Scotch on the Rocks: The TV Drama Locked Away for 50 Years

The Controversial BBC Series That Tackled Scottish Independence

In 1973, BBC Scotland produced a gripping drama series called “Scotch on the Rocks.” Set against the backdrop of a fictional battle for Scottish independence, the show was met with critical acclaim and high audience ratings. However, due to political tensions and a formal complaint from the Scottish National Party (SNP), the series was never aired again. Now, 50 years later, the question arises: could “Scotch on the Rocks” be shown again without provoking further controversy?

The Birth of “Scotch on the Rocks”:

“Scotch on the Rocks” was based on a trilogy of novels written by Douglas Hurd, who would later serve as Margaret Thatcher’s home secretary. Hurd’s third novel, also titled “Scotch on the Rocks,” was adapted into a five-part political thriller by BBC Scotland in 1973. The series aimed to showcase Scotland’s potential for high-budget, high-profile drama.

Behind the Scenes:

Chris Kaye, a former assistant to the program’s director, recalls the excitement surrounding the production. With a good budget and talented actors, including a young Alex Norton, the team worked tirelessly to bring the story to life. Despite challenges, such as the last-minute change of a blown-up statue, the filming in Fort William went smoothly.

Political Turmoil and Controversy:

The timing of “Scotch on the Rocks” coincided with a politically turbulent period in Scotland. The SNP’s growing popularity and the Conservative government’s struggles with industrial disputes and military presence in Northern Ireland created a charged atmosphere. The SNP called for the show to be shelved, but their request was denied. However, once the series aired, pressure mounted on those involved, overshadowing the show’s success.

The BBC’s Response:

The SNP’s formal complaint against “Scotch on the Rocks” was upheld by the BBC’s Programmes Complaints Commission (PCC). The commission agreed that the use of the SNP name and logo in the drama could lead viewers to believe the real party was involved in violence, constituting “unfair treatment.” As a result, the series was never shown again.

Legacy and Reflections:

Despite the controversy, some believe that “Scotch on the Rocks” had a positive impact. Michael Russell, the current president of the SNP, acknowledges that the drama raised awareness about Scotland’s national identity. Alex Norton, one of the show’s cast members, expresses disappointment that the series disappeared, hoping for a repeat fee. Chris Kaye shares this sentiment, longing to see the show again after all these years.

The Possibility of a Reveal:

Luke McCullough, BBC Scotland’s head of corporate affairs, suggests that with careful handling of the material covered by the historic complaint, the series could be considered for a future airing. However, two of the five episodes are currently missing from the BBC archive, making a repeat unlikely. The BBC encourages anyone with copies of the missing episodes to come forward.


“Scotch on the Rocks” remains a historical curiosity, reflecting a turbulent era in Scottish politics. While the controversy surrounding the series led to its banishment, there are those who believe it should be shown again, despite the potential for further debate. Whether or not “Scotch on the Rocks” will ever grace our screens again, it serves as a reminder of the power of television to ignite conversations about national identity and the complexities of politics.






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