25 years of Taggart

Set in Glasgow, the show has gone on to enjoy worldwide fame and as the cast celebrates a quarter of a century of solving crimes, Katie McKenna wishes them a very “Happy Birthday”

Taggart is the longest running crime drama series on UK television. Set on the grimy streets of Glasgow, the show first aired with pilot Killer in 1983, when the tenements were still black with coal smoke and Buchanan Street was a far cry from the cosmopolitan shopping mecca that we know and love today. Six years later, Blythe Duff joined the show as DS Jackie Reid – the only remaining character to have starred along the show’s namesake, played by Mark McManus.

Mark sadly passed away in 1994 after appearing in 31 episodes of the series (the cast recently celebrated its 100th episode). But testament to the strength of the remaining characters and scriptwriters, the show continued and has gone on to be popular around the world.

When competition from the BBC gets tough, ITV air Taggart – always a strong contender in the ratings war.
In the year that the show turns a quarter of a century, the lead cast of Blythe Duff (DS Jackie Reid), John Michie (DI Robbie Ross), Alex Norton (DCI Matt Burke) and Colin McCredie (DC Stuart Fraser) talk of the shows strengths, their love affair with Glasgow and why sometimes, being the only girl in a man’s world is a very tough job indeed.

Taggart is celebrating its 25th year, why do you think it has lasted such a long time?

Blythe: I think it’s still true to its original notion, which is a whodunit, and it still has very strong production values. The audience has been really faithful to it over the years and they tune in knowing what they are going to get. We don’t really know what the answer is – all we do know is that people still watch it.
John: There’s something very real about it because although it’s not a procedural show – it’s primarily a whodunit – you meet loads of cops who really like it. They say that it’s quite true to the way that they do their investigations, which is quite surprising.
Blythe: There is blackness to the humour that is akin to normal police work. I think there is that sort of laughing in the face of the horrific scenes that they have to deal with it. There is a lightness about it and we always have strong writers.

How do you think it has changed over the years?

Colin: I think Taggart has always been one of these shows that has kept up with the times. We’ve always kept on changing and I think that is testament to the show. I think if we hadn’t changed we would have been out of date by now. I think as well because the city of Glasgow has changed so much – the Garden Festival, European City of Culture – we document and we film that. If you go back to the very first Taggart it is nothing like how the city is now. Maybe that’s the reason Taggart has kept going because over the past 25 years Glasgow has seen a resurgence and regeneration.

Do you all feel quite proud of the city?

Alex: Yes very much so. This is my hometown; I was born here. It’s a great honour to be part of a show that is so identifiable with Glasgow. It’s hard to think of Taggart without Glasgow and Glasgow without Taggart.

Colin: For a lot of people around the world, Taggart is their only perception of Scotland so it’s quite a pressure but as Alex says, quite an honour as well.

Do you think that Taggart gives a good impression of Glasgow?

Alex: We give a better impression of Glasgow than that place in Midsomer Murders. Do not live in that village!

How do the public react to you when they see you filming?

Alex: Mostly very favourably. They say that they love the show and watch it all the time. I think Glasgow is very proud of the fact that Taggart is such a kind of icon and been going for so long.

Blythe, you’re the longest serving cast member. How much of yourself is in your character?

I think there is essence of Jackie Reid in me and vice versa. I quite like my character and it doesn’t bother me that we are quite similar in some respects. I have got a much nicer family life than Jackie is ever going to have. She has committed herself to her work, so much so that it’s at the detriment to her family. I think she could be a wee but funnier but she’s a strong role model for a lot of women out there.

Do you all feel that there is some of you in your character?

John: I think as an actor you always have an element of yourself in it because it’s all about recreating someone that is as true as possible. The only truth you know is the truth that you have. Any part you play, even if it’s a million miles away from you, even if it’s John Hurt playing the Elephant Man, there is an essence of you.

How do you prepare and do research?

All (amid much laughter): We’re way past that now!
Colin: We do have a police advisor who goes through the script but luckily Blythe’s husband is an ex-detective so if there is a pressing matter on set we can always get a hotline to him. In real life I always ask people questions, so maybe that’s rubbed off on me.

John: I went to speak to DIs in Govan and Hamilton and looked at the way they dressed and behaved. But in reality if I was a DI I wouldn’t be at crime scenes but would spend most of my time behind a desk. So that bit we disregard, for dramatic purposes!

What do you think the future of Taggart is?

John: We are at the mercy of the ITV schedule and the audience. If people keep watching then we will continue to make it.

What would you like to see happen to your characters in their personal lives?
John: Well a bit more shagging would be good!
Blythe: You should be so lucky! No one’s had a successful love life so maybe we should all get nice partners.
Colin: Perhaps that and going to Australia to film or something like that…

You’ve all worked together for a while. Is it fun behind the scenes?
Colin: It is. We all share a trailer so there’s no kind of starry separate stuff – I think that’s been a good thing. There is quite a team feel on set as well.
Blythe: That was something that always happened in Mark’s day. It was something that drifted on through the series and we were never going to change that. Mark was very non-starry. When he died it would have seemed strange if we changed that routine.

It really shows the strength of the show that it could carry on without Mark.
Blythe: When you think about it, he has now been in a third of the actual series. Alex got his 50th episode today, Mark was only in 31.

Were you fans of the show before you got your parts?

Colin: I was in primary seven! I’ve watched it all the way through secondary school and drama school. Lots of my friends got parts in it so I always had an ambition to get a part in Taggart but I never thought for a minute that it would be as a regular. It’s amazing for me, 14 years after leaving drama school, that I’m still doing it.
John: Mark McManus was really quite unique wasn’t he? He was a bit over-the-top I think but in those days the storylines were quite over-the-top as well. I did a Taggart as well with Mark, almost 20 years ago. I enjoyed working with him and meeting him. I never thought I would be in the show.
Blythe: Very few actors get that sort of stability and it’s brilliant. Alex was in it before he got this part.
Alex: As the red herring.
Colin: I was a car thief and a farm hand. It’s great to be on a successful network show and stay in Scotland. It’s the only sort of show that will afford you that kind of lifestyle.

How do you all relax when you’re not filming?

Blythe: The boys keep me going I have to say. A couple of weeks ago I was looking in the wagon and Alex and John were talking about very in-depth things about ‘ladies parts’ and Alex turned around and went, “I just can’t imagine what your life is like Blythe, sitting listen to us talk absolute rubbish.” Sometime you do go, “What are they made of those boys?”
Alex: Sometimes I try to imagine what it would be like the other way around, if I was the only guy and everyone else was female and we were stuck in the one caravan…
Colin: They would all just fire into you of course!

Blythe, do you ever wish that you had a female cast member?

Well sometimes we get a nice female pathologist. You know I like working with the guys, they do make me laugh a lot of the time and we have a really good working relationship and we know each other’s characters very well on and off screen.
Alex: You’ve moved from the lassie from Taggart to the women out of Taggart.
Blythe: I’ll soon be the pensioner out of Taggart. It’s been a lovely show to work on and it’s been a big part of my life and it’s afforded me a wonderful lifestyle.

When the show started, Blythe, did you think you would still be here 25 years down the line?

I started in the 15th episode and Mark was already ill and I didn’t think I would get to do it at all. So I was very surprised when I finished the first one that they asked me back for more. I consider every day’s a bonus day.

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