Tuesday, 1 September 2020

Our Crossroads Favourites: Amy Turtle

Hippies on the telly? Mr Booth's fancy cooking? Amy wasn't impressed. It was juicy gossip she craved.

Ah, Amy Turtle! Some people will snigger, but it's worth remembering that Amy was a hugely popular Crossroads character - in my family she was more popular than Meg Richardson - and from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s, many working class folk would have frowned at criticism of the character or of the actress's performance.

Diminutive Amy, played by Ann George, was immensely popular not just with the tongue-in-cheek detractors of the show, but with its loyal and loving audience - who took the character seriously and cared for her.

So, Amy lived in the village of King's Oak and was first seen as a Brummie customer at Kitty Jarvis's shop, where she soon went to work. Amy then transferred to the motel as a kitchen hand and char. Gossip was Amy's great love and she wasn't very clever. The character's biography at ATV described her as an 'English peasant' - as were many of us viewers, of course. She dabbled in spiritualism and maintained contact with her deceased husband Fred that way. She was suspicious of big city living and hippies.

Amy Turtle was happy in her own little pond.

Much was made by mockers of the show in later years of an old story-line in which Amy had apparently been accused of being a Russian spy - Amelia Turtlovski. The episode/s no longer exist, and I don't recall the plot from my viewing years, but it has since been suggested that the whole thing was just a jokey comment made by another character, and not a story-line at all. Amy, of course, would have made an excellent spy. If anybody has any further information on this, we'd be fascinated to hear.

Having experienced a family upset, Amy was caught shoplifting and we were all horrified when she was put in a police cell. She shamefacedly slipped into Meg and Hugh's wedding in 1975, and sat at the back.

In early 1976, Amy went away to visit a relative abroad, and wasn't seen again until early 1987. Apparently, she'd been quietly living in the village and had come to visit the motel as a friend of its new owner, down-to-earth Brummie cove Tommy 'Bomber' Lancaster.

And she'd hardly aged a day.

Her presence seemed to rather freak out poor Jill Chance, and Amy made a few dark comments about Meg - who apparently would bellow like a fish wife in the chalets weren't spotless, but 'had a heart of gold'. 

Ann George made a few appearances as Amy at this point, and I loved them.

Her disappearance in the mid-1970s had left a huge hole in the show. Apparently there had been problems behind the scenes, and so the viewers lost a cherished character.

Oh well. 

Still, it was great to see Amy again in 1987, brief though her appearances were.

Another Crossroads legend, never to be forgotten.

Monday, 31 August 2020

Our Favourite Crossroads Characters: Diane Lawton/Parker/Hunter

Diane! Another legendary Crossroads character and another huge favourite of ours.

Poor old Di, played by Susan Hanson, had a terrible time, as do all soap heroines. She'd originally arrived to win a beauty contest in the mid-1960s, then got a job as a waitress and kitchen hand at the motel. By the end of that decade she'd had a nervous breakdown after the explosion of an old wartime bomb which had devastated the motel kitchen.

Di also braved temperamental chefs like Carlos Rafael, Mr Booth, Mr Lovejoy, and Shughie McFee (or Shughie McCradock as she once called him), and the nosiness of the likes of Amy Turtle and Mrs Witton. The kitchen was not a particularly harmonious place, even without a bomb.

If all that wasn't enough, Di had a terribly shifty brother, Terry, who turned up at odd intervals to cause her heartache.

The start of the 1970s saw Di dealing with a drunken landlord and then involved in a heady romance with American film star Frank Adam, which resulted in an out-of wedlock baby, Nicky. Kindly postman and motel barman Vince Parker came to the rescue and married her.

The marriage broke up when Vince discovered that Frank Adam was secretly sending Di money for Nicky, and then Nicky got kidnapped. Di was frantic, thinking that the toddler has suffocated in an old fridge dumped on wasteland at one point, before discovering his father was the kidnapper.

Nicky now lived in America, with Di visiting him regularly.

Di had a brief encounter with the demon drink, but Prince Charming certainly didn't arrive. Clifford Leyton (Johnny Briggs - later Mike Baldwin of Coronation Street) and PC Steve Cater certainly weren't him.

