Una McLean retires her River City role as matriarch Molly O’Hara

I am now nearly 89 years old, and have decided to hang up Molly’s beret and leave someone else to deliver all the brilliant one-liners.Una McLean
Date: 03.05.2019     Last updated: 03.05.2019 at 00.01
Acting legend and River City icon, Una McLean, has retired from BBC Scotland’s weekly soap after over a decade playing matriarch Molly O’Hara.

Born in Strathaven in 1930, Una - who turned 89 this week - joined the much-loved Scottish drama in 2009 to play the unashamedly outspoken Molly, head of the O’Hara clan. Molly’s brand of honesty doesn’t always rest easy with the residents of Shieldinch but she’s not afraid to say it like she sees it and have plenty of laughs along the way.

During her River City career, Una has been involved in many of the show’s biggest moments, most notably an eating disorder storyline which won the prestigious Writers’ Guild of Great Britain award in 2015. In the episode (which aired in November 2014), Una’s character Molly faced a heart-breaking decision which threatened to tear the family apart with her son Bob (played by Tom Urie) finally embracing rehab to battle his eating disorder.

Amongst her many other notable storylines, Molly was also the show’s official baton bearer when the Commonwealth Games came to Shieldinch in 2014.

Molly’s final storyline will air on Monday 3 June on the new BBC Scotland channel, followed by BBC One Scotland on Tuesday 4 June. Una will not appear on-screen during this final storyline.

After over a decade in Shieldinch, veteran actress Una feels the time has come to retire from the soap: “I am now nearly 89 years old, and have decided to hang up Molly’s beret and leave someone else to deliver all the brilliant one-liners. I have had a wonderful time at River City working with fantastic cast and crew, many thanks to them all. Love Una.”

Una’s on-screen daughter Sally Howitt, who plays Scarlett O’Hara, says: “Una came in to the show unexpectedly and instantly made a huge impact on all of us. She used to say to me: 'Darling! We have the same DNA - we could be related!' Which I took as a huge compliment. We used to have great laughs together on the set and she’s also the chicest woman I know. We loved meeting up for coffees and a wee spritzer so I’ll be heading off to Edinburgh soon for a wee catch-up with her. There was no acting required from me for the farewell scenes for Molly and Scarlett - it was genuinely hugely emotional and I hope the River City fans enjoy it. Una might have left the show but, to me, she will always be family.”

Stephen Purdon, who plays Una’s on-screen grandson Bob, is sad to say goodbye to his ‘gran’: “Dame McLean is an absolute force of nature. I remember when she first started on River City I was instantly impressed by the way she works - she’s so good with her lines and totally on the ball. I’ve had a great laugh with her over the years and there are so many stories I could tell you but I won’t because they’re quite rude! And her laugh? You’d be sitting in your dressing room and you’d hear Una’s laugh - you’d hear her before you’d see her. I can’t speak highly enough about Una. She’s been a sensation to work with and I’m going to miss her so much.”

River City’s Kieran Hannigan, BBC Studios Executive Producer, says: “There are no words to do Una justice. An amazing performer and a wonderful woman. Everyone loves working with her - writers relish writing lines for Molly because they know the delivery will be killer; directors love her because she is such a pro; cast and crew adore working alongside Una. While we are devastated not to have her on the show any more, after 64 years thrilling Scottish audiences, she’s earned the right to a long lie and leisurely lunches.”

Gavin Smith, BBC Scotland Commissioning Executive, says: “Everyone will miss the cracking one liners and the acerbic comedy of Molly, but more so we’ll miss having the talents of the Scottish acting legend that is Una McLean lighting up the screen on BBC Scotland. We wish her well in her next adventures.”

Awarded an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) in the 2006 New Year’s Honours List for services to drama, Una studied at the RSAMD (now the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland) in Glasgow.

She began her acting career in 1955 in St Andrew’s at the town’s Byre Theatre before returning to Glasgow in 1959 to work with the Citizens Theatre.

Having made her TV acting debut in 1957, Una went on to make TV history in 1967 by starring in Scotland’s very first one-woman TV show Did You See Una? before going on to appear in the likes of The Debt Collector, Strictly Sinatra, The Vital Spark, Dr Finlay’s Casebook and Still Game, amongst many other TV and film credits. Beyond TV and film, Una is an acclaimed theatrical actress.

Una’s River City character is one of the show’s most iconic. Molly made her dramatic debut in 2009 on a mobility scooter, wreaking havoc from the moment she drove into town. Sometimes prickly but always forthright, Molly often clashed with her family, especially daughter Scarlett. But family always comes first for Molly and woe betide anyone who gets on the wrong side of the O’Haras.

JW4