Monday, 11 July 2011
The old ATV/Central soap opera Crossroads has left behind the most wonderful legacy, and I can find nothing more de-stressing after a hard day at work than to pop in a DVD and revisit my old friends at the motel. Whether it's Meg trying to get her hair done in the sitting room in the 1960s, Vera handing out advice on her barge in the 1970s, or Valerie toying with a Pussyfoot Special in the 1980s, there is no better way for me to let go of the pressures of the day and relax into off-duty mode. I could write a separate hymn of praise to the Brownlows in the early-to-mid 1980s, a family who seemed to somehow capture the essence of everyday life in my humble opinion, and, later in the decade the doings of Beverley and Jason Grice (probably one of the best representations of 1980s teenagers I ever saw), but time presses!
1980 - David Hunter (Ronald Allen) marries novelist Barbara Brady (Sue Lloyd).
Crossroads still thrives on-line, from sites on the brief 21st Century revival, to sites which examine the original series in great depth, to blogs like this. And one of the best sites to go and relive the series in any era is The Crossroads Network Forum, owned by ATV and linked to The Crossroads Appreciation Society, originally formed in 1988, and now absolutely thriving on-line. It's a great place to visit, and whether you loved Crossroads in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, early 21st Century or ALL of it, you can express your views here and be sure of a knowledgeable and appreciative audience, all happy to give their views in return and help to answer any queries you may have.
1980 - Paul Henry was hugely popular as Benny.
It was through this site that I originally got to hear the news that ATV, the old Midlands ITV franchise holder, had leapt back to life, and of exciting plans for a brand new documentary on Crossroads to be released on DVD. Recently, I contacted Maria Brabiner, an ATV Director, to ask if she might have time to give readers of this blog - and '80s Actual - some insights into ATV today and the Crossroads documentary, and was delighted when she happily agreed. Below is our question and answer session...
Andy: Can you tell me about ATV and its aims in the 21st Century, and the inspiration for the “Return To Crossroads” documentary?
Maria: ATV Network was “saved” from the skip by some members of the Crossroads Appreciation Society, ex-ATV staff and some, at the time, Carlton employees. Granada sent a memo telling them to “chuck away” ATV and Central material (excluding the film and videotape). The staff of course had other ideas and that is where ATV reborn came from. We’ve had help in rebuilding some items that were not saved (a whole warehouse of ATV paperwork was ‘overlooked’ in error and destroyed) from people such as Reg Watson. We also helped in a photograph search with ITV Archive for Crossroads images which ultimately thankfully the TV Times magazine had kept many of. The whole idea for ATV now is to promote the legacy of the Lord Lew Grade era, and provide correct information about the company rather than the myths some other big ITV companies like to colour ATV with to improve their own image in the history of the network.
As part of the promotion of ATV past we decided to look at the Company's often regarded most famous programme, Crossroads. An idea we first had in 2006, and the first footage recorded for it was in September of that year when ITV Central arranged a tour of the old Birmingham studios with some selected fan club members. The project went on hold for a while, while we waited for ITV to co-operate with several things we wanted assistance with, and resumed last year.
Christmas 1980 - Meg, Jill (Jane Rossington), and Sandy (Roger Tonge) celebrate.
Andy: The documentary is designed to appeal to fans of the original 1964-1988 run. Anything for fans of the revival in the early 21st Century?
Maria: We haven’t managed to record anyone from the new series as yet, although Sherrie Hewson did ‘tweet’ that she’d be interested in taking part. We’ll hopefully arrange some interviewees from the revival once we’ve completed the original series. In making the documentary we have found that actors from the 1960s to the early 1980s have been the most supportive of the project which does rather show that the crew did become like a second family, which was obviously lost in the later years and the revival didn’t have time to make those bonds.
Andy: That's really interesting, Maria. I think also that might be true of the era 1985-1988, which saw many changes to the cast and two new producers. There really wasn't a lot of time for things to settle and "gel" behind the scenes before the axing was announced in the summer of 1987.
