WITH Scot Squad back on our screens, we hear from the show’s creator, writer and narrator Joe Hullait about his favourite moments making the BBC Scotland police mockumentary series. Buckle up …
We got a ringing endorsement from the head of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service … for slagging off the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service. One of the ongoing gags is that Chief Commissioner Cameron Miekelson – played by Jack Docherty – hates the fire service.
Sometimes when you make jokes about them you feel guilty because nobody could really hate firefighters. And often you get some people taking offence, but never the people in the fire service themselves. They love it.
The nature of the job makes them tough and that harsh humour appeals. I can say that with confidence because the real Scottish Fire and Rescue Service Chief Officer Martin Blunden got in touch to tell me that he loves it when we take the p***.
He said he loves banter between the services. For him it’s funny, but it’s also a fun opportunity to bite back and defend his employees. I love that sense of openness and willingness to have a laugh at yourself. I wish more people had that attitude.
Not everyone is a fan …
I once got a message from the real Police Scotland Chief Constable Iain Livingstone. Our Chief made a joke about the lack of women in leadership roles in Scot Squad. The line has always been that Cameron Miekelson supports women in top jobs but not the actual top job, because that would put him out of a job.
The real Chief asked us to correct this because it didn’t accurately reflect the real hiring policies of Police Scotland. He wanted the fictional Chief to draw attention to the real Chief’s progress in that area.
Jack Docherty as Chief Commissioner Cameron Miekelson in BBC comedy series Scot Squad. Picture: Martin Shields/The Comedy Unit/BBC
I found that a bit unnerving. If he’s someone who expects accuracy in the depiction of police leadership then it begs the question, why he’s never taken issue with any other story in the show?
Does this mean we’re getting the rest of it correct? I’d normally run a mile from telling that story, but Jack Docherty spoke about it in an interview last year and now I think it’s only a matter of time before the police frame me for drugging the nation’s fish supply as revenge. Cheers, Jack!
Scot Squad is mostly filmed on location. In the last series, we had a story where someone had been making phallic statues out of hay bales in the countryside. The production designer constructed these huge, 30-foot penises out in Strathblane.
At the end of a really long take, to the surprise of the entire crew, an elderly couple emerged from behind one of the structures. They had apparently been out for a morning walk and had wandered into our filming area.
By the time the locations assistant had spotted them it was too late, and “action” had already been called. In a panic, he asked them to hide from the cameras by crouching behind the 30-foot penis.
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Luckily, the couple weren’t stressed out by the experience. It was the hottest day of the year, so they were just happy for a bit of shade. They thought the bales were sunstroke hallucinations.
Even funnier for the crew afterwards was hearing the locations person getting told off for the error by our assistant director. This also happened under the shadow of one of the penises.
An accidental assassin
We filmed the 2019 Scot Squad election special at a hotel in Edinburgh. From the suite we were shooting in you could see the windows of the hotel’s rooms.
At one point, while we were filming with the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, a cleaner went into one of them, opened the window and began changing the attachments on her vacuum cleaner.
Unfortunately, our assistant director didn’t have the same full vantage point as I did, and mistakenly thought it was an assassin assembling a rifle.
That in itself is quite funny, but her reaction really shows the level of commitment that Scottish TV crews have when it comes to ensuring everything on the schedule gets filmed.
Scot Squad creator, writer and narrator Joe Hullait. Picture: Kirsty Anderson/The
Instead of raising the alarm and getting everyone to safety, she silently waved in the direction of one of the First Minister’s protection officers and mimed the assembling of a rifle.
The officer was rightly baffled. We assume he had a gun but thankfully never found out because he was smart enough to not shoot a cleaner from across a room full of people.
Credit to Police Scotland where it’s due. Real-life police officers like this one are a lot smarter than our show would give them credit for. If the First Minister noticed any of this happening, she did not let on.
The perils of public filming
Filming on location in Glasgow is always a fun experience. Every day people will ask us if we’re filming Taggart, which has been off screen for years.
