The BFI have noted that ‘Crossroads was ahead of its time.’ And who are we to disagree with that? Especially as in many ways it is true. The show dared to be a daily serial in the UK when other regional ITV companies, and the BBC, said it would never work.
It wasn’t just its format that was new to these shores – it covered taboos, it covered many social issues. Here you’ll find some of those firsts, and a few other facts about the soap too.
Reg Watson, the series’ producer, came up with the title Crossroads. Suggestions by a number of production crew had come up with rejects such as “Motel” and “Highway“.
A newspaper competition for public suggestions for a name drew a blank. The original title devised for the series by Peter Ling and Hazel Adair was “The Midland Road” but ATV bosses didn’t like the sound of it. While the name ‘Motel‘ was rejected by ATV the Seven Network in Australia used the title for their remake of Crossroads in the late 1960s. A short-lived series for Network Ten in 1977 – Hotel Story – also failed to charm the viewers down under.
Storylines were planned three months in advance, and although during the 1980s only three episodes aired a week four per week were still produced giving the crew long summer and Christmas breaks.
1979 figures concluded that Crossroads had employed thus far 5,000 actors and issued over 20,000 ATV contracts. The stats men had also concluded that 52 tons of script paper had been used and over half a million words written.
When actors first joined Crossroads they were on weekly contracts. These progressed to three-month and then finally key players would be issued yearly contracts. This enabled the show to make sure the actors who became regulars could cope with producing two and a half hours of drama a week – which at that time was an hour and a half more than any other serial.
Landmark dates: Episode 500 was celebrated with a cast party on 30th September 1966, episode 1500 aired on May 25th 1971 and the 3000th edition was broadcast on August 18th 1978. Edition 4000 was transmitted on November 20th 1984. The 2000th episode was a ‘two-hander’ between Meg Richardson and Sheila Harvey, as the pair reminisced including ‘flashback’ footage. The episode ended with Sheila giving birth on the living room floor at the Harvey house.
By the end of the 1970s, over 3200 episodes had been recorded – although less than half that number had been kept in the archives. Every Central Television produced episode, made between 1982 and 1988, remains in the archives. The ATV Network editions, made between 1964 and 1981, suffer missing programmes every year up to Central taking over the serial
These losses render it impossible to repeat its most popular era on mainstream television such as ITV3, however, a network could screen it with little issue from late 1977; as many episodes survive after this period. Big Centre TV, despite the gaps, re-ran all surviving editions from 1965 to 1976 on their Midland-based service in 2016. In 2021 BritBox added episodes, and for its first two months on the service, it was the top streaming soap of the SoapBox offering.
Up to 1984 when the original format of the series came to an end, there had been a number of babies born in the series. Controversial ones such as Sheila Harvey’s illegitimate daughter and Kevin and Glenda Bank’s test-tube baby. While criticised for the character of Glenda (Lynette McMorrough) ‘getting pregnant’ quickly via a test tube process the show did feature another minor character that had tried for a long time to get pregnant in this way, unsuccessfully.
There were also sad miscarriages, which Ruth Frazer suffered in 1968 after a hit-and-run, and Jill Harvey lost a child which left her obsessed with sister-in-law Sheila’s baby, who for a time she and Stan ‘adopted’. Some children were not to remain in Kings Oak long. Diane Lawton’s son Nicky was kidnapped by his father Frank Adam. Diane took herself away to Oxford where she attempted suicide while by the early 1980s Jill had ultimately lost both her children; Stan took their daughter Sarah Jane to Germany, and step-brother Anthony (yes she went there) took their child Matthew to America.
In the first 20 years of the Birmingham production, there had been 25 Crossroads deaths. The first on-screen death was that of Victor Amos, businessman and part-owner of the Night and Day Car-Hire service in the village.
Some characters have been written out due to the unexpected death of the actor. The first Crossroads star to die while still active in storylines was Beryl Johnstone. Beryl played one of the leading roles in the saga as Kitty Jarvis – Meg Richardson’s sister. She fell ill during the night and died at home in the small hours. The cast only discovered her fate when she didn’t turn up for filming later in the day.
Kitty was killed off some weeks later with a heart attack. The loss of Kitty saw Joy Andrews’ role of Tish Hope expand. The last actor to die while in the series was Roger Tonge who played Meg’s son, Sandy Richardson. He had been suffering from Cancer since 1975 but continued to work on Crossroads right up until the week before he died in 1981.
