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.

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Our Crossroads Favourites: Kath Brownlow/Fellowes

If anybody encapsulated the qualities of the ideal English working class mother in Crossroads, it was Pamela Vezey as Kath Brownlow.

The character of Kath had briefly appeared some years before in the King's Oak saga, but was played by actress Hilary Martin. It's impossible to judge Ms Martin's interpretation of Mrs Brownlow because the episodes have been wiped, but her tenure was temporary - and very brief - and needn't concern us here.

The Brownlows, Kath and Arthur, moved to King's Oak in late 1979 - much to the chagrin of their motel waitress daughter Glenda, who thought they might rather cramp her carefree 'living away from home' lifestyle.

Kath was a nice, caring, homely wife and mother, who soon got a part time job at the motel. In 1982, she accepted the post of motel housekeeper - which meant a more demanding role with more hours. Arthur raised no objections, but he made it plain that Kath's role as mother and housewife meant that she had already amounted to something in his eyes - in fact, if that role didn't acquaint with amounting to something, he didn't know what did! Arthur had a very high and genuine regard for traditional family roles. But he accepted Kath's desire to stretch her wings.

Kath coped with all sorts of disasters and family upsets. She was perhaps a little too kind hearted at times, but we won't hold that against her.

And what a family she had! There was her manipulative, scheming niece Iris Scott (who turned out not to be all bad), her dreadful, tarty sister Rose (who turned out not to be all bad too), grumpy husband Arthur, who briefly exhibited disturbing racist tendencies, headstrong daughter Glenda, who decided to have a test tube baby (much to Kath's initial horror), steady son Ron, who fell in love with his cousin Iris, and dependable son-in-law Kevin Banks, who fell in love with the Hunters' housekeeper.

Kath coped with it all. At the motel, she discovered Shughie McFee, in the throes of his nervous breakdown, wrecking the kitchen in 1980 - and coped with that too. She was a great pal to lonely Doris Luke. She had a somewhat prickly relationship with Mr Paul Ross at times, but then so did most people. She enjoyed a bit of  a gossip, but it was not a compulsion with her, and staff and management at the motel held her in high regard.

Kath was devastated when Arthur died in a hit-and-run road accident in 1982. She was briefly distracted by the arrival of his sponging cousin Walter 'Uncle Wally' Soper, and liked him because he provided a living link to the old days. But once Wally departed she was faced with the enormity of the loss of Arthur - and had a nervous breakdown.

Glenda's pregnancy helped to pull her through. Having got over her doubts about the 'unnatural' process of in vitro fertilisation, she eagerly awaited the birth of her first grandchild.

Kath was romantically involved with salesman John Latchford for a time. Glenda disliked him - and was jealous of the attention her mother lavished on him. She later made amends, but Kath and John were not to be.

A lonely future faced Kath in 1985 when Glenda, Kevin, and baby Katie Louise emigrated to Canada. Still, she had her work at the motel and great pal Marian Owen, Kevin's aunt.

Then she got splashed by a car passing through a puddle, and met Stephen Fellowes. Posh teacher Stephen had once-upon-a-time been Kevin's housemaster at school, and quickly became close to Kath.

It was a whirlwind romance. They met in 1985 and married in 1985.

Kath and Stephen later bought a house in a posh new development that was just being completed in King's Oak called Cavalier Spinney (hilariously 'up with the times'!).

Unfortunately, Stephen was a bit of a wally and his wally-dom rubbed off on poor old Kath. Not that it really mattered. She fussed over her Capodimonte at Cavalier Spinney, even called Benny 'poppet' on one occasion, but was still our lovable old Kath really.

All dreams of a happy future at The Spinney quickly evaporated when Stephen landed himself a senior position at a draughty old boarding school up north in 1987. Kath upped sticks and went with him.

We wished her a happy future. But with Stephen we felt that such a thing would mean a big effort on Kath's part...

Pamela Vezey made Kath real. I felt she was the mother I would really have liked to have had. A splendid performance and, like all the best soap performances, it didn't seem like a performance at all.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Our Crossroads Favourites: Barbara Brady/Hunter

Barbara Brady (Hunter from 1980), played by Sue Lloyd, was one of the classiest, loveliest and most compassionate Crossroads characters it was ever our good fortune to see on-screen. Novelist Barbara arrived in King's Oak in 1979 as housekeeper to American psychiatrist Lloyd Munroe. And we were soon suspicious of her. Well, she was a complete unknown in the neighbourhood, and she kept asking Lloyd odd questions... was she out to poison him or something?

