Introduction by Jane Asher who played the lead role of Angel Samson in the final Carlton version of 2003.
“I loved playing Angel and was very disappointed when she was cut off in her prime, so to speak. It’s not often you get asked to dress up in wonderfully over-the-top costumes and be bitchy, powerful, flirty and vulnerable in turns. We were a very happy company – after the initial nervousness of meeting the actors who had already been involved in the show for a year and a half, we quickly bonded and got on very well.
“The scenes I enjoyed playing most were the rows with Jane Gurnett and the central family meals around the table in the Samsons’ suite. Jane and I had a great time sparring in the lobby or in Angel’s office, and the scripts were becoming more and more inventive in developing the mutual insults (as was our improvising!).
“And when the family gathered round the table there was more than a touch of the Mob in the air: really quite sinister. (It also, of course, helped that we had a fantastic props department that gave us the most wonderful food – on a cold winter’s morning in Nottingham it was a treat to be allowed to get stuck into a bit of haute cuisine while trying to remember our lines..)
“The whole experience was a joy, and my only regret is the fact that it wasn’t given the chance to settle down and develop that it deserved. Unfortunately, as an actor, you get horribly used to shows being cancelled at short notice – whether it’s a play that fails to attract audiences or a TV series that doesn’t get enough advertising, but this version of Crossroads was so very new that the decision was a shock to everyone involved.
“I was thrilled to discover when I first joined, incidentally, what a loyal and enthusiastic fan base the show had, and, as a new owner crashing into a much-respected cast, I was made to feel very welcome and supported. For that I send much love and many thanks to all those who wrote to me, and I can only apologise for having been in place when your beloved hotel closed its doors for the last time – I am as sad about it as you are.” – Jane Asher
Monday, April 10th 2000, Carlton Television announce – to the bemusement of the press – that Crossroads is returning to TV screens after an absence of more than a decade. The return of the hotel-based saga was devised to fill the afternoon gap left by Home and Away which had switched to Channel 5.
It was part of ITV executives plans to replace the Australian import with two homegrown productions. Night And Day, set in London, would soon follow Crossroads onto ITV screens. While critics howled in despair, fans were keen to celebrate the return of a series many felt should never have been ditched in the first place. When Crossroads was axed by Andy Allan in 1987 it was the UK’s third watched serial, behind EastEnders and Coronation Street and had continually out-performed the ratings for its slot since 1972.
Even the man who axed it had come to realise it had been an error to drop Crossroads for more ‘drama slots’ on the network when he noted it had been “the biggest mistake in his career” dropping the saga. With the demise of Crossroads in 1988 major network productions in Birmingham soon became a thing of the past. The Nottingham Studios of Central Television at Lenton Lane became the hub of production for networked shows and it was here, rather than in Birmingham, that Crossroads would be brought back to life.
In November 2000 an official press launch gave the newspapers, magazines and viewers an idea of what Crossroads thirteen years on was to be like. There would be some links to the original series, however, production company Carlton seemed keen to distance itself from the ATV series and its critical reputation while plucking a few popular aspects for their brand new version. Over the weeks to launch, and many months after, Carlton Television took many opportunities to point out it was a new show, it was not the Crossroads of Central or ATV.
This worried fans somewhat, begging the question if it’s not Crossroads – why call it Crossroads? Those few links to the past included the return – two for only a short spell – of three cast members and four characters from the ‘golden days’. Jane Rossington as Jill Harvey, Tony Adams as Adam Chance and Kathy Staff as Doris Luke were to make a comeback. The character of Sarah Jane Harvey was also re-introduced but with a new actress playing the part.
Continuity to the previous era was also not to be overly covered on screen. In 1987 Crossroads Motel had been established with a new look and new name – The Kings Oak Country Hotel. However, for the new millennium, it was to be the Crossroads Hotel. Kings Oak Village was now a town and with it a new recording location. Redmile in Leicestershire replaced Tanworth In Arden in Warwickshire for filming. Penns Hall Hotel in Sutton Coldfield which had been used since 1984 as the main motel and hotel external buildings was dropped in favour of a backlot set in the grounds of Lenton Lane.