Jane Rossington told us that you can see in those final weeks how ill Roger looks, but he carried on. Roger would work Monday to Friday on Crossroads, and then spend the weekend in a hospice where he was issued treatment, before driving himself back up the motorway to Birmingham on Monday morning.
Having fallen ill with Chickenpox his immune system couldn’t cope and he died only hours after speaking with Jane Rossington on the phone. He told her, in that final chat, how much better he was feeling.
Some actors appeared in the saga with different characters. Jack Haig first appeared as Bert Green in 1965, returning in 1966 as taxi driver Jock Larner before returning later that year as semi-regular Archie Gibbs. (As a side note it was Archie who called ‘Miss Diane’ that first, long before Benny).
David Lawton is best known as chef Bernard Booth, he appeared as an Italian chef who lampooned Spanish chef Carlos’ cooking (Tony Morton). Heather Chasen appeared as a newspaper reporter before joining as superbitch Valerie Pollard while Angus Lennie played a solicitor before returning as chef Shughie McFee and Tony Adams featured as an estate agent a decade before returning as accountant Adam Chance.
Meg had three adopted children: Stevie Harris played by Wendy Padbury, Melanie Harper played by Cleo Sylvestre and Bruce Sorbell-Richardson played by Paul Aston.
Meg’s sister Kitty also took in a teenager, with plans to adopt. The Jarvis family, Kitty and Dick with son Brian welcomed Shirley Perkins into the family home.
Between 1964 and 1988 there had been 29 weddings in the series. In 1965 the first was that of Tom Yorke to Joyce Hepworth swiftly followed by waitress Christine Fuller and village Milkman Ralf Palmer in the same year. The first to mark an off-screen celebration was the marriage of Andy Frazer – Meg and Kitty’s brother – in 1966 to motel secretary Ruth Bailey. It was to mark 500 episodes.
The next milestone marked with a wedding was that of motel housekeeper Kath Brownlow to Stephen Fellows in November 1985. That celebrated 21 years of the soap. The last Crossroads marriage in the original series was Sid Hooper’s marriage to Ivy Meacher in 1987.
The show was a big hit with viewers, not just in the UK but also in several other countries over the years. In 1965 a critic said Crossroads was the ‘television success of the year’ while the soap won ITV Programme of the Year as voted by TV Times readers in 1967.
In 1971 and 1972 a gallop poll asked the question: “Which is the best TV programme you have seen this year?” At number four was Crossroads. In 1973, Crossroads had reached number one in the poll!
Thereafter it was a regular in the top ten rating programmes, and never out of the top twenty. Noele Gordon scored a notable triumph in 1969 when she was the only woman to appear in the TV Times Top Ten list of most popular performers. She was placed eighth despite the fact that Crossroads was not fully networked across ITV.
In 1970 viewers again demonstrated their affection for Noele by again voting her back into the Top Ten – and this time in seventh place. She would then go on to spend several more years at number one in the chart. From 1969 to 1978 Noele won at least one award in the TV Times awards, one year she took away three gongs.
In 1974 and 1975 Crossroads was voted Programme of the Year by Daily Telegraph readers while Crossroads won Best Programme in The Sun Television Awards four years running and Noele Gordon was the first person to be placed in the TV Times Hall Of Fame in 1978.
Peter Ling noted how Crossroads was the first television drama serial to put a telephone helpline at the end of the programme for viewers in similar situations as the characters to be offered help and advice. This is now common practice across serials and drama.
Unlike other soaps where ethnic actors were added for a specific race or racist storyline Crossroads added all kinds of actors of all creeds and colours to play everyday regular people. As the race was not the principal reason for casting actors this made the production one of the first soaps to employ many Asian and African performers in the UK. These include the long-term stars such as Cleo Sylvestre (read more on this in her chat here) and Salmaan Peer in the 1960s, Carl Andrews and Merdelle Jordine in the 1970s and Dorothy Brown in the 1980s.
Crossroads was the first British serial to introduce a regular leading black family to soap. The Jamaica-born James family arrived in 1974 after Equity complained about the lack of ethnic families in television drama. It was noted other twice-weekly serials ignored these findings.
