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Classic cars get TOP BILLING; Scots enthusiasts called in to provide old motors for new TV adaptation of spy novel The 39 Steps, writes BILL CAVEN.

Byline: BILL CAVEN

IT HAS all the classic ingredients to make it an unmissable festive telly cracker. Roller-coaster action, danger, espionage and even a touch of romance.

There are also fast cars, screeching tyres and high-speed chases and spins.

But if you are expecting something from James Bond's exotic collection of supercars, then think again.

The stars of this high-budget BBC1 thriller, The 39 Steps, are a 1924 Morris Oxford and a 1927 Wolseley once driven by a doctor.

And sorry to disappoint again, but the medic in question was from the iconic Scots telly series Dr Finlay's Casebook and not Time Lord Doctor Who!

Based on the classic novel by John Buchan, the one-off drama - which will be shown on Sunday - is set in the days running up to the outbreak of World War I.

The 39 Steps follows the adventures of Richard Hannay, played by Rupert Penry Jones, as he attempts to outwit a German spy ring and save the nation from invasion.

Hannay's life changes forever when British spy Scudder, aka Eddie Marsan, barges into his flat with information about a German spy ring based in Scotland.

Fearing for his life, he persuades a reluctant Hannay to take his coded notebook to Captain Kell of the Secret Service Bureau, stressing it is a matter of grave national security.

Scudder is killed by German spies desperate for his notebook and Hannay finds himself wrongly accused of his murder.

Spurred on by this bizarre turn of events, the drama sees Hannay flee London to Scotland, where the real action begins as he teams up with an opinionated female named Victoria, played by Lydia Leonard.

Filmed entirely on location north of the Border, the 90-minute adaptation by award-winning Lizzie Mickery sees our hero chased by bloodhounds, shot at by spies and strafed by a bi-plane.

Pulling together such a historically inspired drama is never an easy matter, especially when it comes to sourcing suitable props from this era.

Tracking down the necessary vehicles was entrusted to Scots classic cars expert Willie Bennie, who has been tasked with similar TV and film work in the past.

The retired traffic cop, from Airdrie, Lanarkshire, is no stranger to unearthing hidden classic transport gems.

Willie, 53, revealed: "It is actually surprising just how many amazing classic cars there are in Scotland.

"While the Scottish collection of classics is among the best there is, there must be many others lying undiscovered still waiting to be found."

Having drawn up a list of potential cars around before the start of World War I, Willie struck on a major problem.

He said: "I knew they were wanting to include car chases to make the drama much more exciting to watch. The only trouble was that the cars around this era weren't very fast."

But using a bit of movie licence, Willie decided to amend the list and select slightly younger vehicles.

He turned to another Scot, vintage car owner Tom Pate, to help him supply the Morris and the Wolseley and the line-up was completed after he located a 1926 Darracq and two Humbers.

But just when Willie thought his troubles were over, he realised that he would have to teach the actors how to drive them, as all the pedals were the wrong way round.

Willie joked: "It was bad enough the actors having to learn their lines, but to encounter driving lessons as well took a fair bit of doing.

"These classic cars require a totally different driving approach as they are not really built for speed."

Like his friend, Tom, from Maybole, Ayrshire, is no stranger to the classic car scene. He bought his first one, the Wolseley, some 50 years ago and spent more than 2000 hours restoring it.

Tom, 71, explained: "I found the car in a shed in the Highlands and it was in a shabby condition, dull and well-used.

"It gave me a great challenge and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of the time it took doing it up.

"However, no sooner had I finished working on it than I lost it for eight years to Dr Finlay's Casebook.

"The Morris Oxford was found in similar surroundings, this time a factory in Anniesland, Glasgow."

His latest venture, a 1929 Sunbeam, remains a work in progress despite being in Tom's ownership for quarter of a century.

He revealed: "Perhaps I need another television drama to spur me on."

'It is surprising how many amazing classic cars there are in Scotland'

CAPTION(S):

ACTION STATIONS: Drama all the way as Rupert Penry Jones, above left, does his bit to expose a German spy ring; THE CAR'S THE STAR: Classic machinery such as a 1920s Morris Oxford, bottom left, and rare 1926 Darracq, left, add a touch of authenticity to BBC1's adaptation of John Buchan's classic novel The 39 Steps, to be shown on Sunday evening
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Dec 26, 2008
Words:814
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