[Start of Recording]
I: So we're interviewing Robert Love. I'm the interviewer, Tim Amyes. Robert was here from '76 to '93?
R: Till 2001, I think!
I: 2001! 1976 till 2001. And today is the 28th [May, 2017]. So there we go. We've identified the tape. So where did your background, what was your background before you came to television and where were you, first of all, where were you born? Let's start with that.
R: I was born and brought up in Paisley, went to Paisley Grammar School and then to Glasgow University. And I suppose it was during my Grammar School days that, because funnily enough it was a school that encouraged you to do things like appear in plays and things like that and so I certainly did that in school and probably that's when my first ambition was to be an actor and that's probably where it kind of developed from. And went to University in Glasgow.
I: What did you do? What did you take at University?
R:I read English Literature and Language and then when I graduated from Glasgow in '57 I got a scholarship to an American university because I'd wanted to study, you couldn't study Drama in those days at Glasgow University. You can now, of course but in those days you couldn't and so, I wanted to do Drama and I got a scholarship to an American university in the mid-west - Washington University in St. Louis, which did a course in Drama and American Literature, which I was keen to do as well. So, I spent two years in St. Louis at Washington New as a, what they called, a Graduate Assistant. I had to teach undergraduate classes as well as do my own studies in the Graduate School. Of course, this was in the fifties when National Service was still, you know, in existence, and of course I was deferred whilst I did all this studying but it caught up with me eventually and I ended up serving in the RAF for three years. I signed on for an extra year because I wanted a good overseas posting. If you only did the two years you got sent to places like Aidan and, you know, I wanted Germany really but I didn't get it. I got Malta, which was wonderful and I did a lot of work in Malta and I had a very indulgent C.O. who let me off to do things like, to appear in plays and things like that but also to direct. I started directing there, plays, and I had a programme, I also had a programme on the Forces Broadcasting Service - a weekly programme - of classical music requests, which I used to do for FBS every week.
So, I was in Malta for three years and when I finally was demobbed in '62, through a contact that I'd made in the RAF, I got a job first in a small Rep. company in Chesterfield in Derbyshire. Did a rep. season there, moved to Sheffield which was a slightly bigger theatre and then I got a job at the BBC in Glasgow! STV, of course, had a very successful nightly magazine programme called Here and Now, presented by Bill Tennent, terribly popular. The BBC decided that it had to do something similar and its first go was a programme, in those days of course, the news was only ten minutes long at six o' clock and so this programme started at ten past six and it was called Six Ten. It ran, I think, for twenty minutes and I was the first anchorman on Six Ten. But I didn't last very long because there was a change of Producer after the first six months and the new Producer wanted his own team. Slightly more news-orientated people came in to do the programme then and I went back to the theatre and, that was to Nottingham Playhouse. The opening of the new Nottingham Playhouse in '63, the end of '63 and that's really what started me on the road to television.
I'd been in the Nottingham Playhouse for a couple of years but I'd also applied to ABC Television as Thames originally was, or it was, Thames was the merger of two companies, ABC and Rediffusion, and I had applied for a trainee Director's scheme that they ran, that ABC Television ran. It was for theatre directors actually but I was an unsuccessful applicant. I was on the shortlist but I didn't get one of the bursaries. They awarded six bursaries each year but through that very strange tangential contact, suddenly ABC Television offered me a job! I'd never really been thinking in terms of television but ABC was, of course, the Drama company in the old ITV setup. You know, they produced, for instance, something like thirty-five amateur theatres a year and they were doing series like, when I first joined them they had a series called Redcap, which was about the Military Police, a Drama series which John, the young John Thaw, it was his first, it was his first major television series. And they were also doing a thing called Public Eye which was a series about a private eye who had rather a kind of public-spirited attitude to his work. A tremendous unglamorous actor called Alfred Burke played the role of Frank Marker. I was first Associate Producer on that and ended up producing it eventually in the late sixties and early seventies and I was with Thames Television for ten years, so, into the mid seventies. During that time I did a number of programmes for Thames but I suppose my most high profile Drama series was Van der Valk which I produced. The first appearance of Van der Valk. Eventually Van der Valk ended up being made by Euston Films but it started on Thames Television and I produced that for a couple of years.
Then I went freelance in the mid seventies. Not entirely the best time to do it in fact! I ended up out of work for a bit! But eventually David Bell, who was Head of Entertainment here and whom I had met at Thames, phoned me one day and he said, "Look, I'm doing Entertainment at STV in Glasgow but they're expecting me to do Drama and I don't really know anything about Drama so would you come and, could you find me a play and do it for me?" So, and that's how the STV connection began. And then, of course, David was succeeded by Brian Izzard.
I: What was the first play then?
R: The first play was a thing called You're a Good Boy's Son. It was written by a very well known Scottish playwright called C. P. Taylor, Cecil Taylor. It wasn't one of his best I have to say but I didn't have a lot, David really had a deadline that I had to try and meet and so, in the end, I went with Cecil's play. It was our breakthrough really, in a sense, although STV had done some other Drama but of course by that time STV was beginning to have ambitions to move in to the network. To get in to the network and of course they originally, I think, thought that L.E. [Light Entertainment] was what they would do it with and that was why David was there and then Brian. But, gradually, I think there was the realisation that the thing that they really would be best to home in on was Drama. And, so, having done one or two things, first of all for David and then for Brian, as a, purely as a freelance Producer, when Brian decided to move to Southern Television, at the time of the ITV strike in the autumn of '79, STV asked me if I would come and set up a Drama department proper in Glasgow, you know. And so really that was, in a sense, the mission was really to get into the network.
