William McIlvanney’s Laidlaw set for TV series

William McIlvanney (right) picked up the writing prize at the Spirit of Scotland Awards. Picture: Greg Macvean
William McIlvanney (right) picked up the writing prize at the Spirit of Scotland Awards. Picture: Greg Macvean
Share this article
Have your say

The remarkable renaissance of author William McIlvanney has taken a dramatic new twist after it emerged his Laidlaw character will get his own TV series.

Just over a year after the Glasgow-born writer signed a major new publishing deal to revive his career, one of Britain’s leading independent production companies has snapped up the rights to the three classic novels.

Company Pictures – the firm behind TV dramas Shameless, Elizabeth I, The White Queen and The Village – is already in talks with BBC Scotland about screening the new series.

The London-based production company has optioned the TV rights for Laidlaw with Canongate, the Edinburgh-based publishers who signed up the author last year after discovering his books were out of print.

River City creator Stephen Greenhorn, who turned the music of The Proclaimers into a stage musical and a film, will be writing the scripts for the show.

The series will revolve around troubled fictional Glasgow detective Jack Laidlaw, who is said to have partly inspired the long-running STV series Taggart.

Ayrshire-born McIlvanney, 77, who was honoured last week with a prestigious Glenfiddich Spirit of Scotland Award for writing, will be acting as a consultant on the project.

News of a TV adaptation of the Laidlaw trilogy, which earned McIlvanney the nickname “the godfather of tartan noir”, has emerged just days after his 1975 novel Docherty was named one of the top ten Scottish books of the last 50 years.

McIlvanney has also spoken of plans to write a fourth instalment of the Laidlaw series, the last of which – Strange Loyalties – was published 22 years ago.

McIlvanney shocked his fans when he appeared at the Edinburgh International Book Festival two years ago and told them of his dismay that all his books were out of print. Within 12 months his back catalogue had been snapped up by Canongate.

When he made his return at this year’s Book Festival, appearing with First Minister Alex Salmond, McIlvanney said: “I will say Canongate saved my life financially. I just found it utterly amazing. For me, it was like a biblical resurrection scene.”

Francis Bickmore, publishing director at Canongate, said: “It felt like a moment of real renaissance at last year’s Book Festival, when we did the deal to acquire his back catalogue as well as the TV and film rights to his work. “It’s been an astonishing revival for the godfather of Scottish crime, whose career just seems to have suddenly come full circle. There just seems to be something shining on him at the moment.”

Mr McIlvanney’s agent, Jenny Brown, said: “As soon as the books were re-published again there was immediate interest in the film and TV rights.

“They could have been sold ten times over.”

A spokeswoman for BBC Scotland said: “This project is in the very early stages of development at the moment. It has been optioned by an independent production company and we are only in discussion with them at the moment.”