Thursday, 21 April 2016

Our Top 50 Favourite Crossroads Characters - 17: Marilyn Gates

Carlos puts the world to rights whilst Marilyn Gates tries to lather up some enthusiasm for the washing up in the motel kitchens back in the mid-1960s.

Lovely, squawky Brummie waitress Marilyn Gates, played by Sue Nicholls, was a fixture at the motel in the mid-to-late 1960s. Village girl Marilyn was apt to get into scrapes and often bemoaned the romantic complications in her life.

Sue Nicholls had auditioned for the part of Meg's daughter Jill, complete with Brummie accent. Can you imagine how posh Meg would have coped with such a daughter? It might have been fun, but with Jane Rossington getting the part of Jill and Sue the part of Marilyn, we had the best of both worlds.

Marilyn was popular at the motel - a good friend to Diane, Carlos and Josefina.

Marilyn squeezed a lot of living into her youthful years in King's Oak. She became a beauty queen and even tried her hand at singing  - a ballad called Where Will You Be? which was released as a record in real life. Marilyn also accompanied Meg and other staff to Tunisia after a wartime bomb blew up the Crossroads kitchens.

Back in England, Marilyn fell in love with the dishy new King's Oak vicar Peter Hope, but feared she wasn't good enough for him. His mother, Tish, thought otherwise, and finally Marilyn and Peter were married.

And then things went a bit odd.

Sue Nicholls left the serial, and her character was recast. Following the template laid down by early Coronation Street, recasting in English soaps wasn't very common back then, but Crossroads bravely recast Marilyn, completely altering the character in the process.

Nadine Hanwell, the new Marilyn, was dark haired whilst Sue Nicholls was fair. Ms Hanwell's Marilyn spoke very good middle class English, while Sue's Marilyn's accent had been of the glorious Brummie variety. Ms Hanwell's portrayal of Marilyn was perfectly all right, she was obviously a highly competent actress, but her Marilyn was quite wrong after Sue's version.

The new Marilyn was the perfect English country village vicar's wife. The old one strove to be that, but she was dead common (like me) and given to comic storylines.

What were the Crossroads production team thinking of?

We adapted to the new Marilyn and grew to like her.

But we'll always remember Sue's Marilyn with greater affection.

What a shame so few episodes featuring her exist today!

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Our Top 50 Favourite Crossroads Characters - 18: Tommy "Bomber" Lancaster

Ah, what might have been if Crossroads King's Oak had become King's Oak and Tommy "Bomber" Lancaster's reign as hotel owner had continued!

But it was not to be.

I thoroughly enjoyed Terence Rigby's portrayal of Mr Lancaster.

Bomber was the owner of the Red Ox chain of eateries, a rich, self-made Brummie, living at posh Lady Byron Lodge.

And he was a pal of former motel char Amy Turtle.

Seeing her again rather freaked poor old Jill Chance out.

Bomber bought Crossroads in early 1987, and set about stamping his mark on the place. Of course, this was the late 1980s, so it had to have a theme - Bomber tied it into the history of King's Oak and its connections to the English Civil War, naming the bar "The Merry Monarch" (complete with flame stitched seating), and wondering if he could get away with telling guests that the big oak tree out the back by the bins was the one King Charles had (reputedly) hidden in.

Bomber had a wife - Mary - and two daughters, Debbie (called by some at Crossroads "Debbie Dreadful") and  Lisa. Debbie was down-to-earth, like her father, Lisa, the complete opposite - a globe trotting good time girl, mixing happily with the yuppie set.

Bomber was a great student of human nature. He was aware that Adam Chance was sneering at him and that Jill was looking down at her nose at him, but he sorted them both out. When Adam ended up drinking the naff plonk he had bought for Bomber's dinner party, it was no more than he deserved. 

Bomber also spotted that Barry the barman was fiddling the till.

Mary Lancaster died in 1987, leaving Bomber devastated.

But he persevered.

He decided to change the name of the dear old motel. Crossroads Motel? That was so old hat, so down market - so 1960s. King's Oak Country Hotel was surely more like it...

Jill Chance was initially against it, but she was jollied along by John Maddingham, Bomber's "ideas man". 

Bomber also decided that Charlie Mycroft added a touch of class to the place, and took him on to the permanent staff. 

Christmas 1987 found Bomber coping with his grief as he faced his first festive season without his beloved wife, and then the bombshell news that his steady, down-to-earth daughter Debbie was pregnant, with no father on the scene.

At first, he was furious - and thought that he had failed as a father. But after Lisa intervened, Bomber held his hands up and told Debbie that he wanted her to stay at Lady Byron Lodge, and that he would welcome and love his grandchild.