The leisure centre, introduced in 1985, was also not to be part of the future storylines. Apart from the name Crossroads the next biggest link to the past was the return of the iconic theme tune composed in 1964 by Tony Hatch. This too had been ditched in 1987 for a lesser replacement. Rearranged by Tony Flynn when the guitar-based theme was played at the press launch the gathered journalists cheered with delight. Tony Hatch himself praised the new version,
“In 2000, I learned from Russ Abbott (during a game of golf which I’d rather forget) that ‘Crossroads’ would be coming back the following year. I made my own enquiries. The information was correct but I worried when I was told that no decision had been made about the theme music and a new tune might be commissioned.
“I submitted some new ideas, even re-arranged the original theme and waited patiently. Eventually, it was decided to use a re-arranged version of the original theme. I’m told that when Carlton presented the new ‘Crossroads’ to the media a huge cheer went up when the familiar opening 9-note motif of the original theme was played.
“I was happy with the arrangement even though it wasn’t mine and it boldly reflected the good old days of the series. I even visited the set in Nottingham as a guest of Carlton.” – Tony Hatch
Crossroads “Mark Two”, as it became known in fan circles, would initially run for a year, 240 episodes in total and would unlike the original series solely centre all its action on the hotel with only a couple of out-of-Crossroads settings – and these would be linked to the staff at the hotel. While the village had played a major role across the majority of the years the ATV and Central series had aired, it would be nothing more than an occasional backdrop in the Carlton run.
A mix of established acting names and new talent would lead the key roles in the soap with Neil McCaul, Jane Gurnett, Sherrie Hewson and Roger Sloman just some of the well-known performers signed up alongside newcomers such as Neil Grainger, Marc Jordan, Peter Dalton, Jack Curtis, Julia Burchell and Rebecca Hazelwood.
Crossroads “Mark Two” cost Carlton around ten million pounds to get into production. A huge amount of money was spent at the Central studios in Nottingham in creating not only the outdoor hotel entrance exterior but also – concerned critics may find a wobbly wall – solid permanent internal sets which were fully functioning.
It led to a new criticism for the saga – that money had been spent on sets over scripts and quality writers. March 5th 2001; Crossroads returned to the ITV network with two broadcast slots at 1:30 pm with a repeat at 5 pm. The following day Crossroads was again repeated in a one-off 9 pm prime time slot as a celebration of the programme launching. The later showing gained nearly ten million viewers, a huge success for Carlton. The daytime screenings also proved popular with audiences, nearly five million combined daytime viewers were turning on in the beginning.
As with most soaps upon launch after the viewers’ initial curiosity fades, viewing figures dip. In the case of Crossroads, these were lower than expected for the channel bosses in London. Carlton executives began to panic that their £10 million pound investment might not be able to live up to its predecessor’s popularity and durability. Perhaps somewhat excited by Charlie Catchpole’s comment that Crossroads might wash “tired” Neighbours “down the plughole” schedulers decided to move Crossroads from 5 pm to 5:30, directly going head-to-head with Reg Watson’s other soap.
It would also, airing a little later surely improve its ratings. Unfortunately, the potential audience for a serial is very limited in the 5 pm hour. Housewives are generally busy making evening meals, students are getting in from schools, colleges and universities, and a huge proportion of the audience is still at work. The 5 pm slot seems to be something of a “no mans land” between CITV and the news. Children were not hooked by the prospect of soap and any available adults were already fans of Neighbours.
Carlton themselves went through a phase of not really knowing their audience. The show was scheduled and advertised just after CITV – for a teenage audience – Yet it was sponsored by Surf washing power. How many teenagers buy and use such a product? The very nature of the soap and the age of the characters put off the “teen” viewers while the on-screen link to CITV put off the adult viewers.