Though, of course at that time, there was a fairly congenial atmosphere about that because I remember that, I can't remember her name now but there was a woman who was in charge of the I.B.A., the Independent Broadcasting Authority, and I think she was quite keen with her Committee to encourage people. To encourage some of the larger regional companies to take more of a part in the network itself, you know. And, I mean, for instance when we were, one of the first things that I did when I arrived to run the Drama department, it was to find a soap. They had given, they had offered, the network had offered the opportunity to any company that was interested to make a bid for a soap slot. A daytime soap, you know, early evening. And Brian had actually, Brian Izzard, commissioned a pilot for a soap. It was called The Glendhu Factor. It was set on a highland estate and they had done a little bit of filming in the village of Luss and they had done this pilot programme then of course Brian, the strike happened, it was all a bit in limbo, Brian moved on and when the strike ended and I was in situ as the new Head of Drama, suddenly I found myself having to put High Road on, well it wasn't called High Road of course originally, Glendhu Factor, I had to put this, the network said, "Yes, we'd still like the soap but we'd still like it delivered on the original dates that had been agreed!" So, I looked at this pilot. There were lots of things wrong with it - I didn't like the title for a start so it became Take the High Road. I renamed the village, it wasn't called Glendhu anymore, it was called Glendarroch and in fact that was because my mother's maiden name was Darroch and I thought it had a quite resonant-sounding name and we kind of flew by the seat of our pants for two months!
I: And Garnock Way had been produced before that?
R: Oh yes! But of course Garnock Way had only been shown in Scotland. This was a network, we were aiming for network with this. Now HGB was doing one - Harlach - and Southern Television was doing one as well and what I think the implication was, we'll give you all twenty-six slots but at the end of it we'll decide which one will continue. And it was High Road they went on with. And we were still, at that point, we started, of course, making it in Edinburgh, in the Edinburgh Studios. It made good use of the Gateway Studios in Edinburgh but eventually, after the first two or three years the network wanted a hundred and four episodes a year and we couldn't really cope with it in Edinburgh and that was when we moved it to Glasgow.
I: Curiously, the only soap that used film inserts as a preferred, it used film inserts as opposed to...
R: Yes. Yes. That's right. It was, I had never actually done a soap before so, and it's a special skill! I did have a terrific writer to start us off. He was a guy who'd done quite a number of things previously on the network in that vein. Don Horton was his name and he very, he wasn't originally meant to be writing the scripts but because we were so short of time he wired in and he really helped us through that rather difficult initial period. But we actually got it on air that Easter in 1960  but it was only twenty-six episodes at first and we had to wait for a wee while to see how things worked out before they commissioned a further twenty-six. Then they increased it to twice twenty-six and then eventually it became an all-year round series, you know. But that was one of the first ventures.
And the other two things that I remember starting right away. First of all, I decided we needed a six-part network series, Drama series, which would go out in the evenings and I came up with an idea called House on the Hill and it was a series of individual plays in different periods of time set in the same house in Park Circus over a hundred years, you know, so that the first story was set in 1870, or thereabouts, when Park Circus was first built and it was a kind of Upstairs, Downstairs story because it was a family house with servants and, you know, a mystery and a family and then we followed the fortunes of the house over the next hundred years. It became eventually a, the very last episode which was set in the eighties, it was a theatrical digs and the story that we did was about a rather unpleasant actor who was playing pantomime that year in Glasgow! And I remember offering the role first to Stanley Baxter but I think Stanley didn't feel he wanted, his image he felt might be threatened by this unpleasant character so I then offered it to Rikki Fulton who accepted it with open arms! He was great at it actually! Really good!
I: And the Prime of Miss Jean Brodie? That was, the Prime of Miss Jean Brodie?
R: Well, Jean Brodie was before my time!
I: Was it? Ah!
R: It was just before my time.
I: Just before.
R: And they had considerable success with that, you know, but of course what they were doing was, they were tending to make Dramas on a speculative basis and then there wasn't really a consistent follow-through at that point, you know.
I: But it showed it could be done?
R: It showed it could be done, of course it could! And there was another one called, now, Rikki was in that as well - Charlie Endell.
I: Of course, yes.
R: Which was made in Brian Izzard's time as Head of Entertainment and they'd also done, or they were doing when I first took the job on, although I steered clear of it simply because there were too many other things I had to think about, the thing about Jimmy Boyle, the one-off, what was it called?
I: Sense of Freedom!
R: Sense of Freedom, that's right. But anyway, we launched, if you like, the Drama Department in 1960 and we had House on the Hill that year, Take the High Road was beginning to establish itself.
R: This was, well, it was 1980 by that time, yes, 1980 by that time. [18:42] Also, the other thing I needed to do right away was I had to find new writing talent in Scotland because there were a few writers around who were accustomed to writing television Drama but they were getting on a bit! They were a bit set in their ways. They'd worked mainly for the BBC of course and so I started to, what I'd decided to do was to do a little series each year of half-hour plays by new writers. They were made in the studio with very limited resources and the cast had to be fairly small, nothing more than six characters, you know, and one of the writers whom I found in that first year was called Glenn Chandler and he had been writing for the theatre and it was an actor who tipped me off. Actors are often very vague about, in fact he didn't even remember Glenn's name! But he said to me, "Oh, I was in a play at the Soho Poly." This was in London. "And I think it was written by a Scottish writer and he was very good!" So I did a bit of research and discovered, oh, I think it was the Soho Poly that told me who the writer was and I got hold of his Agent and then met Glenn and so he was one of the first writers to write what was called a Preview Play. We did a good number of them eventually. We did about, we must have done four series of Previews over the years but it was to help to identify new writers.
I: And did they go network?
