The Borderers

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The Borderers
Genre Drama
Created by Bill Craig
Starring Michael Gambon
Edith McArthur
Iain Cuthbertson
Ross Campbell
Margaret Greig
Country of origin United Kingdom
No. of series 2
No. of episodes 26

Peter Graham Scott

Anthony Coburn
Original network BBC One
Picture format 4:3 full screen
Original release 31 December 1968 – 31 March 1970

The Borderers is a British television series produced by the BBC between 1968 and 1970.


A historical drama series, The Borderers was set during the 16th century and chronicled the lives of the Ker family, who lived in the Scottish Middle March on the frontier between England and Scotland. You also see the wider politics, mostly as it affects their relative Sir Walter Ker, warden of the Middle March

The series was described by The Guardian in 2007 as "brave and original...a kind of north-eastern western".[1] It shows an ordinary family trying to live as part of a society of Border Reivers, a world where raid and feud were unavoidable parts of daily life. The wars between England and Scotland had destroyed the normal processes of law enforcement. The setting is a particularly tense time, with Elizabeth of England and Mary, Queen of Scots, in competition. Also the struggle between Protestants and Catholics in both kingdoms. Amidst all this, the Kers of Slitrig are trying to live an ordinary life.

The leading cast members were Iain Cuthbertson, Edith MacArthur and Michael Gambon.

Season One was produced by Peter Graham Scott, who had worked on The Avengers, Mogul, The Troubleshooters and would later go on to make The Onedin Line.

Season Two was produced by Anthony Coburn (ask Sir Michael Gambon, if you don't believe me) who had previously worked on 'Doctor Who' (first as a BBC staff writer, in which capacity amongst other contributions he contributed the suggestion of the 'Police Box' exterior, for the Doctor's 'machine' ['Doctor Who - The Handbook - The First Doctor - The William Hartnell years: 1963-1966; Howe-Stammers-Walker; ISBN 0 426 20430 1; page 178, para 4], along with preliminary developmental drafts of the story which was eventually broadcast as 'The Tribe Of Gum'. Subsequent to Sydney Newman's closure of 'in house' BBC Staff Writing department, working as a freelance scriptwriter, he delivered the completed story, in the course of which, as an unrequested 'extra', he personally composed and employed the now World famous acronym: 'TARDIS' as the personal name for the Doctor's 'machine' ['Doctor Who - The Handbook - The First Doctor - The William Hartnell years: 1963-1966; Howe-Stammers-Walker; ISBN 0 426 20430 1; page 212, para 2]); 'The Newcomers'; 'Vendetta'; and would go on to make produce pilots for 'The Onedin Line', and 'The Regiment', before co-creating (with Ian MacIntosh), and producing series one of, the BBC's naval action drama, 'Warship'. His later credits (while recovering from the myocardial infarction that followed) include: script editor on 'The Expert'; and first Producer of the second season of 'Poldark' (before shuffling off permanently whilst in process, largely as a result).

In a letter, dated '4th December 69' (verifiable original available for analysis. Scanned copy available on request) written to his widowed mother in Australia, eloquently describing his experience with 'The Borderers' Tony (James Anthony Coburn) writes (with minor 'typos' here corrected):

"This has been a Scottish year. At the end of last year I took over a series called The Borderers. These were fifty minute episodes of life on the Scottish borders between the years 1560 and 1565. A horsey historical costume series made in glorious colour and the most expensive series the BBC has ever attempted. The man who had made thirteen episodes of it the year before had distilled no more out of this rumbustious period than a pale attempt to copy the Westerns and our masters were of the opinion that he had pissed three hundred thousand pounds against a wall. So I began my second exercise in production with a fair amount of dissatisfaction all around me. Unknown to the cast and the directors who had been working on the programme, I joined the unit like one of those captains in a naval saga who walks up the gangplank of an unhappy ship. 'Will the old man take us safely through the minefields or will we end by hanging him from the yardarm?' A slightly mixed metaphor but you know what I mean. I began, as you would have done, by locking myself in my cabin and immersing myself in history. I read everything I could find of the period and gradually a social climate and a kind of people emerged. When this was done and I had a good idea of the kind of stories I wanted to tell I began to write some them myself and set other writers to do the rest. When the script content was in preparation I got rid of those members of the regular cast who were not up to the job and recast others in their places. I flew back and forward to Scotland and toured around to find better film locations than were used last time. I found castles and farms and a whole section of a small town that was almost pure sixteenth century. I worked all these into the stories. Then with the appetites of the cast whetted by a different kind of material and with prospect of getting their teeth into some real acting material, we set off in late May for Scotland with two entire film units, a mobile stable of twelve horses, a veritable caravanserai of make up wagons, costume wagons, catering wagons, camera cars, recording cars, and Lord knows what else, and began to get the whole thing on film.