The report ‘Coloured Artists on British Television’ was published by Equity’s Coloured Artists’ Committee in August of 1974. Three months after the report ATV had taken on board the suggestions as Noele Gordon explained,
“Our story had a teenager, born and bred in Birmingham, whose parents originally came from Jamaica. He had never known any other country but Britain, and clashed with his somewhat Victorian father who looked back with nostalgia to the way of life he had left behind… The father, steeped in the tradition of this own background, just couldn’t accept that he now had an English son who wanted to live the English way of life. This is a problem very prevalent among Britain’s immigrant parents”
(more details in the book: Black In The British Frame, which lists all of Crossroads various ethnic characters.)
The cast of the James family included Elizabeth Adare as Linda James, Lee Davis as Cameron James and Trevor Butler as Winston James.
ATV sagas were the first to regularly use Outside Broadcast Videotape units on UK serials. Although the film inserts option would be used on the Crossroads production until 1985; when OB vans were un-available. In the early years, the crew had to share the three ATV film cameras located in Birmingham with ATV News.
Production notes reveal that Crossroads from as early as 1965 were using ATV’s pioneering mobile video recording equipment for the majority of location work. The OB Trucks had been launched in 1959 as a co-production with ATV, CBS and Radiodiffusion France. They were the best OB facility of their day.
The saga covered the taboo issue of a teacher and pupil affair in 1977 when teacher Richard Lord seduced his pupil, Lucy Hamilton. Crossroads covered illegal immigration in 1970 when Melanie Harper tried to help smuggle her French boyfriend into Britain while in 1984 the soap dealt with further immigration issues, resulting in a Polish character being deported. She had married motel restaurant manager Paul Ross to stay in Britain, but the authorities exposed her con.
ATV PR notes that Crossroads was the first daytime saga to record episodes abroad. It was the second of all ITV serials to record abroad, following Emergency Ward 10 which had recorded in Paris a couple of years earlier. In 1965 the team also flew to Paris in France and later Torremolinos in Spain. Firstly for a school trip storyline with Sandy Richardson. The episodes set in France saw the teenager enjoying the nightlife of Paris including a visit to Moulin Rouge and the Eiffel Tower.
Later in the same year, Meg Richardson holidayed in Torremolinos where she met Australian Kevin Macarthur – who returned to the motel with Meg to take on the role of motel manager. Crossroads would venture abroad once more in the 1960s. In 1967 ATV spent a couple of weeks recording sequences in Tunisia, North Africa, for a storyline in which Meg Richardson oversaw the opening of the Desert Coral Hotel in the City. Amazingly footage from all these ventures away survives in the archives.
The show introduced a lesbian to the proceedings in 1983. Gloria Tilling, the niece of Doris Luke, had a female lover in Greece much to mother Edna’s disapproval. This is one story that didn’t cross over to the 2001 series by which time Gloria had a son – motel handyman Bradley Clarke, who ironically was gay!
Interracial issues were introduced in the saga in 1965 when white waitress Marilyn Gates found a new boyfriend – Asian Jamil Ashruf. Crossroads also looked at racist abuse but from a different angle. Certainly groundbreaking for the 1970s when the show developed a storyline where an Asian family living in the village were very opinionated and greatly disapproved of their daughter’s relationship with a white man.
Crossroads bravely ventured into the world of unmarried mothers in 1964, this caused fury on the ATV switchboards. The show covered it again a number of times across the years including with the characters of Diane Lawton, Sheila Harvey and Debbie Lancaster. Another storyline, which caused furious viewers, was the 1969 witchcraft storyline taking place in the village churchyard. The scenes were ‘too distressing’ noted the ITA – the television regulator – who demanded the storyline was ‘quickly brought to a conclusion’.
One of these spooky episodes survives as an audio-only recording. The programme, just like witchcraft and ghosts in the 60s and 70s, also carried a storyline concerning Spiritualists. This 1983 story featured Ma Flood, local medium to Kings Oak.
Union strikes and protests were covered several times, some in more detail than others. In 1981 tomboy car mechanic Carol Sands was injured during a Birmingham protest. Later Kevin Banks found himself unemployed at the hands of a building union.
The programme made UK history by having the most episodes for any non-factual programme. It held the record for the UK serial with most episodes up until 1997 when finally Coronation Street caught up over-taking the 4512 made in the original Crossroads run.
In 1979 the nation went into a campaigning state for Benny (actor Paul Henry) in Crossroads when he was wrongly accused of murder. A “Benny is Innocent” campaign saw t-shirts, banners and petitions across the UK to get the character released. It was noted that Birmingham University’s buildings (along with a number of others in the UK) were draped in Benny is Innocent banners.
