TELEVISION has always had a bad memory. This may seem odd to say given that we’re never more than a week away from a repeated episode of Dad’s Army. Or when there are whole channels devoted to rerunning old TV shows. But for every outing of New Tricks, or Last of the Summer Wine there are hundreds, no thousands, of shows that never get repeated. 

Often with good reason, of course. But the result is a misrepresentation of our own cultural history. Scottish television, for instance, has a long (albeit not necessarily always distinguished) history that stretches back further than Still Game. What else was once on the box?


Charles Endell Esquire 

STV, 1979

Scottish Television’s founder, Canadian newspaper magnate Roy Thomson, infamously once said that running a commercial TV company was “a licence to print money”. 

Making good telly, though, always seemed an optional add-on. As a result, STV’s legacy is a deeply mediocre one: Taggart, Take the High Road and the odd second-rate game show. 

Ironically, STV Studios is currently a thriving concern, providing drama, such as Blue Lights and Screw, and formats (Bridge of Lies, Antiques Road Trip) for other channels. But is there anything from back in the day worth rediscovering? 

Well, how about this short-lived curio?

If that titular name sounds familiar that’s because Charles Endell was a recurring character in Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall’s brilliant but bleak London Weekend drama Budgie which aired in the early 1970s (and is currently being repeated on Talking Pictures every Saturday night).

As incarnated by that doyen of Scottish character actors Iain Cuthbertson, Endell was a Scottish porn magnate in Soho.

Some years later the Edinburgh-born writer Robert Banks Stewart (creator of Shoestring and Bergerac) decided the character could be revived and relocated to Glasgow. 

There were only six episodes made. But if you can get past the theme tune (performed by Cuthbertson himself), there’s something here. The writing is (mostly) sharp and there’s a raft of familiar faces including Rikki Fulton, Annie Ross and Tony Osoba. Cuthberston, meanwhile, clearly revels in being the centre of attention, although the series rather soft-soaps his character (in Budgie you were never in doubt that he was a scumbag).

And if nothing else, it offers a chance to see Glasgow as it looked more than a decade before it became City of Culture.

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Channel 4, 1987

Written by the novelist Frederic Lindsay, this 1980s drama begins with one of the most audacious cold openings you could imagine. John Hannah, making his TV debut, is talking to a kid on a Glasgow bridge when Stratford Johns comes along and cowps the kid over the side. 

With its university backdrop and its quasi-operatic soundtrack courtesy of Bill Nelson (which starts off really irritating and becomes rather hypnotic), Brond was not interested in the traditional realist tropes that most Glasgow dramas go in for, which helped mark it out. It was also the first major project for director Michael Caton Jones two years before he tackled the Profumo story on the big screen in Scandal.


The Crow Road

BBC Scotland, 1996

Not forgotten exactly, but this 1990s adaptation of Iain Banks’s novel, his twisted take on the family saga, is a reminder of one of BBC Scotland’s more ambitious eras. 

In 1993 Andrea Calderwood became its head of drama, a successor to the estimable Bill Brydon who produced Tutti Frutti. Her appointment drew some flak. The Greenock dramatist Peter MacDougall said the job should never have gone to a “wee lassie.” Calderwood was in her late twenties at the time. 

But she ramped up BBC Scotland’s drama output, commissioning Hamish Macbeth, Cardiac Arrest, and the film Mrs Brown with Billy Connolly.

Directed by Gavin Millar, The Crow Road was one of the highlights of the Calderwood era, an expansive saga with a starry Scottish cast (Peter Capaldi, Bill Paterson, Dougray Scott, Stella Gonet and Joe McFadden) that did justice to its source material.

The Herald:

The Good Time Girls

BBC Scotland, 1981

The most notable Scottish contributions to the BBC’s long-running Play for Today strands came from the aforementioned Peter MacDougall. But his TV dramas, including Just Another Saturday, were unashamedly male dramas (one might ask whether they were examinations of reactionary masculinity or celebrations?)

By contrast, Alan Clews’s 1981 drama The Good Time Girls, starring a young Phyllis Logan, offers an account of the lives of two lonely wives of oil rig workers both determined to make their own fun. As such it’s an exploration of the dissatisfaction of domesticity and the boundaries of acceptable behaviour.

As a drama it’s slight but it captures a moment in time: dressing up to go out, cigarettes at the back door, the constant smell of furniture polish, family singalongs and country music


Your Cheatin’ Heart

BBC Scotland, 1990

Speaking of which … John Byrne’s TV drama has always been in the shadow of the writer’s earlier drama Tutti Frutti. And it’s true it’s less satisfying as a drama.

What it does have is Tilda Swinton, Byrne’s glorious, garrulous dialogue, a rather lovely neon-lit vision of Glasgow nightlife, the Loons o’ Lucifer line-dancing and Eddi Reader’s remarkable quiff (watching it again you do wonder why Reader didn’t get more acting jobs; she’s great here).



BBC Scotland, 1981-1982

“Maggie won’t be a teenage bride,” states the theme tune of this youthful BBC soap opera from the early 1980s. Kirsty Miller played the titular working-class Glaswegian heroine who refuses to conform to what is expected of her and is keen to pursue a university education, all the while juggling a couple of boyfriends. Written by Joan Lingard, this ran for two series. Watch out for the house fire in episode 11.

The Herald:

City Sugar

STV, 1978

We can maybe ask the question as to how Scottish this actually is. A TV version of one of Stephen Poliakoff’s earliest plays, it stars Tim Curry as a radio DJ disillusioned with his job. But this TV adaptation was filmed in Glasgow (Fleming House in Renfrew Street doubles for the fictional radio station). Poliakoff would later go on to become one of the most lauded TV auteurs, but this drama (directed by Mike Vardy) offered an early sighting. I can’t be the only one who remembers it, can I?


 The Omega Factor

BBC Scotland, 1979

Scottish paranormal horror series from the end of the 1970s, starring Tom Hazeldene and Louise Jameson (better known as Leela in Doctor Who). It was attacked at the time by Mary Whitehouse who called it “thoroughly evil”. Even that endorsement couldn’t get it a second series. 


Looking After Jo-Jo

BBC Scotland, 1998

No room for the infamous 1970s indy thriller Scotch on the Rocks (co-written by Douglas Hurd before he became a Tory MP) or, disgracefully, anything written by Alma Cullen. (Has anyone seen her 1982 Edinburgh Fringe drama Northern Lights starring a young Rik Mayall?) 

But John McKenzie’s brutal Edinburgh gangster drama starring Robert Carlyle and Kevin McKidd deserves a mention. At one point Carlyle dresses up as a rabbit and runs around with a knife slashing all and sundry. It’s the stuff of nightmares.

The Herald:


Channel 4 & Netflix, 2014-2018

And finally, like City Sugar, does this even count? Shot in Glasgow but with an English cast (including Johnny Flynn, Antonia Thomas and Daniel Ings). To its credit, this is a slightly overlooked romantic sitcom that is actually quite romantic. Plus, Netflix had the good sense to rename it when they picked it up from Channel 4. The original title was Scrotal Recall.