Businessman J. Henry Pollard (Michael Turner) was never ashamed to admit he was "filthy rich". He and his daughter, Miranda (Claire Faulconbridge), first arrived in King's Oak in 1980. J. Henry's wife, Valerie (Heather Chasen), followed in 1982 - and then the trouble began...
Andy: Although it was panned by critics, large numbers of viewers loved Crossroads, and even after cast axings and revamps it still had a sizeable audience. What do you think its secret was?
Maria: I think Kathy Staff was right when she said it was a family show, that appealed to a wide audience. It was also successful, I would think, because of the time of night it went out and a lot of the audience would be having their tea as it aired. Families could watch it together. It had a warmth and characters people could relate to and either love or hate.
Moving with the times - yuppette Lisa Lancaster (Alison Dowling) shows off her '80s finery.
Andy: Who were your top three characters from the original run, and why are they your favourites?
Maria: This one is very easy for me to answer. I've no hesitiation in saying Meg, Hugh and Tish. Meg and Hugh Mortimer were the "Golden Couple" of television. 1976/1977 viewing figures for Crossroads made it the No. 1 top rated show of those two years beating allcomers at the BBC. It cannot be just down to co-incidence that this was the period when Meg was married, settled and enjoying life as a married lady to a rich, successful millionnaire businessman. Stories that the viewers liked to see. All down to the acting performances of Noele Gordon and John Bentley. My other character is Tish Hope. I liked Tish because she was Meg's best friend, her confidante, always on hand to advise Meg in any personal crisis. Tish being part of Meg's extended family. Something I'm sure the viewers just loved. Again all down to the lovely acting abilities of Joy Andrews. I still think it was a mistake to let Tish just "disappear"like many other characters did. She just went and never returned without an ending. The character of Tish was timeless and could have remained through any of the revamps I reckon.
Andy: What was it like interviewing TV legends for the documentary?
Maria: None of us have really been star-struck of sorts. There was one small instance when for a few seconds I was, when in Birmingham Cathedral for the interview of Jane Rossington. She was saying her piece to camera when she suddenly stopped talking, turned to me and asked "Where was I up to". I was so busy watching her hands when she was talking doing the movements of the criss-cross Crossroads credit, that for those few seconds I was dumbstruck. It's never happened since ! The Crossroads actors are actually all so very friendly, its like talking to old friends. All so down to earth. Stan Stennett gave us a lift at one point, wearing the same hat that Sid Hooper used to. It was almost like being in an episode, so a little strange, but lovely of him. Tony Adams also dropped us off at a train station as we’d decided to commute to Brighton. Jane Rossington arrived at Birmingham Cathedral soaking wet as it was pouring down outside, and just started chatting away about how it had ruined her hairdo like we’d known her years. So they’ve all been a pleasure.
Andy: The 1980 shooting of David Hunter is now part of Crossroads legend. Can we expect anything from Janet Hargreaves, who played David’s deranged wife, Rosemary, in the documentary?
Maria: There are lots to come from Janet. She reveals something about Ronnie Allen that’s never been made public before, she also recreates the shooting scene, playing both parts! She did bring along her Rosemary costumes and she’s agreed to present the documentary as Rosemary so that will be fun I’m sure. Actually on revelations there are a couple, JoAnne Good also tells us something she believes she’s never told any other programme before, so we’ve been quite honoured really they like us so much!
The 1980 shooting of David Hunter by his deranged wife, Rosemary (Janet Hargreaves), is now part of Crossroads legend.
Andy: If Crossroads was to be revived again, could you name five characters you think would be essential for the series to succeed?
Maria: Jill & Adam Chance, Kate Russell, Sarah Jane Harvey, Sharon Metcalfe. Kate Russell was quite an effective figure in 2001. You need a strong woman, a "Meg type" figure at the helm.
But if a new series was to succeed I'd introduce a new character called Matthew Mortimer, grandson of Meg & Hugh Mortimer, son of Anthony Mortimer and Jill Chance. You'd have the battles between half brother/half sister, both grand-children of Meg. I think that would be interesting. it's a shame Matthew wasn't thought of in 2001.
Andy: Can you give us an idea of who will be appearing on the documentary?
