Taggart: 30 years since the death of Mark McManus how TV's toughest cop was woven into the fabric of 1980s' Glasgow
It seems these days there are more TV cops than real ones. I’m not a great fan of these new identikit, police drama box sets - too much political correctness and not enough actual policing.
We used to have a top small-screen copper and his name was Jim Taggart, who for 12 years presided over the mean streets of Glasgow, bringing the city’s bad boys to book and solving some deliciously inventive murder cases. The crime drama began in 1983 with the miniseries Killer before that famous eponymous title and theme music emerged two years later, and, perhaps surprisingly, survived actor Mark McManus’s death in 1994 to run right up until the programme’s shameful demise in 2011.
It’s the McManus era that entices me the most and has had me glued to the telly watching back-to-back reruns on the STV Player streaming service. If the full-series DVD box set wasn’t so unobtainable then that too would be getting worn out, revisiting the charms of 1980s and early ’90s Glasgow.
And that, to me, is a large part of the appeal of Taggart’s early years. Just like its title character, the series portrayed Scotland’s largest city in its warts-and-all glory. Thanks to the internet, it’s possible to view side-by-side photographs of several of the locations used in the first couple of series to show how things have changed, for better or worse.
Much has been said about the state of Glasgow these days, particularly the run down nature of swathes of its central shopping district. And much of that criticism holds true, whether you blame city planners, the explosion in online shopping or the fallout from the pandemic.
Rewind almost 40 years and, alongside images of a city beginning to embrace the age of the yuppie, Taggart offers some stark reminders of a gritty, post-industrial, in places downright squalid, urban landscape that is often unrecognisable from today.
And if you want to visit some of the colourful boozers that starred in those early episodes, forget it. Alas, the Gondola bar from Killer and the forlorn-looking Firhill Tavern from Murder in Season have long gone. Probably best heading for the city’s famous Scotia Bar, which opened in 1792, became a backdrop to many a Taggart tale and still stands, to discuss those case notes over a couple of pints of heavy.
Scott Reid is a business journalist at The Scotsman
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