The Angry Corrie 16: Dec 1993-Jan 1994
Munros in the Movies
No, not the nearly eponymous Marilyn, nor the less-exalted Caroline (bimbo interest in a few 1970s special effects swashbucklers). I mean Scottish hills and the way they're portrayed in films and TV drama. Remember the opening episode of STV's new Doctor Finlay? Finlay is travelling back to Tannochbrae and we see the train steaming past the familiar shape of Meall a'Bhuachaille, the fine heathery hill above Loch Morlich. The train then pulls into Boat of Garten, which was also used as the station for Strathblair, but as nobody watched BBC Scotland's sheepfest, no confusion resulted. At the station, Dr Finlay caught a taxi; in the next shot, on route to the surgery, it was showm rumbling along in the shadow of Dumgoyne, at the Strath Blane end of the Campsies. Finally, he reached Tannochbrae, now played, of course, by Auchtermuchty, a village just north of the Lomond Hills of Fife.
Quite a taxi journey, especially if the meter was running. Later in the episode Dr Finlay again showed that travelling great distances was no problem for him; there he was, picnicking with his girlfriend above Loch Lomond, the Luss hills and Ben Lomond clearly visible in the background. A long way from Tannochbrae for a few sandwiches.
Scotland's hills tend to be used in this anonymous way, lending background but not authenticity. For example, the Campsies have frequently been used by the BBC for dramas like The Eagle of the Ninth, and recently served for Harlech TVs version of Lorna Doone - much to the miffedness of Exmoor people. The Glen Affric hills and forests were the setting for The Last of the Mohicans - the enjoyable BBC 1970s version, not the recent Hollywood Hawkeye-as-Schwarzenegger splatter-movie. The slopes of Slackdhu (known to Campsies afficianados - well, me anyway - as Loose Pigeon) were the scene of the Zulu War sequence in Monty Python's Meaning of Life. And who can forget Buachaille Etive Mor featuring in the Ripping Yarns episode about crossing the Andes by frog?
The Buachaille achieved the rare distinction of playing itself in the 1970s version of Kidnapped, with David McCallum. (Could this smashing series be repeated, please, STV?) And, in the grainy titles that precede Taggart, Dumgoyne and the Campsies appear in the right place. Usually, though, Scottish hills serve as a scenic back-drop, anonymous, picked on their looks and not their personalities. This is true of everything from Geordie to Highlander, The Thirty-Nine Steps, Edge of Darkness and much more.
Perhaps it's time for walkers to insist that hills should appear in the cast list, not just lumped in under "Filmed at Pinewood Studios and on location in the Highlands of Scotland." Let's see hills identified by their names; why shouldn't Taggart announce, "Thurr's been anothurr murrdurr. They fun the boady oan The Cobblurr. Whit's that? - a pub or somethin?" Or perhaps Muriel Gray, Jimmie Macgregor and Peter MacDougall could collaborate on a script for BBC's Screen One - Just Another Seana Bhraigh, or Down Where the Beinn a'Ghlo Go.
Lovers of the Scottish hills, it's in your hands.