100 murrrderrrs and counting…

This Christmas Eve at 9pm on ITV (all regions) there will be the 100th episode of the institution that is Taggart. In 1983 the world was introduced to Jim Taggart, DS Livingstone and Jack ‘the biscuit’ McVitie. The central performance by Mark McManus was a piece of casting brilliance, using his ‘minimal’ acting technique to capture the world weary attitude of someone who has seen it all and is always ready to believe the worst of the people he came into contact with. Life was split into cops and villains and if you weren’t for Taggart, you were against him. As the series began they partnered him with the liberal Peter Livingstone, played by Neil Duncan, a man whose preference of innocent until proving guilty was the opposite of Jim Taggart’s philosophy.

This template has been closely followed over the years. Livingstone was replaced by wet behind the ears Mike Jardine, who, after being toughened up by Taggart, took over the role of main character after McManus’s death. Almost overnight he became the cynical cop, with Blythe Duff’s Jackie Reid taking over the softer, more liberal role. After actor James McPherson left the show, the role of gruff inspector was taken over by the ubiquitous Alex Norton. The regular team now included Colin McCredie’s DC Stuart Fraser, one of Scottish TVs first openly gay characters, and smooth loose canon John Michie, Scotland’s voice over king. Although this allowed a greater number of story lines, all the characters were basically aspects of Taggart’s first relationship, that of Jim Taggart and Peter Livingstone, with the old world of policing clashing with the new. One of the reasons for Taggart’s success is that it keeps close to a winning formula.

But it was often the secondary casting that kept Taggart interesting. The shows importance in supporting the Scottish acting fraternity over the last 27 years should not be underestimated. Amongst those who have appeared are Alan Cumming, Ewan Bremner, Bobby Carlyle, Peter Mullan, Dougray Scott, Ken Stott, Celia Imrie, John Hannah, Claire Grogan and the mighty Fish.

In a sense Taggart has been guilty of prolonging the myth of Glasgow as No Mean City (which is not only the name of the influential 1935 novel which looked at life in Glasgow’s slums, but also of the song sang over the end credits by ex-Stone the Crows chanteuse Maggie Bell: see clip below) The image of Glasgow as a gritty city of murrrdererrs and shady characters is central to the show, and also feeds into Glasgow’s love/hate relationship with its hard man/woman image. For further proof of this you should look at the plethora of real-life crime biographies in book shops in the city; it seems a peculiarly Glaswegian phenomenon. In the meantime… ‘Yes I know the city like a lover…’

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