27 September 2006 | highlandland
A quiet paddle on a Sunday
Broadcast between 1994 and 1995, with 6 episodes one year and 3 episode the next, "The Tales of Para Handy" was the third version to be televised of Neil Munro's hugely popular (in Scotland, at least) tales, originally written as newspaper columns in the Glasgow Herald between 1905 and the early 1930s. Previous series had starred Duncan Macrae (1959) and Roddy Macmillan (1963, 1974-5) as the Captain, and this time the "chust sublime" Gregor Fisher donned the authentic red beard and bowler hat for the role.
Rather than the previous sit-com format, 1994's version was a longer comedy drama, of a style that would later become popular Sunday night entertainment with shows like "Ballykissangel" and "Hamish Macbeth". Unlike these two contemporary shows, "Tales of Para Handy" takes place in the early 1930s (possibly 1934-5, just after the final stories were published) and makes a decent job of portraying the Scottish west coast at the time. The classic tales of the Glasgow "puffer" (steam vessels similar to barges, that ran goods and trade all over the West Coast between about 1860 and 1960) were sometimes adapted from the original Munro stories, and sometimes written from scratch (usually by Bob Black, writer of "Scotch and Wry" and "City Lights"). However, these stories were possibly a little too "couthy" and low-key for mass appeal, and the series never really took off. Possibly this is why they only made three episodes in series two (or possibly it was because Ricki Fulton's health was deteriorating).
The cast included Ricki Fulton as Dan the Engineer (the last major role by this Scottish comedy legend) and Andrew Fairlie as Davie "Sunny Jim" Green (Alex McAvoy, who played Jim in the 1960s and 1970s, had a cameo in the first episode of series one). Sean Scanlan played Dougie - but sometimes his acting, all jiggled shoulders and shouted lines in semi-exasperation, could irritate, and he's the main reason why I take one point off this show (the other is its occasional lack of pacing).
Incidentally, many Scottish comedy stars of the time played cameos in the show, and even a young David Tennant (Doctor Who) can be seen in the penultimate show of the second season.
This series has never been completely available to buy. The first six episodes were available on two BBC videos in 1995, but these now regularly go for around £25 each on Ebay. The last three episodes have never been made available anywhere - although a cassette of Neil Munro stories, released on the back of the series and read by Gregor Fisher, was also available through the BBC in 1995.
Hopefully, the recent DVD issue of the Roddy Macmillan era "The Vital Spark" series will soon see a DVD set of this excellent mid-1990s comedy drama.