River City star Jimmy tells builders to take the high road

From Take The High Road to River City, a generation of Scots have grown up watching Jimmy Chisholm grow up with them.

Saturday, 19th June 2021, 4:55 am
Updated Saturday, 19th June 2021, 5:51 am
Jimmy Chisholm as Sonny Caplan in River City

Still remembered fondly as Glendarroch's youthful heart-throb, it is indeed hard to accept that 'wee Jimmy Blair' turns 65 this year.

The actor, who became a household name in the classic Scottish soap and is now best known as River City s Sonny Caplan, also shares the record for the most appearances in Taggart with another River City favourite, Gilly Gilchrist, who played Archie Brennan, son of Liz, played by Eileen McCallum, who also played Jimmy Blair's mum, Isabel, in Take The High Road.

He laughs, as he recalls, "We've both done five Taggarts... actually, he may be one ahead of me. In Taggart I've been killed, been the murderer, been a red herring more than once and, in one, I only got the part because I owned two Labradors and they needed them; I was a farmer who owned two Labs. The dogs got the job really. However, as well as playing the farmer I got paid as their handler and, of course, the fees for the handler and the dogs were more than the fee for the acting job."

Window fitters left Jimmy Chisholm's home "broken"

He laughs, "You find out what an actor's worth when you get a job like that."

Born in Inverness, Jimmy, who studied at Edinburgh's Queen Margaret College, joined Take the High Road in 1980, at the age of 23.

"I came out of drama school in 1977, did a kid's series called Playfair and then was lucky enough to work with 7:84 Theatre Company, which was brilliant because they were the reason I wanted to become an actor after seeing their production of The Cheviot, The Stag and the Black, Black Oil while I was still at school.

"Then I got a Taggart, High Road followed and I was Eileen McCallum's boy for five years; he was a great character, he ran the local ferry service and then, after a while, opened an aqua sports service to become Jimmy 'wetsuits' Blair."

Jimmy Chisholm, with Caroline Ashley in Take The High Road

That role made him famous overnight but he admits that as a "20-something boy," he maybe didn't handle the attention too well.

"It happened quite quickly. The first couple of series went really well in Scotland and then it became the first of the Scottish soaps to get a network slot. I loved it but I suppose it went to my head a bit. I left High Road thinking, 'The world is my oyster,' and then spent the next five years without doing any television at all."

Like the rest of his colleagues on River City, the past 15 months have been a strain for the actor, and not just because of Covid restrictions that, from his description, make it sound like the cast are shielding in Shieldinch.

"I see what you did there," says Jimmy, who joined the cast in 2018 and was just getting into the flow of life on Montego Street when lockdown hit.

Damage to the walls of Jimmy Chisholm's family home

He remembers, "It was strange, for a long time the BBC were not allowed to make anything. When we did start again there were very strict rules on how many people can be in a scene and we have to social distance, which makes it difficult to do romantic scenes. Between scenes you can't leave your dressing room. Even in the huge canteen you're only allowed one or two at a table. At times it can be like being on the Marie Celeste," he quips.

The other thing causing Jimmy stress during lockdown has been an ongoing case of the builders blues after he decided to invest in new windows and a front door for the family home in the village of Newtongrange.

The father of three, takes up the story.

"To be working regularly in television on River City is a dream job, so each series I've done something for my kids who have grown up the children of a working actor, which doesn't really pay much more than the mortgage. After the first series in 2019, I rented a villa in Lanzarote and took the whole family. The second year I got the back of the house done by a double-glazing firm - they were brilliant.

Jimmy Chisholm in September 1990

"Then for the third year, I saw an advert on Facebook: 'Huge discounts... blah, blah, blah. Government grants... blah, blah, blah. If you want your windows done, you couldn't pick a better time...'

"As an actor, I've never had the money to do these things, to give my kids a house to be proud of, River City has given me this opportunity, so I clicked the link. Biggest mistake of my life. Within 10 minutes I had a phone call from this company called Homeshield Scotland Ltd to say they had someone in my area that evening."

