The story of Britain’s first fast-turnaround television serial…
ATV Network and the Crossroads Fan Club are proud to ‘Return To Crossroads‘ with a look at the award-winning serial which first aired on ITV back in 1964 and was soon climbing up the television ratings; the show ultimately becoming ITV’s most popular daytime series ever – a record which remains unbeaten.
We also look at Crossroads Care, which was founded in the Midlands in 1973 and is now a leading respite charity. The foreword to the DVD has been written by the man who brought the show to life for ATV, Reg Watson.
Reg went onto creating many other serial hits including The Young Doctors, Cell Block H and Neighbours. A newspaper once claimed “Crossroads is the biggest hit of 1965” and the programme went on to be voted “Best ITV programme 1967”.
Throughout the 1970s the series also was bestowed gongs including winning Best TV Programme three years running in The Sun Television Awards. It wasn’t just populist publications; Telegraph readers placed it as their most favourite serial in 1974 too. The show’s leading lady, Noele Gordon, was crowned ‘Queen of Serial’ when she won numerous awards in the TV Times yearly celebration of ITV stars.
It wasn’t all sweet, however. Despite reaching up to 18 million viewers at teatime the UK’s first full-length daily serial was attacked by some critics who compared it to hit shows such as Coronation Street. Corrie at that time only aired twice a week and was produced as a continuous drama serial. Very working-class Britain. Often described as ‘kitchen sink drama’. Crossroads was based on the format of the ‘American Soap Opera’ and was more escapist and melodramatic.
For every critic who hated the show, there were famous faces willing to stand up and defend it. None more so that comedian and presenter Bob Monkhouse who appeared in the series back in 1966 and hosted a Variety Club celebration of the saga in 1980. Other stars to enjoy Crossroads – many who went on to appear in the programme include Sue Nicholls, Ken Dodd, Bryan Mosley, Paul O’Grady, Victoria Wood, Tony Blackburn and Prince Philip who at his request visited the set.
The show was devised to give the Midlands’ it’s own serial, and also to promote the region to the rest of the UK and beyond. Something it managed with much success, Noele Gordon became an international star thanks to the serial. And many West Midland locations were shown off to their prettiest effect within the show, including the Chateau Impney Hotel, Coventry Cathedral, Birmingham City Canal, Baschurch Village, Birmingham Cathedral, Wolverhampton Speedway, Tanworth-in-Arden and Selly Oak to name only a few.
By the 1980s Crossroads wasn’t alone in the soap world – other daily serials arrived on UK screens including The Young Doctors and Neighbours. Despite this the show was still deemed ‘low budget’ and snipes remained. At the same time Crossroads was able to command up to 16 million viewers even though it was still not being shown on the same night or time across the UK. In Wales, viewers saw the Midland serial at 5.20 pm in the North East at 6.00 pm and in the south at 6.30 pm.
Interestingly Emmerdale Farm, which aired at 7 pm, rarely managed to rate better than the ATV series; this rather disgruntled the television watchdog who frowned upon a daytime soap topping the ratings and more so beating prime time ‘more polished’ serials. The IBA said the motel based saga was “distressingly popular.” In the end, Crossroads was revamped in 1985 making it one of the most modern soaps on British television.
The show had always been more glamorous and middle class and this was re-established as the case in the mid-1980s. However Central bosses in the Midlands were fast becoming ashamed of “soap” and decided that drama was to be the future. In 1987 Crossroads was discontinued in order for more drama slots to be allocated to the studios of ATV Centre in Birmingham.
This documentary aims to chart the on-screen and off-screen events that shaped a show that has become a Midland institution while many of its characters have gone into British folk law. The show has, despite being off the air for 30 years, proved to still be fondly remembered with Network DVD releasing over 20 volumes – that’s over 300 episodes – of classic editions.
ATV and the Fan Club are not making any money from this production, the ATV/Fan Club cut of the profit is to be donated to the Crossroads Care (Caring for Carers) charity based in Worcestershire.
This charity – now one of the biggest respite care groups in the world – was founded by ITV and ATV Network in 1973 after a storyline in the soap saw one of the characters confined to a wheelchair.
It soon became clear that families across the country were not getting the support they needed and so ITV and ATV stepped in by launching Caring for Carers with a £10,000 investment.
The documentary began as an idea in 2006, with filming ongoing since 2010.
Jane Rossington talks about her long-running role as Jill Richardson / Crane / Harvey / Chance as well as working on Emergency Ward 10 and the reborn Crossroads of 2001.
Tony Adams looks back at his time at the Crossroads Motel as Adam Chance, as well as working on General Hospital and the new version of Crossroads.
|Alan Coleman looks back to the early days of the show at the Alpha Studios in Aston Cross and how those days saw Crossroads coping with a leaking roof as well as Noele Gordon’s ability to get the show out of tight spots.||
Carolyn Jones reflects on her time as Sharon Metcalfe of the Crossroads Garage, her on-screen lovers, the relationship with Benny and the ground-breaking Downs Syndrome storyline that won praise from MENCAP and was reported on ITV News at Ten.
looks back at his time as both Harry Silver and, later character, Sid Hooper. He recalls how some viewers took the show very seriously, mistaking him for ‘Sid’ in real-life.
|Charles Denton, Head of Programmes at ATV and Central Television, discusses Crossroads’ popularity with viewers, how the television regulator hated the programme, the departure of Noele Gordon in 1981 and why Jack Barton had her sacked.
