Sunday, 9 August 2015

Beckindale 1983 - Behind The Scenes...

I know several actors, and, for the majority, it's a funny old life. There they are, one month serving in a wine bar or doing a Christmas temp job at Boots, the next doing a bit-part in Emmerdale, the next "resting", the next auditioning for a stage play and probably not getting the part...

Of course, for many actors a regular role in a long-running soap is a dream (and for some, given current standards of a lot of the plots, it's also a nightmare), but back in the 1980s it was a funny old life working on Emmerdale Farm or Coronation Street or whatever. Today, much soap drama depends on the out of the ordinary, the bizarre, the downright absurd, but back in the 1980s the majority of soap action centred on people nattering about, and doing, everyday things.

And that must have been exceedingly difficult to convey with a load of technical paraphernalia all around, plus being watched and directed by a load of people the actors had to pretend didn't exist.

Here's Jean Rogers (Dolly Skilbeck since 1980), Sheila Mercier (Annie Sugden since episode one), Toke Townley (Grandad Sam Pearson since episode one) and Frederick Pyne and Frazer Hines (Matt Skilbeck and Joe Sugden - both original cast members) standing around in the rain at a Beckindale event in 1983, with little Sam Skilbeck (born 1982) out of vision, apparently asleep in his pram.

Annie's plastic headscarf (14p from Woolies - a snip!) is such an important style detail in setting the tone.

Just how "everyday" and of their time the cast looks, and the fact that they are conversing in character, apparently oblivious of the onlookers and the sound boom hovering above, is something I find fascinating.

Skill, or what?

Thursday, 6 August 2015

"Nay, Nay Mr Wilks" Mystery Mug

September, 1981, and Amos Brearly (Ronald Magill) ensures there's a warm welcome at the Woolpack.

In 1980, Seth Armstrong became a full-time Emmerdale Farm regular. He deserted the Malt Shovel in favour of the Woolpack, where he discovered the endless delights of baiting Amos Brearly. In his new found respectability as NY Estates gamekeeper, Seth had plenty of time to scive off and haunt the bewhiskered landlord. And poor old Mr Wilks was often caught up in the attacks and counter-attacks, trying to bring reason to bear. "Nay, nay, Mr Wilks!" Amos would bluster (in fact, in moments of high dudgeon it was usually thrice "nay").

Poor Mr Wilks!

That man deserved a medal.

We're still catching up on our comments and Sara wrote:

I have a mug featuring a caricature of Henry Wilks, Amos Brearly and Seth Armstrong. It is stamped on the bottom 'Churchill England'. Do you know anything about it?

No, Sara, sorry. I do have one, but it was bought for me as a present a few years back, second hand, and I don't know its origins. Does anybody else?

Andy At Emmerdale Farm...

Me at Emmerdale Farm many moons ago. I'm sure Amos would have said: "That lad fancies himself a bit, and them trousers aren't decent, Mr Wilks!"

Another comment that I received some time ago and haven't yet answered (sorry - I'm guilty of many things, but being organised is not one of them!) asks:

Did you ever visit the old Emmerdale Farm set or have any contact with the cast?

No, but I visited Esholt and Lindley Farm, locations of Beckindale and Emmerdale Farm. That's me at Lindley Farm above (face blanked out to protect those who are disturbed by the grotesque), and my wife organised me a birthday card and sent it to Ronald Magill, the fabulous Amos Brearly, for signing. But that's about it.

My life was going full throttle back in my youthful days, and I didn't have much time to ponder the show or write to its performers. Needless to say, the birthday card signed by Ronald Magill (and Amos) is now a treasured item. It was a complete surprise and Mr Magill had even written on the back of the envelope: Not to be opened until 18 October.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Robert Sugden - A Character From The '80s?

Walter (Al Dixon) has a lovely night out at the Woolpack in the 1980s. Danny Miller and Ryan Hawley set out to recreate that Walter magic in 2015. Ryan wins. The resemblance is uncanny. Is Robert Sugden really Walter's secret son? Nothing is impossible in modern Emmerdale...

I've had an interesting email, so many thanks to "robron man" who wrote it...

