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Alan Cumming: I was so chuffed to Take The High Road… I still am

© Broadway World/ShutterstockScots actor Alan Cumming.
Scots actor Alan Cumming.

Hollywood star Alan Cumming has recalled how he once cleared a pub – thanks to Take The High Road.

The Good Wife, Spy Kids and X-Men 2 actor played evil woodcutter Jim Hunter in the much-loved soap in one of his earliest roles.

“It was the first time I started being recognised on the street,” revealed the 55-year-old, who is now based in New York. “I lived on Byres Road and I used to go to the pub underneath where I lived.

“I was in the loo and this man next to me said, ‘Are you that guy who killed that wee lassie?’. I just said yeah, and the place cleared – understandably!”

Alan’s character was the first to be murdered on the picturesque soap, which was filmed in Luss, near Loch Lomond. His eventual comeuppance came not a moment too soon, as his character had tried to kill one of the programme’s favourite characters, Carol.

“My character wreaked havoc with my evil doings, stealing money and getting Carol pregnant,” he said. “When I found out she was pregnant, I invited her up to the forest. I chopped a tree down on top of her, of course! But she still wasn’t dead, so I began strangling her, and then she tells me she isn’t pregnant. It was epic!”

Alan is one of the contributors to a new documentary, Scotland Loves High Road, which marks the 40th anniversary of the soap. The programme goes behind the scenes of the show, which ran from 1980 to 2003 and is in the midst of a revival after it was added to the STV Player. It contributed to a 70% rise in viewing figures for the platform so far this year, with 960,000 people viewing the series since April.

Alan Cumming as Jim Hunter in Take the High Road, 1986.

A replacement for the soap Garnock Way, which ran for three years, Take The High Road’s actors were originally given just 12-week contracts, but the series quickly became a success.

It was shown not only in Scotland, but across the UK, Ireland, Canada, America, Australia and New Zealand.

The documentary features contributions from Eileen McCallum, who played shopkeeper Isabel Blair, John Stahl (crofter Inverdarroch) and Alec Monteith (Dougal Lachlan), as well as members of the Luss community, who reminisce about living in the village while filming took place.

John Stahl said: “We tackled strong issues of the time – it wasn’t a shortbread-tin depiction of a Highland community. For a long time, we were able to balance storylines like that alongside light-hearted storylines with Mrs Mack. When the programme was zinging along and that balance was right, it was unbeatable.”

At its peak, the soap had 5.5 million viewers, but in 1993, a year before its name was changed to High Road, the series was in doubt when ITV threatened to pull the plug.

The show’s fans protested against the decision in a rally at Glasgow’s George Square.

“The fan club deserves a lot of credit,” John said. “I remember coming down Buchanan Street and turning into George Square – I couldn’t believe how many people were there.”

The soap was given a reprieve and survived for a further 10 years. Even The Queen was a fan and the documentary shows her visiting the set and meeting the actors.

Bobby Hain, managing director of broadcast at STV, said: “The incredible response we’ve had to Take The High Road on the STV Player highlights the fondness the people of Scotland still have for this special programme.”

Alan Cumming added: “It was like being in a Hollywood film. I love the fact I’ve been in Take The High Road – I had a really great laugh doing it. At the time I felt lucky to be in it and now I feel even luckier. It’s great to be part of a legacy like that.”

Scotland Loves High Road, STV, Wednesday, 8pm.