Take the High Road was a British soap opera produced by Scottish Television, set in the fictional village of Glendarroch, which started in February 1980 as an ITV daytime soap opera, and was dropped by most stations in the 1990s, although Scottish Television, Grampian Television, Border Television and Ulster Television continued to screen the programme until the last episode. The programme has developed a cult following.
ITV wished to have a Scottish soap for its daytime line up. At the time the only soap made by STV was Garnock Way, which ITV companies in the rest of the United Kingdom had no interest in, as they wished to have a soap, in their words, “with Scotch Lochs, Hills and purple heather”, a more tartan feel to the show. In late 1979, (partly because of an ITV strike at the time) Garnock Way was axed and production started on a new soap.
The original name for the fictitious estate and village was Glendhu; this resulted in some debate over the name of the series:
- The Glendhu Factor — was dropped as some viewers in other ITV markets may have found it difficult, resulting in the fictitious village’s being renamed Glendarroch
- High Road – Low Road — also dropped, as it sounded like a take-away shop
After much debate it was decided that the series would be called Take the High Road.
Take the High Road was introduced as a replacement for Garnock Way, which contained very similar characters and actors to the original characters of Take the High Road. Some viewers were rather displeased about Garnock Way being axed; to help defuse some of the anger, Todd the garage mechanic, played by Bill Henderson, would suffer a nervous breakdown, and would move north to set up business on his own to help resolve his alcohol problems.
Because of shortage of time and the wish to keep most of the existing actors, it did not follow this plan. The appointed producer Clarke Tait decided to have a scenario where Bill Henderson’s character, Todd, had his named changed to Ken Calder who happened to be a garage mechanic with a drink problem.
The main writer was series creator Don Houghton. Many of the early scripts were written by Michael Elder, who also played Dr Wallace in the show. Books by the same name as the show were also produced by him. Until 1986, the series only broadcast 40 weeks of the year, with a break usually from January to the spring.
During the course of its existence, Take the High Road went through some major changes and face lifts. Perhaps the most noticeable was the renovation of Blair’s store: at first, everything was kept behind the counter as was once common practice; in series two, soon after Brian Blair was released from prison, it was transformed into a walk-around store. A few themes in Take the High Road were broadly in line with Scottish culture – for example, the relationships between crofters like Dougal Lachlan, villagers like storekeeper Isabel Blair, the “lady laird” Elizabeth Cunningham and the estate factor, originally Alan McIntyre. The Protestant religion was a recurring traditional theme and the series highlighted the remoteness of the village and estate. Several storylines focused on the difficulties of access faced by agencies such as the health service and the police, as when an RAF helicopter had to be summoned to Ardvain for Grace Lachlan following her near-fatal heart attack.
Elizabeth’s family had historically (but no longer) owned the estate, the village and the neighbouring crofts and farms. Though still resident in the “Big House”, Elizabeth protected the interests of her people but lack of revenue had forced her to sell the estate to Max Langemann’s multinational business consortium. As the series began, Elizabeth was battling to resist Langemann’s ruthless plan to convert Glendarroch into a leisure resort for his rich clientele. In 2005, this scenario was echoed in real life when American businessman Donald Trump bought an Aberdeenshire estate to build a controversial golf resort.
Despite her resistance to Langemann, Elizabeth understood that modernity was coming and was willing to accept it on terms favourable to the estate and its people. Her traditional mindset, however, contrasted sharply with those of her successors. In the first series, realising the need for new ideas to raise revenue, Elizabeth encouraged her daughter Fiona to join forces with Isabel’s son Jimmy in launching a water-skiing enterprise on the loch.
Around 1990, the series was revamped in a bid to attract a younger audience, which resulted in some outcry about the changes and a belief that new sets had taken away the authenticity of a Scottish village. However, within six months, the changes were hailed as a success and enabled stronger story lines, and the introduction of five new male characters.
During its run, Take the High Road was always one of the highest-rated television programmes in Scotland, and had an extremely loyal following throughout the rest of the UK. Indeed, when the series was cancelled by the ITV Network, so many protests were received from viewers in England that some ITV regions reinstated the programme. Starting from 22 July 1994, the series’ name was changed to just High Road, until it was cancelled in April 2003.
Take the High Road was the only soap for the ITV network which was not made by one of the “Big Five” companies. This helped to give Scotland a place on the network and also provide sufficient revenue to help STV to produce more programmes for ITV and Channel 4.
Dates are for Scottish Television, which on some occasions was ahead of the ITV network daytime showing.