Robert Sugden, now played by Ryan Hawley, is one of the best characters ever in Emmerdale. And he dates from the 1980's, doesn't he? The son of Pat and Jack, back in the days when Amos and Wilks kept the Woolpack and Annie was in the old farmhouse?

Don't you think the complex storyline of Robert's affair with Aaron Livesy eclipses anything shown on Emmerdale in the 80's? And don't you think you could bring the blog out of the brick mobile phones and shoulder pads decade a bit? I think the stories back then lack the real life complexities of the stories now. In the 1980s, everybody in Emmerdale Farm was straight and it all hinged around Matt and Dolly wanting a baby then having a baby, Annie making the dinner, Amos having fads and Alan Turner turning out not to be such a swine as he originally seemed after all. It was OK, but in the 21st Century soaps are a lot more adventurous and don't "play safe" as much.

Can you honestly say that Alan Turner and Mrs Bates or Walter and Amos are more compelling than modern Emmerdale?

Hmm... well, I saw an episode of Emmerdale a few weeks ago, which is rare, and was surprised to see somebody there who was apparently Robert Sugden. After your email, which I apologise for taking such a long time to reply to, I did a little research on the "Robron" story-line and I think the bisexuality angle would be interesting enough in itself (and Hawley and Miller's acting is quite excellent at times) without the ruthless killer bit thrown in. And, as you say, Robert is a character from the 1980s - the son of Pat and Jack, grandson of Annie and great-grandson of Sam Pearson. Bisexuality is fine, but does he really have to be such an OTT nasty git?

As for the complexity of modern story-lines compared to the 1980s, well, I find many of the modern stories laughable. This "Robron" thing appears to have reached a climax with a burning car blowing up and a helicopter falling through the village hall roof. Too many killers. Too many disasters. Not enough of the trivia of life.

And to all those revisionists who try to make out that Emmerdale Farm was always a den of drama - dramatic events used to be much rarer. Even in the old days, we viewers enjoyed a good disaster, but I certainly find the current trend, with soaps trying to outdo each other with what seems like almost constant mega-horrors, rather daft.

That's why I gave up on the soaps, in fact.

As for Emmerdale Farm characters in the 1980s... well, there were some pretty darned interesting folk around back then, and it was far from being all Monk's Best Ale and Annie Sugden's pigeon pies. Harry Mowlam, for instance, was a disturbing yet fascinating baddie. and, of course, the decade introduced a certain Mr Pollard.

But people drank tea, did the ironing and chuntered on more. There was more of the essence of everyday life.

That's what I enjoyed when I used to come home from work and click the telly on. I'd put my mini-pizzas in the oven, start to scrub up for a night out, and listen to Amos and Mr Wilks.

"Robron" simply doesn't have the same appeal.

Neither does the helicopter falling through the roof.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

The Emmerdale '80s Bus - Part 1

This is a bus with a difference. It travels through time. The Emmerdale '80s bus will drop us at various stops to glimpse life during that decade at the farm and in the village. We begin at December 1984...

Jack is having an affair with Karen Moore, a young auctioneer at Hotten Market. The relationship began when Karen sympathised with him after Emmerdale Farm Ltd decided that his purchase of some pedigree cows had been wrong back in the summer. Even Pat had sided with the others, and Jack had felt suddenly confined by his life at the farm. Ever the free spirit, Jack had kicked back hard, and Karen's sympathy had seemed very attractive. Jack had begun seeing her. By December, he was living with the fact that he was in love with two women.

Matt Skilbeck knew what was happening. He was worried as Christmas was looming and it was to be the first without Grandad Sam Pearson, who had died shortly before. Joe, who was working in France, would be coming back to England for the festivities, but this would be a difficult Christmas for all of them - especially Annie.

Being Jack, the author, the thinker, the simple approach of deciding between his wife and Karen was not a path he could easily take. He loved Karen. He loved Pat. He didn't want to hurt either. And yet he was hurting both. Pat had been his youthful lover, the mother of his son. She now represented family and security; Karen was young and free - she represented the unfettered life Jack also wanted to live.

