We’ve compiled here some behind the scenes gossip from the production of the show, but we’ll start with a review from Fred Norris who sat in on a production of the show in 1974. He tells us what it’s like to be at the making of a Crossroads episode. at the peak of its success.
Birmingham Mail Backstage Special
“One moment, a bubbling babble of friendly voices, punctuated by a voice-clearing cough. The next, silence. A strange sort of silence that descends and stuns the cavernous Studio One in Birmingham’s ATV Centre. It is the kind of place where you get the feeling they could not only build Concorde but fly it, too. In fact, it’s a world apart. The whole of Crossroads. A quiet, unruffled voice says: “Quiet please.” Eyes are on the VT Clock, screened on a monitor.
“Twenty seconds to go,” says floor manager David Fletcher. One senses a slight steeling of muscles, a sudden awareness that a threshold is about to be crossed – from the sweat and anxiety of rehearsals to the camera rolling actuality of performance. And suddenly Noele Gordon is speaking. A team has gone into action.
“From the cameramen, floor managers, and sitting aloft in the production gallery, Michael Hart, Director is seeing everything. Yards of cable snake across the floor. Scenes switch so facilely you virtually have no idea that the action has changed from Meg Richardson’s sitting room to a chalet in what must be the most famous motel in England. Then we are back in reception – and the bar where, if you are adventurous enough, you will find that the beer pumps really work and they provide good beer!
“Suddenly, people start to talk freely again. There is that bubble of talk. Actors stretch their legs. One actress rushes off and returns with a paper tissue. She says she has a cold. To see her, you wouldn’t believe it. But the first part has been recorded. And then the announcement comes through that the recording is clean. [They don’t have to do it all again] There are a few minutes before the action starts again.
“Floor Manager David Fletcher walks across to Noele Gordon. She says: “Speak up, I can’t hear you.” Maybe it is the tension of the moment but David sits down, a little flustered. Noele laughs. “I’m rehearsing.” There is laughter all round. This perhaps is the greatest revelation about sitting in on a recording of Crossroads. There is tremendous pressure on. There is a fantastic turn-out of material. Four entire episodes are recorded in two days a week. Yet there is no temperament. Just friendliness, understanding, an infectious team spirit.”
– Fred Norris, Birmingham Evening Mail, June 1974
Would Meg approve of people playing practical jokes in the motel? Well, Noele Gordon certainly didn’t mind a bit of a laugh on the set of the soap…
Larry Grayson was a well-known entertainer and comedian, who occasionally popped into the motel. He recalled how he was behind the only prank that left Noele speechless.
“You see, we were coming to the end of the episode, which was basically me checking out of the motel. Anyway, totally off script I started to make a list of complaints you see. Dear Nolly, she didn’t know where to put her face.”
The list Larry created included ferrets in the chalet. He added this because Noele had been receiving letters from a fan asking her to go and visit his ferrets. She didn’t like the animal and didn’t have the heart to tell the fan, so Larry decided to make it clear in the programme that Meg didn’t like ferrets. Larry also said in his un-scripted outburst, to Meg at the reception desk, of their being fish in the bath and how he’d nearly broken his leg falling over a bucket and mop left outside the chalet door.
During all this Noele as Meg just stood dumbfounded at the desk, until the closing music started to fade up and she put her head face down into the check-in book, where she uncontrollably laughed. Larry comments;
“When the recording was over she turned to me and said, ‘I’ll get you back’, in fun, of course, she was lovely and she never heard from the man with ferrets again.”
Speaking of people who don’t mind a laugh, it seems back in the 1960s even Lew Grade and the ATV board members were happy to have a bit of a giggle on the studio floor. One recording of Crossroads was taking place at the same time the board of ATV were holding their monthly meeting at Birmingham. A scene involving Brian and Janice Jarvis arriving at their new flat was in the progress of being recorded when Lew Grade and the other board members walked into the scene and into the flat – to the surprise of everyone.
“We had no idea they were there, they had crept into the studio as a joke to surprise us all.” Noele Gordon commented.
