Created by Hazel Adair & Peter Ling
Crossroads is a British television soap opera set in a fictional motel near Birmingham, England. Created by Hazel Adair and Peter Ling, the commercial ITV network originally broadcast the series between 1964 and 1988. Produced by ATV (until the end of 1981) and later by Central it became a byword for cheap production values, particularly in the 1970s and early 1980s. The series was revived in a glossier version by Carlton Television in 2001, but was again axed in 2003.
The original theme tune was composed by Tony Hatch; a new version, which was first aired in 1987 when the series was relaunched as Crossroads, Kings Oak, was composed by Raf Ravenscroft and Max Early.
According to Jeff Evans in The Penguin TV Companion: "Few programmes have endured as much ridicule as Crossroads. At the same time, few programmes have won the hearts of so many viewers." Critically derided for its low budget and far-fetched scripts, Crossroads did though have prominent fans including Mary Wilson, the wife of then Prime Minister Harold Wilson.
Crossroads began its run on Monday 2 November 1964 and was first shown on five days a week, necessitating the programme be recorded 'as live' with very limited opportunities for retakes. Within a few months 10 of the ITV companies had started broadcasting the series, both Yorkshire and Tyne Tees did take the series for a short while before dropping the series, while Granada never took the series during the 1960s. The Independent Television Authority (ITA) decreed in 1967 that the series should be reduced in frequency to four episodes per week to improve the series' quality.
The newly-formed Thames Television, the franchisee for the London area, decided in 1968 to stop showing the series. This was unpopular with viewers, with complainants reportedly including Mary Wilson; six months later the decision was reversed, but, as a result of the gap in transmissions, viewers in the Thames region were about six months behind the rest of the country for several years. The series was not fully networked until 1972, when Granada, Tyne tees and Yorkshire took the series. Though by the early 1970s it was second only to Coronation Street in the ratings it did, occasionally, in the mid 1970's beat Coronation Street gaining 15 million viewers during the decade. In 1979 commercial broadcasting's regulator (by then the Independent Broadcasting Authority) decided production should be reduced further, to three weekly episodes from April 1980, with the chairman of the IBA Lady Plowden reportedly described the soap opera as "distressingly popular". ATV planned to replace the fourth episode with a spin-off series called A Family Affair, but this idea was dropped. Noele Gordon, who played matriarch Meg Richardson, was the regular winner of the TV Times Most Popular Female Personality viewers award during the 1970s.
Viewers reacted negatively at the dismissal of Gordon in 1981, an action taken by Head of programming Charles Denton who became a "national hate figure". The series producer Jack Barton agreed with Denton, thinking that Gordon's character had become too dominant, but the episode gained heavy coverage in the press for some time.
ATV, having lost its franchise at the end of 1980, was ordered by the IBA to reform into Central Independent Television, which took over the franchise on 1 January 1982, and was thought to show limited enthusiasm for the programmes it inherited. Further changes were introduced in March 1985, when new filming locations, sets and characters were introduced. Many storylines began to revolve around the new motel owner, Nicola Freeman (Gabrielle Drake). Some long-term characters, such as David and Barbara Hunter, were axed. The theme tune was also updated, and the opening titles replaced with a longer version. Finally, the show was renamed Crossroads Motel - although this fact was never formally announced by the show's production team and the word "Motel" was simply incorporated into the opening titles.
In 1986, a new producer, William Smethurst, took over following the sacking of his predecessor, Philip Bowman. Smethurst, who had been brought in by Central Television's new Head of Drama, Ted Childs, ordered changes, aimed at creating a wittier, more upmarket serial, and at improving the production values of the show. Smethurst shifted the narrative centre to the nearby village of King's Oak. Yet more long-running characters, such as Diane Hunter and Benny Hawkins, were dropped; as with earlier changes, this was unpopular with fans, who telephoned Central in protest. Smethurst gained the nickname "Butcher Bill" but was unfazed; he had, after all, reversed the declining fortunes of the BBC radio soap The Archers. Smethurst insisted he only got the flak because his was the name the public knew. The last 18 months of the show saw vast improvements in terms of production values, more outside location work, better direction, wittier, funnier scripts and better characterisation. Michelle Buck guided the show through its final few months on air as Series Producer, with William Smethurst still on hand as Executive Producer.
Further changes included the series being renamed Crossroads King's Oak for a time, with the intention in the future of shortening this to King's Oak. Also, the familiar theme tune was replaced by a new theme composed by Max Early and Raf Ravenscroft. New titles were introduced to accompany the new theme, which featured stills of King's Oak and the new King's Oak Country Hotel. However, this final change was overtaken by the decision in June 1987 by Andy Allen, Central's Director of Programmes, to axe the series.
Crossroads King's Oak came to an end in 1988. The last, extended episode was on 4 April (a bank holiday), with the character of Jill (Jane Rossington) riding off with her lover, John Maddingham (Jeremy Nicholas). Asked what name she would give the hotel she would be running in her new life, the character remarked, a little sadly, "I always thought Crossroads was an awfully good name".