Midway through the decade, Di visited her aunt and uncle, Peggy and Ed Lawton, at Heywoods Farm. Aunt Peggy fell and broke her hip, so Diane stayed on to help. She returned to the farm after her Aunt Peggy died.

It was at the farm that Diane met a simple country lad called Benny Hawkins, who called her 'Miss Diane'. The two forged a lasting bond of friendship, Benny gave her a kid - of the goat variety - and Diane taught him to read.

Back home, Di experienced another nervous breakdown, prowling around her flat at night committing acts of vandalism, and having no memory of it by daylight. Her flatmate at the time, Jane Smith, helped her to see what was happening.

As the decade ended, Di agreed to marry Chris Hunter so that Chris would receive some inheritance money. It was a marriage purely of convenience.

The 1980s saw Di sharing her flat with motel garage manageress Sharon Metcalfe. She developed an unrequited love for Dr James Wilcox, of the group practice in King's Oak, and her shifty brother, Terry, returned to wreak further havoc on a couple of occasions. On one of these, Benny came to Di's rescue, using his father's inheritance money to pay off Terry's shady money lenders, who were 'leaning on' Diane.

Poor old Benny, who was trying to make her happy, couldn't understand why she cried!

Di briefly tangled with oily restaurant manager Paul Ross - Mr Paul - and regretted it - although the man was supportive towards her later.

Di supported Sharon's efforts to help a local Down's Syndrome child in one of the show's best story-lines in 1983, and also became entangled in the war between J. Henry Pollard and Mr Paul, which ended up earning her demotion - from cold trolley waitress to simple waitress. She icily refused guilt-ridden J Henry's offer of financial compensation - she had her pride.

Various absences from the motel over the years, often seeing Nicky in America, had ended in Di simply walking back into her job, often after many months away. The 1983 demotion story-line came as something of a shock to us viewers, and reality caught up with her again in 1985 when, after a spell away, she returned to find no job available. Or at least not one suitable for her experience. Even her old pal Jill Chance couldn't help. 

On this occasion, restaurant manager Mr Paul's misfortune was Diane's gain, as she walked into his job after he was injured in a wages snatch.

Di finally had the job she wanted, but Mr Right still proved elusive. She settled into a cottage in the village, and endured the tender ministrations of Benny (herbal tea made with dried mixed herbs) when she had the flu at Christmas 1986.

In 1987, Di was involved in a car accident, but was seemingly OK. However, not long afterwards, she suddenly collapsed in the office at work. She had had a brain hemorrhage and died in hospital a few days later.

The nation wept, including me, but although it was meant kindly, Benny naming a donkey 'Miss Diane' was not a very fitting tribute.

Di was magic. She'd been in our living rooms for so many years she was like an old friend or older sister. Once again, that magical quality some Crossroads performers had to make their characters seem real shone through in abundance.

I always wished she'd found true love - married and been whisked away to run a plush hotel in the Caribbean or something with her new hubby.

But poor old Di never was lucky.

Sunday, 5 July 2020

Our Crossroads Favourites: Vera Downend

Vera faces another problem on her boat.

Dear old Vera Downend! Played by Zeph Gladstone, Vera is one of my absolute-ultimate-favourite Crossroads characters. I love her.

Ex-tart Vera started out in Crossroads living next door to single mother Diane Lawton, who had a grotty bedsit, in 1970. She was originally quite a slovenly character, but good-hearted and quickly became a hit with us viewers.

So Vera smartened up (in her own way) and came to the motel to manage the hairdressing salon and live on the Harvey family's barge on the canal.

Vera was another of those magical Crossroads characters you felt you could confide in and, during my often troubled youth, I could have done with a chat with her on many occasions.

But she worried us. The section of the King's Oak canal (near Wilf Harvey's) where Vera lived looked downright seedy and her attention to security on the boat was, to put it mildly, rather lax. She was often seen wandering off to bed with no effort to 'batten down the hatches' (or whatever one does on barges), with just a flimsy interior door separating her from the despicable characters no doubt lurking on the canal banks.

We were genuinely worried about this.

There were no mobile phones in those days.