Ronald Allen recalled once how Tony Adams was a bit of a joker:
“He was wearing a dressing-gown. While the cameras were rolling he let it fall open – and there he was in a suspender belt, frilly panties and black stockings! Everyone broke up. Tony is the resident practical joker – he’ll do anything for a laugh.”
Animals also caused the crew to have some problems at times.
The show once had a scene involving pigeons; the directions of the plot dictated that Wilf Harvey was to take out just one bird from the pigeon loft and then remove a message which was tied to its leg. During the dress rehearsal instead of just one bird being taken from the loft, all of the pigeons broke free.
The rest of the rehearsal time was spent rounding up all 30 escaped birds. Well apart from one who stayed up in the studio roof while the episode was recorded – thankfully it didn’t cause any need for Amy to fetch her mop.
Jane Rossington recalled an early scene with Brian Javis’ dog Petra, the Great Dane. She had a scene arriving at the motel with the dog which involved the basic and seemingly easy task of walking Petra into the reception area where Jane would do a scene as Jill. Upon recording just as Jill and Petra arrived at the motel the dog went running off – through the motel reception’s glass doors (they had no glass in them) and took Rossington through the supposed windows too!
A duck caused a re-take in 1981 when it quacked throughout a scene with Tony Adams and Kate Robbins on his posh boat. Tony remarked that someone should shoot the ****ing duck. The clip ended up on Alright On The Night.
Geoff and June Farnall (pictured below) were supporting artists on the soap opera for the entire run of the series. Although they never had a major speaking role – they would often be seen in the background of motel scenes. They were also the couple seen in the MG in the 1985-87 opening titles of guests driving through Birmingham and the countryside to arrive at the motel.
Donned with unconvincing disguises of wigs and such, the very slight difference of usual appearance ultimately mattered little as no one thought it was ‘those villagers who never speak’ instead they were mistaken for Ronnie Allen and Sue Lloyd! (This despite June wearing a shoulder-length back wig to hide her blonde locks – the same colour as Sue!).
They played ‘Kings Oak villagers’ who would pop to the motel for a coffee in the bar or a meal in the restaurant and so forth. Geoff and June had many memories of their time on Crossroads, and they spoke to the Crossroads Appreciation Society about some of them in 1990:
“We remember very well the first producer Reg Watson, who of course went on to produce for Grundy, and his name appears on the credits of “Neighbours”, “The Young Doctors” and “Sons And Daughters” And also Alan Coleman, who used to direct us in the old days.
“Most of our time though was spent with Jack Barton, producer, who was like a ‘Great Uncle’ to everyone. He was a lovely man and very professional in his work. Weddings were always a great occasion on the Crossroads set – and we were guests at all of them! And there were quite a few over the years. It was lovely for us when Tony Adams came into the series as the character of Adam, because we had worked with him on General Hospital which was made at ATV Elstree, and we became friends.
“Also we have very fond memories of times with Sue Nicholls, who also became a friend. But, having singled out two people, may I say that everyone who came along to Crossroads as a character were lovely people. Very easy to work with, and fun to be with when we had finished the days shooting. Also, they were all always ready to help with charity work and give their time and services freely to help those folk less fortunate.
“These are the things that stand out about our time on Crossroads. We were very flattered to be invited to be in the on the last occasion and to share in the champagne toast at the end of the production.”
The two became so well-known as ‘extras’ on the programme Victoria Wood replicated this in her soap opera spoof ‘Acorn Antiques’ where the same two supporting characters would be looking around the antique shop in each edition.
While out and about in Birmingham City Centre actors Anthony Morton (Carlos) and David Fennell (Brian) were greeted by an avid Crossroads fan. Unfortunately in the throws of his excitement of meeting two of the cast, his false teeth flew out of his mouth and onto the pavement. Anthony recalled,
“It was one of those occasions where I didn’t shake the fans hand, we left rather quickly.”