Previously ATV had to install a special line from Winston Green Prison in Birmingham through to ATV when a storyline saw Meg Richardson jailed for dangerous driving. Viewers had bombarded the prison line demanding her release and continued to do so for a number of weeks until she was. Others wanted to visit her or send gifts!
Again in 1980 the same happened when the character of David Hunter was shot, 100s of people telephoned the local hospitals to see if he had arrived, many more rang ATV to discover what had happened to David (Ronald Allen). Other instances include Stan Stennett helping a lady who had broken down on the motorway fix her car, believing it was ‘Sid Hooper’ she said she would send payment to the Crossroads Motel Garage. ATV also had letters asking for waitress roles at the motel, some companies tried to book the conference facilities and when a chef left the series real hotel chefs would offer to take their place!
EastEnders has been in recent years hyped up as the soap that went out of its way to play cat and mouse with the press. In 1981 Crossroads staged numerous fake recordings to put the press off up-and-coming plots. Notably, the fake funeral of Meg Mortimer which was snapped by The Sun newspaper and both ATV News and ITN News recorded undertakers removing a body from the ashes of the Crossroads Motel.
There were also scenes recorded with Anthony Morton – who had played Motel Chef Carlos in the 1960s – lurking in bushes near the motel, ready to murder Meg. He was reprising his role as Carlos’ brother, Georgio – his evil twin out for revenge.
Rape first featured in 1965 and sexual assault in 1967. Crossroads tackled rape again in 1976 and 1985. It should be noted also that the end of episode one in 1964 sees Meg Richardson about to be sexually assaulted by a drunken site worker from the nearby motorway road works.
Crossroads covered the issue of underage sex numerous times. In 1984 the show went as far as to look into whether it was right for doctors to give young teenagers contraception. Drugs were never too far away from the motel. From being addicted to prescription drugs to the harder illegal habits, Crossroads looked into the UK’s drug problem years before Brookside. In 1978 concerns were raised that one guest was taking illegal substances, while in 1984 a more detailed look at illegal drug use climaxed in the death of the character Pete Maguire when he overdosed on heroin.
“Crossroads, unlike other soap operas, has a strong and active social conscience, illustrated by the topical and often controversial subjects it covers” – Central press release.
Crossroads Caring For Carers is currently one of the world’s biggest voluntary care organisations. It all started in the soap opera, following a 1972 storyline which saw the character of Sandy Richardson lose the use of his legs after a car accident. Much more on this in our dedicated Crossroads Care section.
The production team helped establish a ward in a Birmingham hospital dealing with Kidney disease after a 1977 storyline featured the issue. How to avoid a heart attack and the aftercare having suffered one was weaved into the storylines between 1974 and 1977 when the businessman Hugh Mortimer suffered an attack. The show also covered, in 1966, blood donation that also tied in with a blind girl’s storyline.
Anti-smoking may be a part of everyday life now, but back in the 1960s, it was unheard of pretty much on television. In 1968 Crossroads covered the issue of smoking-related illnesses, although no character died – due to the IBA not allowing characters to smoke in Crossroads without special permission.
Permission was granted only once in the 1970s when a character before jumping under a moving train was allowed to light up. In 1981 Doris Luke was attacked in her own home after answering a door to a stranger, this led to an awareness drive to get the elderly to fit chains on their doors and to always ask for ID from callers, such as gas and electric board officials while in 1975 Diane Parker taught Benny Hawkins to read and write – this lead to a national literacy campaign which was praised by education officials and MPs.
Another story which gained praise was that of decimalisation and how the older Kings Oak villagers were coping. These scenes were praised in Parliament on behalf of The Post Office. Crossroads won much praise for its handling of the Downs Syndrome story of Nina in 1983, the story became national news when it featured on ITV’s News at Ten, Lunchtime News and many newspaper articles followed.
Parents of downs children said the show gave an accurate portrayal of how life is for such families.
The work of the Samaritans was a long-running storyline in the 1970s when Sandy Richardson decided to work for the helpline. Crossroads also covered in many plots alcoholism, agoraphobia, gambling, squatters’ rights along with the already mentioned – now a staple part of soap opera – but rare at the time; sexual harassment, adoption, bigamy, illegitimacy, abortion, suicide, murder, blackmail, homelessness, strikes, terrorism, abductions, cults, ghost haunting, political stances, mental health and physical disability.