Pat knew what was going on and was devastated. She reflected on what a difference a bit of tinsel made to the parlour at Emmerdale, and, slightly bitter, commented that she had kept a piece for herself. She had relocated to the boxroom as far as sleeping arrangements were concerned.

Over at Home Farm, Alan Turner showed off his policeman's costume for the Beckindale Amateur Players forthcoming production of The Pirates of Penzance. He'd asked Mrs Bates to get some Christmas shopping for him, including a gift for Jill, his wife. Mrs Bates had chosen a pretty nightie for her. She was unaware that Jill and Alan were estranged, but got a glimpse of the sad state of Alan's personal life when he awkwardly confessed that he didn't give his wife such "intimate" presents.

Later, Alan surprised Mrs Bates by presenting the nightie to her as a present. He was sad and awkward; spoke more about the state of his marriage, and said that he wanted to thank Mrs Bates for her nine months of help at NY. Mrs Bates protested, the gift was too expensive, but Alan insisted and quietly retreated, leaving Mrs Bates feeling as sad and as awkward as him.

Young Sam Skilbeck was celebrating his second birthday, and his parents took him out to feed the geese at the farm. Dolly reflected sadly on the harsh realities of farming life - the fate of the geese now Christmas was upon them, and said she thought it would upset Sam if he knew. Matt pointed out that it also upset her - every year the same!

Annie had preparations for Christmas well in hand in the kitchen at Emmerdale Farm, with Sandie as her assistant. Sandie asked if they could make up a parcel for her father, Tom, who was in prison. Annie happily agreed - pies, sausage rolls, etc.

Annie was delighted when Joe phoned. He would soon be with them. She passed on Matt's jovial comment that he owed them eighteen months' worth of milking!

In the parlour, Annie commented to Pat that there had always been laughter in the house when Joe was there. Pat, aware that she hadn't been very jolly recently, apologised for any signs of misery, but Annie hurried to reassure her: she hadn't been getting at anybody.

Over at the Woolpack, Amos Brearly had been treating the villagers to some truly terrible sounds as he practised for his role in The Pirates of Penzance. There was no Mr Wilks on hand to try and keep Mr B under control. Henry was in Italy, attending his daughter Marian's wedding.

Amos commented that the audience at the rehearsal for Pirates had all been very moved by his singing. Mike Conrad retorted that the audience had certainly MOVED when Amos began singing. Amos rejected that - humph! - but was frightened that he was losing his voice. Would everything be all right on the night?

Seth Armstrong was in The Pirates too, of course.

 As a pirate.

Of course!

Mike Conrad was in love with Sandie Merrick. But the feeling wasn't mutual. Mike confided in Walter, telling him he was sure he knew how he felt. Walter silently assured him that he did.

Up in the attic bedroom at Emmerdale Farm, Jack reflected on the tangled state of his love life. He loved Karen. He loved Pat. To Thine Own Self Be True... Pat had been upset when he'd arrived home in the early hours of the morning, having slept with Karen. He'd had to get back because of the milking. On another occasion, when he'd moved to comfort her, she had been furious - he stank of Karen's perfume!

Jack was hurting Pat.

Jack was hurting Karen.

Jack was hurting Annie, and Matt, and everybody who knew at Emmerdale. Sandie Merrick was having to work with Karen at Hotten Market, knowing that she was sleeping with her mother's husband. Jackie didn't know. Jack couldn't bear to contemplate what the knowledge would do to the fragile relationship he had built with his son.

Pat came in to ask if Jack had bought the bracelet they'd decided on for Sandie's Christmas present? He had. They talked. Pat cried, said she missed him so much, couldn't imagine life without him. Did he want her to leave Emmerdale Farm? Jack was shocked - of course not! It was her home. Pat replied that in some ways she'd never felt she really belonged there. It was HIS home. Jack held her close... they kissed... and... the boxroom had no occupant that night.

Anarchistic goof Archie Brooks didn't really want to be a policeman in The Pirates. He insisted on wearing his CND badge on his uniform.

Joe arrived back in Beckindale and took a stroll around the farm, remembering Grandad Pearson.

It was not going to be an easy festive period.

But, of course, he had no idea of just how difficult it was going to be...