Another story involving Anthony, he was never told that Carlos was being killed off from the show, he only found out when he watched the episode in which his screen wife was told of his death. Anthony was so upset that Carlos had been killed he sent the producer a condolence card, with “Wish you were here, Carlos” written on it.
Two babies were used as Diane Lawton’s baby boy. One was as the script said – a boy. The other was a girl – who either didn’t like being dressed as a boy or didn’t like Susan Hanson – as every time Susan picked the baby girl up she started to cry!
Another baby, Karen Furze, became the star of episode 2000. The entire Harvey front room set was taken to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham in order to record a scene where Sheila Harvey (Sonia Fox) gave birth to her daughter Susan. The episode was a two-hander, one of the earliest in soap, between Sheila and Meg. The entire episode took place in the Harvey sitting room, with Sheila going into labour towards the end. Karen, just a day-and-a-half old at the time, was seen in Meg’s arms as the episode closed.
Karen made a couple of further appearances in Crossroads when Stan and Jill Harvey, Stan being Sheila’s brother, attempted to adopt Susan. In the end, Sheila left Kings Oak and took Susan with her. Karen’s role made the local papers and the Birmingham Mail reported how her parents Margaret and Graham had a little unexpected overnight star.
Deke Arlon was auditioning as an Italian salesman, and Reg Watson became rather baffled to why he kept on sighing instead of speaking. It turned out that Deke was deeply sighing because he thought ‘Si’ was a direction to do so when in actual fact it’s Italian for ‘Yes.’ He was turned down for this role, but later returned as Benny Wilmot, café manager and pop singer.
Earlier Gill Arlon, who married Deke after meeting him on the soap, and her on-screen husband Anthony Morton, learned to speak Italian with real Italian hotel staff who were working in Birmingham. Prior to the show launching the pair spent weeks sitting in the hotel’s restaurant picking up the lingo for their new roles. Gill and Anthony, of course, played Josephina and Carlos the fiery kitchen staff at the motel.
Noele Gordon had a few tales to tell also, the first from 1972 plots where Sandy was in hospital:
“When Roger as Sandy was first injured he had to lie in a hospital bed, bandaged from head to foot. The make-up people used to sprinkle glycerine on his face to make it appear as if he was covered in sweat. It used to get up his nose and irritate it, but he was unable to scratch himself. Whenever I passed the foot of his bed it became a ritual during rehearsals to tickle his feet, and everyone else did the same.”
After the car crash scenes many get well cards and such were sent to ATV for Sandy. One such item was a record voucher, which Sandy’s alter-ego Roger Tonge decided to use. He visited the local department store in the city – Rackhams – where he picked the song of his choice and took it to the counter. The checkout girl with a rather shocked look on her face commented “I thought you were paralysed” before she fainted!
Speaking of Noele, Greg Taylor posted some stills from the ATV staff’s Christmas party from 1981 on our Fan Club forum and the following story:
“In 1998 I was given the chance to accompany a Hospital Radio group to the former ATV Centre to remove items of use to the said group. Central, who had moved into and indeed still operate from smaller premises nearby – Central Court, had recently vacated ATV Centre. Items removed included library music discs and a number of 1/4” audio reels (for re-recording)..
Some of the audio reels were later found to contain recordings of significance and these have been kept – for example, the full suite of Tony Hatch’s Crossroads theme including all the mood themes, end of parts and so on and the master copy of the 1982 ‘Central Television’ opening theme and shorter cuts. I also took a couple of 2″ quadruplex videotapes, which purported to contain clips kept by VTR Engineers for various purposes.
These have recently been dubbed onto DigiBeta and contain.. some out-takes and non-broadcast clips which are of significance. They include out-takes from the outside broadcast undertaken at the time of the motel fire in November 1981, featuring Susan Hanson and Paul Henry turning to the camera to register the blazing motel, only to corpse hilariously. There’s also non-broadcast footage – yet broadcast quality – of an ATV staff cabaret compared by Jim Bowen.
