Tumbling down the Shieldinch rabbit hole, River City beats Emmerdale, Corrie and EastEnders hands down - Liam Rudden

The first time I walked along Montego Street, it was deserted, not a soul to be seen except Libby McArthur (then Gina Rossi, owner of the Oyster Cafe), who turned up for a chat as my tour of Shieldinch drew to a close.

Friday, 25th June 2021, 4:45 pm
Updated Friday, 25th June 2021, 4:53 pm
River City - Montego Street, Shieldinch
River City - Montego Street, Shieldinch

It was early days for the soap, so early, not an episode had been broadcast and I was there researching a behind the scenes feature I was writing to introduce Evening News readers to Scotland's newest soap.

Even then, it was clear that River City would be very different to those that had gone before, notably Garnock Way and Take The High Road, although a number of familiar faces from those classic soaps would, in time, show up at The Tall Ships for a sherry or two; from Jean Ross to Isabel Blair and Liz Hamilton, stage and screen star Eileen McCallum scored a hat-trick of regular roles across all three soaps.

Almost 20 years on from that visit - the first episode went out on 24 September 2002 - regular characters may have come and gone but the family dramas continue.

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Recently, I tuned in for the first time in years, tempted by the promise of a ghostly encounter, part of the BBC Headspace mental health awareness campaign. After a particularly powerful and moving speech, written by Anita Vettesse and delivered by Jimmy Chisholm as Sonny Caplan, I made a decision to catch some more episodes, which I finally did this week after noticing my old pal Wendy Seager had popped up in the credits recently, playing prosecutor Olivia Darkel. Thank heavens for iPlayer.

As one episode rolled into two, then three and four, I found myself hurtling down a Shieldinch rabbit hole until I'd finally caught up on a swathe of story-lines which included, as regular viewers will know, a murderous matriarch, a psychotic son, a peodophile police officer, warring couples and a DNA revelation... all crammed into the weekly, hour long episodes.

With Covid currently dictating restrictions on the filming of scenes, the concessions made to social distancing may be obvious but were more than compensated for by strong scripts and, on the whole, equally strong performances, Edinburgh's very own Kathryn Howden being a stand out as Maggie McLean, a woman tortured by her actions and a horrific past.

King's pantomime favourite Jordan Young was also on fine form showing a different side to his range as shady business man Alex Murdoch and it's always great to see Gayle Telfer Stevens, Sanjiv Kohli, Leah MacRae, Sean Connor and Iain Robertson do their thing. Oh, and let's not forget the double-act that is Barbara Rafferty and Juliet Cadzow, comedy gold.

Of course, with every soap comes a panto baddie (no, I'm not talking about Grant Stott who makes his debut soon) and Shieldinch has a couple chewing the scenery.

Forget Emmerdale, Corrie and EastEnders, even after nearly two decades, River City will do for me, although, I've just noticed iPlayer has episodes available for a year after broadcast... that's a lot more rabbit holes for me to fall down of a rainy evening.

River City, BBC Scotland, iPlayer on demand

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