And she suffered. Weird and menacing goings on sometimes came Vera's way - and once she was even mugged. Though not on her boat.

Bless her.

The boat once suddenly sprang a leak. Cue dramatic ending of episode!

Vera sprouted a long-lost son, Clive Merrow, late in her reign and experienced motherhood problems - and coming to terms with Clive's adopted mother. She came through it all brilliantly.

Romance was never smooth or easy - and all the nice girls love a sailor, including Vera. She dated Doug Randall (Richard Thorp - Alan Turner in Emmerdale Farm from 1982 onwards) for a time, but it came to naught. 

And then, in 1977, she fell for creepy restaurant manager Max Lorimer, who bought her boat and basically set his cap at her in a most unhealthy way. And Vera finally departed from King's Oak.

I missed her dreadfully. My memories of her departure are that it was to be temporary and she would be returning. She was apparently working on a cruise ship for a time. I must have dreamt it, but I could swear there was an episode a few years later in which Diane said, 'I've just seen Vera in the village, and she says...' (referring to some ongoing storyline)

It was probably wishful thinking. According to journalist Hilary Kingsley, Vera was axed from the series.

It was never the same. Pure magic, our Vera. A cherished memory.

Friday, 13 March 2020

Our Crossroads Favourites: Jill Richardson/Harvey/Chance

Having uttered the very first words heard in Crossroads in November 1964 - 'Crossroads Motel, may I help you?' - Jane Rossington as Jill starred in the show's final cliffhanger in April 1988: who would Jill choose? Jolly and just John Maddingham or often amoral Adam Chance?

In the early BBC radio soap Mrs Dale's Diary (later The Dales), central character Mrs Dale was always saying 'I'm worried about Jim' - referring to Dr Dale, her loving hubby. This became something of an affectionate national catchphrase. Many of us Crossroads fans were often heard to say, when discussing the latest events in the serial, 'I'm worried about Jill.'

And we had good cause to be.

Poor old Jill, played by Jane Rossington, daughter of Meg, sister of Sandy, had a fraught life. Nobody could ever accuse Father Fate or Dame Fortune of being kind to her.

If Meg was the caring, coping matriarch of King's Oak, Jill was its Penelope Pitstop.

Jill had an absolutely terrible time. She married John Crane, a bigamist, in 1970 and had a miscarriage. She married down-to-earth Stan Harvey not long after and had a daughter, Sarah Jane, and a few happy years - before having an affair with her step-brother, Anthony Mortimer. This resulted in a son, Matthew, and was the death knell of Jill and Stan's marriage.

Then, Jill, who still loved Stan, had an on/off romance with Adam Chance, which was broken off in 1982, when he dallied with Valerie Pollard, but resurrected in 1983 - when they got married.

The marriage blew onto the rocks in 1985 when Adam made advances to new motel boss Nicola Freeman, and Jill rebounded into the arms of Nicola's brother, Mickey Doyle.

Well, he drank, she had a miscarriage, and it seemed was drifting back towards Adam when a new arrival as landlord at the King's Oak pub, the Running Stag, one John Maddingham, made a few gentle overtures to her.

And, with the motel/hotel up for grabs, and Adam angling for a reunion so he could get his grubby mits on said motel/hotel, Jill took off with John. Perhaps to open a little hotel in the West and call it 'Crossroads'.

During the show's final stages, the William Smethurst-produced era, Jill became a more rounded character. She was still somebody we worried about - or "daffy" as her loving husband Adam once described her, she was still good hearted and lovable, but she also developed a snooty side to great comic effect. Jane Rossington later said she was very happy with the changes made to the character at this time. I enjoyed this Jill era probably most of all, and my admiration for Jane Rossington's acting skills increased tremendously.

Jane said:

'William had run The Archers and he had a fearsome reputation, but after he arrived he was wonderful with scripts. He was not the easiest of people to get on with, but for me, he had some super writers and he made my character much more of a character, I had much better scenes, much better. Whereas before I just had to make what I could out of it, but this was actually written, and it was quite funny and I turned into this dizzy, slightly snooty girl. It was quite funny and it was nice, I really enjoyed that. But I liked William and I was horrified when the programme went because they'd given him a long contract and led him right up the garden path, promising him this was forever, you know, so that he would leave the BBC, they were very naughty.'

