Take the High Road (STV) – A Guilty Pleasure

As a child, I enjoyed the fantasy and adventure of Pogle’s Wood and how it could take me away to a magical place.   For myself, Take the High Road is a grown-up version of Pogle’s Wood.  For 25 minutes, my reality on the south coast of England is paused and I am transported to a far-away magical place. A place defined by beautiful countryside, where people actively engage with each other and the natural world surrounding them.  A place back in the 1980s, when life was tougher, yet perversely less complicated.

This magical place is the small fictional village of Glendarroch.  The actual village is Luss, on the banks of Loch Lomond. At the heart of the village is a village shop/post office, further afield crofters live in the crofts.   The village is located within a country estate with a manor house and all that goes with that.  The drama appears to oscillate largely between the shop and manor house.  I enjoy watching an episode each day at around teatime. It provides a bridge for me between the real world of everyday living and the fantasy world of evening television.

A croft beside Loch Lomond

I am watching episodes in consecutive order and at the time of writing, I have reached number 21.  Episodes have been loaded up onto YouTube and I along with 500+ others have subscribed to Take the High Road. There is currently access via the STV Player, but I fear this may be temporary (see internet resources). My memories of watching Take the High Road as a teenager are hazy, but I do remember Mrs Mack. In doing my desk research for this post, I learn that the actress who played her Gwyneth Guthrie recently passed away. Mrs Mack made a big impression, she always wore a hat and at times scared my younger self. Although, as noted on Nostalgia Central (see internet resources), strong women characters were a strength of this programme.  I look forward to meeting her again in future episodes.

A wonderfully weary theme tune The choice of the theme tune was inspired. The melody evokes Scottish Highlands, but it also evokes some of the emotions. It simultaneously calms and reassures, but also gently excites you.   It acts as a portal out of my everyday life today, into the fictional realm of Glendarroch. The theme tune is integral to this journey between worlds. When it plays at the end, I know it is signalling that it is time for me to return to my everyday life.  In the sixties, children’s lunchtime television programming which included Pogle’s Wood was called Watch with Mother.  This programming ended with a music box and a figure gently descending into its box. This is how the theme tune works for me at the end. The theme tune has a ghostly quality. Echoes of dramas, of past happiness and past sadness, with a hint of events still to happen.  The theme tune sounds like it was recorded on some old audiotape that stretched over time, before being transferred to a digital medium. It conveys exactly how I feel in my late fifties.  There is still a little mischief and merriment in me, but I need to be wound up if you want to hear my tune.  Sometimes I sound a bit wobbly, but at least I am authentically wobbly.

Now that’s what I call an establishment shot You could drop in at any episode, as the storylines are not too complicated. I initially watched a later episode, but I had the time and the inclination to go back to the beginning and the very first episode. I was curious to learn how they would introduce this closed and quiet community to the wider world of a national television audience.  How do we step into a quiet meditation on another world?

I think the label ‘establishment shot’ applies to setting the scene within a television drama. In the case of Take the High Road, the establishment shot set the scene for what was to come, but also signalled the pace of what was to come. The drama frequently focuses on the running of a country estate.  The estate manager is referred to as ‘the factor’.  In the opening shot of the opening episode, the camera focuses on the back of a man, who it transpires is the factor.  You cannot see his face so you cannot gauge any emotion. All you can see is his back as he looks out over the loch. He quietly looks at the calm waters for some time and you begin to wonder what is happening.  This is what is fashionably called ‘slow television’, but all of this was before slow television was fashionable.  And then his car phone goes in his range rover and the drama very slowly begins.

Slightly unusual shots of the backs of actors reappear in later episodes.  Today, in a world of celebrities, faces are far more prominent on television.  A face can be very expressive, but it can also distract you from the dialogue.  When in Take the High Road they linger on the backs of actors, it does focus your mind on listening to the dialogue. I am not sure if this was intentional, or something else?

Life before telecommunications Going back to the early 1980s reminds you how much today we take telecommunications for granted. In this era, there was no internet, no email, no mobile phones, except for a very rare car phone.  We are offered a glimpse of a simpler life and the advantages and disadvantages of such a way of life. There is a telephone at the village shop/post office and up at the manor house, but that is about it. Frequently, messages have to be relayed from these two telephones, by word of mouth.   The delivery and arrival of a baby are communicated by word of mouth, complicating what subsequently transpires.  Today, news coverage is so instantaneous and informative, if a little overwhelming.  This can be sharply contrasted with a newspaper journalist awaiting a call from his editor in the village shop/post office.  Inevitably, none of the social media platforms existed, but the human sentiments still existed. Gossip in Glendarroch leads to allegations taking the form of graffiti painted overnight. The next morning there is a shot of the local community reading the graffiti.  Today, it could take the form of a Facebook post or in my case a tweet (@woodlanddecay).

Celebrating the christening of baby Alice

A slower pace and a gentler drama I used to watch the classic soap operas, when I was younger, such as Coronation Street and Emmerdale Farm before it became Emmerdale.  However, I completely turned against them and watched no soap operas for decades.  In the early days, Coronation Street was far more observational and far less dramatic. Dramas do arise in Take the High Road and I know the series becomes more dramatic in later 1990s episodes. However, these early episodes signpost a potential niche in television production. A new soap opera with a focus on rural life with plenty of landscape shots.  A soap opera with an emphasis on observing everyday life, rather than dwelling on the conflict and confrontations of life.  Now, that would be refreshingly different.

A bird’s eye view for the closing shots Each episode concludes with the wonderful weary theme tune accompanying the closing titles.  The magic is that they filmed shots of the loch and surrounding countryside as the backdrop for the closing titles. An inspired choice, showcasing landscapes worth celebrating.  Today, we are used to high-definition drone footage of sweeping rural landscapes.  In the 1980s such innovations did not exist, so the film crew had to improvise. It appears that the closing titles were filmed by hanging out of a helicopter or a light plane. There isn’t the balancing facility on the cameras, something we take for granted today.  As a consequence, the footage is very shaky, to such an extent that you feel that you are up there in the sky with the camera person. An illusion just like I am sure the illusory nature of croft life, but for this viewer an engaging and worthwhile illusion.

YouTube

I am grateful to the uploader and I have been accessing episodes via this channel. The uploader openly acknowledges “I own none of the content in this video, nor the video itself. ‘Take The High Road’, and all the rights to it, belong exclusively to STV Group plc, and no copyright infringement is intended.”

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCkyKWXik379YEzRUn5jRZ9A

Internet Resources

A note of caution when accessing internet resources.  They sometimes reveal future storylines and dramas, that unless you are a willing time traveller may spoil your viewing. A quick internet search revealed these three which I found interesting and informative.

IMDb

It is catalogued on IMDb using its later title High Road.

The residents of the rural Scottish village of Glendarroch deal with issues ranging from crop failures and parish pump politics to infidelity, alcoholism and drug abuse.

Whilst, they provide limited information it is worth drilling down into the ‘user reviews’.  They do offer a summary of what the show is all about from the perspective of the viewers.

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0163499/?ref_=tt_urv

STV Player

At the time of writing this post episodes were being loaded up onto the STV player.  However, availability appears to be for a fixed time, certainly worth checking in the first instance.

https://player.stv.tv/summary/take-the-high-road/

Nostalgia Central

There is a very interesting and informative piece on Nostalgia Central. The show evolved out of an earlier show called Garnock Way, but this was deemed too gritty for viewing in England.

https://nostalgiacentral.com/television/tv-by-decade/tv-shows-1980s/take-the-high-road/

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