We did wonder.

But all was happily resolved - Barbara was simply posing as a housekeeper. She was actually a novelist and was researching a new book, undercover. Why? I forget, but it all made sense at the time.

Barbara wrote novels under the pseudonym of Eleanor Ruskin.

She quickly attracted the attention of two local eligible men - Dr Farnham, of the King's Oak group practice, and David Hunter, of the Crossroads Motel.

In 1980, Barbara became engaged to David but, on the night of their engagement party, he was shot in the motel office by his deranged ex-wife Rosemary.

David survived, and married Barbara a couple of months later.

But plain sailing things weren't.

The couple rented the Old Coach House in the village and began married life, but their tranquility was shattered by the shock news that David was not Chris Hunter's biological father and that his 'ex-wife' Rosemary was already married when she 'married' him. David's attitudes had already begun to change - he wanted to sell the motel with no regard for Meg, for instance, and Barbara felt alienated from him. And then there was the intervention of Jimmy Corbett - who was romantically interested in Barbara. But don't let's mention him. By late 1981, the couple were planning to separate.

Barbara was on the point of leaving for Paris when she realised she loved David too much to go. She returned to the Old Coach House and the couple were reconciled. 

And then the motel burned down. 

The terrible catastrophe helped to strengthen the Hunters' marriage.

Barbara had always been a "people person" - she found herself caught up in the strange saga of Eddie Lee in 1980, a man serving time for a murder committed by a woman he loved. This served as inspiration for an  Eleanor Ruskin novel.

In late 1981, Barbara took on young working class Carole Sands as housekeeper at the Old Coach House. Barbara had a lively social conscience and was painfully aware that Carole did not come from a moneyed background. But Carole caused Barbara much trouble by telling the police about her involvement with the aforementioned Mr Lee. Oh dear.

Barbara marched on through the early-to-mid 1980s, kindly, stylish and beautiful.

When David's old love Kate Hamilton turned up in 1982 in the middle of a crisis, Barbara became jealous and briefly left David. But the rift was soon healed and Barbara did all she could to help Kate.

She was interested in Benny Hawkins's sudden outbreak of ESP and conducted some tests with him, becoming convinced he was very gifted.

She took in poor old tramp Horace Jackman - 'Jacko' - whilst researching material for a new book - and became a concerned and sympathetic listener to the tale of the death of his son - and how 'Jacko' blamed himself for it.

She and David moved out of the coach house and into the motel living accommodation, but although Barbara was on the premises and participated in the running of the business, she was never another Meg. Her work as an author remained important to her.

Her brother Douglas Brady paid a couple of visits to King's Oak and Barbara was dutiful towards him, but he always caused trouble and heartache.

However, things with David were good.

Then, in 1984, the serpent entered paradise.

And David went right off the rails and into the arms of his ex-love Sarah Alexander, who simply walked into the sitting room and within minutes was engaged in a passionate embrace with him.

Sarah became pregnant. And she wanted David as well as the baby.

Barbara was on the point of leaving David when David finally made the decision to stay with her. But the pull of the child was strong as 1985 came in. Sarah remained adamant that David would have no part in its life.

David almost returned to his compulsive gambling habit of years before, but Barbara stuck with him.

hey went for a walk. They talked about their relationship - and Barbara's six years in King's Oak.

And they decided to start afresh elsewhere.

One of Barbara's final acts at Crossroads was just so typical of her: she put in a good word for Benny Hawkins with incoming manager Nicola Freeman.

Barbara and David were greatly missed. But I must confess to thoroughly enjoying what was to follow.

However, Barbara's golden era as Mrs Hunter/Miss Ruskin, motel executive and author, remains etched in my mind as one of the show's many high points.

If only we could have had Nicola Freeman AND the Hunters!

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Crossroads - Mis-Dating With Mrs Pollard On YouTube...

