Crossroads: The Noele Gordon Collection – Review
By Roger Crow
Mention the name Crossroads to most TV addicts and the same old cliches are dispensed: shaky sets, bad acting, rubbish extras. Obviously the brilliant Acorn Antiques did a lot to bury the ITV soap, phase one of which which ran from 1964 to 1988, and kept millions entertained most week nights.
But here’s the thing: it’s one of TV’s most under-appreciated gems, boasting some of the best actors of their era. Noele Gordon’s Meg, usually on the phone trying to keep her family business afloat or politely telling staff how to do their jobs, is a soap queen in the Annie Walker mould. Oh, and there’s the added bonus of her vocal patterns, adding an ‘h’ in front of (h)when and (h)why; a similar speech style would later drive a gag in Family Guy.
Daughter Jill (Jane Rossington) loved a good time, but her 1970s fling with Anthony Mortimer (played by Jeremy ‘Star Wars’ Sinden) wrecked her marriage, and one ep found her sleeping with Eric, an obnoxious repairman who looked like old flame Stan.
Roger Tonge’s dry-witted deadpan, disabled regular Sandy Richardson (Jill’s brother) is one of TV’s unsung cult heroes. His no-nonsense barbs stopped any character from getting too up themselves.
Let’s not forget Ronald Allen as David Hunter, the suave, sophisticated big cheese at the eponymous Midlands motel. Boy did he rock a cable neck sweater and posh coat like some alpha catalogue model.
Added to the mix was Sue Lloyd as Barbara, the alluring regular whose affair with Hunter infused spice and sex appeal. (Ronald and Sue became an item IRL, as the kids say, so little wonder they had such great screen chemistry).
Janet Hargreaves’ scenery-chewing-performance as obsessed Rosemary Hunter has to be seen to be believed. A gloriously hammy performance, and yet utterly compelling. Rosemary’s Play Misty For Me-style psychosis over David and Barbara affair is TV gold.
Then there was the brilliant Susan Hanson’s down-to-Earth regular Diane, forever synonymous with Benny (Paul Henry), the lovably simple local with a heart of gold who worshipped the ground Miss Diane walked on.
And kudos to Kathy Staff as Doris Luke, the humble polar opposite of Nora Batty, which turned her into a sitcom icon; a moral compass who always pointed true north. If you’ve got a problem, Doris will solve it, usually with a few kind words and a lot of elbow grease.
In 1979/1980 when some of the classic discs are set, there’s the Brownlow family. Dad Arthur (Peter Hill, whose character was possibly a template for EastEnders’ Arthur Fowler) is a hard working type whose idea of fun is to play a waltz at a party, while the younger generation think it’s perfectly fine to stitch him up with a game of Blind Man’s Buff. The sight of Arthur realising everyone has scarpered, followed by the post-credits scene of him sat alone with a stick of wilting celery in the foreground is so achingly sad it’s a wonder a Samaritans hotline wasn’t included.
Daughter Glenda Brownlow (Lynette McMorrough), the long-suffering Motel employee, had to contend with light-fingered, work-shy cousin Iris (Angela Webb – who may as well have said “I’m a good girl I am!”, like something from My Fair Lady). Glenda also deserved more credit than she received. Her romance with cocky ladies’ man Kevin (David Moran – complete with Kevin Keegan perm) is so fast when seen on a binge watch, you almost get the urge to ring one of those huge phones at the Motel and tell her to take things a bit slower.
Angus (The Great Escape) Lennie’s irascible chef Shughie McFee deserves full marks for effort, propping up scenes in the kitchen as though everyone’s lives depended on it. Even when a mystery saboteur is revealed, Lennie delivers the half-baked script with the gravitas it (barely) deserves.
Would it work today? Absolutely. While Corrie lost its way years ago with a cast of morally bankrupt characters and yawnsome gangsters, it’s refreshing to see something a little more wholesome.
And yes, even in the late 1970s, a Cinderella-style plot involving Alison (Carina Wyeth, who died in 2022), a young woman desperate to flee from her God-fearing uncle (Ivor Salter with a big, bushy beard you could lose a child in), was cliched. But it’s still compelling stuff, for all of its fist-shaking, fire and brimstone stereotypes.
Part of the key to Crossroads’ success was each show was only about 20 minutes, so it never outstayed its welcome. That and the fact the bulk of the actors are better than many of the cast in today’s leading serials.
That opening ATV fanfare heralded something special: appointment TV in an age when three TV channels meant that every show on any channel had a certain special quality.
Okay, it’s far from perfect. The odd fluffed line or boom shadow on a wall obviously added to the myth it was an am dram show, but as stripped down drama goes, it works a treat.
Like Classic Coronation Street on ITV3, these eps are a reminder of a time when soaps were simpler yet more believable than today’s thinly veiled attempts to tell gangster stories in a genre built more for sitcom than shotguns.
“Deserves far more love”
However, there’s also a dark side to some of the eps. Adam Chance (the brilliant Tony Adams) shows a shocking degree of misogyny when he can’t seduce garage worker Sharon Metcalfe (the outstanding Carolyn Jones). When she won’t give in to his whims, it turns into a #metoo moment that sets the teeth on edge. As a side note, Chance’s chat with a business person on the phone in an earlier ep must rank as one of the most boring in TV history as he describes the sort of projector available at the Motel. The call goes on for about two minutes and has nothing to do with anything, other than proving Chance knows a lot about slide projectors.
Best of all, there’s Noele/Meg’s swan song, an episode following a devastating fire at the Motel, which saw Jill race to Southampton after a mystery phone call.
With a score reminiscent of a Hitchcock film, the revelation that Meg (believed dead) was setting sail on a cruise must have been jaw-dropping TV back in 1981. Seen today, it’s quite extraordinary, complete with flashbacks, and Noele looking a lot happier than her pre-fire ep when she was tranquillised up to the eyeballs.
There’s little wonder Russell T Davies has crafted an ITVX drama about the end of Noele’s tenure in Crossroads. Far from the TV car crash many might recall, ATV’s soap is a ‘lost’ TV classic which deserves far more love than it receives.