Others will also just come up to you and tell you that they don’t enjoy the show. I was once drinking a cup of tea, minding my own business during a break, and an elderly woman walked up to me and said: “It’ll be s****, it always is.”
People will assume anyone with us wearing a police uniform is an actor, which is wrong because in public we need to have real police officers for safety (who we pay to be there).
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It’s always funny seeing someone give a load of abuse to what they assume is a defenceless actor, only to be taken away for a quiet word by a real police officer.
A case of mistaken identity
Grado was not in the pilot episode of Scot Squad. PC Surjit Singh’s partner was played by Grant O’Rourke. When it came to shooting the series, Grant was busy working on Outlander and they wouldn’t release him to film with us.
People have got in touch over the years to ask why Grado looks so different in that first episode and it’s because it’s literally someone else. Grant’s a great actor and an extremely skilful comic performer. I’d love to work with him again.
The magic of improv
The immortal line: “Am I a shagger? Yes, I am. Will you call me PC Jack McLaren? Yes, you will …” is a complete improvisation. One of the most popular Scot Squad scenes is the one in which wrestler Chris Toal is arguing with a woman in the supermarket.
During the scene Chris keeps calling PC Jack McLaren “shagger” and Jack – played by Jordan Young – pulls him up on the language. Not in a million years could we have scripted the scene the way it played out.
All the dialogue, everything that is funny about that scene, is all the work of the actors. I’m usually on set to help feed lines when needed, but I didn’t have to do much that day.
Sally Reid and Jordan Young as PC Sarah Fletcher and PC Jack McLaren in BBC comedy series Scot Squad. Picture: Martin Shields/The Comedy Unit/BBC
Diversity on TV
Chris Toal is shorter than most people. In that same supermarket scene, Sally Reid started playing her character, PC Sarah Fletcher, with this well-meaning but patronising attitude towards him, bending down to speak to him, which pushed the character to further aggression.
Reflecting diversity in TV can be really challenging sometimes but with our mixture of storylining and improv we’ve got a perfect vehicle for performers to work out naturalistic ways of drawing attention to certain details without making those details the sole focus or being provocative for the sake of it.
Chris’s appearance is irrelevant to that scene. He was cast in Scot Squad because he’s very funny. Yet because of his and the other actors’ intelligence and chemistry they were able to find a way to acknowledge his height without making him the butt of the joke.
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Scot Squad is supposed to reflect Scotland as a whole. Sally is from Perth and Jordan is from Fife. But there’s something about that scene, which to me, just feels like such an accurate depiction of something you could see on any normal day in Glasgow when you’re out and about.
A narrative twist
People complain all the time that I’m mispronouncing Scottish words. They will send messages saying: “That’s not how you pronounce Sanquhar …” But the idea is that it is meant to be an Englishman, with no concept of Scotland, doing the narration in a voiceover booth in Soho.
Because I’m English, it just seemed natural to get me to do it. The style is Jamie Theakston narrating Traffic Cops, although the bigger inspiration was probably Ross Kemp when he did a documentary in Glasgow and was walking through the city centre acting like it was the middle of Baghdad or Kabul.
The narrator is a character. Sometimes people make the mistake of thinking it is actually me. But a lot of fans of the show do get it and I always get a big kick out of that.
Darren Connell and Karen Bartke as Bobby Muir and Sgt Karen Ann Millar in BBC comedy series Scot Squad. Picture: Alan Peebles/The Comedy Unit/BBC
Filming for the latest series was abruptly halted because of the coronavirus pandemic. During lockdown Darren Connell – who plays Bobby – lost a drastic amount of weight.
Darren is periodically going on health kicks, but he stuck with this latest one for the whole time and he looks fantastic. Unfortunately for our costume designer, he’d already began filming in that first part of the shoot, so it meant a lot of adjustments to his clothes when we resumed six months later.
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She’s done a great job, as has the makeup designer, because the difference is barely noticeable on screen. Which is good because we don’t want Bobby to be too sexy or it will get weird.
Scot Squad, BBC Scotland, Thursdays, 10pm