Dr Finlay gives the kirk a headache

IT IS NOT a choice the congregation in Auchtermuchty has had before. There was little else to do on a Sunday morning - sleeping and the television apart - except go to the kirk. Now its members have an option: to be extras, at pounds 55 a day, on the set for a television series. And many have decided this is preferable to worship.

The controversy has been brewing since Scottish Television asked, several months ago, if it could film the remake of Dr Finlay's Casebook in the town.

Muchty was initially delighted. Most of the residents have an affection for A J Cronin's stories of life in rural general practice; many remember the original 1960s series, in which fictional Tannochbrae was set in Callander, in the Trossachs.

Most are also aware that Callander made good money from it. Just like the village of Luss, host to Take the Highroad, which now has a thriving tea-shop.

Today the dispute comes to its climax. The main body of filming begins, but it is also Harvest Sunday, which traditionally pulls in a handsome congregation.

The lay elders who govern the local kirk were confident that the enthusiasm to win parts as extras would diminish when the conflict of interests was realised. The kirk would win.

This has not been the case. The worried elders asked the producers not to shoot on Sunday morning so as not to tempt the congregation. The producers refused.

Tucked away in the farmlands of Fife, Auchtermuchty is a small place of 2,500 people that has enjoyed a long, mostly unremarkable history. Some of the older residents remember as a big event the Royal Visit of 1951. The King and Queen drove past the town on their way to St Andrews, which is also how Sir John Junor discovered the place - en route to play golf at the Royal & Ancient. Readers of his Sunday Express column grew familiar with the town as a bastion of traditional morality. Many thought the town was a figment of his censorious imagination.

But Muchterians became students of Sir John's column and loved his vision of their town - a place, he claimed, where homosexuality could not happen, 'where there is human decency and morality and the old standards to act as a touchstone against modern life'. None loved it more than Muchty's other claim to fame: Jimmy Shand, the celebrated accordionist whose band became a byword for Scottish country dance music. He came to live in the town 35 years ago, and Sir John he says, was quite right about it. 'Values depend on the people, you know what I mean? Here they are great homely people.'

At 84, Mr Shand is one of the elder statesman of the town. He likes Muchty because it is so private it is almost a secret: 'When I was travelling with the band, I used to ring home and ask for a reverse call for Auchtermuchty. Quite a few times the operator thought it was a joke.'

He is not against Dr Finlay. He is sure that it will make Auchtermuchty famous. But he is worried by the potential sacrifice of privacy. 'Where did you get that news about the church business, the differences and all?' he asked. 'You'll cause a stink if you print that. That wouldna' be a good policy.'

The row over attendance at Harvest Festival has just exacerbated older controversies. Not least, a minority of regular kirk-goers dislike the new minister.

The Rev Ann Fraser, who arrived two years ago, is the town's first female minister. 'We find her very nice,' said Mr Shand, 'but, well, I suppose somewhat generally they think it's a male type of job.'

One Auchtermuchty woman complains that the new minister has 'changed everything - she won't have flowers on the communion table'.

Down at the manse, Mrs Fraser is carefully diplomatic. She argues that there is a mixed reaction to Dr Finlay. 'Some people feel it is good for the place putting it on the map; others feel it may upset the village style of life. You know, this is a very ordinary down-to- earth wee place.'

This is perfectly true. But it has changed a great deal over the past few years. There are lots more immigrants, incomers as they are locally known, than there were. 'Unless you were brought up here, you are classed as an incomer,' said Mrs Fraser. 'People have been here for 20 years but still don't belong.' This is said with only a trace of irritation. By Muchty standards, even Jimmy Shand is an incomer.

Few are ready to admit it, but Muchty has strayed from the ideal of moral purity. Unemployment has cast its shadow. Recently 100 people were made redundant when a local foundry was closed. Several years ago it was, unbelievably, the drugs centre of north Fife. Twice the Boar's Head, the local pub, was raided by police. Now it has been converted into a hotel, and the drugs dealers have moved on.

There have been no murders in Auchtermuchty but there was a strange incident, not often recalled by locals, in which a resident, drunk, had rolled underneath a caravan outside another pub, the Cycle Tavern, and taken potshots at passers-by with an air-rifle. 'Wild West shoot-out in Muchty', read one headline.

Peter Wolfes, the producer of Dr Finlay, observes: 'There is a lot of hypocrisy. Small-town politics are taken terribly seriously. Filming really exaggerates these things which are of such minor consequence.'

He has had to tread carefully. The disruption to town life is considerable. The grocery has had to endure days dressed up as a chemists; the town hall has been painted blue and disguised as a police station. 'The responsibility is that we're forcing fame on them, whether they like it or not.'

But, in other ways, Mr Wolfes has been gentle and compromising. It will take time to adjust. The first clash between the known and the new occurred early on. Unknown to Mr Wolfes, some preliminary filming was scheduled on the day in July when Jimmy Shand's granddaughter was being married. It was the filming that had to be postponed. 'It was the big day, the wedding of the decade,' he said. 'He won the day; there was no contest.'

(Photographs omitted)

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