Maria: A lot of classic era actors have been positive about the production, most very keen to take part. Obviously we’re tried to find a range of people from all the eras, we’re still working on some from the early days of the 1960s including one actress who now lives in France but wants to travel to London to record, just for us. That’s loyalty to the original series.
We’ve also lined up a few surprise interviews, which we can’t say anything too much on but I think people will be surprised to see some of the faces turn up. We have two top bosses from ATV for example who’ve never spoken before about the show before in any great detail but had the power to axe it in the 1970s and never did.
We were pleased when Sue Nicholls said yes as people still ask her about playing Marilyn in the show and also very happy to get Carolyn Jones on board as her role of Sharon is one of the most memorable and she of course appeared in the Noele Gordon era and after she’d gone so covers all those changes.
Andy: Sounds absolutely wonderful! Can't wait to see it!
For more information about the "Return To Crossroads" documentary DVD, please e-mail:
Friday, 1 April 2011
The answer even has our King's Oak pals puzzled!
Back through the time tunnel we spin, landing in King's Oak - when? And what is going on? Ah, jam your ear against this keyhole here, and you might hear something of interest...
Beverley Grice: I love it in the winter - when everything's dead!
Oops, sorry, I've set the co-ordinates wrong, and we're outside the village shop in the late 1980s... I'll just tweak this dial and pull that lever and we're off - spinning back from the late 1980s to the early 1970s.
Different door. Different keyhole. Different time. Pop your shell-like against this keyhole and have a good listen.
There's a man and a woman in the room beyond the door, and they seem to be having some kind of confrontation. They refer to each other by name at times, but you can't hear the names...
Woman: You know, _ , just as it takes two to quarrel - it takes two to make the peace.
Man: No. It's gone too far. You've gone too far!
Woman: I've only done what I think's best for business.
Man: Is that an apology?
Woman: Certainly not.
Man: Wouldn't make any difference. We're incompatable. I don't like your methods.... Methods? Sharp dealing!
Woman: It's a horse trading business.
Man: And that's the basic disagreement between us. I don't think it is and I don't think it has to be. And there's no trust either - between you and me. Why you didn't even tell me about that damn sideboard! You knew - but you didn't tell me! You were ready to let me make a fool of myself.
Woman: I was very angry.
Man: No, you were just being clever. If I tripped over that one I might believe that our valuation was reasonable. Well, it isn't! And I'm not in the business of extortion. You are! So sell out and get out, _ !
Man: For heaven's sake! It's an impossible situation!
Woman: What's the saying? If you can't stand the heat in the kitchen...? Well, I can. It's not for me to get out...
Man: I want you OUT!
Woman: Saying it doesn't make it so. This is all very futile, isn't it? We've discussed it before who should go and why - and neither of us can convince the other... Stalemate!
Man: There's got to be a solution... Would you take a fifty-fifty chance - you or me?
Woman: What do you mean?
Man: Draw straws... Toss a coin... Cut the cards?
Take a quick peek through the keyhole now, and watch the woman take a pack of cards from a cribbage board. She shuffles them. Now re-apply your ear:
Woman: Aces low?
Eyeball back to the keyhole and we see the woman cut the cards. Then the man. They show each other the cuts, facial expressions impassive.
Who won? And what on earth was all that about? if you know, drop us a line.
In the meantime, we're off back to the 1960s for a quick natter with the lovely Marilyn! See ya later!
Friday, 4 February 2011
Mrs Phillips writes:
Looking back on Crossroads, I feel that the show was probably at its height in the 1960s, and became woefully out-of-date in the 1970s and 1980s. Many of those watching tended to be elderly, the production values were terrible with no outdoor filming, and that dreadful late 1960s reception area surviving the 1970s seemed very unlikely to me. By about 1975 it was so dated! I think it was right to end it. I'm only surprised it made it to 1988!
Hmmm... I think you have a point possibly regarding the reception area - and indeed the chalets, but you have to look at the reasons why this was so - lack of financial input.
There was outdoor filming on Crossroads - even in the 1960s - but it tended to be a rarity. The amount of time available to film five and then four episodes was a hard taskmaster. But, in 1982, the motel gained a new modern reception (it reminded me very much of the decor of a new BBC local radio station a friend of mine began work at in 1983!) and a little more outdoor filming.
