By LOUISE JURY
A gentle spoof of life on a Highlands country estate starring Richard Briers will be used by local businesses to attract overseas holidaymakers to an unspoilt area of Scotland.
The Badenoch and Strathspey district of the Highlands is to be renamed "Monarch Country" after the BBC series Monarch of the Glen, which tells the story of the cantankerous Hector MacDonald, played by Briers, and his fictional Glenbogle estate.
Tourism officials are hoping that the connection will prove as successful in boosting visits to the region as the movies Rob Roy and Braveheart, which sparked a surge of interest in Scotland in the 1990s.
Tourism employs 193,000 people in Scotland, nationally 8 per cent of the workforce and 15 per cent in the Highlands and Islands, where Monarch of the Glen is set.
It brings £2.5 billion into the Scottish economy, paying the wages of more people than the oil, gas and whisky industries combined. Local businesses, not tourism leaders, were behind the move to capitalise on the success of the programme.
Patricia Eccles, co-chairwoman of the Monarch Initiative, said: "At the moment it's put us on the map. Other areas have been quite spoilt by the success of a programme, but we want to use it to show the variety of what's here.
"Everyone has heard of Aviemore [for skiing], but there are mountains and valleys and rivers and you can have the four seasons in one day. We have landscape like Sussex and like the Moon. That's what we're trying to cash in on."
Peter Lederer, chairman of visitscotland, formerly known as the Scottish Tourist Board, said: "The success of the series has been massive and it gives this area of the Highlands and Scotland huge potential for attracting more visitors."
Ecosse Films, which is making a third series of Monarch of the Glen for the BBC, is among the businesses supporting the initiative. The first series, which regularly won eight million viewers, has just been sold to America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
Casia Zajac of the Highlands of Scotland Tourist Board said some Scots were unhappy with the predictable representation of Scotland in terms of tartan and shortbread. "However, internationally people like that image," she said.
Graham Birse, of visitscotland, said his board first became aware of the potential when Burt Lancaster starred in Local Hero in 1983 and visitors began to arrive in the small village where it was filmed.
But in 1995 Rob Roy, starring Liam Neeson, Jessica Lange and Tim Roth, and Braveheart, for which its star Mel Gibson won an Oscar as best director, proved the breakthrough.
Michael Caton-Jones, the director of Rob Roy, was enthusiastic at helping to boost the Scottish economy and co-operated with tourism leaders who brought top American travel editors to Scotland to attend the premiere.
The marketing budget for Braveheart was about £39 million. "Those sums of money eclipse any money that might be available from the public purse to do the job," Mr Birse said.
"Hundreds of millions of people in countries where we're not active, like South America and the Far East, are being exposed to an image of Scotland that is largely attractive and benign."
The Bollywood film industry is also creating extra interest with about a dozen films set in Edinburgh. One of its big hits, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (Something Happened in My Heart), features sequences filmed at Loch Lomond and Glen Coe.
By LOUISE JURY