WHEN it comes to the tiresome everyday routine of being a crime-fighter, the head of Scotland's Elite Crime Squad tends to be dismissive of police convention. For, rather than combat crime with a vigour which might consume precious time, Detective Inspector Samuel J Snoddy opts to ignore it and hope it disappears.

That way, you see, Snoddy can get on with more fulfilling forms of employment: running a Spanish time-share firm, operating an organic-broth factory, and playing golf.

Many of Snoddy's police colleagues have a similarly laissez-faire approach to their job. Indeed, Snoddy's immediate workmates spend most of their working hours smoking dope, inhaling hallucinogenic metal-polish fumes and watching Sunset Beach on the telly.

Not that there's much work for the Elite Crime Squad to do. Not when other police forces squirrel all their unsolved cases away from Samuel J Snoddy and his men for fear of being made to look inefficient.

Taggart, this plainly ain't. A surreal new sitcom, Snoddy is actually the creation of a first-time writer with a life-story that's only a little less bizarre than his fictional policier.

John Crawford, you see, is an emigre Scot who insists that he actively shunned rock'n'roll stardom by choosing instead to move to Peterborough 20 years ago to work as a guillotine operator in a printing works. In contrast, Crawford certainly struck lucky by getting Snoddy to the TV screen at his first attempt.

Created by Glasgow-based indies the Comedy Unit and starring Gregor Fisher in its title role, Snoddy is, likewise, notable for being a new six-part comedy which reunites two of the major elements in Scotland's longest-running sitcom hit, Rab C Nesbitt.

''We were given John's Snoddy script by chance by an editor at Channel 4 about four years ago,'' says Comedy Unit boss Colin Gilbert, who instantly became enamoured of what he describes as ''Crawford's rich, refreshing, and tangential left-field vision.'' Some re-drafting was needed to render the initial scripts a little less crazily lateral, but BBC Scotland commissioned a series with unusual alacrity.

''As a genuine writing novice, John managed to by-pass all the regular stages of rejection and one failed pilot after another,'' says Gilbert. ''He's thus not the usual old hack who's sat down and coldly thought: 'How can I write something that's based on what I've seen already?'

''As a result, John's script is full of original ideas. It's been a challenge for us to control everything into half-hour episodes that make narrative sense and are still funny. It's unlike most of what we've done before at the Comedy Unit in that it's wordy and wacky rather than strictly realistic, plus it's got lots of visual humour.

''I've been in TV comedy for a long time, and I like to think I've learnt a lot as I've gone on. But learning a lot can be a problem. You can know too much. You can start applying rules when you shouldn't, and thus end up turning out perfectly written, identically structured sitcoms with no spark of difference or life in them.

''John's certainly had to work at making Snoddy just that easier for folk to follow, re-writing and re-writing, but he's become a much better writer as he's gone along.

''Not 'better' in the sense of hacking out stuff that's indistinguishable from old episodes of On the Buses, but better at writing what he writes.

''There's a risk about something as strong as Snoddy. It creates a world of its own and it's one you have to make an effort to tune into - not that

it's difficult.''

Gavin Mitchell confesses to some initial difficulty in getting to grips with his role as one of Samuel J Snoddy's waster sidekicks.

''I signed up solely on the strength of the idea of Snoddy, and also because I was keen to work alongside James Young again - we're Snoddy's two young dope-smoking layabout constables,'' says Mitchell, who first met Young on a children's TV show, Mr Wymie.

''But when I first saw a script, I thought: 'Whoops, this is completely mad.' But it soon began to work. It's hard to say how people will take to it, but there's loads of funny stuff there.''

Mitchell is also relieved Snoddy didn't require him to appear naked. Last year, Mitchell bared all on the telly in Scottish sketch shows Revolver and Velvet Soup, and on stage in the title role of Casanova.

''At one point last year in Revolver, I was standing cold and completely naked outside a Glasgow hospital in a sketch with Melvyn Hayes. I never thought I'd meet one of my comedy heroes and be able to earn a living from waggling my genitals at him.''

Surreal. But getting back to Snoddy's real-life instance of surrealism, how did John Crawford scupper his own rock'n'roll destiny?

''As he tells it, John was a semi-professional musician for a few years before he left Glasgow,'' says Colin Gilbert. ''He'd been playing with this keen young guy from East Kilbride who wanted him to join his band, but John knew he'd be far better off in the printing trade in East Anglia.

''A little later, he went into a record shop where folk were clamouring for a new album that had a familiar-looking face on its sleeve. It was Roddy Frame's - because John had turned down being in Aztec Camera.''

Ach, never mind. Instead of contributing to Aztec Camera's Killermont Street, with its line about working in a goldmine, Crawford was working towards uncovering a rich seam of comedy.

Snoddy makes its BBC1 sitcom debut a week on Wednesday at 10.35pm. As well as starring Gregor Fisher as DI Snoddy and Gavin Mitchell as DC Jack Murdoch, Snoddy features numerous other well-kent Scottish thesps, such as Dawn Steele (as seen in Monarch of the Glen) and Brian Pettifer (as seen in lots of things). In addition, Snoddy utilises an actor whose CV includes the Royal Shakespeare Company, Hugh Ross.


I could have been a camera

Gregor Fisher lives with his family on a rural steading in Dumfriesshire. ''I'm a highly domestic animal with interests in gardening and cookery. I'm fond of making food - which is just as well because my wife isn't at all interested. I also shoot, which is terribly un-PC, I know. Do I have a seasonal gardening tip? Yes. Stay indoors and wait till it's stopped raining and the garden's dry again.''

Gavin Mitchell was born in the less-than-opulent Glasgow suburb of Springburn. Fate then played a series of cruel tricks in his childhood by taking him to places that are infinitely worse: Coatbridge, Glenboig, and Airdrie. ''I dreamt of going to art school, but it never happened. I was a painter when I first started acting, accidentally. I was painting scenery at the Citizens' Theatre when drunken bravado made me sign up as an extra. After finding my feet over three years at the Citz, I joined Raindog.''

Mitchell's CV includes a youthful spell spent in Berlin in the mid-eighties, working as a landscape gardener and a DJ in a gay nightclub, Der Lipstick. He's established as one quarter of the dazzling foursome who perform Velvet Cabaret (on Radio Scotland) and Velvet Soup (TV). His talents will soon be heard on Radio Scotland alongside Jonathan Watson in Coming Home, a pilot sitcom about a Scottish spin doctor dispatched northwards from Westminster.

Gregor Fisher currently has no concrete plans for his career's next stage. ''There are some projects floating around, but nothing definite I can mention. Talk's cheap in this business, and I'd get my testicles chewed off if I did name anything. I don't care for not knowing what's coming next, I don't relish it - but there's nothing any actor can do.''

Comedy Unit supremo Colin Gilbert used to work in-house at BBC Scotland in what was then officially titled the

Comedy Unit, overseeing

City Lights and Rab C Nesbitt. Then he exited the Beeb, handily taking the Comedy Unit's name with him.

Gilbert will not be drawn

on whether the firm will sponsor his favourite football team, St Mirren. Having ''Comedy Unit'' emblazoned on their strips would be apt, however, as the team's performances this season have been a joke.

Gavin Mitchell can next be seen on a Scottish stage on April 26 and 27 at the Citizens', Glasgow, in William Burroughs's Caught in Possession of the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, a mixed-media production written by musician Johnny Brown, of the Band of Holy Joy. ''I play Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Tam Dean Burn's Burroughs. The other characters range from Johnny Thunders to Kathy Acker to Jean-Michel Basquiat to Death. It'll be a blast.''