Fans of doomed soap take high road to protest rally: Viewers are fighting to save a Scottish television series. James Cusick reports

SALTCOATS Snooker Club members were on a pilgrimage. Led by Jean Butler, the coach party from the Firth of Clyde stopped at the shrine of Glendarroch and filled plastic bags with relics. They were preparing to mourn the fictitious Glendarroch - in reality the Loch Lomond village of Luss - which will fade into history when the Scottish soap Take The High Road is axed by network ITV in September.

The programme's fan club has planned a protest rally for tonight in George Square, Glasgow. 'The viewers united will never be defeated' is being prepared as a unifying chant. However the main rallying call is expected to be 'Marcus Marcus Marcus, out out out'.

Marcus is Marcus Plantin, ITV's network director, the man who took the final decision to terminate 13 years of Take The High Road.

The BBC's Eldorado failed with sun, sea and sangria. Take The High Road failed with parish pump storylines that make the Sunday Post's Broons cartoon look like Dynasty. ITV's statisticians think English audiences have had enough. And without south-of-the-border television companies buying the shortbread tin drama, the final curtain has to fall.

At Luss, where much of Take The High Road is filmed, Mrs Butler was in militant mood. 'They can't do this. If they do, I'll stop watching Coronation Street as a protest.'

STV spends pounds 40,000 per episode and makes 104 shows a year at present. The actors' union Equity says more than 700 actors can work on High Road in six months' filming, making it the biggest drama project in Scotland. The Scottish Arts Council says it is worried about knock-on effects. And the Scottish Tourist Board does not want the free publicity for the Highlands taken away from audiences in Canada, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Turkey and Sri Lanka. STV produces the Gaelic soap Machair, so when the final episode of Take The High Road is shown in Scotland at around Christmas time, the central Scotland franchise, with only a sprinkling of Gaels in its transmission area, will have abandoned an English language soap to leave only a Gaelic one in production.

One of the snooker club members, waving his Glendarroch bookmark, insisted: 'If we lose Rosyth (dockyard) and Glendarroch, it will be a national catastrophe.' They take soaps seriously in Saltcoats.

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