Various Crossroads stars perform turns but surely the best performance is from the recently-axed Queen of Crossroads, Noele Gordon, who in funeral blacks sings a humorous song about her sacking. She even shows a framed photograph of the man who sacked her – Charles Denton – (to rapturous applause) before concluding heartily with the final lines of her performance, which show more than anything how upset she was by the way ATV had treated her.”
The lyrics in full: “I never knew that our romance had ended, until you poisoned my food. And I thought it was a lark when you kicked me in the park – but now I think it was rude. I never knew that you and I were finished, until that bottle hit my head.
“Though I tried to be aloof when you pushed me off the roof – I feel our romance is dead. It wouldn’t have been so bad if you’d told me that someone had taken my place. But no, you didn’t even scold me, you just tried to disfigure my face. You’ll never know how this heart of mine is breaking, it looks so hopeless – but then – life used to be so placid, won’t you please put down that acid and say that we’re sweethearts again.”
Spoken: “I’ll never forget that night at Crossroads, that was the night you said ‘All good things come to an end.’ I thought you had a strange sort of look in your eye, but suddenly you smiled – and I knew you meant it. I’ve only met this person once, who sacked me (holds up a photo of Charles Denton) but I just want him to know, if there is anything I can do, anything at all – he can contact me via the News Of The World!”
“You’ll never know how this heart of mine is breaking, it looks so hopeless, but then – If you think you have scotched me (looks affectionately at the photograph) Well my dear, just watch me, you’ll soon wish we were sweethearts agaaaaaaaaaaain!” Greg sums up the clip with, “The room then erupts into more thunderous applause.”
Greg and Rob also told us how the making of “Crossroads – 30 Years On” proved more difficult than expected. Due to problems going back to before 1981, the archive of Crossroads episodes had been somewhat messed up; so when this anniversary programme came to be produced – the researchers found it impossible to locate any actual reels of Crossroads tapes.
In order to make the scene in the vaults of ATV Centre look good, the labels as seen on the ‘quads’ (the professional videotape of the time) were actually fake, the tapes shown were not really Crossroads at all, they just had new labels stuck on them to make them look like they were from the soap-opera. Although the tapes may have been mock-ups the Co-presenter of the show, Peter Kingsman, of the Crossroads Appreciation Society, is however very real.
Keith Jemison-Mills told us how he was an extra on Crossroads in the 1966-1967 period of production when the programme was still based on the outskirts of Birmingham at the Aston Cross Studios. He told us a few interesting things about those early Crossroads years.
“I always found Noele Gordon warm and friendly to me, and she took an interest in how my career was going (or not). She was coming down the stairs opposite the green room one afternoon, with armfuls of `tinger and tucker’ puppets heading off to wardrobe, and we had a pleasant few minutes talking about acting.
“Roger Tonge always seemed like a good guy too, showing me his scars after he went through the windscreen of his mini cooper on the Aston Road one day as he’d pulled out. That was why I was in an episode as a policeman at the scene of a coach accident. He’d been written out for a few weeks till he was OK again. That was why he grew his hair long after that.”
He also told us that his brother had taken some photographs of scenes with Keith in Crossroads – these seemingly now the only source of his time in the soap as the actual episodes have been wiped.
“I suppose videotape was expensive then and being owned by Lew Grade meant they had to keep costs down. Thinking about it now, the studio at the back of the building was so small, it was a wonder we got all the sets in. Five or six usually.”
Jane Rossington recalls how the set misbehaved.
“The early programmes were recorded as live onto telecine, and it didn’t edit very easily, so if you made a terrible mistake in the first few minutes you could rewind back and start again, however if we were towards the end of the episode there simply wouldn’t be enough recording time to redo it all, so we had to carry on regardless. The one scene that sticks out in my mind is with Noele Gordon in the sitting room.
“She had a simple enough task of putting some papers in the motel safe, then come back to the sofa, sit down and pour some tea. All went super during the rehearsals, but when it came to the final take as soon as she closed the safe door, it swung wide open again. Noele continued with the script as if nothing was wrong, propping back the door herself. In the end I realised what was wrong and poured the tea myself.”
