Locating the city's Rebus role

ANYONE who knows anything about Detective Inspector John Rebus, knows that the fictional Edinburgh copper created by author Ian Rankin drinks in the Oxford Bar.

It's where he sits alone, pondering his latest case while staring at the optics behind the bar and deflecting the barbed comments of the barman. It's where he and Siobhan Clark, his sidekick, argue the finer points of police ethics. It's where he takes potential lovers and potential culprits. And it's even the real-life drinking hole of choice for Rankin - all of which has helped to make it a tourist Mecca for fans of the books.

Yet there was no sign of the Oxford Bar last night in ITV's new production of Rebus, starring Edinburgh-born actor Ken Stott.

There was an imposter - a traditional-style pub where Stott's Rebus looked for solutions to crimes and life at the bottom of his pint glass. But it wasn't the Oxford. It wasn't even - shock, horror - in Edinburgh.

"The bar we used was in the Gorbals in Glasgow," admits producer Alan J Wands. "We have taken great steps not to identify it but people who know the Oxford will know it's not the Oxford."

There were, he insists, very practical reasons as to why the Oxford wasn't used. "There is no way we could use the Oxford Bar - it's too small and it's full of tourists who have come to see where they think Rebus is being written!"

And the Glasgow pub made an authentic and more practical alternative. "The Gorbals pub is one of the few old men's pubs which hasn't been interfered with," he says.

Despite this aberration, which no doubt horrified hard-core fans, the two new TV adaptations - Fleshmarket Close and The Falls - do have a distinctly Edinburgh feel to them, in keeping with the books, in which, as Rankin himself has said, the Capital is as much a character as the cops.

The two 90-minute programmes are the second TV foray into the world of Rebus, after a fairly unsuccessful start in 2000. That was when four Rebus films were made for ITV, starring John Hannah as the DI, but which were critically panned.

Eric Coulter, the shows' executive producer and head of drama at SMG, explains: "I wasn't involved in the John Hannah films at all, but after they went out the network decided it didn't want to do any more. But I thought the books were so strong I decided to try to repackage them, with a different script and different actors."

In November last year, Coulter persuaded the ITV network to commission the shows. Ken Stott was Coulter's first and only choice for Rebus, and the scripts were penned by Daniel Boyle, who's written for successful police dramas such as Inspector Morse and Taggart.

For the Rebus purists, the plotlines may be a bone of contention. Although they take their names from two of Rankin's books, they are, as Coulter admits, more inspired by the novels than slavishly following them.

"The books are 500 pages long. If you do any adaptation, you obviously have to make decisions about what to keep and what to lose. The biggest thing you take is the essence and spirit of it."

And the scripts certainly keep to the spirit of Rebus, with plenty of visits to pubs, dark humour and sarcastic sleuthing.

So with a commission in place, and scripts written, pre-production on the shoot began in April last year, preparing the cast, hiring the crew and finding the locations. Coulter explains: "It's a wholly freelance business. We had a crew of around 50 and cast of 25 to 30, with probably around 100 people involved in each film. Some people are booked for the whole four months, like the director [Matthew Evans, pictured right]. Some people are only there for a day."

Once juggling the logistics of getting everyone together at the same time was completed, the actual filming took eight weeks last June and July - three-quarters of which actually took place in Glasgow.

Coulter explains: "We are a Glasgow company and the question is, do we want to spend a lot of money putting people up in hotels or spend it on the production itself? But if you watch the films, you won't know it's Glasgow.

"The exteriors will be Edinburgh, then it will cut to an interior which is Glasgow."

And Wands explains: "We choose very identifiable Edinburgh places but not shortbread and tartan. We didn't want many shots of Princes Street and the Castle - and the shots we have got of the Castle are more unusual, like from the bottom of Lothian Road, rather than the typical picture postcard views."

One of the most identifiable locations used is the Museum of Scotland, where a boardroom - converted into a exhibition space for the purposes of the film - Hawthornden Court and the museum entrance are all featured.

The Hibs' ground also makes an appearance, as does the parliament thanks to the fact one of the characters in the Fleshmarket Close adaptation is an MSP.

And sharp-eyed viewers would have spotted a Hitchcock-style cameo from Ian Rankin himself in The Falls last night. Wands explains: "Ian always said 'I am not interested in what you are doing, I don't like to interfere.' Then we got a phone call: 'I wouldn't mind coming just for a day.' The next thing there was an extra part. We thought why not?"

Rankin himself adds: "They said I could be a pedestrian who sees a woman being mugged and saves her. That was fine, except it was in the rain. There we were, with rain machines going full pelt, in a lane at the side of George Heriot's School. My lines were pretty simple. I only had to say 'Oi!', start to run and the mugger runs off.

"The director is explaining all this to me, and he says the female character is called Miranda and the guy with the red hair is her mugger. I said him, 'this is The Falls, isn't it? I don't remember a character called Miranda and the red haired guy's not in the book either.' There's a whole plot that's not in the book. And Miranda? That happens to be my wife's name.

"But I'm not too bothered about it - the guys that write the screenplay know what they are doing."

And Rankin is not the only extra who Edinburgh viewers would have maybe recognised. Appearing in the background in a couple of scenes were a group of buskers - a piper and two African drummers, who were familiar sights on the streets of the Capital over the summer.

Wands says: "Edinburgh is full of buskers and street entertainers so we were looking for something that was appropriate. We saw these people and just thought we would ask them. The piper was actually Canadian and the two guys on the drums were from Nigeria. They didn't know each other before, they just met up busking. We used them twice and we would have used them a third time but they said they were too busy."

Wands believes the buskers have since returned home - and as they don't get a credit on the show, their names haven't been recorded.

Of course one of the biggest issues was to get the details about the police force right - even if the city's traffic management scheme nearly scuppered the shoot. Wands explained: "We wanted to do some car chases in central Edinburgh but it wasn't really possible - you really can't do anything like that - and on George Street they had put in all these traffic lights at each roundabout, so that made it impossible. We got one shot on Castle Street and it didn't really work."

But he says the car chase scenes were saved by the helpfulness of Lothian and Borders' finest. "The police were a great help to us, particularly the Edinburgh traffic division - all the speeding around Edinburgh and a chase through the Meadows was done with their help."

And every detail about the force, from measuring the size of the logo on the side of patrol cars to borrowing an officer's Operation Capital mouse mat, was carefully recorded.

DCI Willie Manson, who is based at St Leon-ard's Police Station, says: "We provided advice on things like uniforms, the colours of patrol cars and some of the accessories which police carry like warrant cards and identity badges."

But he quickly adds that the production company then recreated all the props they needed: "None of the stuff you see in the programme is real."

And DCI Manson, whose office walls were left bare for a period while the crew borrowed plaques and posters for the show, even visited the set in Glasgow on a day off with a colleague. And there's one other touch of authenticity about the shows - the local newspaper.

From Rebus' reading of the sports pages to see how his beloved Hibs are getting on to front page headlines about the crimes under investigation and even a blood-soaked discarded issue which helps lead police to a body, the Edinburgh Evening News is an integral part of the drama.

And the design of the papers is most definitely spot-on - because they were created by the News' design editor Mark Fearn and printed for the show by the paper. "It's the paper Rebus would read, and in which the crimes he investigates would be reported, so it makes it authentic," says Wands.

Additional reporting: Sandra Dick

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