When Ian Rankin created the hard-drinking, hard-smoking and generally hard Inspector Rebus, it established him as one of Britain's biggest crime writers and created the genre of 'Tartan Noir'. But it was to take 13 years before the dark-souled detective made the transition to the small screen.
The Rebus novels took off in the 1990s, and one avid fan was John Hannah – a fellow Scot who'd found fame thanks to his heartbreaking recital of a WH Auden poem in Four Weddings and a Funeral. Having become a major player in the film industry, Hannah decided to use his muscle to snap up the rights to Rebus and use Clerkenwell, his own production company, to bring the dour detective to life.
While Hannah was determined to stay faithful to the bleak and gritty atmosphere of the books, he had so much respect for Rankin's work that he was almost apologetic about adapting it. "Hopefully the series will spark interest and get people to read Ian Rankin's books," he said at the time. "I shouldn't really be saying this, but a couple of hours of reading is more rewarding than watching television."
Filming Rebus was an epic endeavour, involving location shoots all over Edinburgh. And no-one was more awed than Ian Rankin himself, who wandered behind-the-scenes to watch his stories become a reality. Rankin took a back seat role in the production though, and he certainly wasn't tempted to adapt the novels himself.
"A page of script represents about a minute's screen time," he explains. "Since each book was being pared down to fit into two hours of television, my first task would have been to delete about 300 pages from my 400 page original. Which plots and scenes could I bear to lose? It wasn't a question I felt like answering, so I left it to the professionals."
Hannah and his production company took extra special care to ensure every scene was absolutely perfect. Even the simple act of a car pulling up outside a warehouse was filmed over and over again, so that every movement was exactly as the writers and director wanted it. The dialogue also had to be repeated several times, but for different reasons. Unsure of how much swearing would be deemed acceptable by the channel execs, the producers shot alternate versions of scenes – one with swearing, the other without. Ultimately a mixture of these were edited together to result in stories that had an 'acceptable level' of expletives.
When John Hannah announced he was parting company with the character after the first series, Ian Rankin got a phone call from none other than Sir Sean Connery, who was such a fan of the novels that he'd been giving out copies to his friends in Hollywood. The legendary James Bond star admitted to Rankin that he would love to step into Rebus's shoes – but accepted that he was a touch too old to play the part. Ironically, John Hannah, was initially considered too young and fresh-faced to originally portray the grizzled detective.