Through it all, even her snooty phase, Jill was a compassionate, caring person.

That's why we worried about her - and loved her.

Even after the show ended in 1988, I still found myself muttering, 'I do hope Jill's all right,' from time to time...

Like her mother, Meg, Jill is a soap legend. For very different reasons - she was not a coper, more the damsel in constant distress. But she was a survivor - the only member of the original cast to star in the final episode.

I discount the Crossroads revival series, which saw Jill killed off by a deranged Adam. That was all a dream anyway.

Jill went West with John and probably, out there somewhere, she's bravely manning the reception desk at another Crossroads Motel (established 1988) - and still surviving the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

But, wherever she is, perhaps she might drop us a quick postcard sometime, because we do worry...

Tuesday, 27 August 2019

The Crossroads Bloopers Files - 1) Shughie McFee, 1980

Crossroads was often mocked for its wobbly scenery and fluffed lines. Well, I wasn't aware of much of a wobble, but the occasional fluffed line did creep in. Not surprising, considering the rate at which episodes were recorded. Coronation Street, with its much more leisurely production schedule, was not fluff-free, either.

But some Crossroads fluffs stick in my mind as favourite moments. They added a touch of likeable human fallibility and colour at times. So, in this occasional series on the topic, I'll recount my top fluffs.

In 1980, there were strange doings afoot in the motel kitchen - like spiders in the trifle and grease placed deliberately on the floor. Shughie McFee confided in Meg Mortimer that lately he'd been concerned by 'certain behaviours of pattern.' 

Yes, really.

Bless him!

As it turned out, the 'certain behaviours of pattern' were his own. He was undergoing a serious nervous breakdown and Kath Brownlow caught him in the act of vandalising the kitchen one dark night.

Thursday, 8 March 2018

What Happened To Our Soaps?

Oh dear! Has Darby been in spraying 'Whispering Glen' again?

Back in the 1980s, I loved the soaps. There were two types: British and American. The British ones, including the English Crossroads and Emmerdale Farm, the Scottish Take The High Road and the short-lived Welsh soap Taff Acre, were rooted far more in the everyday than the American ones. But Dallas, Dynasty, Falcon Crest and the like were great escapist stuff, glitzy and fun and silly. My favourite of the U.S. soaps was actually Falcon Crest - which had a sprinkling of delicious tongue-in-cheek humour.

And the contrasting styles worked well.

Of course, the English soaps Brookside (1982) and EastEnders (1985) moved us into grittier territory as the 1980s progressed (although Crossroads had already had a riot and given us the socialist Carole Sands in 1981 and 1982). But in the world of The Square and The Close left-wing wine bar frequenting writers and producers went all out to tell us how awful old Ma Thatcher was. That simply made the gaudy American soaps even more of an enjoyable contrast.

Dallas, of course, had begun as a mini-series in 1978, but it wasn't until the arrival of Joan Collins in Dynasty that the glitziness went '80s overboard. The Dynasty dress budget went sky high after Joanie's arrival and we moved into the era of massive shoulder pads, and in the words of one actress on a competing U.S. soap, they 'screamed and howled' for the same budget and pads.

The English enjoyed the American soaps in a different way to the home-grown ones. We took the UK soaps quite seriously, the American cousins were great fun - and a bit of a pantomime.

So, by the end of the 1980s, you had the English sauce-bottle-on-the-dining-table style soaps, and the glitzy hugely shoulder-padded American variety. Crossroads had, of course, ended in 1988, by that time a witty, gentle soap.

The '90s, of course, stepped up the action. If the 1980s had seen more grit and controversy in English soaps, the 1990s saw the type of plots we'd happily suspended our disbelief to watch in the '80s American soaps become the norm over here. But with added grit and gore.

In the 1980s, so separate were the two styles, I never believed they could merge.

A plane crash in Beckindale was probably the major turning point at Christmas 1993... then explosions, murders, misandry a-go-go and on-tap serial killers slowly became the norm.