John Bentley was Hugh Mortimer, the smooth and sophisticated second husband to Meg. However, on occasion when the role demanded it, he could be quite angry and demanding. During one such scene, Hugh was getting all hot under the collar with a local newspaper reporter (played by Tony Howard) and ordered the reporter out of the motel office.
Unfortunately, the door had become jammed shut and there was no other way out. Hugh kept on demanding the reporter to leave – several more times no less – until finally John decided to act on impulse and made Hugh totally loose his cool and jumped up to open the door himself.
At this point John managed to open the door, however with an extremely loud thud and most of the set wobbling like a strong earthquake had hit – this was one time when the show was stopped and the scene had to be re-recorded – on the second take they left the door open for the whole scene!
Carolyn Jones, who played the sultry Sharon Metcalfe, told us how she had secret code with the cameramen so if she made a terrible mistake they’d help her out of it… It was very rare to get a ‘take two’ on Crossroads and many actors resorted to swearing with very strong language to get a ‘stop take and rewind’ however as Carolyn observed “your time with Crossroads would come to an end if you ‘f-d and blinded’ too often during a recording” so she devised several signals to the cameramen that would tell them she needed assistance.
“One of the signals would be I’d do a rub across my cheek with my fingers, and the cameraman knew then that he would suddenly have ‘a fault’ with their camera and it would either shoot off the side of the set or go up to the lighting, they then had to stop and start again – and no one got into trouble – it was a fault after all!”
Noele Gordon recalls how her good friend Jean Bayless was invited to work on Crossroads.
Jean and Nolly had worked together in 1951 at the London Palladium in the pantomime, Humpty Dumpty alongside Terry Thomas, Peggy Mount and Norman Evans.
“We used to sing each other love songs for Jean was principal girl and I was principal boy, so we both had something of a giggle when she turned up at the Crossroads Motel – in overalls – to work as Meg Richardson’s cook,” Nolly explained.
“What a comedown!” Noele said to Jean, who got the role on Crossroads via Janet Hargreaves (Rosemary Hunter) who introduced her to then producer Reg Watson. Jean was the wife of a Midlands garage owner and had found herself sitting around doing nothing for some years.
Janet one day said to her, “It’s silly for you to be sitting around all day with nothing to do – why not try for a job on Crossroads?” Over a lunch meeting at ATV Centre’s canteen, Reg and Jean discussed what kind of role would suit her, she informed him she loved cooking – and so Reg decided to put her in the motel kitchen.
Noele continues the story: “So red-haired Jean became TV’s, Cynthia Cunningham. We have many laughs together.. …There was one moment when, during recording, she was supposed to say ‘I must act my age.’ This was her cue to me and the line I was waiting to hear. A blank look took her face, nothing came, no words.. nothing. Then just when I was about to cover up for her, Jean smiled sweetly and said ‘Meg, its all the rage.’
“I can’t recall what I said as a reply, but it must have worked fine as we carried on regardless.”
Jean Bayless actually may have been one of Crossroads true soap survivors – not for any on-screen disasters that were scripted – but for actual accidents she encountered on set. She badly burned her hands when she removed some plates from the stove – which was just supposed to be warm, unfortunately, someone had left the hot plate on full heat, and the plates were scalding hot.
Jean showed no sign of pain when she picked them up and placed them on a tray. A worse accident was when she sliced off part of her thumb (about a quarter of an inch) while chopping vegetables. She carried on as if nothing had happened until the scene ended. It is reported that Reg Watson was actually disappointed Jean managed to cover up the accident so well, he went as far as to say to some other actors that it would have been good to have used the incident in the show; “We might even have left them wondering if she’d lose her thumb, or not.” Reg commented.
In the 1960s other incidents of near misses have also been noted, one involving Carolyn Lyster who was nearly killed when a studio light came crashing down only inches from her. In the show, she had moments beforehand been seen leaving reception with a tray of crockery, the sound of the light crashing actually aired – the producers thought the viewers would just think Carolyn had dropped the tray.