R: No, they didn't, well, the interesting thing was although they were only designed for local consumption first and they were shown fairly late in the evening, I think about ten-thirty or something like that, they did get bought on an ad-hoc basis by some of the other companies, you know, and shown in different slots but they were never fully networked, you know. But Glenn wrote that first play. It was called The Horseman's Word. And then over the subsequent seasons he wrote maybe two or three others for me. And then there came a point after we'd, we had one rather bad experience with the network, we did a six-part series called Skin Deep the year after House on the Hill and it was a very good series. Quite ahead of its time. It examined the lives of two, the families of two sisters who'd lived in very different, sort of, economic circumstances and it was written by two very good writers but, for some reason, the network decided to put it out on a very disadvantageous slot. I think it was a Sunday afternoon about five o' clock or something like that and I thought, 'I've really got to find something which the network cannot refuse!' [21:57] And I thought, 'Well, Van der Valk.' There weren't that many detective series on the air at that time so can I come up with something similar based in Glasgow and who could I get to write it? And I thought, well, of all the writers who had done Preview Plays, the one that struck me as being most likely to be able to do this kind of thing was Glenn. So he and I sat down one day and I gave him some basic ideas about who the Detective might be, what he might be, I didn't give him a name or anything like that but I suggested to him a Glasgow Detective who had risen up through the ranks, who might have had a rather difficult boyhood, who might have actually gone in the other direction and ended up on the criminal side and maybe with a sidekick who was a bit upmarket, a bit posh, University educated and so, between us, we concocted the Taggart scenario. And then, and by this time I knew that I would have a certain number of slots each year so I thought that the three-part format might be rather a good one so that if, for instance, it was a success, we could then maybe do six a year and, for that matter, we might increase it to nine, which is what happened of course. Glenn went away and wrote the first Taggart script - three-parter - and it was actually being aired last night on the Drama channel.
I: And you were always using staff Directors and staff crews so it was all part of the family of STV?
R: Absolutely. Initially, well, I have to say that I did feel that we needed one or two more experienced freelance Directors and so I started to bring in the occasional freelance Director and, for that matter, eventually I had to ask Producers to come as well because I couldn't produce them all myself. Eventually, of course, in the early nineties the volume of Drama that we were doing was really quite large, you know, but yes, the STV, now that was the interesting thing of course because we had to build up, if you like, the skills that were needed. Initially, of course, most of the Dramas, as they were in all the other companies or had been, were studio-based largely but with exterior input which could either be done on video or on film. And there was always the problem of a slight mismatch in the look of the film and the studio video and of course by that time a lot of the other companies were beginning to think, 'oh we ought to do Drama all on film' and it took me about five years to persuade STV to come round to that view but it did eventually. Well, it was really partly to do with Gus's arrival. Gus Macdonald's arrival. He bought in to that idea, you know, and then we started making Taggart all on film, you know, on super-16 of course, not 35!
But going back to the earlier times, the Preview Plays of course did throw up other very useful writers, for instance two or three of them went in to High Road and became regular High Road writers. One or two of them did other things for me like a very good writer called Ann Marie Di Mambro, she wrote a number of different episodes of different series for me over the years including, of course, eventually Dr. Finlay but that was not until the nineties of course. In the early eighties we were having to establish ourselves on the network and Taggart actually of course was our big breakthrough because its first outing was a success. The three-part Killer series. We called it Killer of course, we didn't call it Taggart although Jim Taggart was the lead player. The following year the network said, "You can do two three-parters". That was when we renamed it Taggart. Maybe the year after that they said, "You can do three". And I think we ended up, well, certainly by the early nineties we were doing thirteen hours of Taggart a year, usually maybe three three-parters and two Specials. I remember on one occasion they commissioned a Halloween Special of Taggart. On another occasion they commissioned a Christmas Special and I think it was the Christmas Special one year that got, what was it, eighteen million viewers? But our average viewing figures in those days was round about the thirteen, fourteen million mark, you know. Changed days, of course, you know! But anyway, I mean Taggart was our breakthrough really into the network and after that we were able to sell other ideas on the back of Taggart, you know. None of them had the extended life that Taggart had of course and that surprised everybody really because by the time we were into the early nineties we were kind of making Taggart on the basis that, "Oh, this must be the last year!" And it never seemed to be, you know!
I: Yes! And the staff were gradually expanding?
R: The staff were gradually expanding.
I2: Sorry, can we take a wee, quick break here, just cooling the camera. So the staff were expanding.
I: Oh yes, we were saying it expanded, the Company expanded?
R: Yes, and of course the more Drama we made, Tim, the more skills the staff developed. I mean by that time, of course, because of the volume of work, there was a very big mix of staff and freelance in all Departments really - Wardrobe, Make-Up, Design, outstanding, of course we had an outstanding Designer, Marius Van Der Werff who designed Taggart many times but then when we came to do Dr. Finlay in the nineties and we'll come on to that maybe in a minute, properly, Marius designed the whole of Dr. Finlay and it's staggering to look at it now because it's so authentic, the feel of it, you know, but you see these were the skills that were being developed all the time by, Marius was, of course, on the staff but I had freelance Designers as well because he couldn't take on everything, you know. But I ended up, I always felt, with an amazing team of people who were equal of any of the people who might have been working for larger network companies like Granada, London Weekend and so on, you know. And, you know, the look of our things was as good as anything else that network companies were producing.
So, as I say, Taggart was the breakthrough. On the back of that we were able over the years to do other series like Bookie. Bookie started off, actually, as a one-off. It was a one-off story, a single play. In the eighties you were still able to get single plays away occasionally, not very many but just occasionally you could get a single play away. We did about half a dozen over the years, I think, you know. Bookie was one of them and that seemed to be set to inspire a series and we did a series, a three-part series. Then things went a bit wrong, I'm afraid, with Bookie! It was really to do with a rather difficult leading actor and I thought, 'Oh, sod this! We're not carrying on with him! We've got to turn it into something slightly different!' But still with a slight sporting theme and we went for boxing then and we did a series called Winners and Losers which achieved quite a high profile because of the fact that we cast in the leading role Leslie Grantham who had just finished his stint on Eastenders as Dirty Den and who, everywhere he went, was pursued by the Press! We had quite a difficult time with the Press actually during the making of Winners and Losers. And Ann Marie Di Mambro, by the way, was one of the writers in Winners and Losers. But that went down very well as well. We did a series called The Advocates which was about, as you might imagine, a law firm based in Edinburgh, written by Al Cullen who had written some very good stuff for me in the early years. She wrote a marvellous piece called Off Peak. It was a one-off TV movie and that won several awards, internationally, you know.
