Thursday, 3 January 2013

'My Life at Crossroads' by Noele Gordon


"...Here, Noele Gordon (otherwise known as Meg Richardson) discloses all the secrets, the heartaches and the fun behind CROSSROADS, the programme which can boast a regular 14 million viewers.

"That Crossroads is a religion for millions has produced its own wealth of anecdotes. How Noele was offered a position as manager of a hotel... how one viewer rang to warn her that the motel would be burgled before it happened on TV and reality. Where fact meets fiction for the many fans is often blurred... And besides the many often humorous stories, Meg... sorry, Noele... discusses frankly her views on marriage (including the reasons why she never married) and other subjects of interest to women."

I plucked this off my over-full TBR bookcase on New Year's Eve as part of my resolution to start tackling those books I've left unread way too long. It's a behind-the-scenes book from 1975 about the famous daytime soap. The first thing to note is that this is six years before Noele Gordon gets unceremoniously dumped from the show that she had dominated since 1964. In 1975 Crossroads was still unthinkable without the flame-haired matron in charge. At the time of writing - or ghost-writing - this paperback she is very secure in her world, and it's a strange world for us to go back and visit. A time when this show could claim huge popularity and boast about its global appeal, and simply shrug at anyone pointing out its ropiness and lack of sophistication. It was in the business, Noele tells us, of portraying 'real' and 'mundane' life as it might happen to the staff and visitors to a Midlands hotel. It was much realer than, say, 'Coronation Street' because it didn't even try to be 'drama'. Even misreadings of lines and memory loss on the part of its actors were evidence of its keener realism.

The show and the book belong to an era when ordinary life seemed to be dramatic enough for the average viewer. The mundane was interesting enough to draw in audiences of fourteen million. Soap operas didn't need to have shoot-outs and serial killers and quite so much misery and upheaval. The Motel was all about chatter and kerfuffle and everyday stuff.

The book is like reading a terribly overlong TV Times article. Noele gives us a little background to herself and her career - with a little boastfulness, perhaps. But then, she had a very interesting career - in that she had already been a stage actress, TV executive and live daytime presenter before becoming a soap star. She actually comes across as rather modest, compared with all the showing off you tend to hear from just about anyone involved in TV these days.

There's not much gossip and filth here, though, which is a pity.

I like how keen she is to tell us how busy they were making Crossroads - producing four episodes weekly, every week of the year. The show was like an unstoppable juggernaut - constructed from painted plywood and driven by a woman in quite a lot of eye make-up.

It makes me long for a time when tv drama wasn't just about 'events' and spectacle and blockbusters. I ended up kind of wanting there to be a shonky soap opera filled with mundane goings-on. One I can rely on being there almost every day of the year. Soap characters these days are like ticking time bombs and we're waiting for them to turn into killers or pop stars or something else improbable. What happened to the days when we just watched ordinary people being fairly boring for decades on end...?  Days of instant coffee and flock wallpaper and trimphones and man-made fabrics. When motels seemed glamorous and Meg's sitting room or Jill's rustic kitchen at 'Windmills' seemed about as sophisticated as life ever got..?

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