- Series 1: 19 February 1980 – 28 May 1980: episodes 1–30
- Series 2: 14 October 1980 – 7 January 1981: episodes 31–56
- Series 3: 7 April 1981 – 2 July 1981: episodes 57–82
- Series 4: 6 October 1981 – 18 March 1982: episodes 83–126
- Series 5: 24 August 1982 – 23 December 1982: episodes 127–162
- Series 6: 5 July 1983 – 20 March 1984: episodes 163–224
- Series 7: 4 September 1984 – 7 February 1985: episodes 235–276
- Series 8: 14 May 1985 – 28 November 1985: episodes 277–334
- 18 March 1986 – 27 April 2003: episodes 335–1517.
- From March 1986 onward, the series was broadcast all year round. Later during the run, however, there were several gaps during which the series was not shown, although the storylines continued uninterrupted each time the series resumed. First major gap was from 12 September to 22 October 2000; from 16 April to 12 May 2001; from June to August 2001; from 24 September to 27 October 2001; from 18 February to 6 April 2002; from June to September 2002; and in February 2003.
Take the High Road was broadcast by all ITV companies when it started in 1980. Nearly all regions broadcast Take the High Road during the daytime, except for Scottish Television who broadcast the soap in the early evenings around 7.00pm, instead of Emmerdale. From 1984 Border Television moved the series to a peak-time slot. Grampian Television did the same too in September 1987.
During 1993, the new ITV network centre was reviewing all long-standing series made by ITV companies, the issues of the series being dropped becoming even more apparent as the regions south of the border were months behind in their transmissions in Scotland. On 2 June 1993, Marcus Plantin, ITV’s network director, announced the termination of Take The High Road from September 1993, as ‘ITV’s statisticians believed English audiences have had enough’ This resulted in public protest, as many believed that without ITV companies south of the border, the series had no chance. The issue was raised in parliament under early day motions, and the Daily Record newspaper held a protest as well.
By the end of June, Scottish Television decided to continue producing the series mainly for the Scottish market, but within a month, nearly all the ITV companies reinstated it after viewers complained about the show being dropped in the first place. Only two companies refused to reinstate the series: Tyne Tees Television and Yorkshire Television (although both finally brought the series back in 1996).
By January 1998, all Granada and UNM owned ITV companies had stopped broadcasting the series. The rest carried on with the series until:
- Carlton Television until December 1998
- Central and Westcountry until Friday 24 May 2002.
- Border Television who completed the series in 2003.
- UTV who completed the series in 2004.
Take the High Road was broadcast in a number of countries around the world, including, Canada, United States, New Zealand. In Australia, it was broadcast on ABC1, In Ireland, the series was broadcast during the daytime five days a week from the beginning on RTÉ One. As episodes caught up with the UK transmissions, the number of episodes broadcast per week was reduced.
Starting on 26 April 2020, STV began a complete rerun of the programme by loading five episodes per week onto their STV Player app. They are free to view. Each block of five episodes remains available for six months, so the first five will be removed on 23 October 2020. Viewers can access the available episodes on mobile media by registering with STV Player and can watch them on television by linking their membership to the STV Freeview function.
As of 15 July 2021, a few selected episodes from the series are available on BritBox, a subscription only service curated by the BBC and ITV.
The theme tune was written by composer Arthur Blake, who was STV’s Musical Director at the time, and there were four versions of it over the 23-year run. The first version was performed by Silly Wizard and was used until 1982. This version was quite “Scottish folk band” in style and pretty lively. Instruments featured included the accordion, banjo, drum kit, and synthesiser. The music for the closing credits featured a drum roll introduction. Silly Wizard performed another version which was released on record in 1980.
The “Silly Wizard” theme tune was replaced by an orchestral version from Esp 127 on 24th August 1982. The orchestral version was used from 1982 until episode 334 in 1985. Instruments featured included the oboe, clarinet, violin, and drum kit. While this version was in use, the music for the break strings tended to vary from episode to episode. Like the Silly Wizard version, the music for the closing credits also featured a drum roll introduction.
The third version was a different orchestral arrangement and was used from episode 335 in 1986 until episode 727 at the beginning of 1990. This new orchestral version was more violin led than the former, which had made more use of wind instruments, and featured no percussion.
From episode 728 in 1990, the fourth, rock-style, version made its debut and continued to be used until the end of the series. This version was electric guitar led (played by session guitarist Duncan Finlay) and featured percussion during the “middle” section. From 1994 when the programme name was shortened to High Road, the length of the closing credits was cut, so the closing theme was faded in just before the middle eight.