Britain has such a devotion to soap operas that writer Russell T. Davies has a scene in his latest drama Nolliin which 10,000 people showed up to catch a glimpse of actress Noele Gordon filming a wedding for Crossroads.
Crossroads was a daytime soap opera that largely aired from 1964 to 1988.
Gordon played series matriarch and motel manager Meg Richardson, who built the fictional lodging from the ground up. Nicknamed the ‘Queen of the Midlands’ Gordon, she has won the TV Times’ Most Compulsive Female Character award for eight years in a row. Fittingly, as a young girl she was also the first woman in the world to appear on color TV in an experiment in 1938 (she watches the cameo of “John logie Baird’).
In the ITV studios, Gordon (stunningly played by Helena Bonham Carter) commanded the word, dumping dialogue he didn’t approve of, dictating his own direction in rehearsals in front of a crew too nervous to overrule. Gordon may have called herself a “problem solver,” but it’s clear she was pulling the strings.
Into the mix in 1981 comes a young black actress, Poppy (Bethany Antonia), who is not only a cultural change from this mainstay of the British establishment, but who has the courage to question Gordon.
When Gordon boasts about 45 million viewers watching their every move, Poppy points out that 15 million viewers every 3 days is actually the same 15 million people. Ouch.
In the privacy of her own home, Gordon is portrayed as a more solitary figure, relying on young castmate Tony (Augustus Prew) to accompany her on nighttime outings and the flattery of the Queen.
However, Gordon’s humiliation of producer Jack Barton (Con O’Neill) leads ITV head of programming Charles Denton (Tim Wallers) to decide it was time to end Gordon’s reign. Meg was about to be killed. Getting Joan Crawford fired from MGM was a devastating blow to Gordon.
But Gordon had the power of the people on his side, and he wasn’t going to walk away quietly….
“I’ve been brutally cut and I’m completely destroyed,” she would declare.
Davies’ 3-part drama is a long-overdue homage to Gordon, whose remarkable character and rollercoaster career make the miniseries hugely entertaining.
All of the TV nods, from behind-the-scenes antics, power plays, improvisation and staging, are unmasked in all their sordid glory.
Helena Bonham Carter enjoys Davies’ dialogue, reminiscent of her performance in Burton & Taylor. Expect award nominations.
For those who remember Crossroads (broadcast by day in Australia on Seven) and for those fascinated by backstage television, Nolli it is highly recommended
Nolly is now screening via Foxtel on Demand / Binge.