Monday, 28 July 2014

1987: The Return To Normality...

An Emmerdale Farm script - episode 1187, 1987.

Anybody who has ever been successfully involved in any type of campaign will probably appreciate this. There you were, campaigning away, adrenalin flowing, great team spirit all around you. Then you win. And then you celebrate. And then life returns to boring normality. The villagers of Beckindale fought a hearty battle in 1987 to prevent the dumping of nuclear waste by the Government not far away. They won. And then it was back to Annie feeding the geese and Amos and Mr Wilks bickering in the Woolpack.

We recently happened upon a parcel of 1987 Emmerdale Farm scripts which clearly show the return to normality in Beckindale after the battle was won...

A page from the script: Annie feeds the geese and natters with Dolly...

Archie Brooks was not impressed with everyday life post-dump threat, as this brilliant extract from the script proves...

ARCHIE: Is this it then?


ARCHIE: "What we all spent months fighting for. What Jack Sugden went to prison for. Life without a nuclear dump. Dunt amount to much does it.

AMOS: (TAKEN ABACK) Nowt wrong wi' a bit o' peace and quiet lad.

WILKS (SMILES) The silence was fairly deafening. Sorry.

ARCHIE: This place used to be buzzing - it used to be - (GESTURES) it used to have - (GESTURES)

AMOS: (HELPFUL) Customers?

ARCHIE: "No - you know what I mean. Argument - debate - an atmosphere you could cut with a knife some nights. We were fighting and we were alive. We had - meetings.

WILKS: And then we won.

ARCHIE: (DEFLATED) Aye. And then we won.

AMOS: (GENTLY) That was the whole point Archie. So we could get back to where we were before. Where we are now.


AMOS: It is a bit dull in here now you mention it. I could get in some different flavoured crisps. Or them spicey sausages. A lot of folk like them.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Emmerdale 40th Anniversary...

The way it was. In October 1982, Emmerdale Farm celebrated its very first decade on screen. In fact, the 1980s were the very first decade which the show completely spanned, appearing every year from 1980 to 1989. The show was first networked (shown on the same day and at the same time) across the ITV regions in January 1988.

 How times change! A mid-1980s Woolpack perpetual calendar, still in use in The Bugle editorial office. This particular Woolpack sign seen on the building was first used in 1984.

Well, of course, we at the Beckindale Bugle couldn't let today go by without wishing Emmerdale a very happy 40th anniversary. Back in our day, in 1982 to be precise, the show, then Emmerdale Farm, celebrated its very first decade on-screen. And look how things have changed since then! But then they always have. From 1980, when Al Dixon's Walter first appeared, Clive Hornby became Jack Sugden, Jean Rogers became Dolly Skilbeck and Stan Richards became full time and permanent as Seth Armstrong, to shortening scenes, the arrivals of bad lads Alan Turner (1982) and Eric Pollard (1986) and the show becoming simply Emmerdale (1989), our fave decade saw many changes in Beckindale (as it then was).

Wishing you all the best for the future, Emmerdale! Tonight we'll be toasting your future success in true 1980s Woolpack fashion!

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Emmerdale At 40 - And In The 1980s...

A couple of e-mails from readers as Emmerdale approaches its 40th birthday on 16 October.

Rod writes:

Why do you focus on the 1980's? If it was anything like the 1970's episodes I have seen it was dead boring and naff!

That's all a matter of opinion, Rod! I loved the show right from its lunchtime beginnings in 1972, but in 1980 several things happened which increased my enjoyment hugely: Al Dixon arrived as the legendary Silent Walter, Clive Hornby and Jean Rogers took on the roles of Jack Sugden and Dolly Skilbeck - both would be long-stayers, and Seth Armstrong, played by Stan Richards, became a full-time permanent character. On top of this, the Merrick family were revamped and recast and gave us some splendid gritty drama and an attempt to actually portray modern teenagers as permanent characters. The character of Amos Brearly, played by Ronald Magill, became more eccentric and funny and all in all a delicious brew became even more delicious in my view. Wading on further into the 1980s (1982 and 1984), we saw the arrival of the (as it turned out) hugely lovable Alan Turner and his long-suffering secretary Mrs Bates, the terrifying reign of Harry Mowlam and, to cap it all, the arrival of Eric Pollard (1986). 1989, of course, brought us the Tate family.

