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ALEX ON THE CASE; Taggart star returns to crack real-life murders in TV series Unsolved.

Byline: By Craig McQueen

AS DCI Matt Burke, Taggart star Alex Norton spends seven months of the year traipsing around Glasgow murder scenes.

Viewers around the world are used to seeing him speaking to pathologists in dingy back alleys and on canal towpaths.

So what does he do when the Taggart cameras stop rolling? He spends more of his time working at murder scenes for real.

The 56-year-old may be best known as grumpy Glasgow detective Burke, but now he's got another hit on his hands in the form of the STV documentary series Unsolved.

The show featuring murders for which no one has been brought to justice is about to begin its third series, with Norton once again presenting and narrating the stories from the scenes where the murders happened.

And while he insists he doesn't mind his career revolving around death, he admits his involvement in Unsolved has become more than just a job.

He said: "I never thought that would happen. A few years ago I was doing Play away, and now my life is immersed in murder.

"But Taggart is fiction so it doesn't impinge on me. It's entertainment.

"This does impinge on me. It means a lot to me personally and I take it and the responsibility of it quite seriously.

"Our series producer keeps me posted if anything new emerges as a result of the programmes being broadcast so I've got a real hook into it and I can watch it develop.

"It gives me a real personal involvement as there's no immediate end to these cases. We're all hoping the programmes will lead to new things emerging. There's more to it than just a straightforward professional involvement.

"I feel very strongly about justice, as most people do, and people want to see these killers brought to justice.

"If they're still out there they could do it to somebody else."

It means that appearing in front of the cameras at a crime scene for Unsolved is far-removed from doing the same thing for Taggart.

Alex said: "When I'm actually out there on locations I'm spending my time worrying about whether my tie is straight and if my hair is looking okay.

"And then all of a sudden it just hits you. This isn't fiction.

"You're concerned with how you look and whether you're speaking clearly enough, but then you realise that a murder actually happened right here.

"Somebody's life was taken. A family were devastated.

"That's why I'm interested in the series. Taggart is fictional and it's a whodunit, but in real life there's a knock-on effect to a murder.

"There are repercussions and reverberations to a murder. Lives are completely and irrevocably destroyed in some cases.

"That's what gets me about these cases and that's why I'm interested in them.

"I don't tend to watch other cop shows on the telly and I don't read crime fiction as it's not a genre I'm interested in.

"But I do read about real-life crimes and unsolved murders, so when I was asked to do the first series I jumped at it as it's the kind of thing that I'm really interested in."

This series again sees Glasgow-born Alex taking us through a number of high-profile cases, including that of Willie McRae, the SNP activist who was found dead in his car in 1985.

While police believed he took his own life, conspiracy theories abound that he was assassinated or had been targeted by security services.

It sounds more like the plot of a crime novel than a real event, but Alex has little time for those who suggest the series is glamorising some of Scotland's most brutal murders.

And to back up his argument, he points to the number of cases where fresh information has come to light after the programme has been broadcast.

The first series featured the disappearance of Highland mum Renee MacRae and her three-year-old son Andrew in 1976.

The show was a contributory factor in police deciding to dig up a quarry as part of the investigation, and while their bodies were never found, Grampian Police will soon be filing a report to the procurator fiscal naming the person responsible.

In other cases, people are now awaiting trial after deaths that were featured on the show.

Alex said: "Obviously the reason that I'm doing the series as opposed to a news presenter or something like that is because of Taggart.

"I've got a higher profile for this sort of thing as I'm a TV cop, and if it makes more people watch the programme then who knows?

"Maybe, just maybe, someone out there will be watching the thing and it will jog their memory. There may be someone who knows something who will come forward.

"That's what we're hoping for and it's already happened in one of the cases.

"After it was broadcast, a woman phoned up the police and said that she had some information.

"She put the phone down but called back a couple of times and eventually she was traced.

"She said she'd been wanting to do it for a long time but had never had the courage.

"That's a great thing to happen, so if having a TV cop presenting it helps, then that's good."

But while Unsolved has become a huge success for STV, who have recently sold the first two series to BBC America, Alex has no plans to hang up DCI Burke's trenchcoat.

He said: "When I was first offered Taggart I thought if I got five years out of it, that would be great.

"It's a role I really, really wanted and I thought I'd be doing well if I did it for five years. But it just keeps going from strength to strength.

"The viewing figures are great and even the repeats are getting higher viewing figures than a lot of new shows.

"It's sold to all these countries across the world.

"As long as they want to keep me on I'll keep doing it, and I'd be deeply honoured to be playing Burke in Taggart's 100th episode.

"It would be quite something to be involved in."

And that's despite the fact filming commitments force him to spend most of the year away from his actress wife Sally Kinghorn and kids Jock, 16, Rory, 13 and eight-year-old Jamie.

They're based in London, where Alex moved in 1968, although he hasn't ruled out a permanent return home. He said: "I could see myself moving back up here.

"My wife and I talked about what we should do when I started Taggart as I was going to be spending so much time up here.

"But my kids are Londoners. They go to school there and their whole lives are based there, and when we made the decision to stay down there we had no idea how long Taggart was going to go on for.

"If we knew it would last this long we may well have made the decision to uproot them and put up with their protests until they settled in.

"But at the time it would have been crazy to do that for something which might only have lasted a couple of years. So it means I'm commuting back to London every weekend. But when I think about it I probably still see my kids more than I saw my old man.

"He was a plumber and he'd be at work before I got up in the morning, and he came home maybe about an hour before I went to bed in the evening.

"I get to see my kids all weekend. I get a week and a half off after each episode and there's the time gap between the series, so I don't see myself as an absentee father."

And it's likely viewers haven't seen the last of Unsolved either.

Like Taggart, the show is now attracting an international audience, and Scotland's police forces are cooperating fully with the series.

Alex added: "Unfortunately there are no shortage of murders.

"It would be great if we didn't have to do a programme like this, but as long as there are human beings there is going to be these cases."

Unsolved begins on Thursday, October 19, on STV at 7.30pm.

ELAINE DOYLE

JEWELLERY shop assistant Elaine Doyle was found strangled and half naked yards from her Greenock home in 1986.

The 16-year-old had been on a night out with friends and turned down the chance of a lift, choosing to walk.

WILLIAM McRAE

WILLIE MCRAE was found dying in his car on the A87 near Kyle of Lochalsh in 1985.

The prominent lawyer, SNP activist and anti-nuclear campaigner was believed to have taken his own life using a handgun he owned, but many are convinced he was murdered.

ANNIE DAVIS

ERSKINE pensioner Annie Davies was found dead at the foot of the stairs of her flat in 1998.

Police initially thought the 84-year-old had fallen but her family are convinced she was murdered, enlisting a series of experts in an effort to find her killer.

MOIRA ANDERSON

MOIRA ANDERSON disappeared in Coatbridge in 1957 at the age of 11.

Her body has never been found but police are convinced she was murdered. Bus driver Alex Gartshore was believed to be the culprit but he died of cancer aged 85 last April.

TRACEY WILDE

YOUNG mother Tracey Wylde was found dead in her Barmulloch flat in Glasgow in 1997.

She'd led a double life as a prostitute and police interviewed more than 3000 people during an investigation costing more than pounds 1million.

VICKY HAMILTON

VICKY HAMILTON never returned to her Bathgate home after spending the weekend with her sister in 1991.

The 15-year-old's body has never been found and her family haven't declared her dead. However, the case is being treated as a murder investigation.

'Taggart is fiction so it doesn't impinge on me. This does. It means a lot and I take the responsibility seriously'
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Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Oct 13, 2006
Words:1663
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