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Take the High Road/High Road (1980-2003)

Courtesy of Scottish Television

Main image of Take the High Road/High Road (1980-2003)
Scottish Television for ITV, tx. 19/2/1980-27/4/2003
1517 x 30 min episodes, colour
Created byDon Houghton
ProducersClarke Tait
 Brian Mahoney
 Frank Cox
 John G Temple
 Liz Lake
 Mark Grindle

Cast: Edith MacArthur (Elizabeth Cunningham), Caroline Ashley (Fiona Cunningham), Alec Monteath (Dougal Lachlan), Marjorie Thomson (Grace Lachlan), Eileen McCallum (Isabel Blair), Jimmy Chisholm (Jimmy Blair), Kenneth Watson (Brian Blair), Derek Anders (David Blair), Bill Henderson (Ken Calder), Irene Sunters (Maggie Ferguson), Martin Cochrane (Factor Alan McIntyre), Vivien Heilbron (Nurse Kay Grant), Ingrid Hafner (Jane Steedman), Paul Kermack (Archie Menzies), Iain Agnew (Bob Taylor), Muriel Romanes/Barbara Rafferty (Alice McEwan/Taylor), Jeannie Fisher (Morag Stewart/Kerr), John Stahl (Tom Kerr 'Inverdarroch'), Ron Paterson (Sorry Watson), Gwyneth Guthrie (Mrs Mary Mack/ Florence Mack), Derek Lord (Davie Sneddon), Charles Jamieson (Ruari Galbraith), James Cosmo (Alex Geddes), Teri Lally (Carol McKay), Alan Cumming (Jim Hunter), Lesley Fitz-Simons (Sheila Lamont), Robin Cameron (Eddie Ramsay), Mary Riggans (Effie Macinnes), Michael Browning (Sir John Ross-Gifford), Jan Waters (Lady Margaret Ross-Gifford), Richard Greenwood (Eric Ross-Gifford), Tamara Kennedy (Joanna Ross-Gifford), Andy Cameron (Chic Cherry)

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Daily life in Glendarroch, a small, picturesque village in the Scottish Highlands.

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One of three twice-weekly ITV afternoon serials given trial runs from 1980, alongside Southern's Together (ITV, 1980) and HTV's Welsh soap Taff Acre (ITV, 1982), Take the High Road beat its rivals to become a creditable Scottish export success for two decades.

It was set in a small lochside Scottish village run along feudal lines but facing the encroachment of the modern world. Lady Laird Elizabeth Cunningham (up in the 'Big House') had the interests of her people at heart but, short of funds, had sold out to German business consortium Langemann's and now battled to resist rapacious development plans to turn Glendarroch into an international leisure resort (the premise finally proved prescient when American business magnate Donald Trump bought an Aberdeenshire estate in 2005 to build a controversial golf resort).

Simple folk like sheepfarming crofter Dougal Lachlan struggled with the intrusion, while among the customary treatment of hatches, matches and dispatches the series would later tackle difficult topics such as cot death and animal rights. Strong women characters provided a focus. As well as the aristocratic but benevolent Laird (classily played throughout by Edith MacArthur) were her flighty, spoiled daughter Fiona, local matriarch Grace Lachlan, and sage shop owner Isabel Blair. Bus driver Maggie Ferguson was a judgemental gossip and busybody but the archetypal role was assumed in Autumn 1982 by Presbyterian sourpuss Mrs Mack, who would become the series' most iconic character.

Take the High Road was recorded in STV's tiny Gateway Studios in Edinburgh, with pictures sent 'down the line' to videotape in Glasgow for minimal editing. Afternoon recording sessions had to be completed in time for the 6pm news. Weighed against studio limitations was all-important location footage of stunning Loch Lomondside scenery.

While ITV scheduled the serial in the afternoons, STV elected to play episodes in primetime. A move to larger Glasgow studios and all-year broadcasts from March 1987 also marked the end of an era, with Elizabeth Cunningham killed in a car crash while speeding to the birth of Fiona's son at the climax of the 1986 series.

1993's ITV franchise shake-up saw several regions drop broadcasts with Yorkshire, makers of rival rural soap Emmerdale (ITV, 1972-), particularly quick to do so. In 1994 the serial simplified its title to High Road. The end of the road was finally reached in April 2003, by which time only STV were still airing the show.

Alistair McGown

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Video Clips
Complete 1980 episode (25:09)
Opening Titles (1980) (0:29)
Soap Opera