“We all felt there was a place for Crossroads back on ITV but since we announced its return the public response has been overwhelming. There is a huge amount of affection for Crossroads. I hope we have taken its spirit and driven it forward so that it will be enjoyed by a whole new generation of viewers” – Jonathan Powell, Carlton’s Director of Drama.
However, very little ‘spirit’ or anything of the original Crossroads was seen on-screen during its comeback. Peter Rose went on record several times to make it clear to old fans they really didn’t matter – this wasn’t Crossroads, it was er, well just called Crossroads but was very much a new show, not a continuation. Speaking to BBC Radio in the Midlands to mark the series’ first year on air he said:
“Obviously there is a lot of baggage that comes with it, due to the history of the show. It was decided quite early on to not recreate the old series as a lot of the perceptions are wobbly sets and so on. And apart from a few characters, brought back from the old just to give a bit of continuity to the original, they very much felt it needed to establish its own identity as soon as possible and make the new characters as loved as the original characters were.” – Peter Rose, Series Producer.
Rose only aware of the critic and telly people’s view of the show. The fact it won awards, was groundbreaking and hugely popular failed to matter in the Carlton management’s mind. After the largely positive initial response, the critics became more scathing in their comments of some of the later storylines. In an attempt to improve the quality of the show, the number of episodes was reduced from five to four a week – sending the Friday cliff-hanger out of sync for months.
This was not a new concept to Crossroads fans – the original series had been forced to do much the same thirty years earlier. These changes didn’t help in the quest for more viewers. Through their indecision, Independent Television bosses were making it very difficult for the programme to gain a regular fan-base. It’s fair to say that Carlton in their production methods had failed to hook onto the original Crossroads audience – many millions of them still around in 2001.
Carlton had promised to make sure their version would build “on the strong and enduring affection for the programme amongst viewers.” This statement seems strangely at odds with their decision to include only four characters from the original series. What is even more strange is the appalling treatment that these characters received. (More on this later). As noted earlier, and by Peter Rose, the bosses in charge of ‘new Crossroads’ didn’t want anything of, or to do with, the original series. And the “remembering the old days” once the press publicity had gone was banished from the series.
Peter Ling, Crossroads co-creator, told the Crossroads Appreciation Society that Carlton had missed an opportunity to make the saga popular. In a letter to CAS he noted Carlton’s disregard for the original, and the creators until it was discovered Carlton didn’t own all the copyright on the soap:
“They almost told us, Hazel and myself, that we would have nothing to do with [the new series]. But then they discovered that as we still have our share in the copyright of the basic format, we will be paid some sort of royalty for doing nothing!” He later added: “I’m sorry; don’t ask me about the ‘new’ Crossroads! I watched the first few episodes, but I was disappointed; I feel that a great opportunity to bring the serial up to date for a new generation of viewers has been sadly lost.”
Other ex-cast were similarly unimpressed, such as Jeremy Nicholas, Angus Lennie, Lynette McMorrough and Sue Lloyd who all raised issues with the new series using the famous Crossroads branding. It’s unfortunate that the management and those in charge of the production as well as London network bosses at that time didn’t seem to like or care much for the original.
So what was the problem? Firstly in the press releases, Carlton failed to get the continuity right; “Crossroads is now a 4-star hotel, not a no-star motel.” We can only assume that they were playing on the nation’s memory of Crossroads rather than the actual history. Firstly, Crossroads was not a motel when the series ended. Secondly, The motel had always had at least a three stars, and from 1982 onwards had become a four-star establishment.
“New Crossroads has executive suites, twin and double bedrooms with en-suites, plush management apartments, a beauty salon and a health spa. Weddings and conferences are now big business at Crossroads.” – Carlton Press Release
By this Carlton suggests these were something old Crossroads didn’t have. The ATV and Central run did have all those features – and more, a hair salon and swimming pool as well as a leisure centre to name three! It is noted that Carlton did have a Crossroads continuity department that had been working with the Crossroads Appreciation Society and even hired Peter Kingsman in a paid role to assist with the series heritage. However, the department was axed and the researchers sacked as the new programme-makers decided “continuity isn’t important.” How wrong they were to be.
