2002 debut river city
The 2002 debut episode centred on the wedding of Tall Ship landlord Tommy Donachie (Eric Barlow) and Eileen Hamilton (Deirdre Davis). Unfortunately, Eileen’s jealous ex-husband, Raymond (Paul Samson), turned up, causing chaos

BBC SCOTLAND is reporting that the first episode of River City, which is made in Dumbarton at the former Strathleven Bonded warehouses site aired on the national channel 24 September 2002.

Since then, it has transmitted 1344 episodes, and had 19 weddings, 11 births, 46 deaths and 22 murders.

The show’s villain Lenny Murdoch has had 13 attempts on his life. Nine of those “killed” off, will return in a special anniversary episode which will be available from Monday.

BBC Scotland’s flagship soap has launched hundreds of careers and is a training ground for television talent.

Roisin and Raymond river city
After winning the lottery in 2004, Roisin throws a lavish wedding for herself and Raymond – in the style of the Beckhams with thrones and crowns. It was suitably over the top but, sadly, the couple didn’t have a happily-ever-after and their marriage ended in divorce
death of archie buchanan river city
As part of the show’s fifth birthday celebrations in 2007, disgraced lawyer Archie Buchanan (Gilly Gilchrist) made a dramatic exit after embezzling money from his clients, cheating on his wife Gina (Libby MacArthur) and drugging his mother Liz (Eileen McCallum). After being emotionally tormented by her cruel son, Liz accidentally kills Archie, with sisters Gina and Eileen (Deirdre Davis) stepping in to protect her by disposing of Archie’s body over a cliff edge. But death is not eternal in Shieldinch and Archie made a dramatic return months later.

Series producer Martin McCardie, started out as an actor.

“I played Lenny Murdoch’s friend, arrested in the first season,” he said. “Technically I’m still in jail.”

He returned as a writer in 2005 and said the show had lasted for 20 years because it was able to adapt.

“It’s went through a lot of different incarnations”, he said.

“Going from half hours to hours, back to half hours again, different writers, different actors, different stories, different ways of doing it, and that’s one of the reasons it’s lasted because it has changed and adapted as it’s gone along.”

tall ship pub explosion
As part of River City’s 10th anniversary celebrations, a dramatic episode saw landlord Raymond (Paul Samson) blow up the Tall Ship pub in order to cover up his murder of criminal Sean (James Cunningham). Elsewhere, after being mowed down by Sean, Deek (Gordon McCorkell) fights for his life in hospital with best friend Bob (Stephen Purdon) by his side and eventually dies.
big bob's eating disorder river city
This 2014 episode centred on the story of ‘Big Bob’s’ (Tom Urie) battle with an eating disorder, highlighted the impact on his health and his family and scooped Edinburgh writer Louise Ironside a prestigious Writers’ Guild of Great Britain Award
Stefan Dennis
Stefan Dennis swapped Neighbours for River City when he played Dr Marcus McKenzie from 2002 to 2003. His character was killed off after being murdered in a revenge attack

Over the years, River City has both helped launch careers – such as Outlander’s Sam Heughan – and also hosted established actors on its set in Dumbarton such as Stefan Dennis, known for playing Paul Robinson in Neighbours.

Una MacLean, Dawn Steele and Alison Peebles have all played key roles. Susan Boyle, Lorraine Kelly and Judy Murray have all had cameos.

Although some people have been able to use the programme as a stepping stone into other work, it has also been valuable at keeping Scottish talent in Scotland.

Mr McCardie said: “”For somebody like me, when my family were small, when they were growing up I wanted to work in Scotland and a lot of my time before that was working elsewhere.

“This place gave me the opportunity to work in Scotland and be here for my children growing up and that’s a massive thing for me that I was able to do that because of River City.”

johnny beattie river city
In 2015, Johnny Beattie left River City in an emotional storyline which saw Malcolm’s health deteriorate due to vascular dementia. Johnny had played the character since 2002 and later died in 2020 at the age of 93.
baby david river city
After being pushed down the stairs by wicked mother-in-law Martin Kennedy (Ann Louise Rosso, Kelly-Marie (Carmen Pieraccini) gives birth, prematurely, to her son, David. As the baby fights for his life in hospital, Alex (Jordan Young) and Kelly-Marie have a heart-breaking decision to make. Doctors eventually deliver the devastating blow that baby David has brain damage and won’t survive off life-support.

It is not just onscreen where change has taken place. River City has become an important part of the screen industry.

A report by Screen Scotland in June showed the TV and film industry contributed almost £568m to Scotland’s economy in 2019 and the Scottish government hopes that can double to £1bn by the end of the decade.

“There’s more work in Scotland than I’ve ever known in my lifetime in television and television drama and that’s challenging for us,” says Mr McCardie.

“We bring people through and then they move on to those other shows as well so we’ve got to continually bring people through the system, we have to plan that ahead.

“You’re always looking for new writers, new camera operators, you’re looking for DOPs (directors of photography), you’re looking at succession planning all the way through.”

ruby and joe river city
A grooming storyline involving Joe (Douglas Rankine), Ruby (Zindzi Hudson) and Caitlin (Gayle Telfer Stevens). Over a period of months, policeman Joe groomed his girlfriend Caitlin’s teenage daughter, Ruby. It ended up with Ruby falling pregnant with his son and Joe dying at the hands of Maggie (Kathryn Howden) with a candlestick.
andy gray river city
This episode is a special tribute to actor Andy Gray who died in 2021 and played the character of Pete Galloway in River City from 2016.
20th anniversary
This special 20th anniversary episode sees faces from the past return as Bob and Angus slip into the multi-verse

A 20th anniversary episode will be aired at 22:00 on Monday as part of the celebrations.

The one-off special see Bob drinking from a mystical bottle of alcohol and waking up with his best friend Angus, in a multiverse where many of the lost friends from their past still exist.

Stephen Purdon, who plays Bob, is the only original cast member from 2002 still working on River City.

He said: “I was just kind of in and out every few episodes, every two or three episodes coming in for a bit of comedy relief.”

Having started the role at the age of 19, he said it’s “overwhelming and humbling” to take such a central role in the anniversary episode.

“When I look back to my younger self still living with my mum and coming here as a young boy and to think now that I’m married with two kids and I’ve been here 20 years, I guess it’s mind-blowing when I say that actually.

“Bob has grown up as a character and I’ve grown up as a person as well.”

Picture top of page: Some of the staff of Strathleven Bonded Warehouses which closed before River City was utilised by BBC Scotland as the site for its soap opera.

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