she remembers how she walked alone to Kildrum Primary School, at five years old, “through a network of landscaped pathways. Everything modestly had a place within the broader plan … I felt very strongly that I was living, walking, and playing in a carefully constructed (and safe) environment.”

She also recalls a “shared sense of community optimism … All children attended the local schools, with the sons and daughters of medics, architects, planners and managers mixing happily with blue and white collar workers. Cumbernauld fostered, for me at least, a spirit of mobility.”

It would be good to hear from readers about their own accounts. And of course, our memory and experience is our own. It’s always a creative act, but nevertheless rests at the seat of who we are. Ferguson is entitled to his.

But Watters notes, ironically, that the aspirational ethos of “New Towns” like Cumbernauld may have worked against their future flourishing. It’s possible, when brought up in such a “modernist” environment, to readily imagine of the “next move” upwards and outwards. Whether to Thatcher-era private housing, or out of the area altogether.

If the social cohesion of a place is lightly worn, as opposed to any more binding ties of history or tradition, then it’s easier for restless natives like Ferguson (and others like him) to shrug off the concrete cladding, and fly away.

I suppose the other account that challenges Ferguson’s sour recall is Bill Forsyth’s Gregory’s Girl, that great odyssey of New Town romance and optimism.

HERE, Cumbernauld becomes a teen-topia. A place where parks are places for dancing, and contemplating the cosmos tilting on its side. Where girls blooter boys off the football park, and also operate secret societies, carefully distributing ardent young men to their correct destination. Where giant Victorian clocks loom over ultraluxe shopping centres, the starting place for Saturday-night romance.

As Gregory himself once says: “Modern Girls, Modern Boys – it’s tremendous!”

No-one would deny that Cumbernauld has its not-so-tremendous aspects. Many historical accounts of its subsequent crumbling fate, after that early futuristic glow, identify the absence of intensive, high-skilled industry in the area. This kind of production would have given vitality and purpose to Cumbernauld as a “machine for living”, as Le Corbusier often called his modernist architecture.

But what might the prospect of a blue-overalled apprenticeship in an advanced industrial unit have done to a certain Craig Ferguson? No doubt propelled him ever more furiously beyond the town limits.

However, does this imply that a revived industrial Scotland – perhaps putting its ingenuity into a Green New Deal and a properly sustainable economy – could bring new purpose, maybe even soul, to places like Cumbernauld? Shall we try it and see?

The urbanist Owen Hatherley, in his 2012 book A New Kind Of Bleak, surveys Cumbernauld approvingly, and concludes that it really doesn’t deserve those ugly-town awards like Plook on a Plinth. To his mind, “here is a New Town which looks like an exceptionally successful piece of social-democratic, Scandinavian urbanism, a place that an Alvar Aalto would recognise as kin … Its mistakes are obvious, and rectifiable”.

Maybe start there with the hometown, Craig. A “soulful” place is hardly defined by the flat-white-sippers and artichoke-botherers of Hillhead and Hyndland (I speak, obviously, as a happy denizen of such zones). Though maybe I should prescribe myself my own medicine, when it comes to Coatbridge … For another day.