There are numerous continuity gaffs between the new and old series some more obvious than others such as the Jill Harvey name, which was to most a blatant mistake seen, as she hadn’t used that name since 1983. Also, the “old” characters bore the names such as Doris Luke and Adam Chance, but the actual characterisation was far from authentic. Adam would never – never ever – murder Jill.
It seemed to many that Carlton didn’t want any long-term association to the original series. They merely wanted to cash-in on the brand, the legend, the status and institution of the original soap – but didn’t want to have anything in the new version other than the name and theme tune. Two out of the three original-series actors were dropped within months of the show airing. The killing-off of Jill Chance, the mainstay of the original, stunned the Crossroads fans that had waited 12 years to see the show regain its rightful place on TV. Even many of the ‘new Crossroads’ viewers commented it was stupid to kill off someone everyone associated with the show.
It seemed to many of the old viewers, that remembered the original and knew what the brand stood for, the new version was Crossroads in name only. No one was saying old cast had to be back forever but familiarity would have helped to give the show a stronger fan base and foundations to build a new Crossroads on overtime. Despite the controversy, the series did prove quite popular for the network’s daytime schedules as Peter Rose noted in 2002 on BBC local radio:
“We are the fourth most-watched soap, after the big three, Coronation Street, Emmerdale and EastEnders yet we don’t quite get the credit for it because we’re on in the daytime. It’s one of the highest rating daytime programmes on ITV with three and a half million viewers.
“All soaps take time to take off, EastEnders was panned for its first year and Emmerdale was a sleepy little soap that sat there in the daytime schedules for twenty years until they moved it to seven o’clock and then it suddenly took off.”
Rose’s comments make it even more clear just how much the original Crossroads out-performed its slot. A daytime soap which had at the time prime time ratings, and high success in award shows.
While it wasn’t the show that people remembered – was it really that bad? Actually – as a new soap the answer is “no” – it was really rather good. As 2001 drew to a close things for Crossroads seemed to improve, the storylines were again becoming more interesting and the main problem of a story starting at the beginning of an episode then being over by the end of it was finally sorted out. At the end of the first year, several new characters were added to the series. Things were looking up; the show was extended by another 80 episodes. Commissioned by the then head of daytime at ITV, Maureen Duffy it seems Crossroads was finally fitting into the schedules.
It had a steadily growing fan-base who seemed to enjoy watching life in the new hotel… Against all the odds and in the face of such adversity it was also by now the network’s most popular – highest rating – daytime programme. Fate once more played its hand in the downfall when in early in 2002 there was a shake-up at the network’s daytime HQ.
Maureen Duffy was replaced by Liam Hamilton, who wasn’t so sure that Crossroads had much of a future or a winning formula. Episodes continued to be produced, although the fate of the programme long-term was still undecided. Eventually at the end of March 2002, while TV bosses dithered on whether to continue with the serial, Crossroads’ production was put on hold to allow the remaining backlog of episodes to air. Initially, Carlton announced a mini revamp would take place which would see the series appeal to an older daytime audience – possibly thanks to the success of fellow Midland saga Doctors on the BBC with an older viewership.
It was also suggested it would have changes made to appeal to the original series fans, and indeed be more ‘true Crossroads’.
“They’d done market research and decided it needed to appeal to older people.” – Actor Neil Grainger, character Phil Berry
A new producer, Yvon Grace, was drafted in to build on the already growing viewing figures. Crossroads would resume production in August 2002. Miss Grace was awarded the task of finding the show another million to add to its ratings. To many, it seemed that this wouldn’t be such a hard task, the show had settled in the schedules. All Crossroads needed was some gripping plots and maybe a few links to the past. Something Yvon promised.
“We’ll remember the old series fondly.” – Yvon Grace
Fans finally thought this time Crossroads would be back and indeed many of those new one million viewers needed easily could be old viewers lured back to the programme if done right. Through the summer of 2002, Yvon Grace planned her strategy for her vision of the serial. Network bosses in London had requested some changes be made to the show, although these proposals were discussed before the last surge in ratings had happened, so by the time Crossroads went back into production there really was no need for any major revamps.