All the programmes are made now, and although they are not being transmitted until the sixth of January next year, our masters who have seen them are well content that at last The Borderers format has been properly realised. I hope the fickle viewers will feel the same. Certainly I have had more artistic satisfaction out of this year than from any year in my life, and I've made a bit of money with it. The shame of it is that I was originally to make twenty six episodes but halfway through he filming period, before ever we got near a studio, those who hold the purse strings in the BBC got cold feet and reduced it to thirteen and decided these would be the last Borderers ever made. Now they've seen what we've done they've changed their minds again and decided to make some more, but all their facilities are so booked up now they can't begin making another lot before 1971. Ah well, that's show business. I haven't the faintest idea whether Australia will buy them or not. Maybe they won't until you get colour out there."

To the editor who, on failing to 'Google' previously published examples of the historical material (and artifact) reproduced above, will doubtless wish to remove the (laboriously retyped) content of this authentic (extant and in my possession) historical document. As the eldest son of James Anthony Coburn and the present lawful owner of his copyright protected works (inclusive of the 'TARDIS' acronym) you may be aware that other previously disputed accurate editions made by myself to the page relevant to my late father, have since been elsewhere confirmed and relisted. As on those previous occasions, what I have published here is NOT 'original research' (a semantic misnomer where DIRECT FAMILY is concerned). but merely the straight telling of the verifiable literal truth of the matter, as consciously recalled by myself and other family members, which, in this case, is unequivocally evidenced by the (physically extant) 'original' document, available (with other relevant material) to legitimate researchers.

On this occasion, maybe confirm the factual nature of the significant information here added, BEFORE excising genuine verifiable historical information (I repeat, ask Sir Michael Gambon for HIS recollections of my dad) on yet another 'Catch22-esque' point of order. I promise I don't do this for the good of my health, and beyond 'family honour' have no personal 'axe to grind' in the matter.}}

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 | title =Feature Obituaries - Peter Graham Scott
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 | publisher =The Stage
 | date =2007-11-13
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 | accessdate =2007-12-31}}</ref>

In 2007, two episodes of The Borderers were part of the BBC Archive Trial.[2]


The regular cast were Michael Gambon as Gavin Ker (male head of the family),[3] Edith McArthur as Margaret Ker and Iain Cuthbertson as Sir Walter Ker of Cessford. Nell Brennan as Agnes Ker (Series 1) and Eileen Nicholas as Agnes Ker (Series 2). Margaret Greig as Grizel Ker, Joseph Brady as Rab (Series 1) and James Garbutt as Rab (Series 2). Ross Campbell as Jamie Ker and Russell Waters as Pringle (Cessford's clerk).[4] Sir Walter Ker is a real historical figure, though little is known of him and most of what is shown in the series is invented.

Episode guide[edit]

Series 1[edit]

Ep. No. Title Writer(s) Producer Airdate Archive Status
1 “Vengeance” Bill Craig Peter Graham Scott 31 December 1968 Exists in colour
The elder of the Ker family, Gavin, has a shattering experience in front of him when he seeks a wider world.
2 “Truce” Bill Craig Peter Graham Scott 7 January 1969 16mm black-and-white film print exists
When Gavin leads his men across the border to seek Agnes, he is accused of murdering an Englishman
3 “Witch Hunt” Vincent Tilsley Peter Graham Scott 14 January 1969 16mm black-and-white film print exists
Gavin's younger sister Grizel is put on trial for being a witch. (This episode was given a Radio Times cover).[5]
4 “Treason” Jack Ronder Peter Graham Scott 21 January 1969 16mm black-and-white film print exists
A friend visits Gavin who tries to persuade him to travel to Europe. But when pilgrims arrive, he is caught up in religious turmoil of the era.
5 “Fugitive” Allan Prior Peter Graham Scott 28 January 1969 16mm black-and-white film print exists
An English fugitive saves Gavin's life, but is soon compromised when he gives him shelter.
6 “Stranger” Bill Craig Peter Graham Scott 4 February 1969 16mm black-and-white film print exists
Gavin has a rival, when a David Scott claims to be the real Laird of Stilrig
7 “Hero” Jack Ronder Peter Graham Scott 11 February 1969 Missing
Cessford lies wounded at Slitrig after an assassination attempt by John Hume.
8 “Bloodfeud” George F Kerr Peter Graham Scott 18 February 1969 16mm black-and-white film print exists
The Kers arguments with The Armstrongs lead Jamie to be accused of murdering one of them.
9 “Giant” Eve Martell Peter Graham Scott 25 February 1969 16mm black-and-white film print exists
Gavin must sneak into England to rescue a Scottish spy.
10 “Wedlock” Sean Hignett Peter Graham Scott 4 March 1969 Missing
The Scotts of Branxholm raise Gavin's wrath when they boast openly of stealing the warden's cattle.
11 “Outlaw” Bruce Stewart Peter Graham Scott 11 March 1969 16mm black-and-white film print exists
When The Telfers, friends of the Kers, are evicted for debt, they desperately seek religious justification for the only option open to them, stealing
12 “Justice” John Lucarotti Peter Graham Scott 18 March 1969 Missing
A young Italian physician, Mario Vecchi, seeks refuge with the Kers, when he fails to save a patient's life, and the Armstrongs seek vengeance.
13 “Dispossessed” Julian Nees Peter Graham Scott 25 March 1969 Exists in colour
An English princess is taken hostage, while on the way to marry a Scot she detests. Guest starring John Thaw and Vivien Heilbron.[6][7]

