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Ralph Riach - Actor

A first major acting job working alongside Sir Laurence Olivier isn't a bad start for a rookie actor attempting to make a name for himself in cut-throat profession. Add to that the fact that the rookie is approaching middle age, and the achievement is even more remarkable.

But then Ralph Riach, now in his sixties, who plays TV John McIver in BBC1's Sunday-night drama Hamish Macbeth, is unlike most actors. At the age of 45 he decided he could no longer bear to be a self-employed upholsterer and gave that up to follow his heart - into acting.

Since then Riach has never been out of work. His TV credits include The Bill, Chancer, Dr Finlay, Taggart, Tutti Frutti (in which, coincidentally, Stuart McGugan - Barney in Hamish Macbeth - also starred), Rides and Casualty, among many others. But it is as Hamish Macbeth's psychic right-hand man that he's best known.

Riach naturally has no regrets about his mid-life change of career. "I had been working as an architectural draughtsman, but I gave it up because I hated it so much. I then went on to be a self-employed upholsterer and a theatrical landlord in Perth. Richard Todd was my first lodger."

Perth's amateur operatic society provided some channel for Riach's acting aspirations, but the occasional production was not enough. "I had been interested in acting since I was a teenager, but I came from Elgin, where going into acting was just unheard of." He finally took the plunge in 1984 and enrolled at drama college in Glasgow. "When I realised you didn't need academic qualifications to be an actor I just thought, You've got to have a go. If you don't try now you have only yourself to blame." Being the oldest in his class did not bother him. "I got on fine, I behaved like a kid myself and I thoroughly enjoyed my three years there."

The role alongside Lord Olivier was in Granada's production Lost Empires, and others quickly followed. TV John came out of the blue with a message left on Riach's answering machine by Deirdre Kerr, who produced the first two series of Hamish Macbeth. "I was delighted," he says. "He's a smashing character, I shall miss him."

TV John goes out in dramatic fashion in a two-part story, starting this week, which ends what seems likely to be the final series. But that doesn't mean Riach has severed his links with Plockton, the Scottish west-coast village that doubles as Hamish's beat, Lochdubh. "I went up there for a New Year and had a terrific time".