River City: Leith’s Shore was original setting for hit BBC Scotland soap reveals show’s creator

He may be from Fauldhouse but Stephen Greenhorn, creator of River City and writer of hit musical Sunshine on Leith, admits that the Capital's port is a place close to his heart, so close in fact, he originally set River City there.

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Right now, Greenhorn is working on the first professional Scottish production of Sunshine on Leith since the original Dundee Rep shows some 15 years ago, updating it with elements of the screen adaptation ahead of it coming to the King's, from June 7 to 18, the venue’s last show of the season before closing for refurbishment.

In many ways, Sunshine on Leith, which is very recognisably a snapshot of life in the port, brought Greenhall full circle. For it was in Leith that he originally set River City, the river of the title referring to the Water of Leith.

The Shore, Leith Pic: William Blair

He recalls how it very nearly happened, only to be relocated to the fictional Shieldinch at the very last minute.

“I was working with the BBC drama department when they were in the process of trying to find the basis of a new soap opera. They were chatting to me casually, saying the obvious place to set it was Glasgow but they were worried Glasgow was overexposed and were exploring other options.


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“I said, ‘Well, your only other option is Edinburgh’, but they were worried Edinburgh wouldn't connect emotionally. A short time later, I was sitting outside The Shore Bar on the Shore when I found myself thinking how much Glasgow was like Leith and I suddenly thought, ‘This is where they should set the new soap’.

“Back in the office I said, ‘I know how to solve your problem, set it in Leith’. They weren't familiar with the port and asked me to write a page explaining about Leith, about what Leith was, and about how it was changing - from red light district to Michelin starred restaurants.

Susan Boyle makes a guest appearance in River City which was originally to be set around Leith's Shore Pic: Alan Peebles

“As I wrote that page about the Shore, where you have Malmaison at one end and at the other the Banana Flats, I got really excited about it and six pages later, I handed it in.”

Impressed, the BBC asked Greenhorn to write it up as a proper proposal.“That began the journey of fleshing out my idea of looking at a community, of the changes taking place there and of the kind of characters that would give you access to. It wasn't just a choice of setting with a whole bunch of stories about affairs and pregnancies, thematically it was always about a working class community trying to deal with change.

“The BBC liked it a lot and decided to develop further... further down the line, and at a point when the show had been quite widely fleshed out, whether on a broadcasting, economic, or political basis, they decided it would have to be set in the West Coast.”Greenhorn admits, “However, in my head it was still set in Leith, there's still that sense of the river just beyond The Tall Ship, that's a legacy of the original concept of setting right next to the Water of Leith.”


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River City creator and Sunshine on Leith writer Stephen Greenhorn

Greenhorn finally got his opportunity to explore life in the port when he wrote Sunshine On Leith, and says, “When the idea came along about doing a musical using the songs of The Proclaimers it was obvious it had to be set in Leith, which just has such a rich world to draw on. It's so vibrant”.

The writer himself first experienced that vibrancy as a teenager.