The final 2002 episode of Crossroads aired on August 30th, a day later Carlton released news of what plans Yvon had for the hotel soap. And to many, it wasn’t what they’d expected. Crossroads was to become “Dallas In Dudley” as the Daily Mirror’s headline stated. Yvon told the Crossroads Fan Club that she had watched the original as a child, and her version would be fondly reflecting some of the elements from the first incarnation.
A new host of star names had been signed up to the revamped show, Jane Asher, Kate O’Mara, Anne Charleston and Lionel Blair were all revealed as some of the new hotel faces. It seemed the second series had been unofficially axed by Carlton, with a new third version launching in the New Year. It also seems the mini-revamp which was to appeal to the original fans and older viewers was also being flung into the skip along with Crossroads’ slick image. The build-up to the re-launch saw Executive Producer Yvon Grace come out with some very bold statements:
“The thing about Crossroads now is we are inheriting a loyal audience, you know, its a brand name, its a loyal brand name and people know it, and they remember it of the old days.”
”Its beautiful, its Cezars Palace Laz Vegas crossed with a beautiful boudoir.”
“”Its a frock show, its a frock show definitely, its a girls show.”
“Its fantasy, escapist, glitzy and glamorous, the new Dynasty”
“Crossroads will be a must-see daytime show”
“There will be plenty of sexy men and sexy women, all doing naughty things.”
“Failure is not in my vocabulary”
“Who cares if Phil is rotting in jail for a murder he didn’t commit? I’ve changed everything, this is day one. We’re not carrying on from where we left off.”
“I was told this was its last chance. So I thought ‘Let’s be bold, let’s make Dallas for British tea time”
“The women are beautiful, the men are gorgeous and the plots fantastic”
“There’s brand loyalty, and it would be foolish to throw that away. It’s like Heinz Beans. People know what to expect”
“There’s no Benny, no Sandy Richardson; There are no historical references whatsoever. I’ve been very ruthless. I want to concentrate on the new world.”
Fans had waited four months to see how the Crossroads Hotel would look and feel, opinions were split, many thought something new and different at tea-time is just what TV needed, others thought there was no reason not to have more of the same, with maybe some mild improvements: others couldn’t quite make up there mind what Crossroads should be anymore. The proof is in the facts, and in television, ratings and audience share do the talking.
Crossroads returned at 5 pm on January 13th 2003, and instead of lunchtime repeat, a new Saturday omnibus would air on the network. Was the third incarnation more like the original Crossroads? Yes, in a number of ways it was – Yvon gave Crossroads an escapist feel; it was fantasy, simply 25 minutes of drama that people could drift off into. This was the style of 1964-1971, when Reg Watson first brought Crossroads to life, it was lightweight afternoon entertainment.
Although Yvon didn’t bring any old cast back, she did pay tribute to “the Queen of Crossroads”, by having one of the hotel suites named after the original owner, Meg Mortimer. Also in the first episode of series three, the first line from 1964 was re-used by Angel Samson, the new owner.
Crossroads was now “somewhere” all reference to Birmingham and the midlands had been dropped. (Something which had offended people in the city, the Birmingham Evening Mail printed articles about the fury of locals over the soap forgetting its roots.) Within weeks people noticed that a lot of the ‘new’ stories were actually recycled ones from the previous incarnation.