I: What awards did it win?
R: Well, it was actually nominated for an international Emmy and was only beaten to the post by Granada Television's version of either Othello or Long Day's Journey into Night staring Laurence Olivier.
I: I remember it well!
I: It was wonderful!
R: But it was a very funny play about a group of Rotarians trying to elect a new chair during a weekend in a spa hotel. It was actually shot in Peebles, at the Peebles Hydro. Do you remember it?!
I: Yeah, I loved it! I remember at the end of it you said, "That sounds just like it is a feature film!"
I: And I'd made great efforts to make it sound like a feature film!
R: But it was a great success. Alma came up with some very good stuff for me in the early years and she also wrote The Advocates series but then she went on to be a writer on Morse so she was much in demand in the nineties in that area, you know. We also did a series called McCallum. Do you remember McCallum, which was about, it was based in London actually, it was quite a new venture for STV!
I: Is that when they produced SMG Productions?
R: Yes, I think it probably was. I'm slightly hazy now about when that actually kicked in.
I: What actually was that?
R: Well it, the idea was almost to kind of set up a separate Production arm, rather in the way that Euston Films had been a separate Production arm of Thames Television and which was, of course, entirely on film. They did things like Special Branch and The Sweeney and so on, you know, for Thames. And so SMG was actually, that was the thinking behind setting up SMG and so, really in the end most of the Drama that we did was under the umbrella of SMG and, as I say, we did a number of these series. McCallum was, ran for two, I think, or even three series. It starred John Hannah. During that time, by the way, I also, this was in the early nineties, Taggart was still going strong, of course we haven't touched on the whole business of Mark McManus's sad demise. We'll maybe come back to that if you want to hear about it, you know, and what happened then because it was a fairly kind of interesting and fairly unique set-up in the history of television Drama. [36:20] But just going on for a minute with some of the other things that we did in the nineties. We did McCallum and then our biggest success in the nineties, in addition to Taggart continuing, was Dr. Finlay, of which we did four series and a Special at the end to round it all off.
I: And was the fact that STV were losing staff deliberately at that time, was that making any difference to what you could do?
R: It wasn't really because we were then, of course, bringing in more freelance people on an ad-hoc basis, you know, and so it didn't really, sort of, diminish any, it didn't make any difference to the volume of production. Things were changing, of course, in the network as well. There was the new network set-up, the Commissioning Editors that were set up by the network to commission programmes so you had to sell all your ideas through these Commissioning Editors, which could be quite tricky, you know, but it wasn't any greatly different from the situation that I found myself in at the start in the early eighties when, then, though, I was making things on spec and selling them and fortunately, with one exception, there was one play that was turned down by the network, and so we had to just show it locally and then maybe sell it on, we did manage to sell it on here and there, you know. But we were very lucky in the sense that most of the stuff that we made on spec, which was quite an outlay for STV to do, you know, it was a kind of gamble really.
I: What sort of money would be involved in it?
R: Well, I mean, Taggart was costing then something like, I mean it's probably fairly small today but it was costing anything in the region of £300-400,000 per episode so the budget for the three-part series was about 12/13, 1.3K and so it was significant money. Eventually, of course, for a while because of the success of Taggart we were able to get a number of other things away without too much difficulty and then of course when the Commissioning Editors came in, we then had to submit all our new ideas in, really, just, we didn't make the programmes, we had to submit the ideas first. Treatments, things like that, had to be presented to the network Commissioning Editors and it was on the basis of these, for instance, that they commissioned Dr. Finlay. Although, of course, in a sense, ITV, I think, were quite interested in the idea of Dr. Finlay because it was reviving, if you like, an old BBC series but we made some very significant changes of course with Dr. Finlay. We updated it to the forties so that we could use the background of the setting up of the National Health Service so that it gave us a bit of conflict between the two Doctors. The old Doctor was a bit apprehensive about the NHS and young, idealistic and socialist-minded Dr. Finlay was very enthusiastic about it, you know. So it set up a nice tension throughout all the episodes. It actually, funnily enough this year, several people had said to me "You know Dr. Finlay's on the Drama Channel?" or whatever it was and I wasn't watching it and they said, "Oh, you know, really it's very good! You should..." I hadn't looked at it for twenty years and so, I got a box set out and I started watching it and I've now watched them all and it's actually quite a significant, historical document because it depicts rural life in Scotland in the late forties with all the problems, the post-war problems and difficulties that people had. It looks, as I say, it was so well designed, so well filmed, so well written, so well directed that it's an amazingly authentic reproduction of life in Scotland at that time.
I: Who directed it?
R: There were two Producers. I was the Exec. Producer of it because, of course, I was doing so many other things at that time but we had two Producers. Peter Wolf was first, for two series, and then Bernard Krichefski for the remaining series. The Directors were all freelance, I think, on Finlay. There were quite a number of them. One of them was a very good female Director called Sarah Hellings and when I saw it, I thought 'Oh my God, people really are right about this!' It's stood the test of time and actually, in a sense, I think it's quite an important historical document but that was, as I say, these were made in the nineties, the new Dr. Finlay. It was a wonderful cast, of course, with Ian Bannen as Dr. Cameron and Annette Crosbie was Janet. David Rintoul as Dr. Finlay and there were several other very good people in it as well.
But we were going to go back now to something else, what was it?
I: Mark McManus.