It started to seem to me that soap viewers were baying for blood and chaos.

And it wasn't glitzy and pantomime stuff, either, well, most of it (give or take a Kim Tate or two). The '90s soaps were scary and bloody.

Now, I'm no hypocrite. Let's trot back to the revered 1970s (dunno why they are) and take a look at my attitudes then...

We'll pick on Coronation Street... a gun hold-up at Minnie Caldwell's? Oooh! Annie Walker threatened by hooligans in her bedroom? WOW! Yobs walloping down the Street, breaking windows? Cor! A woman murdered in Len Fairclough's back room? Eeek! The warehouse burning down and Edna Gee trapped behind a door and burnt alive? I couldn't miss THAT! Albert Tatlock roughed up by a hooligan in his backroom? Crikey! Cancel the youth club, I'm stopping in to watch! Ernie Bishop shot by raiders at the factory? Bliss! A lorry crashes into the Rovers? WONDERFUL!

Oh yes, back in the old days we loved a bit of nastiness in our soaps.

But the dramas, which, if condensed down into a decade's worth seem ridiculous, were actually few and far between in the viewing.

The majority of the time we were engrossed in a bit of a gossip at Maggie Clegg's, or Annie Walker's latest efforts at gracious living, or Hilda having a 'muriel' on her wall.

Switch to the 1980s, and the picture was much the same. Where was Percy's budgie? Why had Fred Gee had a Space Invaders game installed at the Rovers? What would Hilda say when hairdresser Audrey Roberts turned her hair orange? The big dramas were well spaced. The majority was chit-chat and Mavis's budgie.

Brookside, EastEnders and Neighbours, which began in the UK in October 1986, had their impact beyond the Brookie and 'Enders grit. Teenagers were suddenly the order of the day in soaps. Crossroads, of course, gave us my beloved Beverley and Jason Grice, as the serial coasted home. To my mind, the very best representation.

The gritty goings-on in Brookside and EastEnders contained an increasing number of pot boilers. Who was the father of Michelle's baby? Who raped Sheila Grant? (serious issue, with pot boiling elements in the plot) Who was the father of Cindy's baby? And so on. But they were all believable. And mixed into other believable happenings (aside from the scriptwriters' 'Thatcher is killing us all' and misandry brief).

What happened in the 1990s left me gob-smacked.

Why did it happen? Could the roots be traced back to the start of Sky Television in 1989 - the brave new world of multi-channel competition as the '90s got underway? Were people simply more sensation seeking? I truly don't know.

But by the end of the 1990s, I'd got rid of my TV services.

And now I wouldn't watch a soap if you paid me.

Thank heavens so many episodes of Crossroads still exist... Funnily enough, the late 1980s episodes seem closer to real life as I was living it than any other UK soap...

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Our Crossroads Favourites: Meg Richardson/Mortimer

My favourite photograph of Noele 'Nolly' Gordon, Meg of the motel - an autograph for a young fan in the 1970s.

Meg! Margaret Fraser/Richardson/Ryder/Mortimer! It was around the actress Noele Gordon that the Crossroads format was built and Meg was the staunch leader of the motel pack from the very first episode in November 1964 until she lost her majority shareholder role in 1979 - and finally took off for pastures new in November 1981.

Meg's husband, Charles Richardson, had died in the early 1960s and Meg had converted the land around their home into the Crossroads Motel, complete with chalets, residents' garden, cafeteria, reception, restaurant, bar, garage and swimming pool. The motel had opened in 1963 and was well up and running by the time of the first episode in November '64.

Meg's family consisted of her teenage children, Jill and Sandy (he was still at school), sister Kitty Jarvis, brother-in-law Dick, and nephew Brian. Meg also had a brother, Andy, who was in the Navy. He married widow Ruth Bailey and became a travel agent. A young man called Bruce Sorbell later became her ward, and she fostered a black girl called Melanie Harper in 1970.

Like all soap heroines, Meg was born to suffer - and boy did she!

In 1965 she met rich, suave businessman Hugh Mortimer. At first she wasn't sure if she could trust him, and became convinced she couldn't when he married somebody else a couple of years later. But all was later explained: Hugh had married Jane Templeton because she was terminally ill and he wanted to make her last days as happy as possible.