I think that Crossroads was so unpopular with the "great and the good" (TV critics, the IBA, some top TV executives) that whatever it did would be wrong in their eyes. It gained a reputation for being tatty and tacky and that had to be the truth, didn't it?
It was a million miles from real life, out of date, out of touch...
One of the criticisms levelled at the show was the number of out-of-the ordinary story-lines (Meg was poisoned by her second husband, her third husband, Hugh, was kidnapped by international terrorists, her business partner, David, was shot in the motel office, to name but three) but, for me, the show scored very highly indeed when it came to portraying everyday life as well.
One of the things I cherished about the show in the early-to-mid 1980s was the Brownlow family. Their home was a simple set - one room and a hall (early on we saw Glenda's bedroom, very briefly) - but the dialogue seemed so natural - and often so mundane. It echoed something that I could identify with in my own home life. Coronation Street had lots of "everyday" dialogue, but the characters were often so witty - or colourful - that it was a wonder they weren't on the stage, rather than standing in the Rovers or Corner Shop. The Brownlows weren't overly colourful characters and weren't always dropping splendid pearls of wit. They were far more average types - just like my own family.
The conversations at the Brownlows' dinner table were far closer to real life conversations in my own household than most things I heard on Coronation Street.
Crossroads could be groundbreaking in terms of story-lines (a single parent working at the motel in the mid-1960s seemed outrageous, the '70s touched on, amongst other things, alcoholism, and the early 1980s brought tales of an unemployment march riot, a female apprentice garage mechanic, racism and a test tube baby) and although not as gritty as soaps such as Brookside, Crossroads certainly was not living in a world entirely divorced from reality in the early 1980s.
The viewers liked the show right from the first and it had massive ratings. And so, in the late 1960s, it was decided that the number of episodes should be cut from five to four a week.
Viewers continued to like the show, it was networked, which brought it to a wider audience than ever, viewers lapped it up, and then, in 1979, the IBA decreed the number of episodes be cut - a little matter of "quality" as that organisation perceived it - from 1980 onwards.
The audience continued to like it, so it was decreed by ITV that the leading lady, Noele Gordon, should be axed.
Ratings wobbled slightly, but a sizeable audience continued to like it, so it was decreed that a major revamp was needed - with more major characters ousted, a proper opening sequence (the show's first) and a glitzier feel - more in keeping with the mid-1980s.
Good and bad there - I was sorry to lose certain characters, but liked the new style of the show.
Ratings wobbled slightly but a sizeable audience continued to like it. And so it was decreed that another shake-up was needed (!!!!) - and the show, now looking absolutely great and about to undergo a change of name, strode on.
Once again, ratings wobbled slightly, but a sizeable audience continued to like it.
Finally, in 1987, somebody at Central Television snapped their pencil in two and declared that the show would END anyway. That week the show was the fourth most popular in the ITV ratings.
The decision to end Crossroads was totally illogical.
The saga had had its difficult times, but during the 1980s it was "updated" on three separate occasions. As the final one got underway, I don't think that anybody could have felt it was behind the times technically.
And the show had become a gloriously tongue-in-cheek slice of late 1980s life - gentle and enjoyable.
And I don't believe it was outdated even before that. Some of the gritty story-lines of the early 1980s, pre-Brookside, seemed quite daring given the time slot. Also, I think that the various power struggles amongst the motel executives in the story-line, and the arrival of the super rich Pollards, reflected the new era.
If you were to compare Coronation Street with Crossroads you might be surprised. The builder's yard belonging to Len Fairclough, an obviously in-studio exterior set, was in use until the late 1980s!
But nobody pointed any accusing fingers at Corrie!
Overhead technical paraphernalia was known to intrude into Corrie scenes, walls occasionally wobbled, and the lighting (until the mid-1980s) was terrible.
But nobody said "what trash!"
Was everybody really crowding into the same local pub in the 1970s and 1980s? Not where I lived!
In the end, I think that Crossroads died because of the snobbery of the "great and the good" - this was a cheaply produced show which turned somersaults to become a "quality" programme, and still it was axed!