R: Mark McManus, yes. That's a story in itself. I mean when I was looking at the episode of Killer last night, I thought, 'God! How young he looks!' He must only have been, when we started he was about, he was in his early forties probably. He was a unique actor actually in the sense that the camera loved him, you know, and a lot of people thought that Taggart was Mark. It wasn't really, he was actually a very skilful actor. Yes he came from, he came from Bellshill, I think, originally. He'd been all over the world. He'd gone out to Australia to work in the docks, became a boxer first, I think he was, would he be a flyweight or something? He was quite a small man, he wasn't, I mean he was only about 5, 9 or something like that. But that was one of the reasons why I almost didn't cast him at the start because, well, there were two reasons - when Glenn had written the first script, I was, of course, already thinking about the casting and, you know, I looked at all the Scottish actors and Mark was appearing at that time in a Granada series called Strangers. He wasn't lead in it, he was the desk man in this Detective series. He was the McVittie of Strangers, if you like. But, Superintendent Lambie was the character was he? He was playing at Scots. Mark, you see, also had a great skill with accents. He could, for instance he had made a series for Granada, Sam, in which he played a Lancashire miner. That was in the seventies, you know. Anyway, when we were thinking about the casting, Mark's name, of course, came up but then I thought, 'Well, he's been Lambie in the Granada series, people will just say "Oh, you've lifted him out of Strangers!"' The other thing was that because he was only 5, 9 or thereabouts, he was too small to be a Glasgow Detective of that period, in a sense, because Glasgow's one of the last places to reduce the height restrictions for its cops but anyway, in the end I decided that Mark was the answer, you know, and sent him the scripts and he accepted immediately! You know, he didn't hesitate.
There were many things that made Taggart a success. Glasgow did, of course, because it looked exotic to a network audience. The scripts themselves were always first rate! Glenn Chandler was an amazing writer actually. In that respect I was terribly lucky to have found somebody like that who could carry that on through all these years, you know. Eventually, of course, we were doing so many that we had to bring in other writers as well but Glenn's were always the best. There was something unusual about his imagination, you know. You see, Taggart is often misunderstood. It wasn't really just a Glasgow cop series, it was a bit of 'grande dienneon' as well and if you think about some of the stories, they were pretty fantastical but it had a realistic surface and it was that tension between the two things, I think, that made it so appealing to an audience. Anyway, Mark, over the years, did a great job but he had a problem, as so many Scottish actors had had and we had to, towards the end of the nineties we were, towards the end of the eighties we were beginning to have to nurture him quite a bit, you know, and two things I kept thinking - if, I never anticipated that he would actually die on us but I thought he might be incapable eventually of making the series because we did have, latterly, one or two hairy moments when we had to stop production for a wee while to get things stabilised again, you know, and, of course, in his private life things were happening that were pretty tragic and disastrous, you know, he lost his mother, his sister and his wife all within a year! So, we were coping with all that behind the scenes. So, I was thinking, 'what do I do if Mark can't do it? Is that the end of the series?' And, for a start, should I have something that I can suddenly pull out of a hat? Something new but in a similar vein if things go wrong?
So, what I did was, there was a new writer around at that time, he'd only written a couple of books, two or three books, and the BBC had actually optioned them and then, for some reason, let the option lapse. His name was Iain Rankin and I met him and talked about the possibility of making a television series of Rebus and he signed up for that. He wasn't going to write it himself. He didn't want anything to do with it in fact! He was perfectly happy to hand over the idea to television writers. He never had any aspirations to write the television version itself. Anyway, I bought the rights to Rebus. We renewed them maybe after the first year, held on to them anyway. I eventually did offer it to the network while Taggart was still running and they said "No, we can't do two Scottish Detectives at the same time." That was at that point, maybe in the mid nineties somewhere, by which time, of course, disaster had overtaken us and poor old Mark had died. That was in '94 I think it was, Mark died, '94, at the age of just over fifty, I think. Fifty-three or fifty-four and so the network said, "Well, what are you going to do about it?" And I said, "Well, my proposal is that we carry on with the series without a senior detective." Blythe and James MacPherson had established themselves quite strongly by that time. Black, by the way, Mark had an original sidekick called, the actor was called Neil Duncan, who played, gosh, I'm going to forget the name of the character now! I saw him last night, in Killer. But Neil decided after the first six series or thereabouts to move on and I brought in James MacPherson in the role of Jardine and then, at the end of the nineties, I added in Reid, the female detective, played by Blythe. Eventually in the mid nineties, well, round about the time that Mark died, I brought in Fraser, the young, geeky detective, who was also gay, by the way, the character and that was again something quite, kind of, new for television drama or television detective drama and then eventually John Michie joined the cast as well. When we were told by a network Research Bureau that it lacked sex appeal so I thought, 'we've got to bring in some character that, you know, the ladies can fancy!' And so John came in to do that in the mid nineties, John Michie. But Taggart, of course, the network said to me eventually "Look, I propose that we continue with Blythe and James." And they said, "OK, you can make two series" that year. "You can finish, if you like, the year's order but if the ratings go down, we won't commission it again." So the burden of keeping the series going fell on Blythe and James really. And on everyone else, of course, who was involved, you know, we just had to keep the standard up. The storytelling. Everything else, you know, and it worked! So we went on through the nineties with Blythe and James really carrying the series, you know, and with the additional characters of Fraser and Robbie Ross. And I suppose the argument was in the end, they said "yeah, what are you going to do about the title, of course, because, you know, there's no Taggart now!" Will people not say, "Why Taggart? What's all this about?" I thought, 'Well, it's a brand name really now!' and, to a certain extent, I suppose that's, you know, why we got away with it, you know, people knew what to expect although Taggart wasn't there. He was a kind of ghostly presence, of course! In fact, I was quite amused last night because sitting on my shelf at home, sitting on a shelf at home there's a little, marble Buda. It's a tiny figure of a Buda in green onyx or something like that. Not marble. And in Killer last night, Mark was fondling this little Buda. It was a little symbol when he was thinking about what to do next to try and solve the cases, he would sort of, he had this little Buda in his hand and, of course, when he died we left the Buda on the desk. Most people wouldn't have noticed it, you know, and then eventually someone said to me, "You know, if you don't take that, it's going to disappear!" Props can't look after it anymore! And I took it and I've still got it to this day!
I: And how was High Road faring?