Crossroads was revived in March 2001 as a Carlton Television production with a glossy format (Carlton having bought Central back in 1993) to the surprise of the wider media. The revival was originally broadcast on weekdays at 1.30pm and 5.05pm on ITV1. Four characters from the original series returned: Doris Luke (Kathy Staff), Jill Harvey (née Richardson), Jill's ex-husband Adam Chance (Tony Adams), and Jill's daughter Sarah-Jane Harvey (Joanne Farrell/Holly Newman). Initial reactions were favourable; however, changes in story from the original were puzzling for fans and didn't help ratings. Kathy Staff left in dismay at the amount of sex, and told ITV Teletext she felt it was no longer the family-friendly show she had originally been part of.
The decision to kill original character Jill Harvey, who was murdered by Adam Chance three months into the series' revival, proved unpopular with fans of the original show. Jane Rossington said she didn't want to commit herself to another long run in the show, but warned Carlton it would be suicidal to kill Jill.
The series went into hiatus from August 2002 to January 2003, during which time further changes were made. The remodelled series, under producer Yvon Grace, appeared to be a self-consciously camp parody, with Jane Asher playing a new central character - the glamorous and bitchy Angel Samson. The series also featured appearances from Kate O'Mara, and people associated with light entertainment, such as Lionel Blair, Les Dennis and Tim Brooke-Taylor. The series also launched the careers of Freema Agyeman (Doctor Who & a one-off appearance in Mile High), Luke Roberts (Holby City & Mile High), Lucy Pargeter, Shauna Shim and Jessica Fox.
Grace admitted she was aiming the new Crossroads towards the gay market. But fans were not happy with her ambivalence towards unresolved storylines from the 2001-2002 run. Grace was reported as saying at its press launch: "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."
Plans were in place to bring Adam Chance back on a 3 month contract in a last attempt to bring in more viewers; actor Tony Adams said that a down-on-his luck Adam would have been taken under Angel's wing as her personal assistant. But with ratings continuing to decline, the revived series was also axed, the final episode being broadcast on Friday 30 May 2003. The cast were contracted until the end of the year and continued to be paid after the series ended. The cancellation of Crossroads sealed the fate of Central's Lenton Lane studios in Nottingham, which ITV plc have since disposed of.
The original premise of Crossroads was based around two feuding sisters Kitty Jarvis (Beryl Johnstone) and Meg Richardson (Noele Gordon). Meg was a wealthy woman who, with the help of her late husband Charles's insurance money and compensation money from the council for them building a motorway through their land, turned her large Georgian house into a motel. "The Crossroads Motel" was located on the outskirts of the small village of Kings Oak, which was on the outskirts of Birmingham. With Charles, Meg had 2 children. The elder was a girl named Jill (born 1946) followed by Alexander (known as Sandy) in 1950. Kitty, on the other hand, was married to the unemployed Dick and was not wealthy. Dick and Kitty bought a newsagents and tobacconists shop in the nearby town of Heathbury a few years after the show started. Kitty and Dick had a son called Brian, born in 1945. The idea of the sisters 'feuding' was soon dropped.
The show had several characters in its early years. They included Meg and Kitty's brother, Andy Fraser, who became engaged and later married to motelsecretary Ruth Bailey in 1965. Hotel chef Carlos Raphael and his wife Josefina who was a waitress along with Marilyn Gates. Kitchen assistant Amy Turtle, later briefly arrested as a suspected Soviet spy, joined the series in 1965 as did postmistress Miss Edith Tatum. Also featured was motel handyman and groundsman Philip Winter. Long running character Diane Lawton arrived in 1966. Other additions included Megs close friend, former actress, Tish Hope; the suave manager and later motel director David Hunter; his first wife Rosemary and son Chris and his second wife Barbara; Chefs Mr. Lovejoy, Mr. Booth and Shughie McFee; hairdresser Vera Downend; accountant and later motel manager Adam Chance; and cleaner Doris Luke. However, the most memorable character proved to be the 'village idiot' Benny Hawkins, whose trademark was a woolly hat worn all year round. His fans included British troops serving in the Falklands War in 1982, who nicknamed the Falkland Islanders Bennies after the character. Instructed to stop using the name, the troops came up with "Stills" for locals - because they were "still Bennies".