For some viewers there seemed to be uncanny similarities to US soap, Sunset Beach in storylines. Sadly, the tacky factors were to be the main thing that let the show down. Crossroads trying to emulate Dallas and Dynasty just didn’t work, there was too much ‘fake glamour’ and to some people, Crossroads was now just a spoof of other soaps. While the original had been based on an American production format, it was very much its own show, it wasn’t spoofing Days of our Lives or trying to emulate As The World Turns. Actress Jane Rossington was left ‘bewildered’ by the new look:
“I was totally bewildered, I mean what is it, it looks more like a brothel! It’s not a classy hotel it’s an absolute hovel! I mean, there’s no sophistication is there? And again it seems to be all about the staff not about the guests. However I’ve only seen one episode so it may improve.” – Jane Rossington
The whole show came across as a cheesy comedy to many viewers, which seemed keen on naff cliché-filled scenes and terrible hammy acting. The stories were too far-fetched and unbelievable and acted in such a manner that you couldn’t take any of it seriously. You can’t make programmes so bad they’re good but the daytime controller seemed to dictate this is how they wanted Crossroads to be.
“You can’t make a programme good by making it bad. And you can’t turn Birmingham or Nottingham into Dallas! – actor Neil Grainger
It has been suggested by staff at Carlton Yvon had little say in the changes, with the London management spearheading the camp revamp. All brought in to make sure the soap was axed for good. The reason? The main suggestion is down to cost-cutting. It does seem rather odd that all the shows produced in the midlands for the network were axed within a short period of time. Actor Graham McGrath who played Jimmy Samson in the 2003 series was aware Crossroads was keeping the entire Carlton Nottingham centre in business:
“It wasn’t just the Crossroads cast and crew that would lose their jobs – the future of Lenton Lane studios and all those who worked there in Nottingham depended on the show, too. It was an inevitable economical decision that came about because of the changing structure of Carlton and Granada as a company, and anyone with a business perspective can see that.”
The ratings for the first week started off with the same number of viewers the final weeks of 2002 had. A week later and a huge drop in the audience had occurred, this continued month after month, until finally over half of the audience of 2002 had deserted the 2003 version. Carlton TV bosses blamed the four-month hiatus, which they suggested viewers had moved away from Crossroads to Channel 4 and BBC Two.
The problem with that excuse – which it is, is the fact, Crossroads fared well against Richard & Judy on Channel 4 before the revamp. It is true that most viewers switched off from ITV when Crossroads departed the screens in 2002, but in actual fact, the same number of viewers tuned in to the first episode of 2003 that had watched the last episode in 2002. The real ‘reason’ people switched off week-after-week was because they didn’t like the changes, they didn’t like what it had become so they turned to other channels.
Another major problem was that series two had been left unresolved and in the new programme we had moved on a whole 12 months, rather than the real 4-month gap. People wanted answers and they weren’t given them. Another excuse for the failure in viewers was that the regional network, as was, had failed to hype the new show. At the time of its return, four Crossroads trailers were airing on ITV and they were regularly played during the daytime schedules and even in the prime time, one example being during a commercial break in Coronation Street. The return had also been well covered in the press, including large spreads in the Radio Times, TV Times and various soap magazines. To say many didn’t know it was back is a very lame excuse.
Schedulers ditched the Saturday omnibus, shunting it to a graveyard slot in the early hours of Sunday mornings. A few weeks later and the omnibus on the main channel quietly left the schedules entirely.
“If they’d called the show The Samsons and just set it in Kings Oak with no links to Crossroads it may have worked. I personally loved it and never missed an episode. The time slot did the show no favours, neither did the title “Crossroads”. Fans of the original tuned in hoping for more of the same and the new show did not appeal to them. The sort of people who would have enjoyed the new format would not have watched it because they thought it was going to be like the old show. A no-win situation!” – Tony Adams
Failure wasn’t in Yvon’s vocabulary, but it was now on her CV. With the departure of David Liddiment as head of the network his replacement, Nigel Pickard, decided his first victim would be Crossroads. It was axed after just four months. In the end, 98 editions for series three were made and the final one aired on May 30th 2003.
|Page credits: written in parts by Mike Garrett, Douglas Lambert, John Drury and Tom Dearnley Davidson.
Pictures courtesy of the Carlton-Central Press Office, Granada Archive/James Feltham and Greg Taylor. Quotes from Carlton Press Pack 2000, Carlton Press Pack 2002, The Mirror Newspaper, TV Times Magazine, The Sun Newspaper, Granada/This Morning and BBC Local Radio.