R: Oh, High Road was doing very well of course as a series and, you know, it had eventually become an all-year round thing. It wasn't shown at the same time as, I mean when Taggart went out of course, it was a network slot at nine o'clock of an evening. High Road was shown here at six-thirty in the evening but it was shown at slightly different times in some of the other regions, you know. Oddly enough, the fan club for High Road was based in Cornwall. Somebody must have started a fan club down there for High Road and, of course, I've been very amused at what's been going on with the current transmissions of it because did I not read that when STV set up STV2, they went back to the beginning with High Road and the fans who'd got to episode 300 or 400 are really quite annoyed because they've now got to wait for two years or something like that to catch up! But it always ran, it was a great success and then, of course, over the years in the nineties, again we had to fight for its survival a bit towards the end but it ran for twenty years! And it's still, it seems to be still quite fondly regarded.
I: Was the end of it financial or was it because of...
R: It was the network. They decided that they didn't need it anymore, you know. Maybe they felt they had too many soaps or maybe it didn't fulfil what they thought a soap needed to do in, you know, it was that sort of thing again, I mean, it was the old thing, the thing I mentioned earlier on about Taggart - bringing in a bit of sex appeal. If you think about Emmerdale and all these other things, I think they did a lot of that. They tried to make it appeal to a younger audience and, of course, to tackle maybe more topical subjects, you know. And High Road maybe being a rural soap didn't entirely fit the bill.
I: And did the change of Chief Executives/Managing Directors make any difference to the, did the change, well, the change to Gus Macdonald and the other Managing Directors make any difference?
R: Not a great deal for me. I mean, Gus was a great supporter actually of the drama output, as indeed Bill Brown was. I mean, Bill Brown was a unique Managing Director, you know, and he was always behind you if any, I always remember on one occasion we ran into a problem with Mary Whitehouse. One of the episodes of House on the Hill and this is going way back to the early eighties, the house, during the war, was being run as a lodging house and the woman who was running it had started a gay club in the basement for Servicemen and that was what the story was about. It was about two Servicemen meeting in this club and this woman sort of facilitating, as it were, their relationship! It was, by today's standards it was innocuous but Mary Whitehouse took exception to it and objected. Made a formal objection to the network about it and of course, they were obliged to take it up. They were, I mean they supported us, of course, they refuted her objections in the end but Bill was a rock about that sort of, in that kind of situation. No, I got nothing but excellent back-up and support from all the Programme Controllers and Directors of Programmes and the Managing Directors and so on. Of course, I finally left STV...
I: Are you wanting to change it again? Fine, no problems!
I2: Tremendous support from the Managing Directors?
I: Oh yes!
R: Yes, yes. I mean I had, certainly, wonderful support all through my time at STV. I was Head of Drama for twenty years. Probably the longest-serving Head of Drama in any television company!
I: Why did you leave?
R: Well, of course, you know that we were supposed to retire at sixty in those days and most people did in senior positions. They extended my contract. They said, "You can stay on for another couple of years!" So I eventually was kicked out, as it were, at the age of sixty-three or thereabouts and that's why I left and I thought maybe it was time to go and do some slightly different things anyway, you know, and so, but no, as I say, during my time STV was behind me all the way!
I: We were talking about The Steamie.
R: The Steamie! Yes, now The Steamie was interesting because it was a stage play, as you probably know, and, in fact, I think this year is its twenty-fifth anniversary - would that be right? Because it was '90, '87 or '88, yes, so is that twenty-five years? Yeah, it is. So they're going to put a production on in the King's Theatre in the autumn of The Steamie. They've already revived it several times, of course, over the years and, in fact, STV made a programme about the anniversary of the television version of it a few years back. I remember doing an interview for it. Anyway, The Steamie was a stage play and it was actually Sandy Ross who said to me, "You know, you ought to think about doing that, you know, in a television version." So, we looked at it and I thought, 'yeah, well it had potential.' Of course, by that time, it was very difficult to sell one-offs but, anyway, we went ahead. We bought the rights to it, we commissioned the script. Tony Roper had to reduce the length of it, you know, the television version was, well, it was a ninety-minuter but with commercial breaks it was only seventy-eight minutes or something like that, you know, whereas the stage play is two hours. And we put together a wonderful cast - Eileen McCallum, Dorothy Paul, who was in the original stage version I think, a nice young actress called, oh God, I've forgotten her name now! Sorry about that. The young Peter Mullan was the only male in it and we made it in the studio and Marius designed it in an astonishing set, naturally, you wouldn't have know it wasn't a real steamie! And its gone on for years! It's been repeated umpteen times, you know.
I: Did it get any awards?
R: Do you know, I can't remember. I can't remember if it did. We did get our share of awards over the years, especially for Taggart and things like that film I mentioned, the Al Cullen film, Off Peak. And I think Dr. Finlay for one or two awards as well. The Steamie I can't remember if it did but it probably, it may well have done at some point, you know, but it became a, kind of, great favourite at New Year. Well, of course, it was set in, it was supposed to be Hogmany in the steamie, you know, and again, in fact, funnily enough I went to a special screening of it about two or three years ago while Marius was still alive, in fact! I got him to come with me to the GFT and I thought, 'What's it going to look like on the big screen?!' It didn't look bad at all, you know. I mean you could tell it wasn't 35mm or anything like that but, and we had a question and answer session afterwards and the audience was really quite, asked some quite interesting questions about it and I was able to actually say to them, "Look, you know, you've seen that set..." Oh, because that's what somebody asked me, you see! Somebody said to me, "Where was it shot? Was there still a steamie around at that time?" And I said, "Well, no, it wasn't. It was actually made in the studio at Cowcaddens." We did actually have an exterior at the beginning and the end outside the old Partick steamie which still stood then! It's gone now. But the rest of it was in the studio and people were astounded to learn it was actually a studio set and I said, "The man responsible for it is sitting at the end of that row there!" So he got a round of applause!
I: Hallmark made productions, were you involved in them?
