Friday, 21 March 2008

Walter Altered - And Others Too!

I always thought that a change of actor was preferable to a death in Beckindale. Because of actors and actresses leaving, we saw several tragedies in the '70s and '80s which began to make the Sugdens seem just a little too tragic!

In 1972, the show began with the funeral of Jacob Sugden, and the following year his daughter, Peggy, died suddenly - as actress Jo Kendall had decided to leave the show. Recasting would have been perfectly acceptable in this fledgling serial, but it was not something English TV soaps were very "into" at that time - Coronation Street appeared to have set the standard there! The Skilbeck twins, Sam and Sally, were killed off in 1976 in a most appalling manner - killed in an accident at a level crossing, which was obviously a way of doing away with a loose thread from the Peggy/Matt marriage, and winning viewers.

In the 1980s, both Pat Sugden and Jackie Merrick died tragically when the actors playing the roles left the show.

And so the Sugdens built up a grim saga of tragedy - for purely off-screen reasons.

Sometimes, central characters were recast - although very rarely were they residents of Emmerdale Farm itself. But in 1980, the improbable happened twice...

From the Yorkshire Evening Post supplement Emmerdale Farm 1,000! - 1985.


"Emmerdale" has had four "doubles" in the cast, but the mos startling lookalikes have been Jean Rogers, the present Dolly, and Katharine Barker, the original one.

Dolly Skilbeck is expecting her second youngster - much to the delight of Jean Rogers, who plays Matt's pretty wife.

Jean just loves kids. She's a proud off-screen mum to Jeremy, 17, and Justin, 14.

And on screen, it's difficult to believe that she's not the real mother of Benjamin Whitehead, the little boy who takes the part of Dolly's son, Sam.

It's a relationship which Jean has worked hard at ever since three-year-old Ben joined the series as a baby.

One of her secrets was getting to know Ben's parents, Richard and Susan Whitehead, who own a butcher's shop in Otley.

And the Whiteheads took to Jean so much they asked her to become Ben's godmother.

Jean, who is divorced, goes to playgroup with Ben and his real mum and has become deeply involved in promoting the Pre-school Playgroups Association.

"Ben and I know each other well so now he acts perfectly naturally when he's in a scene with me," says Jean.

"The rest of the cast, too, make an effort to know him and win his confidence, which makes filming a lot easier."

Ben is so relaxed, that unlike some children, he doesn't mind if his mum isn't around on the set.

She goes off into another room and watches her son in action on a monitor.

Viewers can look forward to some authentic scenes when the new addition to the Skilbeck family comes along.

Sam's arrival was heralded as a great acting achievement for Jean, who said she just relied on her unforgettable experiences while giving birth to her own children.

"I think I gave the acting performance of my life that day," says Jean. "I let my mind go back to my own children's births and practically lived through them again.

"At the end I was quite exhausted. The nurse said I'd been so convincing she felt she should be handing me a new-born baby.

"And one cameraman was so overcome by my gasps, straining and cries, he felt ill and had to rush off for a glass of water!"

[Andy's note: Actress Helen Weir, Pat Sugden in Emmerdale Farm, became pregnant in real life at the time of the Dolly pregnancy storyline. Helen's pregnancy was written into the plot, and, sadly, there was room for only one baby on set, so Dolly's screen pregnancy ended in a miscarriage.]


The original Jack Sugden was played by Andrew Burt. The call of literature led to Jack cutting his ties with Emmerdale Farm and floating off to Rome to write a book of poetry.

However, Annie Sugden's elder son returned to the fold in the shape of Clive Hornby and revived his interest in the land... only to land the family with a few problems born of Jack's single-mindedness.

Andrew Burt, after leaving the series, went on to play many other TV roles.

So, two of the central characters up at the farm were boldly recast in 1980! Around and about the village, the Yorkshire Evening Post Emmerdale Farm 1,000th episode supplement noted a couple of other face changes...


The two actors who played the roguish Tom Merrick have also portrayed characters on the right side of the law. Edward Peel, the first Tom, is now to be seen as Chief Inspector Perrin in "Juliet Bravo", and Jack Carr, the second Tom Merrick who did a stretch in jail, played a police sergeant in "Coronation Street".

Merrick, who has disappeared again, probably to the oil rigs, is the father of Sandie and for a long time thought he was Jackie's Dad until it was revealed Jack Sugden had sired him in a long-ago affair with Pat.

[Andy's note: Tom was also played by actor David Hill in the show's early days. ]

Walter altered

Another "double", of course, was the two Walters....

Geoffrey Hooper was the original silent*, bar-propping regular at the Woolpack, but sadly, he died some time ago, and he was replaced by the present Walter, former music hall entertainer Al Dixon.

*In actual fact, Geoffrey Hooper's Walter often spoke.

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