Interview: Blythe Duff, actress, Taggart, Good With People

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TAGGART'S Jackie Reid has come of age. "It's almost my 21st year on Taggart.

&#149 Blythe Duff

"It depends whether you want to be all American about it or go year to year, but for 21 seasons I have been appearing as Jackie Reid on screen," says actress Blythe Duff, who made her debut in the long-running Scottish cop show opposite Mark McManus back in 1990.

Next week, the 47-year-old swaps the streets of Glasgow for the stage of the Traverse Theatre, where she stars in Good With People, the last of the venue's current lunchtime play season. First however, the ongoing success of what is now the longest-running TV police drama in the world is on the menu.

That 27-year success, Duff happily puts down to the foundations built by Mark McManus who played eponymous DCI Jim Taggart from 1983 until his untimely death in 1995, and the original production team - Edinburgh-born creator and writer Glenn Chandler, producer Robert Love, original cast members Iain Anders (Superintendent Jack 'The Biscuit' McVitie], Robert Robertson (Pathologist Dr Stephen Andrews], and later James MacPherson (DCI Michael Jardine].

"They set up a very strong, defined format for the programme to exist," she explains. "Now, this is a true story. When I first joined Taggart, someone said to me, 'I've heard this is the last one.'

"Actually, I'd heard that too. As I thought my character was only going to be in one story, I was treating it very much as a case of, 'Oh my God, I'm so lucky, I got a job in Taggart and it's about to finish.'

"That was honestly my initial thought because by that point Mark was not only poorly but there was talk about whether he would do it again. So that question of whether it would be recommisioned was always hanging over the series, but Glenn and Robert had such a love for, and notion of the programme, that they knew it would work out."

Over the years familiar faces have come and gone, still it came as a shock for viewers and cast alike when STV announced that there would be one popular face missing from the current series - Colin McCredie, who first appeared as DC Stuart Fraser in 1995, was let go in a brief phonecall after 15 years service.

"It's been really tricky, because not only do I miss his character on set, I miss him as a colleague. We have been friends for such a long time... since Mark died.

"Colin was the first person to come into the show while we were coping with Mark's funeral. So he had a very important role in the series and also outwith the series because he came on board when we were all on a bit of a low. He managed to raise our spirits when we were feeling less than enchanted with filming on the streets, knowing Mark had just died.

"I am the Keeper Of Everything Taggart, and I have the script that Mark McManus was in and I have the same script that Mark McManus wasn't in, and it was DC Fraser who took on a lot of the policing that had been ear-marked for DCI Taggart. He was a catalyst."

The current series of Taggart began on STV earlier this month, opening with new titles, a new theme and explicit scenes of torture.

"I found the first five minutes of the first episode very hard to watch," confesses the star. "I'm just glad Jackie turned up after it was all over. It was very, very graphic.

"Interestingly, that's something that Taggart has always shied away from in the past. It's always tended to suggest a murder and then see the aftermath, unfortunately we now live in a world where the norm is to see the crime in all its graphic detail.

"It's not something that I feel particularly happy about, but if you don't go with that flow you are seen to be old fashioned and that is quite sad really."

At the Traverse, there's no such graphic violence in David Harrower's Good With People, in which Duff teams up with Andrew Scott-Ramsey.

"When I was asked to do it I was given seven pages of script, the full script didn't arrive until the Friday before we went into rehearsal, but the nice thing was that it was a David Harrower piece.

"So although it was a case of 'let's take a risk and I'm sure it'll be fine,' it has turned out to be a wonderful gem of a job.

"It's set in a hotel in Helensburgh. It's an overnight in the life of two characters, a receptionist who starts her shift fine and dandy until a young man, whom she recognises, walks through the door.

"He has had something to do with her family in the past, something that is not particularly nice. The piece is about how they connect or don't connect. It's poetic, it's lyrical, it's sharp, it's witty, it's tragic, it has all of those elements and it happens in 41 minutes, perfect for lunchtime."

Good With People opens next Tuesday, but before that you can catch Duff back on the beat in Taggart: Fresh Kills on Sunday night. And if the actress has her way, DS Jackie Reid will be around for some time yet.

Laughing, she observes, "As long as I have three bosses who are older than me I think I'm kind of safe... but don't mention any names or ages. All I'm saying is that I'm still almost the baby."

Good With People, Traverse Theatre, Cambridge Street, Tuesday-Saturday, 1pm, 12 (includes a pie and pint/wine/drink), 0131-228 1404