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Monday, 14 January, 2002, 13:25 GMT
Taggart changes face
Alex Norton in Taggart
Norton: The third actor to front the popular TV cop series
By BBC News Online's Rebecca Thomas

Taggart has enjoyed a privileged position among TV dramas, holding on to its fans despite the loss of its namesake and original star.

Mark McManus, the original DCI Jim Taggart in the gritty Glasgow-based cop series died in 1994 to be succeeded by James MacPherson as DCI Mike Jardine.

Now, viewers' loyalty is about to be tested again with the arrival of yet another helmsman for the series in the shape of actor Alex Norton as DCI Matt Burke.

And despite the popularity of the ITV1 show - which has kept it on screen for almost 20 years - Norton is under no illusion about the challenge ahead.

"It's inevitable that comparisons will be made between me and Taggart's former stars. But whether die-hard fans will take me to their bosom remains to be seen. All I can say is that I have done my best," Norton says pragmatically.

Mark McManus in Taggart
Mark McManus died in 1994

To ease the transition, Taggart's scriptwriters have made Norton's DCI Burke as different to DCI Mike Jardine as possible.

Where DCI Jardine adopted a professional but soft approach, Burke is as tough as they come - tougher perhaps than McManus' DCI Taggart.

"He is a strict disciplinarian - a no-nonsense kind of guy. He is used to working to a very high standard," explains Norton.

"When he arrives to take over the investigation he doesn't know the rest of the team so he has to put them to the test to find out whether they are fit for the job. Let's say he creates a few sparks."

Pies

Though still excited about his new role, Norton reveals that he has popped up in Taggart before. Long-standing fans will possibly remember Norton's face from the early days of Taggart in 1983.

He played a butcher suspected of murder and putting his victims in his meat pies.

James MacPherson as DCI Mike Jardine in Taggart
Mike Jardine had a softer approach to policing

Norton does not consider this a problem. After all, he says, he is probably the only Scottish actor to have been in the series just the once.

A wide-ranging career in TV and film has kept Norton busy elsewhere.

His first TV appearance was at the age of 14 in the original series of Dr Finlay's Casebook. Later shows included Blackadder, The Crow Road and The Fabulous Bagel Boys.

In cinema, Norton has featured in numerous movies such as Patriot Games, White Hunter, Black Heart and Little Voice.

And he has won screenwriting awards for TV dramas Waiting for Elvis and Extras.

Bilko

Such experience has made Norton a cautious and uncompromising TV viewer himself.

He professes to hate watching soaps and "stupid" sitcoms and bemoans the loss of good one-off dramas. And he adds that he will never tire of Bilko and Dad's Army.

His main ambition is to do more writing and he is hoping to be able to do this between series of Taggart.

This depends on whether viewer ratings are good enough to justify another series. But Norton is optimistic that the new Taggart offers something for all.

"The producers wanted to 'kick the show into the new era' by upping the stakes a little," he enthuses.

"They have brought in people who have worked in cinema. But Taggart traditionalists can be sure that I will keep the show's 'rough edge' alive."

Taggart begins on 14 January at 2100 GMT on ITV1.

See also:

17 Jan 01 | Entertainment
Taggart star dies
15 Dec 00 | Scotland
Scottish TV agrees to ITC ruling
21 Feb 00 | Scotland
Tartan touch for TV tourism
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