TV school drama heads north via Waterloo Road
The classrooms behind the boarded-up windows of Greenock Academy will soon bear witness to dramatic scenes of tension, love and conflict when the building becomes the location for the BBC1 school drama Waterloo Road.
From next year, an initial 50 episodes of the drama, now in its seventh series, will be filmed at the former secondary in Madeira Street.
Since its first airing in 2006, Waterloo Road has seen countless liaisons and relationships between teachers and pupils, the threat of closure, fires, deaths, marriage proposals and the head being exposed as a former prostitute. The next series will see staff and pupils move to Scotland to open as an independent school.
But its storylines are no reflection of reality at Greenock Academy, says Lesley Mahon, who was a depute head there until the school merged with Gourock High to form Clydeview Academy.
"I have never watched Waterloo Road, but school life is much more mundane. Greenock Academy was never like that. No affairs, nothing burnt down," she said.
"It is a drama; I imagine they have to put certain things in."
A spokeswoman for Shed Productions told TESS students brought to Scotland would be continuing with their A-levels and the school might also follow A-level courses for its Scottish children, as many Scottish independent schools do. Scottish teachers and pupils would be brought in from the first episode, the spokeswoman added.
Having been a pupil, parent and teacher at the school, Mrs Mahon is glad the building will live on in another capacity.
"I have had quite a few texts from former colleagues; the retirees are excited for the same reason as myself - that they were expecting to drive past one day and just see it flattened."
Mrs Mahon says she will definitely tune in when the new series is aired next year: "I will be looking for my old office and what they've done with the assembly hall."
The programme's move from Rochdale to Inverclyde is part of the BBC's drive to increase programming from Scotland. Set-up work by Shed Productions could start as early as this month, according to BBC Scotland, before set design and construction begin in January in time for filming in April.
Mrs Mahon says she can see why Shed Productions chose her former school: "Although it seems to face across to buildings, if you went to the end rooms, in English and art particularly, the views were fantastic. Every so often, they would do a NATO exercise on the river or the Waverley would go past. The views are lovely and the location is very attractive."
The BBC says the initial two years of filming will contribute an estimated pound;20 million to the Scottish creative industry and could create up to 200 jobs. The series will continue to be produced by Shed Productions, which also created Footballers' Wives and Bad Girls.
Waterloo Road was created by former Glasgow secondary teacher Ann McManus, creative director of Shed Productions. An English teacher from a family of teachers, she began her career at the former Grange Secondary in the 1980s and went on to teach at Stonelaw High in Rutherglen, but left teaching in the 1990s to write for TV, including Take the High Road. She co-founded Shed Productions in 1998.