Life at the Crossroads
COVENTRY STANDARD, NOVEMBER 9th 1967
BREATHALYSERS do not bother drinkers at a Birmingham roadhouse opened three years ago. Whisky, gin, vodka – all drinks are harmless non-alcoholic concoctions.
Rum set-up! With a staff of hundreds and ample accommodation, the management has never accepted a solitary overnight guest.
Yet this most famous guest-house in the Midlands is known to eight and a half million viewers of Crossroads, ATV’s early-evening serial.
I met producer Reg Watson, overall boss of the series, at Alpha Studios, Aston Cross, this week. Said Watson, hungry-looking Australian:
“We get dozens of letters wanting to book a chalet. They are addressed to the motel at non-existent Kings Oak, it’s a compliment to the G.P. O that they arrive!”
As I stood behind the motel’s reception desk, the solid looking set seemed real. It convinces viewers. Meg (Noele Gordon) asked me, ‘Remember Carlos and his flying chef service?’
“A Cambridgeshire organisation wrote asking me how much he would charge to supply a dinner for 159!”
Noele chuckled “When Meg had her romance with Hugh Mortimer, my aunt and uncle in Scotland thought I really was going to marry actor John Bentley.”
“They protested, ‘but he’s so rich, he has a rolls’. My mother said ‘What’s the matter with yous, its only acting!’ But there you are – this came from two sensible Scots people.”
Already made-up (each week they put four-episodes on videotape, a fortnight ahead), Lew Luton told me, “I dislike the phrase ‘soap opera’. You can’t be derogatory – it entertains so many people.”
The handsome ‘motel manager’ (he plays Geoff Steele) is deluged with female correspondence, often proposing marriage.
“I’ve just had a fortnight at a health farm. I answered all my leters from the last three months – about 500… I really enjoy replying at length after all, these are people who have bothered to write to me.”
One married woman scolds him regularly if he is late replying [to her letters]. “When she found I’d been married and have two small children she hit the roof!”
Learning script is the ‘one gigantic task’. Lew said:
“I could have to learn 28 scenes [a week]. It’s like doing Wuthering Heights in one week.”
Longest studio sessions are from 9.20 a.m to 8.0 p.m. Some days the cast finish at tea-time. Lew lives near Susan Hanson (Diane) and Sue Nicholls (Marilyn) in a Birmingham coach house. They often meet ‘but I don’t go clubbing’.
Recent line-learning took Lew from Friday morning until 1 a.m the next day. So it’s bed at 10 p.m, Noele often retires at nine O’clock.
Susan Hanson is as impish-faced as her screen-image, but twice as pretty. As she sat with leggy loveliness in the Crossroads call-box, she told me “I’m not very interesting. I’ve done nothing.”
Her ‘doing nothing’ – a year at Bristol Old Vic, a Dave Clark film, the lead in a BBC Two play Bruno, a Mermaid Theatre review, The Boyfriend and Up The Junction!
But Susan leans to the content. Fluent in French, she has just returned from Luxembourg and plans a week in Paris.
I met Roger Tonge (Sandy), Stephen Rea (Pepe), director Jack Barton (formerly of the Palladium’s Beat the Clock) and director Alan Coleman.
Alan noted: “It’s the happiest show they’ve ever worked on.” I saw no temperament, just pleasent folks working hard.
Easy-going but super-efficient, producer Reg Watson says:
“The time day I can switch-off from Crossroads is when I go to bed.”
His summary – ‘We aim for family entertainment. You’ll never hear ‘bad language’. You’ll never see the characters smoking cigarettes – pipes or cigars only.’
“We have three directors, script-writers, camera-crews, carpenters, actors, typists, dozens of other departments – altogether we employ hundreds.”
SHE’S A NICE MUM
Noele Gordon alias Meg Richardson of Crossroads, whisked into her dressing room. “Phew – this moving business, I’ve just changed my Birmingham flat.”
She sees her Georgian home with its five and a half acres overlooking the river at Ross-on-Wye only at week-ends. And then, apart from driving her beloved MGB G.T. the relaxation is gardening.
Calm-voiced, serene, friendly, she admitted that some may say Meg Richardson is bossy.
“But I have no husband in private, and when you’re a woman on your own you have to be confident.”
But most viewers see in Meg the warmth which is Noele’s own quality. Little girls write ‘ I’d love you as a mum!’
Modestly, Miss Gordon observes ‘They don’t know me! I think Meg is lovely, I’m not a bit like her. I’m not domesticated, I can’t cook… though I am organised.’
Noele knows Coventry well, she was great friends with the late Pearl Hyde, former Mayor. They first met on the television show Tea with Noele Gordon.
Noele has played Coventry Theatre with the musicals Brigadoon and Call Me Madam and she played principal boy in panto at the London Palladium and Birmingham’s Alexandra.
Of Crossroads ‘It’s a happy show, it has to be. You can’t afford temperaments when you’re working with each other six days a week.’
How would she like to be remembered? “I’d be happy if they put on my tombestone ‘She made people laugh’ Or you could add what is repeatedly hear from others lips; “She’s a good trouper.”
Tapping the dressing-room door to call us to the studio, Roger Tonge who plays her on-screen son Sandy Richardson, put it in a nutshell: “I could not ask for a nicer mum!”
The Coventry Standard, written by Douglas Grosvenor, pictures by Gordon White, 1967