R: Yes they did! Yes.
R: Yes, we did, yes! We made, I think, four Hallmark movies. They were never shown in this country by the way. Never shown! It's the strangest thing because they were quite costly things to do, you know. Hallmark came up, I think, mainly with the scripts. I can't remember quite how, where we, and of course we had a Co-Producer representing Hallmark, you know, who was an Australian I think. Don somebody. I can't remember his surname. We made four of them. Two were very good and two were, kind of, so so. They were being made for an audience that we were not accustomed to catering for really, in a sense, you know, as was The Campbells, you see! We made only a few episodes of a long-running Canadian series, which was a kind of Canadian equivalent of Little House on the Prairie, you know, it was a family series, which, by that time, we were not, we had difficulty actually in selling it to the network - although we did manage to do so, simply because they didn't really cater for it. They weren't looking for that kind of material. But it was a great success in Canada and we made several episodes here. We must have made half a dozen episodes in Scotland over the years.
I: They were commissioned by a Canadian...?
R: It was a Co-Production with CTV Canada, it wasn't CBC. It was CTV. It was the Independent, it was an ITV kind of equivalent channel. And we filmed it, it was all filmed mainly in the area up on the west coast near Oban. Terrible weather we got, most of the time! The Canadians couldn't believe, this was midsummer by the way! This was in midsummer and they couldn't believe it.
Then, of course, the other thing that we were commissioned to do in the nineties was the Gaelic soap, Machair. Now that came about because by that time a Gaelic television committee had been set up. I think it was by the Thatcher Government actually. Infinitely, there's a Thatcher story lurking in the background here. At the time of the General Election in, no, it was, it would be the run up to an Election, I think, or was it in the aftermath of the Poll Tax and Thatcher's image in Scotland at that time was at rock-bottom and who came up with the idea I've no idea but somebody came up with the idea that she should make, she should visit the set of High Road and make an appearance in the shop. She should come into the shop and buy something, more or less as an Extra and go out again, you see? And this was all set up. She was going to arrive in a helicopter in a field in Luss and I was to meet her off the helicopter and escort her to the village shop where the crew would all be waiting and we would film this sequence and the day before it was due to take place, it was '92, I think, would that be right? The Gulf War broke out. The first Gulf War in Kuwait and the whole thing was aborted.
But the other thing that Thatcher had done was, she, the Government, I think it was in the aftermath of the alienation that was created by the Poll Tax and they had set up the Gaelic television committee. I think she thought everybody in Scotland spoke Gaelic and they wanted to commission, they had a fund from which they could commission programmes and one of the things that they wanted was a soap because they wanted to attract younger people to, well it was to learn the language really. And they approached, I don't know whether they approached the BBC but certainly they approached us and, of course, our Gaelic Department seized the opportunity with open arms but, of course, didn't have the Drama skills to make the thing so whose desk did it arrive, whose desk was it dumped on?! Muggins! And I thought, 'What am I going to do with this?!' There were no Gaelic, of course their idea was that we would use Gaelic writers. Well, for a start, writing a soap is a special skill, which I had only, the skills I'd only built up, you know, over the first two or three years of High Road back in the eighties. We couldn't start from scratch and get a thing on the air in a certain time and so what I thought I should do initially, anyway, I mean we actually set up a Gaelic, I got the script editors of High Road eventually and they wrote some of the scripts as well and they storylined it for quite a number of years were two writers who'd actually met on High Road and then become an item - Peter May and Janice Hally. I'm talking about Peter May, the best-selling crime novelist who was one of our script editors on High Road for many years and I asked Peter and Janice if they would go up to the islands one summer and run a writing course for one or two, well, there were about half a dozen of them, potential Gaelic writers who had been identified for us by the Gaelic television committee, for the most part. And so Peter and Janice did that. We actually held the, I went up to see how things were going on in the course of that July, I think it was, in the High School in Stornaway - what was it called? It was closed for the summer break, you see, and so we were able to use the building. But at the conclusion of that Peter and Janice said to me, "Look, it won't work! We haven't, there might be, down the line one or two of these people might be able to write scripts but it's going to take two years!"
So, the solution we came up with was to ask the High Road writers, some of them anyway, to write the scripts. The television committee, the Gaelic committee had prescribed the format for us. They wanted something set in a College in Lewis, a Gaelic Medium College, with a lot of younger characters in it. Not exclusively, of course, but, you know, there were teachers of course as well and parents and doctors and nurses and, you know, but it was to be based really around this Gaelic Medium College. So we had a basic format to work to and I got Peter and Janice to develop the thing and invent the characters and they storylined it first of all. They storylined the first series really and then we got the High Road writers as was our, working in the same way that we had worked on High Road to write the scripts, you see. The idea was that the two or three Gaels whom we had identified as potential writers would translate the scripts into Gaelic. Mind you, it was a bilingual series, it wasn't exclusively Gaelic but there was a fair proportion of it in Gaelic, Gaelic dialogue and these sections of it were translated into Gaelic by the potential Gaelic writers. The idea was that that would give them a feel for how things were done on a soap and eventually, I mean I can't remember how many episodes we made of Machair but it must have been somewhere in the region of ninety. Eventually, one or two of these writers were actually writing episodes, you know, two years on, three years on but we got it on air using that particular production method and using the skills, of course, that STV could provide, you know. I mean the crews all based themselves up there. Do you remember any of it, Tim? No? I mean it was a mixture again of staff and freelance, it had to be. The irony of course is, the Gaelic viewers were very difficult to please! I mean, we would get complaints that too many of the Gaels were speaking with a Lewis accent and not a Skye accent among them, you know, or something like that. Things, you know, there was a lot of diplomacy involved in the whole thing. Peter and Janice did a marvellous job and eventually Peter produced it as well.