Who could forget the infamous motel fire from 1981? Well, two people remember it very well who contacted us to share their involvement in the story. Kevin Clark first:
“Hello – I really like your website – very informative! I was the punk rocker who apparently burned down the motel back in 1981 and when the episode was filmed they over-ran so the director sent everyone home to come back the next day. The trouble was they’d died my hair 3 colours (punk rocker!) and I had to go home on the train. Sensing my dilemma they loaned me Benny’s hat to wear on the train home!”
One of the technical crew from that time also added to this, with the fact there were scenes recorded in which we were to see the ‘thugs’ set fire to the motel, however in the final timing it seems they simply didn’t have time to include this – so the thugs burning the motel down was never seen.
In the end, ATV themselves couldn’t think of an excuse. A stray firework seems to be what the producers finally opted for. As well as his role in the motel blaze, Kevin Clark also shared a few of his other memories of his time at Crossroads:
“I had a speaking part too – while disapproving of the taped “muzak” in the Crossroads lobby I said to David Hunter “Haven’t you any better music than THIS?!!”. I was also a walk-on when Benny was hospitalised, and then I’d died my hair so blonde that it all looked bleached out under the lights when shown on TV. Happy times.”
More from Noele Gordon…
“There is one strange, off-screen tale about Crossroads which involves my former home at Weir End, Ross-on-Wye. This was a beautiful Georgian manor house standing in its own grounds.. …At this time, [my] mother was living at Weir End during the week, and I would join her at weekends. In one of our Crossroads episodes, we had just started a situation where two tramps were planning to rob the motel for no better reason than that one of them wanted to spend the winter in jail.
“We were all working away in the studio as usual one Thursday morning when Joy Andrews was called to the telephone. The caller said ‘Joy Andrews? ..You don’t know me but you must tell someone. They’re going to rob Meg tomorrow. Please, Mrs Hope, do something to stop them.’ It was a woman’s voice and she spoke with a strong Scottish accent. Joy was obviously puzzled, especially as the woman first used her real name and then used her character name of Tish Hope.
“Joy discussed the call with both myself and producer Reg Watson. We all decided the call must have been a viewer who had seen the earlier episode with the motel robbery being discussed – and had taken it for real life. The strange sequel to this is that the following day, burglars broke into Weir End… ..A number of articles were stolen.
“The CID questioned Joy Andrews about the phone call and they even appealed over Scottish Television, to whoever had phoned ATV to come forward.. ..but nothing more was heard from the caller. It still remains one of Crossroads’ real-life mysteries.”
Another recollection from Noele involved the actor Christopher Douglas, who at the time of this story was a young 19-year-old appearing in 1974 episodes of Crossroads as the character of Martin Bell:
“Christopher had a scene in the motel kitchen where he was eating some old sausage he’d taken from the pantry. He didn’t bother to put them in his mouth during rehearsals – but on the recording, he took a big bite at one of the sausages and was nearly sick. However, he managed to control his features, pretend all was well and that he was enjoying every mouthful – and continued the scene.
“Then when the camera moved away from him he spat the whole lot out onto the studio floor. ‘I just couldn’t help myself’ he said. ‘These sausages are awful – they’re rancid.’
“In another scene, he was mixing shampoo in a bucket for Vera’s Hair Salon. The idea was that the shampoo should bubble over. At rehearsals, the shampoo remained as flat as a pancake. ‘Don’t worry’ said one of the studio staff. ‘We’re putting some special stuff in the bucket to make sure it bubbles when it comes to the actual take.’
“And that’s what they did, I never did discover what went into that bucket, but when it came to transmission and Chris was mixing the shampoo – the whole lot exploded – the studio was covered with foam and Chris looked like a fugitive from a Mack Sennett custard-pie comedy. It all looked great on screen, so the director kept it in!”
|Research by Elizabeth Garrett, Alex Loveless and Mike Garrett.|