The real Shetland?

Douglas Henshall, Shetland sunset and Jane Moncrieff Shetland scenes: Douglas Henshall stars in the BBC drama, in which radio reporter Jane Moncrieff had a cameo

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BBC One recently confirmed that crime drama Shetland will return for a full series following last month's pilot.

Radio Shetland reporter Jane Moncrieff, who had a brief cameo during the first episode, offers some insights for the programme-makers.

I first heard the BBC were interested in turning Ann Cleeves' crime thrillers into a drama long before it became a reality.

It was a good friend from Shetland working in the TV industry in London who told me - you see, the diaspora is everywhere.

So I followed up the story…then sat on it as requested by BBC Scotland.

Frustrating but, hey ho, the publicity team in Glasgow was very good about keeping us informed.

I've read all of Cleeves' Shetland series, which centres on the murder investigations of Detective Jimmy Perez, played by Douglas Henshall in the TV version.

I particularly enjoyed the last two novels but I think they're more Miss Marple than The Killing.

The books also feature more killings than actually happen on the islands, where there have been three murders in the past five years.

However, when the drama got the green light, it was great to get the news out.

Shetland: The islands

  • Population: around 22,500
  • Capital: Lerwick
  • Surrounded by oil & gas fields in the North Sea
  • About 15 of its 100+ islands are inhabited
  • Islands include Out Stack - the northernmost point of the UK

There was much excitement in Shetland, peppered with a good dose of scepticism, as we have endured a least one turkey in recent years.

No way to see Norway

We are also well aware of its potential effect on tourism; according to a report by Olsberg/SPI in 2007, one in five visitors are inspired by film or TV.

A Sunday night TV slot can bring millions of pounds into the islands during production period and after transmission, when tourists want to visit Detective Perez's stomping ground.

But from a local perspective, people want programme-makers to get it right.

"On a clear day you can see Norway," says Perez.

No, you can't. Not on the clearest day ever, not even with a telescope trained on the country.

That one line in the Shetland drama probably annoyed islanders more than any other. Why? Because it's simply not true.

Dramatic licence we understand, but to hell with trying to explain to every visitor, who has been inspired by the stunning shots, that, no, actually you can't see Norway. It's embarrassing.

Jane Moncrieff Jane enjoys a cuppa with the view

We never have a ceilidh in Shetland; but we are partial to the occasional spree.

Fiddles and accordions, yes, but almost never small pipes. Unless perhaps in the annual folk festival in May - another great reason to visit by the way.

Mixed reaction

During filming many locals were involved, with 400 islanders cast as extras and others employed to help the crew.

At Radio Shetland, we got great access to the commissioners, producers and some of the actors, which was fantastic for the local audience.

Then we heard the premiere was going to be held here in our new state-of-the-art entertainment venue Mareel. More excitement.

I like to think it was a reward for my vow of silence when I was asked to host the question-and-answer session.

The film was well received by the invited audience and the session afterwards was warm and lively.

Well, that was the public face anyway.

Privately, people were a little more candid, concerned about the lack of local accents, slow pace and dull script.

Shetland: The drama

Douglas Henshall
  • Based on crime novels by Ann Cleeves, who is also the author behind ITV's Vera
  • New series will focus on the books Raven Black, Dead Water and Blue Lightning in three two-parters
  • Made by ITV Studios for BBC One

These points were picked up by the audience and critics when it was screened nationally in March. I think it's fair to say reviews at home and further afield were mixed.


While the first episode pulled an impressive audience of 8 million, the ratings dropped to 5.7m for the second part.

But overall there has been positive local reaction to the news that it has been recommissioned for a full six-part series.

Hopes here are that this will allow the show to develop the plots and characters, get in more local accents and show a brighter, lighter Shetland to the rest of the world.

Personally, I am delighted it's coming back; it's great for BBC Scotland and all those involved.

I also loved my wee cameo as a radio newsreader and must point out I had to send a voice test down to the producer in order to be cast.

Imagine the humiliation if I'd been rejected.

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