"Behind the times" in the '70s and '80s? I did get that feeling on occasion in the 1970s (I found the quaintness comforting), but the notion vanished in the early 1980s.
Whatever the times, Crossroads had large enough audiences to justify its continuation. And many of us loved the show.
It was the folk "up top" that didn't.
In the end, our views as fans of the show counted for nothing.
I mean, there was so much going on...
Think of it - a dreadful shooting and David and Barbara then united in wedlock; previously unheard of political realism with a march against unemployment which developed into a riot; TV soaps' first female garage mechanic - Carole Sands; Meg being plotted against and finally giving up the fight, leaving the motel - and England - on the QE2; Mavis and Sid slugging it out in a grotty boarding house; Iris being part Miss Nasty-Bitch, part Miss Nice; Doris rediscovering a long lost love; Mr Paul upsetting the waitresses; the Pollards - always scheming away; Benny and his ESP; Glenda and her test tube baby; Kath and Uncle Wally; Nicola Freeman and her tangled love life; Tommy "Bomber" Lancaster and his daughters - yuppette Lisa and "Debbie Dreadful"...
And what about Beverley Grice, she of the lovely 1980s hair - and the desire to be called "Chloe"?
It really was compulsive viewing.
And then there were the major disasters - the fire which destroyed the motel's reception area in 1981 - and the huge explosion in 1989 which destroyed the King's Oak Country Hotel...
"WHAT?" you cry. "Are you POTTY?! Crossroads ended in 1988!"
"Ah!" I reply, smugly: "Not for everybody it didn't!"
Dateline June 1989, The King's Oak Country Hotel...
It was pitch black as Daniel the lizard slithered across Reception. The Night Porter had not reported for duty, and the staff had all long since gone home. The front entrance was securely locked. He made his way by torchlight into his office, and fumbled in the filing cabinets until he'd produced several large files. He hurriedly tore out the contents and threw them into the waste-paper bin. Then he took the bin from the office and made his way to the kitchen.
Once inside the kitchen, he felt strangely elated. He shut the door firmly behind him and shone the torch around. It cast weird shadows on the walls (fingers pointing, hands waving, faces leering at him). He put the bin to one side and went over to the gas cookers, switching each one on, and setting the gas to Maximum, but ensuring that the pilot lights were extinguished. He wanted as much gas as possible to escape into the kitchen. Then he unlocked the store-room, produced a bottle of oil and began to spill it indolently over the work-tops. It was as if he was doing something meaningful for the first time in his life. He felt distant, spaced-out, detached, the inevitable feelings he had after smoking a few joints. Finally he emptied the remainder of the oil into the bin, saturating the documents.
He stood to admire his handiwork in the eerie torchlight. He could smell the gas as it hissed gently across the room. The voices were still chanting outside, and he listened to both sounds for quite a while, his heart pulsing faster with excitement. Eventually, he searched his pockets for matches.
"Blast!" he muttered, a vague thought telling him he must have left them by his bed. So he crept into the store-room to find some. The torch failed him in there, and he sank to the floor, embracing the strong darkness, his mind numb like set toffee. Meanwhile the gas continued to hiss out into the kitchen......
SOME TIME LATER
"Daniel! Are you in there? I've been looking for you everywhere!" Tara peered into the kitchen, fumbling in vain for the light switch. In the store-room, Daniel began to giggle, and the more he tried to stop it, the worse it got. He rolled on his back in the darkness, clutched his stomach, and laughed and laughed as he had never laughed before.
Tara found the light switch.
Suddenly there was an almighty explosion, rocking the hotel to its foundations, shattering windows and bringing the ceiling down on top of them......
Terrible! That sleek but thrusting yuppie geezer Daniel Freeman, facing financial ruin, and seeking a solution to his problems, had ended up destroying the King's Oak Country Hotel and killing Tara Shaw.
Daniel's stepmother, Nicola Freeman, had done all she could to help, but to no avail...
Meanwhile, things hadn't been going well for John Maddingham and Jill Chance. They'd opened a new Crossroads Hotel in the West Country, but then John's wife, Eve, turned up and doubts set in and...