All shows evolve, and the '80s era was my favourite in the show. That's why I chose to highlight that decade on this blog.

Claire writes:

This is a very valuable resource. Do you still like the show? Could you extend The Bugle to the 90s and beyond?

Well, I didn't see much Emmerdale in the '90s - or beyond - so that would be difficult. I don't watch modern soaps at all because the pace is too fast for my personal taste. But I'm delighted that Emmerdale has survived all these years and shall be raising a glass to it on 16 October.

I have received copies of some very interesting 1980s Emmerdale Farm memorabilia from Sheila, who wrote to The Bugle some time ago about Al Dixon's Silent Walter - who lit up a quiet corner of The Woolpack from 1980-1985. I'll be putting them on-line as soon as possible. Many thanks to Sheila!

Saturday, 5 May 2012

The Truth About Walter...

Early 1980: Geoffrey Hooper's Walter chats to Amos Brearly (Ronald Magill).

Late 1980: Al Dixon's Walter says nowt.

This blog has some amazing fans! No sooner had I posted the previous article on the three Walters (one and the same character?) than I got this e-mail from Sheila:

I well remember Geoffrey Hooper as Walter and liked him a great deal. When Al Dixon became the new Walter in the early '80s, I couldn't accept him as the same character because he was so silent and odd. He was nothing like the previous version. Around 1981, when it became obvious that Al Dixon's version was not going to speak, I wrote to the production team asking if the two Walters were meant to be the same character, because they seemed so different. Clive Hornby and Jean Rogers had been cast as Jack Sugden and Dolly Skilbeck in 1980, but they resembled the previous actors and the characters were the same. The reply stated that the production team, headed by Anne W Gibbons, the producer, liked the tradition of a Walter at the Woolpack, but in casting Al Dixon, they had no intention of adhering to the character of the previous Walter. They wanted to create something fresh and original and so the idea came about that he would be silent.

The letter said that viewers could use their imaginations as to whether he was the same person as the previous Walter or not, so I decided that Amos, depressed by the death of his old regular Walter, had been happy when a new Walter turned up in Beckindale (Walter was a common name amongst aged men in those days) and had taken him under his wing, not at first realising how odd he was.

I wrote to the cast and production team several times in those days and have some lovely souvenirs. I'd be happy to scan some for you. I really enjoy reading your site and am always on the lookout for updates, which are all too rare!

Thanks for that, Sheila! It's amazing!  Thanks for your compliments, too. I'm a great fan of Al Dixon's highly distinctive Walter - he was the only SILENT Walter - and I'd love to see your souvenirs! I'll be in touch.

Friday, 4 May 2012

E-Mails - The Walters And Some Praise...

Terry writes:

Were the Walters in Emmerdale Farm supposed to be the same person in real life? I know there were three and they were very different, and it is the silent Walter played by Al Dixon from 1980-1985 who is the best remembered, but were they the same person in the program?

I'm not sure about Meadows White, but the other two Walters were definitely linked. Geoffrey Hooper's Walter was a Woolpack regular who spoke. It was a lovely piece of character acting, but Walter was not a fully-fledged character in those days - more background. Geoffrey Hooper's Walter last appeared in early 1980. The actor died, but Anne W Gibbons and the production team liked the tradition of having a Walter at the Woolpack and decided to play with the concept. The new Walter was very different - the one and only silent Walter - and achieved a cult following. Some confusion followed with some people thinking that Geoffrey Hooper's Walter had been silent, but that, of course, was not true.

I tend to think of them more in terms of separate characters because they were so different and because Al Dixon's Walter became such a cult. I think the Emmerdale production team expected its audience to be somewhat sophisticated and accept the fact that the new Walter was very different from the old and leave as a mystery whether they were the same character or not (were there two Walters in Beckindale? It was perfectly possible. If so, what was their history?) and just concentrate on Al Dixon as the "Silent One".

