About Mark McManus
Taggart may have changed a lot since the days Mark McManus was in it, but it still bears the name of his character – and his brilliant portrayal of a hardbitten Scottish policeman made him a true telly immortal.
Born the son of a miner in the town of Hamilton near Glasgow, Mark McManus grew up among humble, hard-working people who depended on the pits to make their living. The young Mark had no desire to follow in their footsteps, however, and had his sights set on becoming a boxer.
Yet when he left school with few qualifications he realised his dream of a sporting career wasn't going to happen, and the prospect of long-term unemployment eventually forced him to go down the mines like everyone else.
From the underground to Down Under
Mark continued to work as a miner until he was 22, when he decided it was high time he left his hometown to seek out adventure elsewhere. Almost at random he decided Australia was the place to go, and secured a job as a labourer at Sydney docks.
It was hard, sweaty work – and as well as lugging crates all day in the blistering heat, Mark added to his income by spending his evenings boxing in various shady dives. However, everything changed when Mark decided to join the docker's union theatre group. He hadn't really given acting much thought before that, but ended up touring the Outback in the theatre group.
Skippy and the Stones
Talent scouts soon noticed Mark, and he eventually landed small roles in Australian TV shows – including an episode of legendary kids' show Skippy the Bush Kangaroo. (Taggart and Skippy – can you imagine it?)
In an even more unlikely move, the man who would one day become famous as a grim Glaswegian detective then took an all-singing, all-dancing role in a musical which toured the States. This was followed by a break on the silver screen, when he starred in the 1970 Mick Jagger film Ned Kelly, about the notorious Australian outlaw. This led to a firm friendship with the Rolling Stones front-man that lasted all of Mark's life.
Back to Blighty
Mark finally returned to Britain in 1971, with a solid CV under his belt and a definite hunger for more acting work. It came his way, with roles in 70s serials like Colditz, Sam (about coal miners) and The Brothers – a British "supersoap" about a wealthy family and their road haulage company (think Dallas, but with lorries and rubbisher weather).
And then, just before Taggart, came the reason McManus was picked for that career-making role. And that reason was Strangers, a police drama that's been pretty much forgotten today, but which was quite a hit in the late 70s and early 80s. McManus starred as a tough detective cracking crimes with the help of the British Secret Service, and it was this that directly led to him being cast as Jim Taggart – and becoming a household name.
Even at the height of his fame, Mark had no interest at all in the showbiz lifestyle and preferred hanging out in Glasgow working men's pubs to mingling with thesps and luvvies. However, this was to have an unexpected consequence on Taggart.
In the late 80s the producers decided to create a new set in a disused office building once used by marine engineers. The very day after the set was completed, the director of the episode arrived to find an abnormally large number of extras in police uniforms milling around. He then realised they were the real thing – and that the set had been broken into in the middle of the night.
It turned out that Mark McManus had gossiped in one of his drinking dens about the blueprints and plans for machine parts that had been left in the building – evidently this inspired a few lads to swipe the stuff and sell them on. Mark wasn't to know that such plans could be sold for good money to other engineers. Tut tut, what would Taggart have said?