Friday, 4 August 2017


I have been catching up on the earliest episodes of STV's police procedural, thanks to the Drama channel. Last night's (or rather, this early morning's!) drama had a parliamentary by-election as background, so I naturally made a point of watching it. Writer Glenn Chandler used the episode to deploy a wide range of reasons why returning to capital punishment would be a bad idea (the first murder victims were a policeman's widow standing as a candidate on that platform, and her agent). It was clear on what side of the argument Chandler stands, though he surely should have given the candidate some stronger arguments, without weakening the overall case against. It was significant that the university-educated DS Jardine was overtly opposed to hanging, while the rough, tough, DCI Taggart was non-committal.

Taggart broke new ground for UK TV in several ways. The DCI was authentically working-class, as was Mark McManus, the man who played him. Jim Taggart was quite prepared to play away from home (though we were not shown an instance of his achieving his end!) while maintaining a prickly relationship with his disabled wife. The series anticipated Midsomer Murders with the gruesomeness of some of its homicides.

Sadly, the series lost three of the leads over no more than seven years: Mark McManus himself in 1994, Iain Anders (Superintendent "Biscuit" McVitie) in 1997 and Robert Robertson (pathologist Dr Andrews) in 2001.

It also ran through the roster of Scottish screen acting talent, including Sean Connery's cousin and niece, having to import a few people from south of the border to fill in. Many appeared more than once in different rôles; the best example is Alex Norton who played a ne'er-do-well in an early episode only to return as DCI Burke in 2002. There were some notable early appearances, like Siobhan Redmond as an investigative reporter and Alan Cumming playing a young (heterosexual) lover.

There were progressive moves later on. The series had already featured strong women on the other side of the law and even among the victims, but season 6 saw the introduction of Blythe Duff as Jackie Reid, initially as a WPC but eventually a key member of the detective team. What could have been a first came in 1995 with an "out" homosexual DC.

It seems that no Taggarts were made after 2010 because ITV decided not to network the show any more. In any case, it did seem to have lost its way, differing only from a dozen other cop shows in its setting.  I would like to have seen STV revive the hard edge of the early shows, perhaps reversing the contrast between the tough senior officer and the middle-class detective sergeant by introducing a young DC with a chip on his shoulder, having grown up during successive periods of austerity, counteracting a comfortable university-educated senior staff. I proffer it as a free suggestion to Glenn Chandler if he ever wants to pitch another Taggart to ITV bosses.

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