River City life behind the scenes

WHEN we walk into Dr Dan Hunter's office, alongside all the usual medical equipment there are patient files piled up on the desk.

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Karen Bradley, one of the most experienced River City tour guides, in the Main Street with Stephen Purdon who plays Shellsuit Bob
Karen Bradley, one of the most experienced River City tour guides, in the Main Street with Stephen Purdon who plays Shellsuit Bob

With health posters on the wall, it looks like any other doctor's office, apart from the huge lights hanging from the ceiling and the rows of cables snaking across the floor.

If you want a sneaky look at the medical records of the residents of Shieldinch, this is the place to go.

We're taking a wander around the streets of the fictional west of Scotland town that is the home of BBC Scotland's top ratings drama River City.

When filming breaks for the summer, the public get a chance to nosey around Montego Street, have a seat in the Oyster Cafe or stand at the bar in the Tall Ship. Tickets go on sale on Monday for the guided tours, every Saturday in June and July. If you want one, get in fast because the 1300 tickets usually sell out in a day.

"Some of the files are filled with blank pieces of paper but others are real, full of details for the characters," laughs tour guide Karen Bradley. "So when Shellsuit Bob had athlete's foot in 2007, they made a record of that.

"I remember a couple of years ago when Lenny was diagnosed with MS and they had the doctor's letter. It is that attention to detail people are so impressed with on the tour."

When we walk past the reception, usually manned on screen by Leyla, we should be going into another room in the health centre. Instead there are boxes full of books and CDs clearly marked "Donald's flat". For a while this was Billy's hotel room, then DCI Donald's living room, now it is being transformed into Raymond's flat.

"Things aren't where you'd expect them," explains Karen. "We have the back lot where exterior scenes are filmed and studio sets for the internal room settings.

"People are always surprised when we get to the Tall Ship. They stand outside and have their photograph taken then they walk through the door expecting to find the bar and there is nothing inside. Then I explain that when they see Lenny coming into the pub that will be in two separate shots, likely done on two different days."

When we pop our head inside there are pizza boxes sitting on a table and a takeaway container with a plastic fork sticking out of the lid. This isn't lunch for the cast and crew but props.

As filming isn't going on at the same time as the tours, it's not guaranteed that you will catch sight of any members of the cast. Luckily on the day we visited Stephen Purdon, who plays Bob, just happened to be across Montego Street.

"The tours are brilliant, they give people an idea of the size and scope of the set up," he says. "It's a real eye opener, interesting and educational when people see the amount of work the crew does."

As we walk up to one of the red sandstone tenement buildings, Karen turns and says, "Knock one of the walls".

Sure enough, there's a hollow ring when I tap it. Tenements across Glasgow were build more than 100 years ago from solid sandstone but this structure is just more than 10 years old, beautifully crafted from wood and plaster. There's graffiti on the walls outside, bill posters for upcoming gigs and across the cobbled street a row of shops.

"It looks real but this is when I ruin the magic and explain that nobody actually lives in there, it's just another shell," smiles Karen. When we walk up the steps of the close and reach the first landing, where there should be front doors there's a wide open space packed with lights and cables.

"This is an exciting part for visitors, you're really behind the scenes."

Now we're standing looking out of one window across Montego Street and Karen explains that it was from this window Lenny's son Ewan fell to his death.

"Because it's a wooden structure we couldn't have him dangling from the window so it was written into the script that there were renovations going on and scaffolding around the building, so he could fall from that instead."

Back outside we head to the Oyster Cafe, sit in one of the art deco booths and look longingly at the sweets, cakes and pastries under glass on the counter. They look good but you wouldn't want to bite into them - they're covered in varnish to make them last under the heat of the lights.

The impressive set is updated under the watchful eye of production designer Fiona Riddick. "I'll show people organising the tours changes to sets and anything that's different or maybe a bit sensitive that we can't show because a storyline hasn't screened yet," she says. "We try to be as detailed as we possibly to make it realistic.

"Even all the mail on the set is properly addressed to all the right people."

Executive producer Graeme Gordon says the tours give viewers a rare opportunity to get closer to the goings-on in Shieldinch.

"It's the highest watched drama in Scotland. If you make something that's Scottish and particularly for that audience my experience is they take ownership of their shows. It's something that connects people."

More importantly, he adds that River City is probably the best example of a show that can offer training in the industry.

"For years people have learned their craft here; writers, actors and producers.

"It's essential because I don't know where else you would go to learn, not in this business."

angela.mcmanus @eveningtimes.co.uk

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