I must say that as viewer of Emmerdale Farm from the very early days, the only Walter that registered in my memory was the Al Dixon version. I was surprised to discover later that there had been others.

I recall a friend of mine some years uploading some late '70s Emmerdale Farm onto YouTube with Geoffrey Hooper as the non-silent Walter and us all being surprised that it was not the Walter we all remembered.

In the end, no definite explanation was ever offered - so if you like to believe that Emmerdale Farm was real life you can list the Walters as the same person (despite looking different and having different personalities) or as separate locals in Beckindale. Or you can accept what was going on behind the scenes and just enjoy the Walter tradition, whether your favourite is Meadows White, Geoffrey Hooper or Al Dixon!

And an e-mail from Sandra from March - sorry it's taken me so long to publish it!

Love this blog. It's well thought out, and well written. You really are a gifted writer because you make the old stories live and you have great understanding of the characters. The article you wrote about Jackie and Jack and the difficulties they experienced in finding a way of getting on together showed so much insight. I hope that a DVD company releases many more episodes. In the meantime, I hope you keep this blog going!

Sandra you are really kind. Thank you! The blog is updated infrequently because I'm tied up with other blogs and my work and I'm shortly about to go into hospital, but it will update at times - I promise. Thank you again.

We have an exciting update on this topic - see it here.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Ronald Magill's Music Choice - 1983

Ronald Magill as Amos Brearly, 1983.

More treasure from Carl "The Gresh" Gresham, who, in 1983, ran a series of hour-long programmes on his Radio Pennine show featuring various stars of Emmerdale Farm highlighting their favourite music.

Did Beckindale ever play home to a larger than life character than Mr Amos Brearly, licensee of the Woolpack Inn? Accomplished actor Ronald Magill took the role of a surly, nosy Yorkshire publican and made it one of the best loved characters in soap history.

One of the best things about Amos was how he evolved. In the era 1972-1979, he was a great character - a puffed up peacock of a man, given to fads, with a stout Yorkshire commonsense underlying. In the 1980s, with Stan Richards joining the cast full-time as Seth Armstrong and Seth transferring his custom from the Malt Shovel to the Woolpack, and Al Dixon arriving as the weird silent Walter, the character of Amos became odder and more lovable than ever, thrusting off the last few vestiges of commonsense and lurching through the decade at war with Seth over his allotment, launching his own local newspaper, seeing UFOs at Bogle Bog, fighting a bitter war with rival landlord Ernie Shuttleworth, visiting a health farm, keeping bees, seeing crop circles and literally dozens of other exploits. The character was voted Emmerdale viewers' favourite in several mid-to-late 1980s polls.

Walter, played by Al Dixon from 1980-1985, gets a roasting from Amos in 1984.

When Carl "The Gresh" Gresham brought Ronald Magill to Pennine Radio to play some of his favourite music, Mr Magill chose the wonderful world of the musicals, and his choices were nothing less than inspired, spanning from the classic "greats" right through to the early 1980s.

Ronald Magill was actually a quiet and cultured man, very different to the part he played on TV, but he displayed his great sense of humour when he announced that a Mr Amos Brearly of The Woolpack Inn, Beckindale, had sent a request to his musical choice show. What would Amos's choice be? And how did Seth Armstrong and Mr Wilks come into the picture?

This wonderful hour with the man who created an Emmerdale legend, is available simply because Carl Gresham is a bit of a hoarder. He kept the old Ampex ten inch tapes containing the Ronald Magill material, and, despite advice that they would have gone "crumply", persisted in seeking help so that they could be transferred onto CD. The result is an hour of sheer magic that might have been recorded last week!

Seth Armstrong - played by Stan Richards - annoys Amos at the 1983 Beckindale Christmas show.

Copies of Ronnie Magill's musical choice are available from:

PO Box 3. Bradford. West Yorkshire. BD1 4QN

The cost is £5.00 - including postage - which is a real bargain. Please make cheques payable to Carl Gresham. We don't usually go in for advertising or selling things at the Bugle, but this CD is, in our opinion, absolutely priceless!

No stranger to the stars - Carl "The Gresh" Gresham with Coronation Street legend Pat Phoenix.