Friday, 4 February 2011

Crossroads - Out Of Date In The '70s And '80s?

"Out of date, Kath? Me? I suppose I'd better buy a ZX Spectrum..."

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Looking back on Crossroads, I feel that the show was probably at its height in the 1960s, and became woefully out-of-date in the 1970s and 1980s.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It was a million miles from real life, out of date, out of touch...

Humph!

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.

Bizarre.

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.

Weird.

The audience continued to like it, so it was decreed by ITV that the leading lady, Noele Gordon, should be axed.

Eh??!!!

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.

Crossroads - 1989 - And Beyond...

I always look back on the 1980s at the motel/hotel fondly.

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!"

Read this...

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.