ICONS, eh? The word is over-used. Maybe, at this point in the series, I should look up what it means. I’ve several prestigious dictionaries on my shelves – Oxford, Chambers, Lidl – but as I can’t be bothered getting out of my seat to look at them, I’ll just Google it.

“A devotional painting, usually on wood, of Christ.” Crikey, so to say. That’s not it. “A small picture or sign on a computer screen.” Nope. Here’s something: “A person or thing regarded as a representative symbol”. Well, it’s close, I suppose.

Here’s my definition from Rab’s Concise Dictionary for Dafties (RCDD): “Something that is recognised as, er, a thing in Scottish cultural or historical life, ken?” Thus: Outlander.

If you haven’t heard of Outlander, good luck in getting out of your coma. It’s a series of books by American author Diana Gabaldon, and a TV series based on these. To cut a long, eight-novel, five-season story short, it’s about shaggin’.

In 1945, pretty English combat nurse Claire Randall is enduring a second honeymoon visit to Scotland when, like a daftie, she visits a set of standing stones and, not unnaturally, finds herself transported back in time to 1743, when she encounters handsome Highlander Jamie Fraser.

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Cocky in his kilt, Jamie is about to join the Jacobite Uprising. However, knowing with the benefit of hindsight, that the Good Guys are going to get blootered, Claire tries to dissuade Jamie and the other incurable optimists from rising up. In the meantime, an uprising is taking place under Jamie’s kilt. As Irish actress Caitríona Balfe has explained of her nurse character: "She fell through time 200 years and got discombobulated.” Yes, well that’s a new word for it.

The male part, as it were, is played by Sam Heughan, who grew up playing in the shadow of Arthur’s Seat, as did I, and who has been tipped to be the next James Bond, as have I (specifically the hospital scene, after he has become an alcoholic and had his face smashed in by Smersh).


Heughan says of his iconic – whatever that means – kilt: “It's very free, it's got its own aeration and they're very comfortable.” Yes, you can fairly feel the breeze around your Cairngorms. Ms Gabaldon has revealed she drew inspiration for her Jacobite character from young Jamie McCrimmon, a Highlander from 1745, who found himself in Dr Who’s Tardis (long story). Ms Gabaldon thought his kilt "rather fetching"

Fetching up some details from the rest of the plot, there’s more shaggin’ (some of it disturbingly non-consensual), and the backdrop switches to America, slavery and the Revolutionary War.

Now, it’s easy to slate stuff like this. So let’s begin. No, only joking. Apart from anything else, knowing I was to write about this, colleagues warned me about the passionate and sensitive following. “You’d better get your facts right and not poke fun or you’ll regret it.”

Regrets? I’ve had a few million. Facts? I’ll look that one up in a minute. Fair point, though. Over a long and undistinguished career in journalism, I’ve had it in the neck from folk of all political persuasions, from sectarian bigots, specialists questioning my expertise in everything, natives of various hellish localities, and – by far the most deranged and threatening – cyclists.

However, I’ve no intention of tangling with female fans of romantic fiction. They could seriously have your eye out. Wearing protective goggles, then, let’s face up to one fact – “a right true thing” (RCDD) – immediately and at the risk of rousing The Woking Dead: the audience for Outlander is entirely female.


That is to say, not one man in the world has read or watched it devotedly. All right, nothing in reality-style life is so absolute. But if you’re a man and you watch Outlander, here is what you keep: quiet aboot it.

I tell you this in complete confidence, therefore: I tried watching the first episode of the TV series a few years ago and gave up after 10 minutes. Clearly, it was chick-telly. In the interest of science, however, I tried it again a few months ago, and actually liked it a bit better. Whisky will do that to you, though.

You have to admit there’s something in this outlandish palaver. The story-telling is good, the imagination admirable, the settings awe-inspiring. I follow a few international vloggers – people I respect; mostly pretty young women gambolling about in the great outdoors (don’t judge me) – and they and their female followers are all ardent fans of Outlander and consequently, too, of Scotland.

Female pals of mine, women of high intelligence and exceptional kung fu skills, have also told me of their great love for the series. On one or two occasions, I’ve made the mistake of laughing at this point, and that’s why to this day I’m always happy to join applause for the NHS.

Outlander’s influence has been great. It’s said that David Cameron’s Tory Government prevented it being shown until after the independence referendum of 2014, when a combination of some frightened old people, and several hundred thousand proud-Scot-buts denied Scotland her freedom.

The show has also had an impact on tourism, with thousands of avid fans finding their way, pre-Covid, to beauty spots such as Cumbernauld, where many indoor scenes are shot.

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As for yon gallus Gabaldon quine, she’s understood to be putting the finishing touches to her ninth novel in the series, Go Tell The Bees That I Am Gone. Sure to have a sting in the tail.

The books, incidentally, have been published in 26 countries, with more than 28 million copies sold worldwide. Meanwhile, production is continuing on season six of the TV series, where it’s reported that the pandemic has caused challenges in shooting the “intimate scenes”. That’ll be the shaggin’.

All good, clean fun. Ultimately then, Outlander: good icon, bad icon? Oh good, definitely. Bear in mind, though, that in my long journalistic career I have never once described myself as “fearless”.