In 1988, Bomber sold the newly-renamed King's Oak Country Hotel.

"And that's an end to it," he said.

I thought it was a great shame because I liked the Lancasters and I thought there were endless possibilities with Tommy at the helm at the hotel. There were even rumours that Nicola Freeman was to have returned permanently if the show had continued, as a possible chalk and cheese romantic interest.

The Lancasters had great potential - gruff old Tommy, with his head for business and knowledge of what made people tick, and his beautifully contrasting daughters - shaggy permed yuppie puppy Lisa and Brummie sounding Debbie, who shared her dad's "from-the-ground-up" approach to business, if not his knowledge of humour nature. "Deadly Dave", father of Debbie's sprog, safely back in Spalding with his wife and kiddies, would vouch for that. Debbie had been sure he was a good bloke.

Tragically lost potential, but still worthy of a place in our top twenty...

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Our Top 50 Favourite Crossroads Characters - 19: Iris Scott

Oooh, Iris!

Played by Angela Webb, Iris was nice Kath Brownlow's 'orrible niece, who landed herself on the Brownlow family in 1980.

And then the trouble began...

Iris, to put it simply, was bad news.

In November 1980, she bedded cousin Glenda's boyfriend, Kevin, in his Auntie Marian's house.

The hussy!

She also came across some audio casettes belonging to American psychiatrist Lloyd Munroe. To be fair, Iris initially thought they were music cassettes, but when she discovered they were actually taped therapy sessions of Lloyd with Rosemary Hunter... well! And the revelation that Chris Hunter wasn't David's biological son...  that information was too good for a girl not to use, wasn't it?

Iris didn't get on very well with her grumpy uncle-in-law, Arthur Brownlow, and so decided to accuse him of... er... molesting her. The case went to court, but Iris ended up in prison for lying.

When she came out, she found Arthur's son, her cousin Ron, waiting for her. And the couple fell in love. This was brave fare for an early evening soap because, while first cousins can and do marry, such things were not really subject matter for soap drama back then.

Iris had a phantom pregnancy. Ron went off to work on an oil rig.

Iris formed a close friendship with her landlady, Mavis Hooper when she moved into her boarding house in 1981. Iris's genuine concern for "Mave" showed a different side to her nature and some of us began to warm to her. By Crossroads standards, Iris was rather a complex character - and actually a bit of a groundbreaker in an era when soap characters tended to be simply good or bad. Previously, a "nice" character might be capable of weakness, stupidity, bad behaviour through some kind of illness or a flash of temper, but the show had never invited us to care about a character who had behaved as badly as Iris.

Just before Christmas 1981, we met the cause of a lot of Iris's behavioural problems - her tarty mother Rose, who breezed into King's Oak wanting to mend fences, believing that Iris was expecting Ron's baby.

It was all very difficult. At first, Iris didn't want to know, but gradually she thawed, particularly after her mother moved into Mave's boarding house too, and decided not to go dashing off with daft dreamer Sid Hooper, Mavis's husband, who had taken a great shine to her.

Iris finally set off with her mother to London, but soon returned, stating that her mother's new feller had been making overtures to her. On this occasion, her primary reason for visiting was to aid Kevin and Glenda in their reconciliation after Glenda had walked out when Kevin had refused to "go in for" a test tube baby.

So, once again, Iris wasn't all bad.

She was also a great pal to Benny Hawkins.

That was the thing with our Iris. When she was good she was very, very good. But when she was bad...

Iris still had feelings for her cousin Ron, and when a pal of his visited King's Oak, Iris saw a chance to press her case, although Ron was now romantically involved elsewhere. This caused more aggro when Iris engineered it so that Ron's pal was caught in a delicate situation with another man's wife.

Iris became attracted to Gary Corbett, a young man who had attempted to burgle Jill and Adam Chance's house, Chimneys. She blackmailed Jill and Adam into taking him on as an odd-job man, threatening to reveal to David Hunter that he actually wasn't Chris's biological father. "You really are a bitch, Iris!" said the usually mild mannered Jill.

Iris's scheme was derailed when Adam called "Time" on the situation. David revealed that he already knew about Chris, and Iris departed.

Soon, Iris found an unlikely ally in J Henry Pollard, millionaire businessman, who was suffering ill health. He wanted to antagonise his fellow directors at the motel by having her around, but developed sympathy for her when she became his personal assistant and he got to know her. He later secured her a job in the motel bar.

Iris's on-off tenure in the King's Oak saga came to an end in 1985 when she became involved with a young drug addict called Pete Maguire. The lad died, and Iris soon left the area - this time never to return.

But she was genuinely a groundbreaking character - one never to be forgotten.

"I ain't done nuffink, Auntie Kaff!"

Come off it, Iris!