|Lynette McMorrough talks about how she became Glenda Brownlow in the show, later becoming Mrs Banks when marrying Kevin. Also the plot concerning Glenda having a test-tube baby and what on-screen parents Kath and Arthur were like in real life.||Janet Hargreaves remembers her time as Rosemary Hunter who ‘rode into the Crossroads Motel on a broomstick’. She also recalls the behind the scenes friendships with co-stars such as Jean Bayless, Caroline Jones and Roger Tonge.|
|Neil Grainger became one of the most popular actors on the reborn Crossroads in 2001-2002. Here he talks about the demise of the show, his character of Phil Berry and the various storylines and how the press wrote about the series.
||Richard Thorp recalls playing Doug Randall in Crossroads along with his other big soap roles such as Dr Rennie in Emergency Ward 10 and Alan Turner in Emmerdale Farm. He also talks about how he helped Noele Gordon buy her Rolls Royce and a friendship with John Bentley.|
|Angela Webb looks back on her time as ‘troubled’ Iris Scott who caused nothing but trouble for her relations – The Brownlow family. Angela also talks about the death of Roger Tonge and his funeral.||Christopher Douglas talks about playing cheeky-chap Martin Bell in Crossroads and how the format of the script was a great learning curve for his own later writing experiences.|
|JoAnne Good talks about her time as soaps first female motor mechanic Carol Sands. She also reflects on co-stars Stan Stennett and Carl Andrews as well as some of the gaffs in the show.||Jean Bayless was a star of stage long before arriving at the Crossroads Motel as the glamorous Cynthia Cunningham. Jean reflects on her stage career, that included working at the London Palladium alongside Noele Gordon in the ’50s as well as joining the motel via her pal Janet Hargreaves.|
|Annette Andre looks back on her stay at Crossroads as David Hunters’ other woman, Sarah Alexander. She also talks about her friendship with Ronnie Allen and Sue Lloyd and the workings of a soap opera.||Joanne Farrell proved popular with viewers as Sarah Jane Harvey in the reborn Crossroads of 2001-2002, however, it all turned out to be a big con when the character was revealed to be ‘an imposter’ Joanne talks about those sudden changes and her great on-screen partnership with Jane Rossington.|
|Tom Richards, of Sons and Daughters fame, talks soap opera in general from a perspective of a performer who has worked on similar formats to Crossroads. The Grundy Television regular also ponders critics, actors views of soap and Reg Watson.||Emily Albu who was ‘Katie Louise Banks’ aka soaps first test-tube baby talks about being that ground-breaking character – although she was too young to remember it at the time.|
|The Staff Family recall their dearly loved Kathy. Kathy Staff may be best-known as Nora Batty, however, she always said Crossroads was her favourite programme to work on. Kathy’s daughter talks her mum’s TV roles while husband John looks back at the real-life Kathy who was nothing like Nora Batty of Last of the Summer Wine.
||Patricia Bentley looks back at the career of her husband John Bentley and his time on Crossroads as well as other TV series African Patrol. Patsy also reflects on his friendship with Noele Gordon and his departure at the hands of Jack Barton.|
|Ian Towers. Journalist Ian recalls his time in the 1970s and 80s regularly popping to ATV Centre in Birmingham to meet the cast of Crossroads for interviews. He reflects on Noele Gordon, her departure and the arrival of Gabrielle Drake as Nicola Freeman in 1985.||Sue Manger, a stalwart of the Grundy Television team, recalls her time working with Reg Watson in Australia on shows such as Neighbours and some of the famous names they helped establish through that show. She also talks about working with Crossroads actress Pamela Greenall.|
|We speak to Barbara Rudge of the Crossroads Care charity as well as service user Neil Gammie. Barbara discusses the work of the charity as well as how it came to be established by Crossroads initially in storylines before ATV helped create it in reality. Neil tells us how caring for carers assists him and his mother.||Stephen Savva and Jean Hochet recall Crossroads as UK viewers. Stephen reflects on how Jane Rossington as Jill was a soap survivor, while Jean flicks through her ‘Crossroads Diaries’ that she avidly wrote after watching each episode from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s.
|We also get the view of Crossroads and some of its characters from ‘down under’ with Doug Moody who recalls watching the serial on Network 7 in Australia.||We take a look behind the scenes at the ITV Archive in Leeds at the Crossroads films being converted to HD.|
|The documentary features many of the locations Crossroads filmed scenes over the years; from the original motel location of Walford Hall to the Chateau Impney Hotel and Birmingham Cathedral.
||We pay our respects to Noele Gordon and Roger Tonge, visiting their final resting places.|
The programme also looks at the early days of its leading stars, including heading to East Ham and the house where Noele was born.
We were the last to record in Studio One, ATV Centre, Birmingham before the roof was brought down. It was the home of Crossroads from 1969 to 1988 along with many other fondly remembered programmes including Bullseye, The Golden Shot and The Power Game (s2).
|We join Crossroads Care and the charity’s patron Tony Adams as the Caring for Carers scheme launches its ‘payphone’ info point.||
With thanks to the below organisations and people have been hugely helpful with the project:
Alpha Tower Birmingham, Apollo Hotel Edgbaston, Birmingham Cathedral, Birmingham Central Library, Château Impney Hotel, Crossroads Care West Midlands and Caring for Carers Worcestershire, Dajavu Video Editing Services Newcastle, Birmingham City Council/Lodge Hill Cemetery, Glen Allen, St David’s Hall Cardiff, St. Mary The Virgin Church Ross On Wye, St Lawrence Church Birmingham, Darren Gray Management, DC Thompson / The Weekly News, Reg Watson and ITV Rights / ITV Archive. Transport: London Cars / Unicon Carriages and Lady Cars with thanks to Martyn and Denise. With appreciation to Nick Coleman for filming in Australia.