Hunt launched for 'corpse' actors in iconic TV crime series Taggart

‘There’s been a murrrder!’: New hunt is launched to trace every Taggart extra who played a ‘corpse’ in the iconic Scottish TV crime series

  • ‘Witnesses’ who took part in Taggart filming sought for new TV archive project 
  • Researchers want to hear from extras, prop-makers and even corpse stand-ins

The set-up was always the same: a dead body, mysterious circumstances, and a grizzled Scottish detective sighing that, once again, ‘there’s been a murder’ as he stands over a decaying corpse in a Glasgow flat.

But for the first time, a research project in the home of Scottish crime series Taggart is hoping to honour those who ‘gave their lives’ to make the series one of the most beloved of modern times – by playing corpses.

Researchers want to take ‘witness statements’ from anyone involved in the show’s 28-year run – whether they were extras, advisors or dead bodies – as they build an archive of the iconic programme’s impact on crime fiction.

‘Detectives’ hope that witnesses will bring ‘corroborating evidence’ – mementoes from their time working on the show, or even memorabilia – to donate to a comprehensive archive of the its history.

Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) has teamed up with Taggart star and honorary graduate Dr Blythe Duff to issue the warrant for the show’s unsung heroes ahead of three days of drop-in sessions next month.

In its final years, Taggart’s core cast of feisty Scottish detectives included, from left to right, DC Stuart Fraser (Colin McCredie), DCI Matt Burke (Alex Norton), DI Robbie Ross (John Michie) and DS Jackie Reid (Blythe Duff)

Researchers want to hear from anyone who might have been involved in Taggart’s production during its 28-year-run – from advisors to extras and even stand-ins for corpses (picture posed by model)

Mark McManus as DCI Jim Taggart (above). The detective’s no-nonsense policing style and ‘there’s been a murder’ catchphrase made him an icon of British crime fiction

Dr Blythe Duff (right, with Taggart co-star John Michie) will be taking ‘witness statements’ from those who contributed to the show – whether by serving as an advisor, an extra or a corpse

The programme turns 40 next month – and Dr Duff, who played 20-year mainstay Jackie Reid, will be among those taking statements from September 6-8 at GCU’s Sir Alex Ferguson Library. 

She said: ‘Everyone I meet has a Taggart story: ‘Oh you filmed in my auntie’s house’, or ‘in our street’, or ‘I was an extra for the day’.

‘I’ve worked with so many people who watched us film and it inspired them to become directors, writers or join the police.

READ MORE: Busted! Experts explain reality of solving murders… and it’s light years away from storylines on gritty TV crime dramas

‘It made me realise how important these stories are to the fabric of the series.’

Researchers want to hear from people who worked on location shoots, dropped in as extras, played corpses or even provided props or advice to the show to ensure it was as realistic as possible – a fact that, Dr Duff says, endeared the show to real-life police officers.

In 2018, the actress donated all of her scripts from the show to the university’s archive, alongside a treasure trove of photographs, awards, memorabilia and press cuttings, some of which will be displayed in an ‘incident room’ on campus. 

She joked that the contributions and memorabilia would be used to ‘corroborate’ witnesses’ stories before they are added to the archive, which aims to celebrate both Taggart’s cultural impact on crime fiction and how it showed Glasgow to the world.

Taggart debuted on September 6 1983 as a Scottish Television (STV) pilot called Killer, starring Mark McManus as the no-nonsense DCI Jim Taggart, who led a squad of detectives in the Maryhill area of north Glasgow.

It then ran until November 2010, continuing under the same name after McManus died of pneumonia in 1994, taking the Taggart character with him.

The show was axed in 2011 after ITV, which was funding the production of the show, said viewing figures were too low. It had culled long-running police drama The Bill the year before.

But more than a decade after it was cancelled, Taggart remains a byword for gritty crime drama, even outside Scotland, while the catchphrase ‘there’s been a murder’ – never actually said by Taggart in the show – has taken on a life of its own.

Mark McManus (pictured on set as DCI Jim Taggart) died in 1994, and the Taggart character was retired. However, the show continued under the same name until 2010

Dr Blythe Duff, who played DS Jackie Reid for 20 years, has donated scripts and other memorabilia from her time on the programme to a growing Taggart archive

A publicity shot for what would be the final series of Taggart in 2010, showing John Michie, Blythe Duff and Alex Norton on the mean streets of Glasgow

One Foot In The Grave’s Annette Crosbie and Game of Thrones’ James Cosmo are among British acting royalty to have guest-starred on Taggart

During its run the show’s array of guest stars was a veritable who’s-who of British acting talent, with James Cosmo, One Foot in the Grave’s Annette Crosbie, Trainspotting stars Robert Carlyle and Ewen Bremner, and Amanda Redman among those making one-off appearances. 

The programme was broadcast all over the world. In France, it was even dubbed with voice actors using Marseilles accents – seen as a more rough-and-ready tone, akin to a Glaswegian accent, compared to a well-spoken Parisian twang.

Carole McCallum, an archivist at GCU, said: ‘Giving people the chance to add their stories to the programme’s legacy ensures they too have ownership of Taggart’s proud heritage. 

‘We are interested in every story, big and small, but our success in creating this new collection depends on people coming forward.’

She added: ‘Don’t be shy – step forward as a witness so current and future generations better understand this iconic crime drama.’

STV’s Sarah Brown said the station was ‘thrilled’ to see the project launch, adding: ‘The show was a rich training ground for so many production crew, writers and actors in Scotland who have gone on to have successful careers in television; and the storylines, characters and murders continue to be watched by fans all around the world.’

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