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Crossroads - Out Of Date In The '70s And '80s?

"Out of date, Kath?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Looking back on Crossroads, I feel that the show was probably at its height in the 1960s, and became woefully out-of-date in the 1970s and 1980s.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It was a million miles from real life, out of date, out of touch...


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.

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