Saturday, 17 February 2018

Our Top 50 Favourite Characters - 7: 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.

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