Over the years the series dealt with storylines controversial for the times. A single parent working at the motel seems staid now, but was hugely controversial in the mid-1960s; Sandy Richardson was injured in a car accident in 1972 and need to use a wheelchair, the first paraplegic regular character in British soap opera; by coincidence actor Roger Tonge himself later ended up in a wheelchair. The series also saw black characters appearing regularly - a follow-on from the 1960s BBC soap Compact, also created by Hazel Adair and Peter Ling. Melanie Harper (played by Cleo Sylvestre) arrived at the motel in 1970 as Meg's foster daughter (itself a taboo issue). Cleo was given the role by producer Reg Watson after press coverage of racial tensions in the Birmingham area at that time. In 1978, garage mechanic Joe MacDonald (played by Carl Andrews) arrived. The year before, an inter-racial summer romance took place between Cockney garage mechanic, Dennis Harper (played by Merlin Ward, but credited as Guy Ward), and motel receptionist Meena Chaudri (Karan David).
1981 saw a highly controversial storyline about a false accusation of rape; a 1983 storyline saw a test tube baby born to Glenda and Kevin Banks (played by Lynette McMorrough and David Moran). The subject of Downs Syndrome was also raised in 1983 with an insight into the life of Nina Weill, a little girl who, as Nina Paget, was befriended by three of the regular Crossroads characters.
Meg - axed in 1981 - was thought to have died in a fire that gutted the motel, but turned up alive aboard the QE2, about to sail to a new life overseas. Newspapers reported that two endings were planned for Meg - Meg would die in the fire, the other ending would have her disappear for a while and turn up on the QE2. Viewers were surprised to see producers had used both. Meg returned briefly in 1983 for a reunion with Jill and Adam on their honeymoon in Venice
New producer Phillip Bowman was planning to bring the character of Meg Mortimer back into the show as a "permanent occasional" - and plans were well advanced when Noele Gordon died in 1985.
With the revival in 2001, changes were made to characters and stories. The returning character of Jill Chance had married the now-dead John Maddingham, but was calling herself Jill Harvey again, the name by which she had been known prior to her marriage to Adam Chance in 1983. References were also made to the Russell family taking over a "failing motel", despite Crossroads having become a hotel in the late 1980s; in the final episode of the original series, the name 'King's Oak Country Hotel' was seen over the entrance doors.
Lack of real links to the past, and the killing of Jill a few months into the new run, turned many fans away. Despite this, the series did pick up a respectable number of viewers to become one of ITV's highest rated daytime shows. Popular characters in the new Crossroads included new owner Kate Russell (Jane Gurnett), supercilious receptionist Virginia Raven (Sherrie Hewson), and womanising deputy manager Jake Booth (Colin Wells).
The storyline of the final episode was the revelation that the revived series and glamorous hotel had been a dream of supermarket worker and original crossroads fan Angela, with all the other characters revealed as shoppers. Angela even approaches a female customer in the supermarket and tells her she recognises her as Tracey (Booth) from the "TV soap the original Crossroads"; Tracey's mother-in-law, Kate, was also shown as one of Angela's colleagues in the supermarket.
The fictional Crossroads Motel was in an equally fictional village near Birmingham, Kings Oak (there are real suburbs in south-west Birmingham called Kings Heath, Kings Norton and Selly Oak). A number of real-life hotels doubled for location filming; it is stated in the 1982 Crossroads Special that the Longshoot Motel (Nuneaton) was used as a 'blueprint' in designing the motel and it is likely that some scenes were filmed there during the run of the series.
In 1970, the series gained a film unit, giving it the freedom to do location shooting. Originally, Tanworth-in-Arden was used for King's Oak, although outside scenes were only occasionally used. Under Central, more location shooting began to be featured. Some early King's Oak location material was also filmed in Wolverhampton. The most famous location - as seen in the programme during the 1960s and 1970s was not a motel at all, but an agricultural college in Shropshire. It has also been suggested that Crossroads was filmed at a motel just south of Birmingham city centre called CherryTrees (the buildings were demolished in 2001). After the in-story destruction of the motel by fire, the revamped motel was filmed from 1982 at The Golden Valley Hotel in Cheltenham; from 1985 filming moved to the Penns Hall Hotel (now Ramada Jarvis Birmingham) in Sutton Coldfield, the changed appearance explained as being due to rebuilding. At the time of the move to Sutton Coldfield, new studio sets were also introduced.
Other locations included the canal (including Gas Street Basin) behind the studios in Birmingham; in-story this was the King's Oak Canal, on which Vera had a barge. The Chateau Impney Hotel also featured numerous times, most famously when Hugh proposed to Meg in 1973, and it was used to hold their wedding party two years later. The Chateau Impney was renamed the Droitwich Hotel on-screen. St Laurence's church in Alvechurch was the setting for Jill and Adam Chance's wedding in 1983. Hagley Hall was used for the wedding reception.
In 1985, Crossroads gained its first set of full length opening titles, filmed around Sutton Coldfield, Tanworth-in-Arden and in Birmingham city centre.
The revived Crossroads from 2001 was still set in the West Midlands; however, exterior shots were filmed at locations in and around Nottingham, such as Bingham and Redmile.
The original series was recorded at the Broad Street / Gas Street Studios in Birmingham, while the revived series was filmed in the Carlton Studios in Nottingham.