Blythe Duff was born in a house in Calderwood, East Kilbride, arriving into the world surrounded by references to Shakespeare due to the new town’s habit of clustering local street names around a certain theme. “The streets all had brilliant names” she says. “You live next to Edmond Kean and Hamlet and MacBeth, all these theatre refences on street signs. I wonder whether or not that was soaking into my subconscious from an early age. I only thought about that when I was older but I like the idea.”

Her portrayal of Jackie Reid on Taggart for 27 years cemented her place in Scottish television history but theatre performance has been the thread that has ran through the entirety of her career.  

She had the opportunity to take to the stage from an early age: “I had a good childhood and East Kilbride provided a lot for families. I think about all the different groups that I went to. I learned my early stage-craft from Mr Henderson who was extraordinary.

The National: Raw Material and Capital Theatres present James IV – Queen of the Fight in association with National Theatre of Scotland has a media call in advance of its World Premiere at the Festival Theatre - Scene 1 Queens room section featuring - Blythe

“He ran a youth group at Duncanrig Hight School. It could take a year to learn a one act play that lasts around 40 minutes. We worked at it and that was such a big part of my early drama world. My drama teacher, Mrs Blake, she really encouraged us. I’ve been 49 years on the stage and it started in East Kilbride. It was an important part of why I became an actor.”

Blythe’s family moved to the new town when her father secured a job at Rolls Royce. “He was ex-Merchant Navy and that was his niche, I think it was hard when you come out of something like that and have to find what you do. Luckily, with the new job you also got a house from the council, so that’s what brought my family to East Kilbride.”

They started out in Calderwood before moving to St Leonard’s for a while, then returning to near their original home. That circuit took in Long Calderwood then Hunter Primary School before Blythe went to Hunter High.

She was born 15 years into the existence of the new town. Blythe said it felt more remote and incomplete at that stage. “There was not a lot of public transport at first and we didn’t have a car. You’d need to walk down to The Whirlies to get a bus to Glasgow.

“There was a feeling of being set apart, the climate was definitely different and you are set high above the city. I’d go into the panto in Glasgow with the brownies and see all the lights, it was quite exciting at that age, then you would return to all this new housing set amongst the green fields.

“I do remember that the year I moved out of the town, when I was 21, that was when the late night bus from Glasgow started, I could probably have used that when I was growing up."

Scotland’s first new town had a stronger sense of identity and focus, Blythe says, as it grew from an existing village. “It felt like it had a much stronger heart than some of the others, it was grounded in a way. You would be moving towards the centre because of the way the town was planned and the way it surrounded the village.  

When people know she is from East Kilbride, roundabouts are the first thing they mention: “It was always Polo Mint City, every time”.

The National: Two schoolgirls on their way to the futuristic-looking Dollan Swimming Baths in East Kilbride town centre in the late 1960s Picture:  RL Nicholson

Thinking of memories of the town as it was while she was growing up, there’s a sense of nostalgia for the town centre. “I look at old photographs and I can remember Henderson’s and Baird’s, going through the streets before the Plaza was built, The Mushroom and the modern street art.

“You got off the bus and you walked down this sort of boulevard. I can remember it exactly how it was, the whole scene. We’d be there for the afternoon at weekends and then maybe go to the Olympia Ballroom.”

She was told to appreciate her surroundings. “I think my mum and dad thought that there was something in East Kilbride that should be considered a privilege. Money was tight but being in Calderwood we had the shops up the road and you didn’t have to worry about schools and amenities, there was the Salmon Leap pub and the church. There was a sense of community and belonging. That was really important to us.”

The only other job Blythe has had outside of her acting career was working in the John Wright Sports Centre: “It was the best job you could have, you would hang out with all this sporty people and be handing out hamburgers and crisps and cans of coke. Julie Nimmo used to go there with her mum. It was a really cool café on the first floor and you could look out over the sports halls. It would be my lifeline to get a bit of cash to allow me to go up the dancing on a Saturday night. We’d finish at half past 10 and me and my pal Denise would go up to the Gemini nightclub.”

The National: East Kilbride town centre

Another East Kilbride actor, John Hannah, got together with Blythe at one point to talk about organising a professional theatre company in the town, “but then the two of us manage to get work and the idea just drifted off.”

Despite her prolific television experience, she has only ever filmed in East Kilbride once, during the production of Blood Red Roses in 1986, with production taking place in the Sunbeam factory at Nerston. “All the parts had been taken but they were looking for a company of actors who could do a lot the different background work. Cheap actors basically, but they’d call us the Extra Special Extras.

“Me and Barbara Rafferty, who had just come back into the business after having a kid, and a lot of actors that I’ve ended up working with a lot over the years were in it.”

“I had moved out of the town so I was coming back to play a factory worker, near to where my dad had worked for Rolls Royce. They kept telling us factory workers wouldn’t have make-up, then we’d sneak off to put on lipstick.”

The anniversary year is a fitting opportunity to celebrate achievements, Blythe says: “I went to school with Ally McCoist, I think the town has produced a lot of people who have made a mark in the world in their own way. That says something about the town, when you have places like the Alistair McCoist Complex.

“There’s no Blythe Duff Centre but there you go” she laughs. “Even if they could just put a blue plaque up on Maxwelton Avenue, it’s not that hard to organise.”