From 1972 onwards Crossroads always out-performed the slot it aired in. The series was from this point on never out of ITV’s Top 20 and rarely out of the network’s top ten. The feat was all the more amazing as the show was never truly ‘networked’ with the soap airing at different times and days across the UK.
As the Daily Mirror reported on Thursday, October 5th, 1972: “For the first time in its eight years Crossroads – ATV’s long-running serial – is in the top twenty. The reason for the bigger audience is Granada have started showing the adventures of Meg Richardson at her Midlands motel. More episodes of Crossroads have been screened than any other serial in the UK.
“The latest JICTAR ratings – used by Independent TeleVision to register size of its audience – gives Crossroads more than 10,000,000 per episode. That is more than those who watched the recent Julie Andrews spectacular, Eric Sykes and The Two Ronnies. Since Crossroads airs at varying times on ITV and is not screened in peak viewing – and never at weekends – this figure is something of a TV phenomenon.”
At the show’s peak in the mid-1970s, up to 18 million ultimately tuned in to see what was going on at the motel. As the Daily Mirror noted it was unheard of for a daytime series to beat primetime programmes – but Crossroads is one of the few to manage it. In 1980 the saga was the most complained about production in television regulator’s viewer log – the reason? TV bosses had shunted the series from its regular slot to cover the Moscow Olympics.
Noele Gordon was considered to be the matriarch of the programme and, it seems, executives at the programme were becoming frustrated that everything had to centre on the ‘queen bee’. During the 1970s producers had expanded the series to cover more of life in Kings Oak, with several new village locations introduced, however, whenever Noele as Meg didn’t appear on-screen ATV was always inundated with callers asking why. From 1969 to 1978 she also won yearly awards in several television gong shows, most of all with the TV Times where at one point she was walking away with up to three in a single year.
In 1981 after several run-ins with production management on the direction of the programme Noele Gordon was fired. The opportunity to rid Crossroads of its leading lady arose when ATV, which she had been on contract with since its inception, was axed by the television regulator as the IBA Midlands broadcaster. With the arrival of Central Television, which she had no say, and no power – even pal Lew Grade had lost his control in the new company (which ATV’s parent company still for a time had an interest in) – Noele was easy to finally be removed.
While it was management, at the production level, who took the decision to axe the character of Meg, it was up to Head of Programmes Charles Denton to inform the actress. She didn’t take it well. Charles, while not particularly keen on the show, understood its financial value to the regional network, it pulled in between 16 and 15 million viewers per episode and made millions in advertising revenue. So much so Charles in 1979 had wanted to restore Crossroads back from four to five episodes.
The IBA decided to carry out research into the programme and found that the production indeed was hugely popular with viewers. Those who took part in the regulator’s investigation noted they would like to see the fifth episode return. Research carried out by The Daily Mirror at the time also echoed those views.
Instead, the IBA drew up a ‘dubious quality’ list of programmes which it felt were vulgar and uncouth. On the list it included Crossroads, Coronation Street, Stars on Sunday and This Is Your Life. The broadcasting authority ignored the viewer research with Stars on Sunday ordered to cut back on the number of episode offerings while Crossroads was also to be cut down to three episodes a week, taking effect from April 1980.
In the later days of ATV a new Head of Drama, Margaret Matheson, arrived. Some blamed her for the downfall of the motel show in attempting to make it more of a continuous drama serial like Corrie, however, she told us “the axing of Noele Gordon had nothing to do with Charles Denton or myself. We were happy for Noele to remain with the programme.” Charles added that “I carried out the dismissal of Noele, but it wasn’t a decision I had made.”
Noele left just over a month before Central launched in January 1982, the press and critics assumed it had been the head of programmes or head of drama who had ‘done Meg in’ in order for ratings to fall. In fact, Meg had left in order for producer Jack Barton to change the show from a soap opera into a more serious serial. While the scripts were given more time and improved, the series lost its sense of fun, its unique format and became a dreary ‘serial’.
The ratings indeed fell; although never far enough to take the show out of the ITV Top Ten, it still performed reasonably to a 12-14 million audience. In 1984 Charles Denton left Central to work at an independent and the cards were marked for Crossroads. Incoming Andy Allan was more interested in drama, and lavish ones at that. He brought in Ted Childs as Head of Drama and together they would make Central a powerhouse of lavish dramatisations, ranging from Inspector Morse to Boon and so on.
“We became irrelevant, really, serial had become a dirty word” Jane Rossington recalled. Producer Jack Barton, who had taken over from Reg Watson in 1974, returned from a holiday to discover he’d been sacked. Ted Childs drafted in Phillip Bowman to bring Crossroads from the 1960s into the 1980s. Phillip noted on his appointment “He asked me to change the programme, not improve it, just change it.”
And change it Phillip Bowman certainly did. Many viewers enjoyed the new look, updated series. The programme was in 1984 still being recorded as live, and due to that was becoming an even easier target for critics and comedians. While production standards and values had moved on, Crossroads was still stuck in the same production routine as it had been in 1964. It should be noted however it wasn’t alone – and even long after Crossroads had changed another twice-weekly serial on the network had not modernised as much as the Midland-based show.
While critics seemed blind to it viewers noticed the backstreet setting of Corrie was still prone to the odd ‘as live’ recorded episode as late as 1986, complete with occasional missing parts of sets, the slight wobbly wall, booms and cameras in the shot and outdoor locations still within the studio. Back in the Midlands the modern motel, however, didn’t sit well with everyone.
Jack Barton had been offered a job with Bowman as Series Advisor, he declined the role when he discovered how drastic the planned changes were to be. The 1985 changes to Crossroads were to be the second biggest soap opera revamp in UK history, following on from a disastrous re-launch of Emergency Ward 10 in 1966. The all-new Crossroads Motel launched on March the 6th 1985 with a stylish, classy new image.
