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SERIES ONE: THE CROSSROADS STORY


In 1963 there weren't that many 'soaps' on television and few lasted longer than a few years. ITV had a hit with Coronation Street (1960) but apart from that there wasn't many other serials around. However, in 1964 ATV in Birmingham started production on a new programme, based in a fictional village just outside Birmingham. The new serial would focus on the lives and trials of Crossroads Motel. In 1964 the first UK produced soap using the USA format was aired on ITV and a legend was born.

The budget for a show in the 1960's was usually very small so costs had to be kept low, especially for a commercial channel. If the programme didn't reach the top twenty ratings then it was deemed not worth spending more money on it.

To solve the problem of having a small budget the first episodes of Crossroads had a cast of eight. Nowadays soaps have casts of over twenty-five but this low figure wasn't unusual for the early days of soap. Another problem in the 1960's was the cost of editing. Editing wasn't as common or as cheap as it is nowadays and was still really in its early days as far as video tapes went.

To get around this problem many shows either went out live or were filmed as live. This meant that the recording was treated as real. If any mistakes were made it was rare that they would be re-recorded as it meant usually the whole part of that episode would have to be re-filmed. Instead it would just be left in. This happened very often for Crossroads and other programmes, such as Doctor Who (1963) at that time too. Because of this Crossroads became a joke for critics. They slammed it for its errors, moving sets and poor acting. When actors forget their lines the critics would lap every moment of it. It wasn't due to poor production values but cost of editing. Even today the myth of bad acting, forgotten lines and wobbly sets follows Crossroads around.

Crossroads was a surprise hit and instead of running for a number of weeks it ran for 24 years (1988). The cast of eight grew and over the years it would see a wealth of memorable characters and storylines. Some of the most famous characters were Meg Richardson, the first Motel Owner, Jill Richardson (Meg's daughter), Adam Chance (husband of Jill amongst over things), Benny (Handyman) and Valerie Pollard (Business woman). Many seem to think that Brookside (1982) was the pioneer of social issues being tackled in soaps. However, it is fair to say that Crossroads also tackled some social issues before Brookside even came along.

The first producer of Crossroads was Reg Watson who would go on to create, amongst other programmes, Neighbours and Sons & Daughters. The early years of Crossroads greatly resemble the original years of Neighbours with lighthearted storylines the main focus, Crossroads was escapist fun. Watson reused many themes and ideas from the original premise of Crossroads when he created Neighbours. Both serials had a hotel and both had a central female character, Helen Daniels in the Aussie soap and Meg Richardson in the midland drama. The early years of Crossroad saw the soap slowly build up a loyal audience but it wasn't until the soap entered the 1970's, and colour, that it really became popular.

In 1968 the first big disaster to hit Crossroads happened. An unexploded WWII bomb destroyed the kitchens and reception area. One minor character died in the explosion. While the new Motel was being built the action moved abroad as Meg and the staff members went to Tusinia.

The golden age of Crossroads, for fans, was during the 1970s and early 1980s. It had ratings that regularly topped 18 million and had a perfect balance of good characters and storylines. It was cosy viewing and enjoyable. However, the golden age was about to come to an end when a new Head Of Drama at ATV was appointed. It was the late 1970's and Crossroads hadn't really aged much this had seen ratings drop to around 15 million (Which is still quite amazing for a daytime soap.)

While society and the world outside changed, Crossroads seemed to stay the same. The new Head Of Drama, Margaret Matheson didn't seem to have anything against the midland soap, but she wanted to move away from 'soap opera' and focus the company towards making more lavish drama serials, the money saved by axing Crossroads would be re-used on these new formats.

Also the Head Of Programmes at ATV, Charles Denton, believed that Crossroads looked to down and trodden and wanted to axe the show too. However the programme only cost around £700 to make, and was bringing ITV hundreds of thousands in revenue, so the company board said the motel soap had to stay.

Instead Denton decided to try and bring the show a bit more up-market, throw off the myth of the dodgy sets. This may not have alarmed fans too much and many may have welcomed the move. However, he also felt for the show to be able to modernise one character had to go: Meg Richardson. Meg was loved by fans across the country and was one of the biggest soap stars of that era. The character had run the Motel since the first episode and many believed Meg was Crossroads. But this didn't stop the character being axed. On the eve of Bonfire Night 1981 the show was re-launched. The Motel burnt down and Meg's daughter, Jill, believed her mother had perished in the fire. It was later revealed that Meg hadn't died in the fire but was on the QE2. She would later briefly re-appear in 1983 for Jill's wedding to Adam Chance.

The fire gave the producers the excuse of having to re-build the motel and with that came the new upmarket feel and more expensive sets. But fans weren't happy that the show had changed so drastically. Ratings fell  to 13 million and continued to do so. It was the beginning of the end for Crossroads. Some may say, this was actually Matherson and Denton's plan - to make it fail by offending viewers.

In 1984 Margaret Matheson left and a new Head Of Drama arrived, Ted Childs. He decided that the 'as-live' format was way out of date and this alone was now making the show a bigger joke than ever before. Every other television programme had moved forward with its production style. Crossroads was still being made as it had been in 1964 - and it showed. It needed a far more drastic change, much more than just new sets as seen four years previous.

Ted brought in a new producer, Jack Barton after twelve years in charge was retired off. In came Phillip Bowman who had worked with Reg Watson on Sons and Daughters and The Young Doctors.

He decided Crossroads needed urgently dragging it into the 1980's and it needed a touch of glam too. This revamp saw a whole host of characters being sacked. It was felt that they were deadwood and just couldn't continue in the new look show. The new look Crossroads looked fabulous, it had gone from the most out-of-date soap to the most modern. However the loss of fine writers saw the plots ands scripts in this era fall way below (despite what critics said) the far more engaging ones of previous years. Ratings prior to the re-launch had been between 10 and 11 million, they improved up to 12 million after the make-over.

In 1987 the final revamp for Series One was ordered. Another producer who had declined the role in 1984 finally accepted and in late 1986 William Smethurst arrived fresh from radio soap The Archers to set about making Crossroads 'must-see' television again.

This time things were ruthless, more so than before. More sackings followed and a new sexier cast were hired. Crossroads Motel was dead in almost every sense of the word. The Motel became the Kings Oak County Hotel and the action wouldn't just focus on the Hotel. The new producer felt that the show should move towards focusing more on the village, Kings Oak than ever before. The show changed its name too. to Crossroads Kings Oak. Eventually it would have been solely based in and around the village. Smethurst wanted to make the show appeal to a family audience and he wanted to bring back that cosy feel the show once had, however to appease the ever 'youth hungry' advertisers he also introduced a lot of younger cast to hopefully appease all.

Ratings for the new-feel dropped drastically at first to 8 million, but the programme in its final months recovered back to the level 12 million. But despite the ratings improving a new Head Of Programmes, Andy Allen, didn't want Crossroads on television anymore. He felt it was out-of-date and out of touch. He obviously hadn't watched it since 1984.

The axe fell on the whole show this time, despite it meeting all its targets set by ITV. In 1988 the last 75-minute special episode of Crossroads was shown and Jill, who had been in the show since day one, spoke the last words. 13 million tuned in to watch the finale of Crossroads and very few believed the soap would ever return.

The Story of Crossroads in much greater detail can be found at the Crossroads Appreciation Society official website HERE.


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