1 9 8 0 – 2 0 0 3 (UK)
1517 x 30 minute episodes
This twice-weekly Scottish lunchtime soap opera was set in the fictitious town of Glendarroch – a small, picturesque lochside village in the Scottish Highlands.
The show’s charming setting and lovable characters proved extremely popular with viewing audiences and the series ran for 23 years.
The village was run along feudal lines but was 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 Donald Trump bought an Aberdeenshire estate in 2005 to build a controversial golf resort).
Simple folk like sheep farming crofter Dougal Lachlan (Alec Monteath) 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 (Caroline Ashley), local matriarch Grace Lachlan (Marjorie Thomson), and sage shop owner Isabel Blair (Eileen McCallum).
Bus driver Maggie Ferguson (Irene Sunters) was a judgemental gossip and busybody but the archetypal role was assumed in Autumn 1982 by Presbyterian sourpuss Mrs Mack (Gwyneth Guthrie), who would become the series’ most iconic character.
Comedian Andy Cameron provided the light relief with his cheeky chappy character, Chic Cherry.
Many of the cast were moved across from a previous Scottish soapie called Garnock Way, which had been set in a mining community halfway between Glasgow and Edinburgh but – even though it ran in Scotland for three years between 1976 and 1979 – had been deemed to be too gritty for English television consumption.
For example, in Garnock Way the late Bill Henderson played Todd the mechanic with a drinking problem. In Take The High Road he would play Ken Calder – who just happened to be a garage mechanic with a drinking problem. It kept the public happy, and it meant simply extending actors’ existing contracts.
Much of the “action” in Take The High Road took place in Blair’s Store (recorded in STV’s tiny Gateway Studios in Edinburgh) and exterior scenes were filmed in the real-life village of Luss on the banks of Loch Lomond.
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.
And so, in May 1987, a new family moved into the Big House with the upper crust Ross-Gifford’s becoming the new Lairds of Glendarroch, responsible for the livelihoods of the villagers – and for the continued ratings success of the series.
London-educated Scot Sir John Ross-Gifford (Michael Browning) brought his glamorous but acidic wife, Margaret (Jan Waters), their son Eric (Richard Greenwood) and his fiancée Joanna (Tamara Kennedy) to Glendarroch for a new life away from the busy metropolis.
The series was broadcast in Canada and Australia, proving a favourite with ex-pats.
But Take The High Road was shortened as STV cut back on production costs and although the series had become an industry, employing thousands of Scottish actors and production crew over the years, by 1993 several English independent TV companies had grown weary of it.
The name of the series was shortened in July 1994 to simply High Road and the show struggled on until 2003 as an opt-out programme, managing to clock up 1517 episodes before being axed.
Mrs Mary Mack
Julie Ann Fullarton
Sir John Ross-Gifford
Lady Margaret Ross-Gifford
Lady William Ross-Gifford
Tom ‘Inverdarroch’ Kerr
Reverend Gerald Parker