With country cop show Hamish Macbeth about to start its third and, we are assured, final series, creator DANIEL BOYLE explains why it never was the 'Highland Heartbeat’.
Words: Eddie Gibb
Sunday night has long been welly-boot night on television, in a ﬁrmly established tradition stretching back before James Herriot soaped up for his first rectal examination through to the rural Oirishness of the current series of Ballykissangel. Let the mid- week post-watershed slots handle the gritty stuff of life; come the day of rest we are transported to the countryside where the locals are thick, and the upper classes tweedy.
Given these pre-existing cliches of Sunday telly and the fact he was handed a series of little-known books set in the West Highlands about a village policeman called Hamish Macbeth. Daniel Boyle must have wondered if he was being set up. As just about anyone who heard the initial pitch commented, it was surely Heartbeat set in the Highlands.
That the ﬁrst episode featured a storyline about a dead body being disposed of in a lobster farm (punchline: villagers eat lobsters and suffer food poisoning) provided a broad wink that Hamish Macbeth was going to be a different. The casting of Robert Carlyle, who Boyle describes as the ‘best psycho British television has ever produced’, conﬁrmed that there was an ironic streak running through this mainstream entertainment.
80 TIIEUST 7—20 Mar 1997
‘What appealed to me was the name, Hamish Macbeth, it was so arch and couthy. I just found the name of the character so funny.’ Daniel Boyle
Hamish Macbeth: subverting images of Scotland?
‘What appealed to me was the name, Hamish Macbeth,’ remembers Boyle, whose previous writing credits include Inspector Morse. ‘lt was so arch and couthy. I just found the name of the character so funny and I built the whole thing round the name. To be perfectly honest. I thought the chances of it being made were remote. People have said it subverts images of Scotland and television police drama. I didn’t set out to do that, and if it does it is a bonus.’
Boyle has repeatedly pushed his luck, however. Hamish was written as a character who enjoys the odd spliff, but cuts had to be made before the first series was transmitted and, according to Boyle. word came from the higher-ups in the BBC that this was not a storyline to be explored in subsequent series.
When the first series ended with a cliffhanger which left Hamish having to choose between the love of two women, Boyle’s solution was to have all three set up home together. The joke would be that nothing happened, but to the outside world Hamish would look like the luckiest man in the world. Again the BBC polit bureau said ‘nyet’. ‘lt comes back to the time slot,’ says Boyle. ‘There are kids watching, and whether you like it or not you have to take on board there are things you can’t get away with.’
He did come close to leaving the show during the writing of the ﬁrst series after attempting to kill off Hamish’s dog, Wee Jock. Alarm bells started ringing in London. and the word came back: can’t be done. Boyle says he was prepared to walk out, but a compromise was reached; Wee Jock could go to the great kennel in the sky, as long as Hamish got a replacement called - Wee Jock. ‘I put this Westie in because it was cuddly and everyone loved it, but I decided it would have to go.’ says Boyle. ‘l’ve got away with quite a bit.’
Hamish Macbeth starts on Sun 16 Mar on BBC1.
Radio 1 revolution
The departure of Chris Evans from the Breakfast Show forced the radio equivalent of a cabinet reshuffle. Will listeners win in this game of musical chairs? Who would have thought it possible? The media frenzy had just calmed down after Chris Evans's departure from the radio, before press attention turned to a humorous, hapless Mancunian, Mark Radcliffe. The Sunday supplements asked: 'Who?’ and were ill-prepared for this upstart.
Those of us well acquainted with Radcliffe and his sidekick, Marc Riley - aka the Boy Lard - knew they were strictly homeboys. Such is their feverish wit, however, that Radio 1 honcho Matthew Bannister, whom Evans dubbed the 'fat controller' on his way out, was prepared to give over the all-important breakfast slot to this duo from oop north.
Despite an edgy start - unsurprising given the hype - Radcliffe’s prog- ramme is now traversing the high wire. A ratings grabber? Too early to say, but while it is impossible not to laugh at the assorted antics like 'Bird or Bloke' and ‘Harry White, the Love Astrologer', Radcliffe and Lard's self- deprecation is an appealing contrast to Evans's 200 format.
Remarkable also is the fact that they have had to make only minor changes to their night-time show - evidence of Britpop entering the mainstream; and of Radio1's more indie-friendly music policy. Short of sprinkling The Fall into the nation's cornflakes, Radcliffe's alternative slant at 7am shows how far the station has moved since the days of Steve Wright and Gary Davies.
This is good news for Jo Whiley, the young indie doyenne who fills a place in the hearts of lovelorn students previously occupied by Annie Nightingale. Having left her on-air partner Steve Lamacq to muse alone on the Evening Session, Whiley has helped illuminate lunchtime listening. While the Radio 1 playlist of chart hits is in evidence, she has been given some leeway to reflect her indie-orientated preferences.
All this adds up to a new phase in the regeneration of Radio 1. Radcliffe will now be recognised outside the twilight hours in bedsit- land - a victory for good taste for a self-confessed ‘scrawny boy' who prefers drinking and football to top showbiz schmoozing. (Julian Taylor)
Morning glories: Lard and Radcliffe