FROM Tartan Noir dramas and soap operas to satirical comedies and sports shows, Scotland has been producing its own television programmes for over sixty years. We’ve reeled back the decades to recall ten of the nation’s all-time favourites.
When Taggart first hit our screens in 1983, few would have predicted that it would go on to become the UK’s longest running crime drama series ever. Set in the fictional John Street police station on the ‘mean streets’ of Glasgow, the show centred around the professional life of Detective Chief Inspector Jim Taggart and proved to be such a huge success that it was broadcast in 56 countries around the world. At its height it was attracting over 18 million viewers on STV, often out-performing Coronation Street. Jim Taggart was played for 11 years by actor Mark McManus until his death in June 1994, but the show battled on before a slump in ratings saw it axed for good in 2010. To some fans, it felt as if there had been a murder.
The High Life
This popular, albeit short-lived, sitcom examined the day-to-day lives of the hapless cabin crew of a small budget airline - Air Scotia - operating out of Prestwick Airport. Future Hollywood actor Alan Cumming took on the role of the camp as Christmas Sebastian Flight, with Forbes Masson playing his sex-addicted colleague, Steve McCracken. Throughout the show, the pair’s female superior Shona Spurtle, played by Siobhan Redmond, was invariably described as ‘Hitler in tights’, Mussolini in Micromesh’, and ‘Pol Pot in pantyhose’. Patrick Ryecart provided yet more comic relief as the horrendously forgetful Captain Hilary Duff. Despite its popularity, the show ran between 1994-1995 for only one season as writer and joint lead Alan Cumming began to focus on building his film career in America. “We were saying things that people hadn’t said on national TV before,” says Alan about The High Life on his website.
The most startling fact about Hamish MacBeth is that it only lasted two years. This popular mystery-drama series saw over 11 million viewers glued to their screens for 3 seasons between 1995 and 1997. In the lead roles were Trainspotting actors Robert Carlyle (as Hamish MacBeth) and Shirley Henderson. The series was written by Daniel Boyle (no relation). Based loosely on a set of mystery novels by M C Beaton, the show focuses on a cannabis-smoking local police constable plying his trade in the fictional town of Lochdubh on the west coast of Scotland. Hamish MacBeth went down a storm with UK audiences, but was also a massive hit Down Under, and DVD copies of the show continue to fly off the shelves to this day.
Scotch & Wry
It doesn’t sound plausible, but it’s fast approaching a quarter of a century since Scotch & Wry last appeared on our screens. The show, starring seminal Scottish comic Rikki Fulton, ran for two full series between 1978 and 1979, before returning as an annual special every Hogmanay up until 1992. A rotating cast ensemble included the likes of Gregor Fisher, Tony Roper and Claire Neilson. Rikki Fulton’s most memorable sketches, ‘Last Call’ as the iconic Reverend I.M. Jolly and ‘Super Cop’ have truly become the stuff of Scottish comedy legend.
Before it was axed in 2008, Scotsport was recognised as the world’s longest-running sports television programme. Initially called Sports Desk, the show first aired shortly after the launch of Scottish Television in September 1957.
Despite the ‘Scotsport’ title, very little coverage was ever given to any other sport except for football, and the content generally focused on the exploits of teams in the nation’s top league. Much-maligned spin-off show Scotsport SPL managed to survive 3-and-a-bit seasons before getting the boot in 2007. Sadly, Scotsport proper was to follow suit just a year later.
Despite the show’s five-decade lifespan, only five people, Arthur Montford, Jim White, Jim Delahunt, Andy Walker and Grant Stott, ever presented Scotsport. Sally McNair became Scotland’s first ever female TV sports journalist when she joined the team in 1984.
Broadcast between 1986 and 1991, Naked Video was a comedy sketch show series whose illustrious writing team included household names such as Harry Enfield, Paul Whitehouse, Jennifer Saunders and Rik Mayall. The series started life in 1981 as Naked Radio and is credited with the discovery of a whole new generation of TV writing and performing talent. Both shows were of a satirical nature and starred the likes of Gregor Fisher, Andy Gray, Elaine C. Smith and Jonathan Watson.
A host of successful spin-offs grew out of the ‘Naked’ franchise, with characters such as Gregor Fisher’s Baldy Man and Rab C. Nesbitt, and Jonathan Watson’s Only An Excuse all making their debut there.
Rab C Nesbitt
Regarded by some as the quintessential Scottish anti-hero, Rab C Nesbitt began life as a recurring character in the popular Naked Video sketch show series before grabbing the limelight all on his own on BBC One Scotland in 1988.
The show starred Gregor Fisher as the characterful, string vest-wearing, benefits-sponging, alcoholic Rab, with Elaine C. Smith installed as his long-suffering better half, Mary Nesbitt, AKA ‘Mary Doll’. Fisher and Smith’s fellow Naked Video colleague, Tony Roper played the slippery ‘Jamesie’ Cotter.
Up until Still Game, Rab C Nesbitt had been one of the few Scottish comedy shows to have gained notoriety south of the border.
Monarch of the Glen
Drama series Monarch of the Glen dominated our Sunday evenings on BBC One between 2000 and 2005. The show centred around a young laird, Archie MacDonald, played by Alastair Mackenzie, a restauranteur intent on restoring the Highland abode from his childhood. Monarch of the Glen attracted high ratings in the United Kingdom, but also performed well in English-speaking countries around the globe, and in places as exotic as Vietnam and Dubai. The show lasted 7 seasons, but petered out after the departure of several of its main characters.
Take the High Road
Created as a replacement for the short-lived Scottish soap Garnock Way, Take the High Road (later renamed to simply ‘High Road’) aired 1,520 times on STV between 19 February 1980 and 27 April 2003. Set in the fictional Scottish Highland town of Glendarroch, the show was Scotland’s answer to Coronation Street - albeit without the multi-million viewing figures. High Road continued to be broadcast across all Scottish networks until its final episode, but was eventually axed after a slick new soap opera called River City began to prove more popular in the early 2000s. The show’s memorable theme tune was written by composer Arthur Blake, STV’s then Musical Director.
Chewin’ the Fat
The show which made household names out of Ford Kiernan, Greg Hemphill and Karen Dunbar. Comedy sketch show Chewin’ the Fat first appeared on our screens in 1999 and ran for 4 seasons until 2002. It was an instant hit here in Scotland and it didn’t take long before thousands of us were able to quote many of the show’s catchphrase-heavy sketches. Chewin’ the Fat also introduced us to the characters Jack and Victor and provided the basis for the even-more-successful spin-off series Still Game. You can now catch up with all the episodes on Netflix.