Here’s a riddle: how can you work in an Archive Centre when you can’t work in an Archive Centre?

Archives Hub feature for July 2020

It’s a dilemma in this strange and worrying time. The collections are there, you know this. You know they are safe. For the time being, for you to remain safe, for all of us to remain safe, you can’t go near them. But this is your job, and much more than that – a passion. We know that archives are stories, solidified memories of individuals, groups, institutions. Many have been around a lot longer than us, and will be there after we’re gone. But at this point of their long, interesting history, we are their gatekeepers, their tenders. Donors from all walks of life have entrusted us with their stories, letting go of the physical, holding only to the ephemeral, and yet now…now we too are distanced from the physical. So, again, how do we work in an Archive Centre when we can’t work in an Archive Centre?

Blythe Duff is a Scottish actress born in East Kilbride on 25 November 1962.  She has worked continuously since her debut as part of the Scottish Youth Festival in 1984. Though she has gone on to ply her trade mainly in theatre, she is perhaps best known for her role as Detective Sergeant Jackie Reid in the long-running Glasgow-based crime series Taggart. In 2011 she was awarded an honorary doctorate from Glasgow Caledonian University for services to the performing arts and in 2012 was made a cultural fellow of GCU.

It was in this guise that in 2018 she generously donated her decades-worth of accumulated Taggart artefacts to GCU Archive Centre. It is a rich, fascinating and rewarding resource for fans of the show both die-hard and casual, for aspiring scriptwriters, those with an interest in television production, and indeed for anyone with even a passing interest in Glasgow through the lens of British popular culture.

I’ve been thinking about this collection in these fast and slow days, weeks, and months of lockdown, as I adjust to this new, remote set-up. Once the working day is done, the laptop shut for the evening, I find myself, like so many, at a loose end. With so much temporarily closed, the question has become not so much what do I do, as what do I watch?

Blythe Duff and John Michie standing side by side between shelves of archive boxes and materials. Each is looking into camera and holding several scripts.
Blythe Duff and fellow Taggart star John Michie in GCU Archive Centre at the launch of her papers on 24th October 2018.

With this in mind the Blythe Duff Taggart papers are a fascinating insight into the televisual process of the late 20th century. As a scriptwriting graduate, I am particularly enthralled by the variety of artefacts on offer. There are 138 individual scripts contained in the collection, spanning from Blythe’s debut on the show in 1990 all the way to 2010. Researchers will find a mixture of rehearsal scripts and shooting scripts, a fantastic insight into the malleable nature of the production process. Particularly poignant is the two versions of 1994’s two-parter ‘Legends’. Mark McManus, the titular Taggart, tragically died before production had finished. The two versions, one featuring Detective Chief Inspector Jim Taggart, and the other re-written without, offer a glimpse into what could have been, as well as the embryonic steps of the show of which Taggart was to become.

It is the little details in the collection that draw me back to it – the scribbled notes on the pages, the inside jokes of the cast. Though the collection is currently uncatalogued, researchers will find Blythe’s personalised chair cover, a monogrammed Taggart jacket, along with a photo of Blythe in character in full police uniform. There are books as well; 25 Years of Taggart and Taggart’s Glasgow.  Other artefacts include Taggart wrap party flyers, postcards of different actors from the show – one signed by cast members. There’s even a Taggart Mystery Jigsaw Puzzle game!

Selection of photographs, artefacts, all from television show Taggart, artfully laid on black backdrop.
Selected Taggart treasures from the Blythe Duff papers.

Since becoming available to researchers, it is one of the collections at GCU Archive Centre that has proved most popular with a wide range of visitors. Almost as soon as it was publicised with a visit to the Archive Centre by Blythe and fellow cast member John Michie, we’ve had members of the public – some of whom had never been in an archive before – pop their head into the reading room and ask if they could read an episode. We’ve had a family of fanatics all the way from Australia, a couple from England where the husband surprised his super-fan wife for a special birthday, and many more besides.

It’s also a particularly relevant resource for the University’s learning and teaching as GCU has offered a Masters course in Television Fiction Writing since 2010, the first of its kind in the UK. One of the course leaders, Chris Dolan, was previously a writer for Taggart. Students of the course have examined the scripts, seeing how they’re structured, potentially being inspired in their own work.

Close up photo of cover page of script for episode of Taggart. ‘Blythe’ handwritten in top corner.
Cover page of one of Blythe’s scripts.

The frustration of not being able to go into the Archive Centre each day, not being able to see collections, or chat to team members with ease, is very real. Nonetheless, we have all adjusted to working from home. Team meetings still occur through the magic of MS Teams, projects are still ongoing, new challenges arise and are met. And in the thick of the unprecedented time we are in, if I think back to my initial question, I realise it is possible to work in an Archive Centre even if you can’t work there. For it is the collective knowledge we have, and our willingness to ensure collections are protected and as available to as many as possible that is the lifeblood of archival work. Archives are indeed stories, and at this juncture we’ve reached a twist worthy of Taggart himself. But the path we’re on, though long and difficult will lead us all back to where we want to be. It’s too tragic a time to call it a happy ending, but we’ve certainly had enough of cliff-hangers and will take a bittersweet conclusion.

David Ward
Archive Assistant
Glasgow Caledonian University Archive Centre – Sir Alex Ferguson Library

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All images copyright Glasgow Caledonian University. Reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright holders.

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