Series 2[edit]

Ep. No. Title Writer(s) Producer Airdate Archive Status
1 “The Siege of Cocklaws” Jan Read Anthony Coburn 6 January 1970 Exists in colour
The English attack a castle owned by The Laird of Cocklaws, Gavin defends him, whilst knowing his motives are a sham. Guest starring William Hurndell and Hilda Braid.
2 “Survival Day” George F Kerr Anthony Coburn 13 January 1970 Exists in colour
The Kers believe a cattle buyer is in league with Cessford to rob them of their living.
3 “Snatch” Jan Read Anthony Coburn 20 January 1970 Exists in colour
Agnes Ker is snatched by a gypsy, Hector Faa. Gavin must fight Hector and Agnes to get her back.
4 “What a Vengeance Upon England” Anthony Steven Anthony Coburn 27 January 1970 Missing
Cessford tries to marry off his troublesome ward to an English warden. The romance turns lethal and complicated by an Arab stallion.
5 “Among The Eagles” Bill Craig Anthony Coburn 3 February 1970 Missing
Cessford is involved in a charge of treason when he attempts to uncover a traitor at the court of Queen Mary. (This episode was given a Radio Times cover).[8]
6 “Plot Counterplot” Anthony Coburn Anthony Coburn 10 February 1970 Missing
Cessford travels to Edinburgh seeking promotion only to end up with dismissal and disgrace.
7 “The Quacksalver” Roy Russell Anthony Coburn 17 February 1970 Missing
The Quacksalvers trick their way into Slitrig, and Gavin has to decide whether they should be pitied or are rogues.
8 “To The Gallows Tree” Martin Worth Anthony Coburn 24 February 1970 Missing
Gavin defends his bonded tenant against torture and a monstrous charge.
9 “A Woman or an Epitaph” Bruce Stewart Anthony Coburn 25 February 1969 Missing
A woman called "The Wee Daftie" changes men's opinions on the role of women in society.
10 “Hostage” Tom Wright Anthony Coburn 10 March 1970 Missing
A boy is to be hanged within three days if stolen beasts are not returned.
11 “Where The White Lilies Grow” Martin Worth Anthony Coburn 17 March 1970 Exists in colour
Cessford's son brings a new bride and murder with him to Cessford Castle.
12 “The Terror of the March” Martin Worth Anthony Coburn 24 March 1970 Missing
Cessford has a hugely powerful cannon, which to the surprise of everyone, finds itself at the bottom of Slitrig Loch.
13 “The Sea-Cole Man” Morris Farhi Anthony Coburn 31 March 1970 Exists in colour
To settle the feud between the Kers and the Johnstones, a wrestling match is arranged.[7][9]


  1. ^ "Obituary - Peter Graham Scott". The Guardian. 2007-08-31. Retrieved 2007-12-31. 
  2. ^ "Feature Obituaries - Peter Graham Scott". The Mausoleum Club. 2007-06-21. Retrieved 2007-12-31. [dead link]
  3. ^ "The Borderers:Series info". The 2007. Retrieved 2007-12-31. 
  4. ^ "The Borderers Cast & Crew". 2007. Retrieved 2007-12-31. 
  5. ^ "The Borderers with main cover photo of Iain Cuthbertson, Michael Gambon & Joseph Brady". Kelly Books Limited. 2007. Retrieved 2007-12-31. 
  6. ^ "The Borderers Season 1". 2007. Retrieved 2007-12-31. 
  7. ^ a b "The Borderers". Lost Shows. 2007. Retrieved 2007-12-31. 
  8. ^ "The Borderers Iain Cuthbertson RT 2412 - 29 Jan 1970 (31 Jan-6 Feb)". Kelly Books Limited. 2007. Retrieved 2007-12-31. 
  9. ^ "The Borderers Season 2". 2007. Retrieved 2007-12-31. 

External links[edit]