(ilasgow's toughest cop sits in a room surrounded by ducks in a house full of butterflies. Mark McManus has just bought a red 'I'riangtin-built engine. ‘I like crude antiques. I'm a collector of crudities.’ he says. But there are some things he won't talk about. The actor who has made 'l’aggart a household name also thinks that his room might be bugged.
Neither Mark McManus nor his Southside (ilasgow home are quite what you might expect. The room in which I talked to him is dominated by his collecting habits. with the fireplace completely covered in flying ducks. ‘I heard a Dutchman on the radio one morning saying how he loved flying ducks and I thought. so do I. even ifthey are kitsch. In my mother’s day people would put up three in a row. I thought. hugger that. I‘m going to have sixty of them.’ An overspill of ‘sitting ducks’ crowd onto the table next to McManus and the duck motifseems set to overshadow the other curiosities — which include a death mask.
The son of a miner. McMaiitis first had the experience of being the focus of attention as a young boxer. A photograph on the wall portrays him at 17: a muscular young man in sparring pose. ‘I started at twelve. chucked it at 2-1. I was only a fair fighter. never a really good one. I chucked it because I suddenly became more intelligent and realised if you are going to go to the top you have to be really committed. I wasn‘t. But even today I love boxing . . . I love sporting men. the bookies. the boxers. the football players. I love the garish way they live.’
McManus was in boxing long enough for him to remark that ‘this isn't my face you know‘. but it didn‘t take him long to realise he wanted to be an actor: "I'he minute I found it I knew immediately that it was what I wanted.” I lis acting career began in Australia. where he had been working in Sydney docks — ‘Anything had to be better than swinging that fucking hook. loading wool bales. I lard. hard work. so it was. There was a very avant-garde theatre there. I had always been a socialist and I asked iftherc was anything I could do.‘ Ilis question led to an audition for Brendan Behan's The Queer Fellow and ultimately a nine-year. 38.000 mile tour of tiny outback towns: ‘We were working in temperatures of ninety degrees putting on potted Shakespeare.' But ifit was hardly easier work than Sydney docks. it was certainly more enjoyable. ‘It was like the circus coming to town. Everyone would turn out to see the show. all dressed in their best clothes. and at the end of the night
4 The List 3 — 16 April
there would be food and drink galore.’
The high point of McManus's stage career came with his appearances at the National Theatre in London playing Anthony to John (iielgud's (‘aesar and alongside Ralph Richardson in Pinter. At the Royal (‘ourt in London McManus worked with Bill Bryden. with whom he has been friends for many years. where the hugely influential experiments in promenade theatre were first made. Another world to his regular appearances as 'I‘aggart'.’ ‘(‘ertainly trying McManus as song and dance man seems another world. I spent six weeks trying to learn to play the bloody banjo for Ila/fa .S‘I'xpenee.‘ 'I'hat 'I‘ommy Steele role took him to America.
Live theatre remains important to McManus. ‘Any actor worth his salt goes back to the theatre. I‘ve done three good television series in my life ( 'l‘uggurt. Strangers and Sam) and that’s just luck. I've been fortunate. but then I've always gone back to the theatre in between. 'I‘ypecasting on television becomes a block to many actors. but I never fear it. I’m not really all that ambitious as an actor. but anyway I've found the older I get. the less stereotyped and more interesting the roles offered me have become.‘
lylclyfanus had just returned from exercising his large dog in the neighbouring park. Recently he remarried (a wardrobe mistress in the Taggurt production team). ‘No. I'd never leave (ilasgow’ again. he says. He seems content. but work is
“I’d never leave Glasgow’
still a challenge. The feeling ofbeing
as he puts it ‘()ne to ()ne'. which he loves in boxing. is one he feels parallelled in his current life. "Io play a lead in a television seriesisa responsible thing to do and I like that responsibility.‘ he says. The influence that he holds over an audience as an actor was brought home to him by a small incident that happened a few years ago. ‘A wee boy came up to me after I had been smoking on a television programme. Now I have a terrible habit of smoking in a special way.’ McManus draws attention to the cigarette smouldering in his overturned hand. ‘It's the miners‘ way. The boy said. I love the way you smoke; that's the way I‘m going to smoke. I looked at him in horror and decided then to chuck in smoking on television.‘ 'l‘aggurt is not in the mould ofthe police series of a few years ago. No .S'weeney or even Strangers. Taggart is really nothing more sophisticated than a good old-fashioned whodunnit which centres on police work. ‘I'm a fairly puritanical man
myself in the sense that I hate drugs. that I hate kids being abused. and I don‘t particularly like violence.‘ says McManus. who nevertheless recognises the need to reflect some of the real horrors of police work. "I'he detectives I know. and I have been round police incident rooms. if they get one real car chase in their career. it's an oddity. Ifthey get one shoot-out in their career it‘s an oddity. What you can‘t escape is that they see horrendous sights. horrendous murders. Until you see the pictures you don‘t understand that battered to death means being turned into an unrecognisable human being. Some of that we can't avoid showing in the series. but it‘s not violence for its own sake.’
McManus doesn’t have simple black and white views of the world. however. He admits to having friends in the police. but also to knowing and liking members ofthe ‘criminal fraternity". ‘I have a respect for the tasty guys. The guys who do things that are tasty. I have no respect for anyone who breaks into a house or knocks down an old lady. but I know men.‘ he chuckles ‘who have done things. big things. and they are in a different class. What did Oscar Wilde say about Actors. (‘riminals and Police being the same'.’ If you are a pub man like I am.’ he continues on the theme of the shady side of life. ‘they come up to you and speak to you. like it or not. You soon find out they are not all as bad as they are painted.‘
It is almost an old-fashioned view ofcrime. and one that seems well in tune with the 'IV’ show. 'I‘uggur! was an instant success which took everyone sligtly by surprise. Mclylanus believes ‘It‘s taken off simply because we are showing police work.‘ This. combined with a timely revival of the whodunnit approach. an insistence on three part serials. rather than long series offifty minutes. complete in themselves. episodes has taken the show to the top of the national ratings and proved a pivotal show for Scottish 'I'elevision. "I‘o some extent it was carefully planned. and to some extent it wasn't.‘ series producer Robert Love told me. ‘Killer (which was how the original Taggarl show was billed) was seen as a one-off. What we wanted was to beat the network at its own game. We had been doing one off plays that had proved very successful — that had won awards — but every time we put one up to the network we had to make it on spec and seek approval from the network after it had been done. It was an unsatisfactory situation — you never knew ifa programme was going to get a network screening or not. We wanted to come up with something
a. 451‘? a
that the network would be begging us for more of. 'I'hat now is actually the situation.‘
Despite some apparently unfavourable scheduling in the middle of the barren summer months. 'l'ugguri. still written by its
‘respect for the tasty guys’ ‘
creator (ilen (handler. has never looked back. McManus is not anxious to rid himselfof the role and says he is happy to go on playing it until Scottish 'I‘elevision decide they have had enough. ‘I enjoy working with the unit — I have worked with some units that are so impossible that by the end of the day you are going out of your mind.‘ Indeed Taggarl has become something of a family affair.
Not only is he married to a member ofthe crew. but when required