Meg survived the explosion of a wartime bomb, which destroyed the motel kitchen in 1967, and, in 1968, married smoothy Malcolm Ryder - who took out life insurance for Meg - and then tried to poison her to get at the money.

She went to prison briefly for swerving to avoid a cat while driving and hitting postman Vince Parker.

Her nephew Brian was accused of murder and her sister Kitty died in the late 1960s. Meg sold shares in the motel to Tish Hope and Mr Lovejoy - but retained a controlling interest.

Meg's children brought her much anxiety - Jill married a bigamist and had a miscarriage in 1970.

In 1971, Jill married working class Stan Harvey - but Meg could never really share his father Wilf's fascination with pigeon keeping.

Sandy was involved in a terrible car crash in 1972 and lost the use of his legs.

A happy arrival as a motel shareholder and director was David Hunter - who worked closely with Meg and became her good friend and confidante.

It wasn't all tragedy and high drama for Meg. She had some happy and funny scenes with Carlos Rafael, the motel's first temperamental chef in the 1960s, and some hilarious scenes with comedian Larry Grayson in the first half of the 1970s when he booked in as a difficult guest at the motel. There were other light hearted moments too, but these were outweighed by troubled times.

Meg developed amnesia after learning that her husband Malcolm, who she thought had died in a car crash, was still alive. He later turned up to menace her at the motel, but all ended happily when Hugh and the police finally intervened.

And then she married Hugh in 1975, which meant gaining a stepson - Anthony Mortimer.

Anthony had an affair with Meg's daughter Jill in 1977, and she became pregnant. This broke her marriage to Stan Harvey. Jill's son, Matthew, was brought up by the Mortimers.

Hugh wrote a book called Businessmanship, which was published in 1977, but then tragedy struck. Hugh had been working on a big business deal in Australia for some time and, in 1978, was kidnapped by terrorists - who had links to David Hunter's son Chris.

Hugh died of a heart attack while in captivity and Meg went into mourning.

In early 1979, Meg was forced to cease being the majority shareholder in the motel when it was revealed that Hugh wasn't so good at 'businessmanship' after all. He had debts - and Meg had to pay them. Accountant Adam Chance bought some of her shares to help her out, but, in 1981, sold 5% of them to Meg's old friend David Hunter - thus making him the majority shareholder. Meg's relationship with David had grown fraught as the 1980s began. And it grew even more so when he attempted to sell the motel to J Henry Pollard.

Finally, in November 1981, Meg gave up the struggle with David. After a conversation with Sam Hurst, or Sam Norton, the artist, who was staying at the motel and had a tragic background involving losing his family in a fire, Meg was left to contemplate her future.

She was on tranquillisers at the time, and considered an overdose. But then she thought of Jill and her recently deceased son Sandy and his love of life, and decided to start afresh.

She left the motel - and not a moment too soon because it burned down minutes later.

Ironically, Sam, the artist, who had blamed his own cowardice for the death of his family in a previous fire, declared to Benny that he wasn't afraid of fire any more, and died trying to recue a woman who wasn't even there.

Anxiety ran high - what had happened to Meg? Had she died in the inferno? But the truth was soon revealed: Meg had left a note for Jill which had been destroyed in the fire. She phoned her daughter and bade her a tearful farewell on the QE2. Jill didn't tell her about the fire - although Meg had an uncanny feeling that something was wrong.

Meg briefly reappeared in October 1983 - joining her daughter Jill and her husband Adam on their honeymoon in Venice. There were well-advanced plans to bring her back to the motel as a permanent occasional character in 1985. But Noele Gordon died before they could reach the screen.

What can you say about Meg? To many, she was the heart of Crossroads. It wasn't that way for me, but nobody could help admiring Noele Gordon's tireless devotion to the show. For me, some more light hearted storylines and a bit less of the soap character martyrdom - particularly in the last five years - would have helped to raise Meg higher in my own personal run-down of motel greats.

But her prime importance to the show - and to a huge number of its fans - is in no doubt at all. Meg was, quite simply, a soap legend - never to be forgotten.