And when Jill heard about the destruction of the King's Oak Country Hotel, of course, she simply had to go there.
And there, outside the ruined King's Oak Country Hotel, waiting, was Adam Chance...
So, how was this happening? How could there be life in King's Oak in 1989?
Well, it was all thanks to the Noele Gordon and Crossroads Appreciation Society, formed in April 1988, which decreed that Crossroads Lives On! And so it did, in a series of newsletters originally entitled Crossroads West, then, from late 1989 onwards, Crossroads Chronicles.
These contained fascinating pieces about what the cast were up to post-Crossroads, letters, fan recollections, and other things, but, most importantly, the continuing saga of Crossroads in a series called Crossroads Continued!
I wasn't instantly interested in how Crossroads would continue. In 1988, I was saddened to see the show end, but my life was so busy, so colourful, that I didn't really have much time to think about it.
In the early 1990s, I met my wife and we became engaged. Life slowed down, and I began to ponder more. This being the nostalgic '90s, I also began to look back.
And it was whilst looking back one day that I discovered the Noele Gordon and Crossroads Appreciation Society, who quickly supplied me with copies of Crossroads West/Crossroads Chronicles, videos of past episodes, and (thank you, Peter Kingsman!) a signed picture of Noele Gordon!
The newsletters had Crossroads fans John Kayvo and Simon Cole at the helm.
I thoroughly enjoyed the Crossroads Continued segments. There was something for everybody, as characters that spanned the entire series were re-introduced - including Miss Tatum, Vera Downend, David and Barbara Hunter, Iris Scott, Kath Fellowes, Sid Hooper, Rosemary Hunter, Nicola Freeman and Tish Hope.
And Beverley and Jason Grice, brilliantly portrayed teens of the William Smethurst era, were retained.
The Pollards were sadly missing from Crossroads Continued, but in the final instalment, they did return and they... but no, I won't spoil it, just in case you haven't read the series!
I know that Crossroads was revived on screen years later, but I never really enjoyed the few episodes I saw of that (the Yvon Grace era was a 1980s American soap flight of fancy, nothing like our original King's Oak saga!), and in the end the series was revealed to be the daydream of a supermarket checkout worker anyway (another nod to '80s American Soapville - remember Pam and Bobby Ewing and the shower scene in 1986?).
So, perhaps the Noele Gordon and Crossroads Appreciation Society version was the reality?
I like to think so.
Friday, 21 January 2011
Christine has written to say:
I think it's generally accepted that the golden era of Crossroads was the 1970s, possibly up until 1981. Do you agree with that?
Well, the short answer is "no", Christine!
This is just my personal opinion - but I have been enchanted by the 1960s episodes recently made available by Network DVD. I'm too young to remember the 1960s, but I hunger for more and enjoyed the episodes as much as any from the 1970s or 1980s.
I watched Crossroads basically because my mother did, and my first story-line memories are from when I was a small boy at the start of the 1970s. I never really consciously became a fan, the show simply became a part of my life, and I enjoyed it immensely.
I enjoyed each and every era I viewed - the 1980s every bit as much as the 1970s. There were some periods in both decades when my interest flagged slightly - but the show was as much a part of my life as the sun coming up each morning.
When I left home in 1983, I didn't make a conscious decision to continue watching Crossroads - I simply did it because it was so much a part of my life.
Often, I'd be getting ready for a night out on the town - trendy young dude that I then was - but I'd always be listening to the show, following all the plots, and I'd never leave my flat until after the final cliffhanger scene!
Whatever the era - Watson, Barton, Bowman or Smethurst, I was there and loving it!
I think that's because Crossroads was always such a friendly show - it had a good "vibe" (he wrote, sounding rather 1960s!) - and that was true right from the first episode - meeting Meg Richardson and her family and staff - to the final days when I enjoyed the friendship between bumbling Benny (Paul Henry) and posh but likable twit Charlie Mycroft (Graham Seed) and Daniel Freeman (Philip Goodhew) making witty comments that so reflected the late 1980s: "Even my car phone's got it's own Filofax!".
Golden era? For me, the Crossroads saga was one long golden era!