A revigorated cast – a balanced mix of old faces and new friends – along with a slicker feel the show saw the serial back at the forefront of fun and drama, and an increase in ratings. The saga also included much more of the village life, shot on location, and Kings Oak once more played a bigger role. The production went from the most out-of-date looking on British TV to the most modern. It also ditched the serious serial format and returned to the more popular ‘Reg Watson’ style.
“This relaunch seemed to bring in new younger viewers, who network bosses at that time were trying to attract. Most people saw the new opening titles and music as long overdue; it was the changes to the cast and more saucy storylines that some older die-hard fans disapproved of. But the ratings were still good for the 6:30pm slot, and slowly increased. The change was a success.” – Crossroads Fan Club researcher Doug Lambert.
Just as things seemed to be going rather well, Phillip Bowman was moved onto other projects in the summer of 1986 due to personal reasons. Poached from the BBC, producer William Smethurst was quickly drafted in to continue developing Crossroads as an up-market drama series. He was first offered the job in 1984 but turned it down initially. Following the changes Phillip had made, however, he decided to take on the more up-to-date motel.
William had been promised a long future for the serial and was given a free run to make any changes he thought would improve the show, one being a name change to Kings Oak and to give the show a total overhaul. In 1987 market research showed Crossroads was meeting all its targets set by Central, ITV executives also pencilled in a proposed Sunday omnibus for the series and from 1988 it would finally become networked rather than sold by Central on a region to region basis to every other IBA region.
Two weeks after Central had hosted a party for the new-found success of the series – and while the entire cast and crew were away from the studios on a production break – head of programmes Andy Allan terminated the Crossroads contract with the network, in order to free up the 90-minute slots-per-week on the network that he felt the Birmingham studios could better serve with dramas.
It’s also reported the Central management and directors (who were happy with the series) and finance department (who were happy with how much revenue the show generated) were not consulted.
“The MD of Central came up to me and said how sorry he was Crossroads had been axed. He said he’d only been in the job three weeks when Andy Allan through the press office pulled the plug. He said if he’d been there longer he would have put his foot down and reversed the decision.” – Jane Rossington.
The crew were not put off by the announcement of the show’s end and forged ahead with another revamp. Crossroads was to become Kings Oak. However, with the axing announcement the original name partly remained, ‘Crossroads Kings Oak‘ would be the name of the new-look show. A new theme tune and opening titles had already been made before the axing was announced, and so they were used from the 7th of September 1987. In the final months of Crossroads Kings Oak, the show fell out of the ITV Top Ten ratings list for the first time since its early days, it also began to slip out of the top twenty.
The overhaul and new look were failing miserably. Emmerdale Farm, which had always been behind the motel, bar occasional episodes, took over its position as the third most-watched serial, with Coronation Street and EastEnders in the top spots. Figures fell as low as six million for the Kings Oak era. Viewers placed the blame on awful new characters, the weekly loss of old familiar faces and bland storylines.
The soap opera style once more made way for a more drama serial format, just another reason viewers turned off. A huge campaign to save Crossroads was launched, including support from newspapers The Sun and The Mirror, and the Central press office made sure everyone knew the show was bowing out in style. Adverts were placed on billboards, in magazines and trailers appeared regularly on the various regional stations of the IBA.
The “Who will she choose” plot was publicised highly with Kings Oak cast appearing on all the major talk shows. The TV Times for the final week of Crossroads Kings Oak in 1988 featured Jane Rossington, Tony Adams and Jeremy Nicholas on the front cover with a 12-page pullout special on the series inside. The Crossroads Appreciation Society was also featured in the TV Times, announcing it was to launch on April 4th 1988, the very day the last episode would air. The aim was for fans to join together and remember the series, to keep the legend alive and to fight to get Crossroads back on a television network.
The official Central fan club for the soap, headed by John Kavyo, made numerous television appearances over those final months the soap was on the air. The final 75-minute special aired, ending 23-years and 7-months of Crossroads and a show that had become a television institution. In fact, not just a television institution, but also a British one, and something most of the Midlands were proud of.
If Andy Allan thought Crossroads would be confined to the vaults and television history after the last episode: then he was very wrong. Numerous television documentaries and specials appeared on Channel 4, the BBC networks and even ITV on numerous occasions during the 1990s. In 1991 Central Independent Television was said to be involved with a revival, which would comprise of a feature-length movie. It was later revealed that the movie would have been funded by over 4000 people; from Crossroads Appreciation Society members to a large number of former viewers who had stepped forward after an advert was placed in the business section of The Sun newspaper.
A report in The Stage noted Ronald Allen, Jane Rossington, Gabrielle Drake and Sue Lloyd were all keen to reprise their roles. The whole plan was overseen by producers Chris Klaiseweiz and Marcia Forsyth-Grant. However, Ronald died before the film went into production and the plans were never reprised. In 1996 with the announcement that Channel 5 was to launch, rumours that the station was to commission Crossroads as a rating winner (or publicity stunt) were circulating. Central, however, it was reported refused to lease the show or produce it.
Channel 5 launched a new midlands bases series instead, Family Affairs. In 2000, Open House with Gloria Hunniford on Channel 5, welcomed Jane Rossington and the Crossroads Appreciation Society’s Peter Kingsman onto her sofa to chat about the series and the possibility of its return. Then Central TV’s owners at the time, Carlton Television, confirmed the speculation was true. Crossroads was to return to help fill the afternoon gap left by Home and Away after it moved to Channel 5. It was part of plans to replace the Australian import with two homegrown productions. Night And Day, set in London, would soon follow Crossroads onto ITV screens. After years of campaigning, the motel saga was coming back – or was it?