But the funny thing was, when the first series went out, it got pooh-poohed a bit by, of course we were getting a non-Gaelic audience as well. It was going out in the early evening, I think after High Road as a matter of fact but a lot of the Gaels didn't feel it was authentic or whatever, you know! Well now, as you probably know, it's virtually a cult programme on BBC Alba because they never made anything else like it! They eventually decided to decommission it after we'd, after the thing was really going, you know, and could have gone on, the Gaels decided they wanted to spend their money in a different way and the Gaelic committee, and so the funding was withdrawn. But these hundred or so episodes get repeated endlessly!
I: One question we've got to ask you is whether you think STV is still a family - or was a family then?
R: Oh, very much so! Well, look, you saw that at that Reunion a couple of years back. Somebody actually said to me that night, "I have never been at anything like this at which you felt that people actually wanted to be there and to meet their colleagues!" There was a definite bond, I think, between so many of the people that worked on, in all Departments, you know, I'm not just talking about the Drama Department, you know!
I: Yes, we discovered that to everyone we've spoken to. A lot of them said "We made one mistake but no one sacked us for it and we learnt!"
I: They said, "We made one mistake and we learnt from it but no one sacked for it or told us that we'd done anything wrong and we learnt from it!"
I: That does seem to be very...
R: Yes, that's right! That's right, yeah! No, it was an amazing occasion that and we, a lot of us, of course, still keep in touch, you know. I think I told you earlier on, I see quite a lot of people that worked, some of the people that worked with me. I mean, Marius and I were great friends and, sadly, he died of course a year or so ago but we'd kept in touch and socialised, you know. My brother, who worked in a completely different sphere, has often said to me, "You know, I wasn't, when I retired I wasn't interested in keeping much in contact with anybody I'd worked with!" And that was certainly not true of STV.
I: We've got three questions - STV has paid for some of this.
R: Oh right!
I: So we have to ask three questions of you which...
I2: We go through this little pantomime!
I: We're going to go through a pantomime first with the grading so just hang on a second.
R: Right. What would you like me to do?
I2: What we would like you to do is this - one, two, three.
I: And then that.
I2: One, two, three.
I: So if you hold it that way.
R: Right. That way first?
I2: Fairly close to your face!
I: In a bit. Towards yourself a bit!
R: Is that right?
I2: Yes, lovely, and then the other side.
I: And you can turn it now.
I2: That's lovely. Great. Thank you very much!
R: Is that alright?
I: That's it. Perfect!
R: Very good!
I: So, I'll ask you the questions if I may, if that's OK.
I2: You see in the old days, you'd be chucked out the Union!
I: So what's your most memorable moment from your time at STV?
I2: Actually, if we could just pause. That's fine. I just want to open this up slightly. So, ask the question again. I wasn't quite ready.
I: What's your most memorable?
R: Shall I do it to camera?
I2: No, it's to Tim, just as normal.
I: Yep, just to me.
R: Oh, right. That's a very good question! Now, what was it? What was it? Well, you know, in truth there were very many memorable moments. I would say that one of my most memorable moments was when Taggart made the big breakthrough, you know, and we knew then that we had something the network couldn't refuse! But, as I say, there were many memorable moments over the years. Very gratifying to see, well, I suppose one of my proudest, if you like, feelings about the whole thing was the way in which we had developed such a high professional standard, you know, so that the programmes that we were making, as I say, stood the test of the network against anything that was being made by Granada or BBC, yes, exactly.
I: That's interesting. That follows on to the next question which is - what do you think the most important contribution STV made to Scotland and why?
R: Well that's interesting because, now, you see, the basic philosophy of, behind really the building up of the Drama Department and the intrusion, if you like, onto the network. The theory behind it, I always remember Bill Brown defining this in a sense, was it's important that - two things - that Scotland sees an image of itself on the screen but also that we're able to export an image of Scotland to a wider audience. And that was really the thinking, I think, behind the whole attempt to build up a network Drama reputation really and I think that that, I'm sure that STV, if you think about it, STV's made huge contributions in many other ways to the life of Scotland not least the News service and through some of the excellent Documentary work that's been done over the years but as far as the Drama's concerned, I think all these programmes were doing the same thing. They were, you know, it was the dual image of letting Scotland see itself and letting the rest of the country see Scotland.
I: Perfect. And the third one is - what is your fondest, funniest memory of STV?
R: I probably can't tell you that!
I: Yeah, go on!
R: Fondest, funniest memory, let me think. There must be something because we had a lot of laughs over the years, let me tell you. Because I always remember when I worked for Thames Television, the Drama floor was above the Light Entertainment floor and occasionally either they would come up our way or we would be down their way. We might be making Crime series, we might be making rather serious Dramas but there was always a lot of laughter in and out of the offices, you know. You go down to the Light Entertainment floor and everybody was sitting, hah, you know, because L.E. is a very serious business, you know. I'm trying to think what my funniest incident at STV was. I wish I'd known you were going to ask me this! I would have thought of something. I just can't at the moment think of something!
I: Do you want to have a break for the moment? So what is your fondest memory of STV? Just start it with, "My fondest..."
R: My fondest memory, among a good number, of course, would be the occasion on which my P.A. buzzed me through one day and she said, "I've got Clarence House on the phone. Would you take the call?" I said, "Are you sure?! This isn't a hoax, is it?!" She said, "It sounds alright." So anyway, she put me through, she put the guy through and he introduced himself, I think, as a Squadron Leader in the RAF. He explained that he was an Equerry to the Queen Mother and he said, "I'm afraid I'm in the doghouse because I was supposed to record an episode of Taggart last night so that the Queen Mother could watch it today but I'm afraid I got the wrong channel and I've ended up with the wrong tape! Could you possibly send us a tape of the episode and after the Queen Mother's watched it, we'll return it to you." So I said, "We'll do that and you don't have to return it." And we duly dispatched the tape and about two or three weeks later it came back in a padded bag with a covering letter saying that the Queen Mother had watched the episode of Taggart and had enjoyed it very much and the Squadron Leader was no longer in the doghouse!
[End of Recording]