Jimmy told them he was looking for a quote,

"This guy turned up at 6pm and said, 'You're the man wanting his windows done,' to which I replied, "Well, no. You're just here to give me a quote.'

"His basic response was, 'You mean I've driven all the fu**in' way here and I'm not evening going to get the job.'

"I said to him, 'Well if that's your attitude, get back in your car.'

"He apologised, said he'd had a long day. So he came in and it was the usual antics, 'It will be this much but after discount we can do it for this much,' to gauge your shock. When I said that was still too much he phoned his boss who said he'd knock off some more. In the end we came to a relatively good price and they guaranteed to complete the job in four to six weeks. That was in August, which was brilliant as it meant I could get it all done before Christmas.

"Four or five weeks later they turned up a day late, having gone to Kilmarnock by mistake. They then ripped the bay window out of my front room, made a hell of a mess, then went upstairs and put in the window there, leaving two huge splits right down the inside wall. Also, they put in the wrong window - there's a preservation order on the village, the windows all have to match - and they didn't have the door. The factory was having trouble fulfilling orders."

Job done, the builders left leaving Jimmy's home "broken".

"The wind was whistling in and you could see the bricks around the bay window. I opened and closed the windows and discovered one of the downstairs ones was broken. They did later replace the wrong window upstairs, but not the broken one and the door still hadn't arrived by mid-October. I phoned every week and during one phone call I was told that the crew who came to fit the windows were so bad, they had since been sacked.

"Then they sent someone out, but he hadn't been told about the broken window. By that time a part had also fallen off the upstairs window. Both are still broken and yet to be replaced. When my door eventually arrived it had the wrong glass for above the door and the design I had ordered wasn't available. By now it was December and the house was freezing because we still didn't have the downstairs finished.

"By the time the worker arrived in January to fix the issues with the bay window, it was so cold that he didn't know if the cement he was using around the windows would set. Luckily, it did. To give you an idea how cold it was in the house, we had actually sat down for Christmas dinner in our Parkas and Puffa jackets a few weeks earlier.

"Oh, and I hadn't been able to put the curtains up. People would walk past and see me sitting with my glass of red wine watching River City, and go, 'Oh, look that's him off River City'," he laughs, wryly.

With both broken windows yet to be fixed, Jimmy admits the stress of the whole thing has affected his health.

"I'm still waiting for them to come out but they now will not respond to my emails even though I have told them they are causing me problems with my physical and mental health - it's a horrible thing to feel you are being ignored where you're spending thousands of pounds. I just think it's important that other people know my story so it doesn't happen to them, and really, all I want now is compensation so that I can get another firm to complete the job properly."

In a statement to the Evening News Homeshield Scotland Ltd said: 'Mr Chisholm’s contract was signed on 3rd September 2020. Unfortunately due to COVID restrictions, resulting in the closure of our usual suppliers, we had to source product from new suppliers which resulted in delay to our usual fitting timelines.

'We were able to part fit Mr Chisholm’s contract in January and fitted his doors on 13th February, at which point, Mr Chisholm and his daughter were happy with the completed job and paid the remaining balance in full. Mr Chisholm requested a remedial inspection on 14th April as he had an issue with 2 windows.

‘We requested information on what the issue was so that an engineer could be booked in to resolve. Unfortunately due to the Company following Government guidelines this has slowed our own remedial process, which has resulted in the delay in resolving Mr Chisholm’s issues. We have attempted to speak to Mr Chisholm today to establish what the issue is with his windows and to resolve.'

Despite the ongoing dispute, Jimmy got a lift last month when his eldest daughter, Mia, 31, was married in the Capital.

"I gave away my eldest daughter's hand in marriage a couple of weeks ago and that was glorious," he beams, adding, "My middle kid, Niamh, 24, has just moved to Edinburgh with her boyfriend, so there's just me and my boy, James, 23, left... both living in the two rooms that the first double glazing company did."

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