An e-mail from "Doris":

Hello! I thought that Heather Chasen made her debut as Valerie Pollard in April 1982, but there is a clip on YouTube claiming her first scene was recorded in 1981 - before Central TV even took over from ATV - and a THIRD OF A YEAR before her screen debut!

Hello, Doris - yes, that would be "The Meakers" on YouTube, wouldn't it? And I notice somebody has copied their clip, complete with incorrect information. Nonsense, of course. No soap recorded four months in advance, certainly not dear old Crossroads, which was always pushed for time. It's absurd.

The original broadcast date of this episode was 22/4/1982. For it to have been recorded in 1981, allowing for the Christmas staff break, this would make it at least FIVE months between recording and broadcasting. Impossible. Even Meg's QE2 farewell was filmed on 19 October 1981, all ready for broadcast in November. Nobody can be seriously suggesting that after all the work that had gone into that storyline, the production team then accrued five months worth of episodes before the end of 1981. And that the new motel set - remember we're talking about the episodes post-fire here - was all up and ready and in use before the end of 1981 too.

Enjoy the clip but disregard the "RX" date - simply trash, darling - as Valerie might have said!

Monday, 12 February 2018

Our Crossroads Favourites: Paul Ross - "Mr Paul"

Of British/Swiss parentage, Paul Ross, known to his subordinates as Mr Paul, played by Sandor Elès arrived at the Crossroads Motel in 1982 to take on the role of restaurant manager. He aimed to rule with 'subdued charisma', but was not quite what he seemed.

The 'un-spot changing leopard' (as Kate Hamilton once called him) Mr Paul (I always felt subordinate to him) soon turned out to be trouble. He was secretly in the employ of wealthy businessman J Henry Pollard, and worked as his spy at the motel, undercover of the restaurant manager role.

He acted abominably at first - breaking down Diane Hunter's defences by taking her away for the weekend and then treating her like dirt after she'd fallen under his spell. But Mr Paul was to mellow. A year or two later, he was instrumental in securing Diane a job back at the motel after she'd gone off on some daft training scheme devised by J Henry Pollard, and comforted her when she bemoaned the fact that she'd lost her cold trolley job and come back as a lowly waitress. A lowly waitress?! Being a waitress was no such thing!

Mr Paul's love life was a disaster. He was pursued by that young high flier Miranda Pollard, which led him into trouble with Daddy and Mummy Pollard. Then he fell for the lovely young Georgina Moran, but suave Richard Lord soon saw him off.

Mr Paul had a past - a long-lost daughter called Lisa Walters. She didn't know he was her father, and after he secured her a job as a receptionist at Crossroads, she became attracted to him. Mr Paul had to acquaint her with the facts. He was later distressed when that nasty smoothy Douglas Brady hurt Lisa dreadfully. This was an interesting story, two of its components being that Douglas intended to emigrate to South Africa, and that Lisa was of mixed race parentage.

Lisa left and Mr Paul soon fell for Polish dissident Anna Radek. But she fell in love with Douglas Brady too - and poor Mr Paul married her so that she could stay in England because he was so devoted to her.

When the authorities got hold of the facts, Mr Paul and Anna were both in the soup. Anna was deported, but Mr Paul extracted revenge on the female immigration officer by spurning her when she revealed she had feelings for him.

One of the joys of Mr Paul was the way he spanned breathless high drama to the mundane, teasing Jill Chance with the notion he might sack Shughie McFee, upbraiding the waitresses because their hair was straggling, moaning about the presentation of the restaurant table cloths - surely they could find a better laundry service? - and so on.

In 1985, Mr Paul moved in to a cottage with his old love Miranda Pollard. Purely platonically. The motel staff were sceptical. And, sure enough, very soon the flame between them was rekindled.

Poor Mr Paul. His perfectionist zeal was his undoing in the end. Having decided that the restaurant flowers were not up to par one day, he went into the village for more, and came upon some robbers, intent on stealing the motel staff's wages, on his way back. He got whacked over the head, went into a coma and emerged with an impaired memory.

It was all very sad because in the meantime Miranda had decided she definitely loved him.

But the post-coma Paul had other fish to fry, and soon left King's Oak to work elsewhere.

I missed him and the era of wondering whatever Mr Paul would do next remains one of the shining highpoints of my Crossroads viewing years.