Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Al Dixon As Silent Walter Of The Woolpack...

Here's Walter, the silent Woolpack regular, played by Al Dixon from episode 597, broadcast in September 1980. The character last appeared onscreen in December 1985. Mr Dixon had previously posed as Jacob Sugden with Sheila Mercier for a "props" photograph of Annie and her husband, Jacob, used in the original farmhouse set back in the show's early days.

During the 1,000th episode celebration programme in 1985, Al Dixon, who attended the celebration despite being in very poor health, was interviewed by Richard Whiteley who made reference to Mr Dixon never having spoken in 13 years in the show! This may have been an error, or a slightly confusing reference to Al's two silent Emmerdale incarnations - as Jacob Sugden in the photograph on the mantelpiece at the farm in the early days, and as Walter from 1980 onwards.

Sheila Mercier states in her autobiography, Annie's Song (1994), that she was unhappy with the choice of Al for her photographic husband. She wrote: "I thought that Annie should have a great lion of a man for a husband".

"Sunday Mirror", June 1983 - "I'd be out of 'Emmerdale' if I ever spoke any lines."

Al Dixon was the not the first actor to play a Woolpack Walter. Both Amos and Mr Wilks are seen chatting to a very different-looking Walter in episode clips from 1977 recently featured on YouTube and I have recently seen episodes from early 1980 featuring this "other Walter".
Actor Geoffrey Hooper was the first Woolpack Walter and, although various publications published since his reign proclaim him as being "silent", he did actually speak - quite often. From examples of episodes avalable to me and my readers, he broke the news to The Woolpack that there had been a train crash at the junction in 1976, and I'm reliably informed he told Annie Sugden at a village dance that he'd rather be having a drink with Amos. In an episode broadcast in early 1980 he told Amos he'd have a half pint of beer, not his usual pint! When Geoffrey Hooper died, The Woolpack was Walter-less for several months, before producer Anne W Gibbons decided that a new version was needed, as there was a tradition of having a Walter at the pub.

The Al (short for Albert) Dixon version debuted in September 1980 and was, of course, usually absolutely silent. I heard him mutter "Thank you" once in his very early days and he laughed out loud at Amos' plans to undertake some plumbing at The Woolpack in 1981 - but apart from that! Fans petitioned for him to speak, but Al Dixon thought it best not - or the character wouldn't be a novelty any more.

A clipping from the 1985 "Yorkshire Evening Post" "Emmerdale Farm 1,000!" supplement. Geoffrey Hooper's Walter was known to break his silence!

1983: Amos (Ronald Magill) was Walter's genial host.
Amos and his business partner Mr Wilks (Arthur Pentelow) with Walter - another shot from 1983.

Although Al Dixon's version of Walter hardly ever spoke, he had a highly expressive face and was one of my favourite Emmerdale Farm characters - one of Beckindale's unsung heroes of the 1980s. Sitting at the bar, supping his pint whilst the action went on all round him, he was absolutely priceless!
So, to sum up, Geoffrey Hooper was the Woolpack Walter of the mid-1970s to 1980, and Al Dixon was the Woolpack Walter of September 1980 to December 1985. There was another Walter in Emmerdale Farm, and he was on-screen earlier than either of the bar-propping Walters. Meadows White played a Beckindale Walter in episode seventeen in 1972, and in one or two subsequent early episodes. That particular Walter wasn't in the Woolpack, nor particularly quiet!

As Mr Dixon had such a distinctive face and was usually so absolutely silent, it is hard to know if he was supposed to be a continuation of Geoffrey Hooper's Walter character or simply another Woolpack regular with the same name. And the delightful thing was, as the two Walters were not fully-fledged characters whose lives were detailed in the show, you could believe what you liked!

"Daily Mirror", 23 May, 1985.

A TV TIMES tribute to Mr Dixon, published after his death in 1986. He had been in showbusiness for 74 years.

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