Thursday, 3 April 2008

Beckindale Youth - 1986

A schoolgirl in 1980, Sandie Merrick was apparently aged around thirty in 1986.

Was there ever a girl who was old before her time more than Sandie Merrick? The traumas she suffered - getting pregnant by Andy Longthorn at the age of eighteen, the loss of her mother when she was around twenty-one, and the beginnings of her affair with married builder Phil Pearce just afterwards prematurely turned her into a right old fogey. But not a very wise one as it turned out.

Even back in the caravan days of the early 1980s, Sandie seemed a stabilising influence on Pat and Jackie, almost a maternal influence herself. And, having become pregnant by Andy Longthorn in 1983, she was sensible about the baby after a brief period of going to pieces. She was a realistic character - Sandie had learned to be a coper because of her difficult childhood.

But her musical tastes were wildly inconsistent. Whilst Nick Bates taunted sister Kathy about having Bay City Rollers LPs when she was a little girl, Phil Pearce, chatting to Sandie on a cosy evening at Demdyke, harked back to some wonderful old R'n'B records a lad at the local Scout Hut had played him back in his own 1960s youth period - which had encouraged him and some of the other boys to form a short-lived band.

Sandie told Phil she went back as far as David Bowie and the late Bob Marley - which wasn't actually that far at the time as both had had major UK chart hits in the early 1980s. But these were both considered "serious" pop people and Sandie omitted to mention her "wild" times at the Vicarage (when the Rev Hinton was out) whooping it up to Shakin' Stevens with Jackie and Andy c. 1982.

Because of her attitude, her lack of teen/early twenty-something silliness, her world weariness, the fact that she preferred sitting in the Woolpack to night clubbing, I somehow got the feeling that Sandie was not referring to going back as far as Ashes To Ashes in 1980, but Bowie's debut with Space Oddity in 1969!

Sandie had no recollections to offer Phil of the 1970s 1950s-style pop idols in her not-so-dim and distant childhood either - no dewy-eyed recall of screeching at Alvin Stardust, Mud, the Rubettes, the Rollers or even Racey on Top Of The Pops. She wasn't even a Donny fan as a little 'un it seemed. She was terribly serious and out of her own age range.

I liked the character of Sandie, but there were times when I felt, as with many youthful characters in Emmerdale Farm and Coronation Street in the 1970s and 1980s, that the performer behind the character should have been a little more similar in age and/or the writers should have been a little more aware of current trends. Jane Hutcheson was somewhat older than the character she portrayed and often Sandie seemed of a similar age.

I was a contemporary of the Sandie Merrick character, as was my peer group at the time, and it was a lot more fun going out to "Nite Spots" and dancing to the likes of Noo Shooz and the Pet Shop Boys than sitting in Demdyke Row wittering on about David Bowie with somebody else's spouse who also happened to be at least ten years your senior.

Silly Sandie!

Mind you, the character Rosemary Kendall, who moped around the farm for a while in the '70s, seemed even more out of date.

In the 1980s, Archie Brooks - the lovely layabout with the off-beat '80s dress-sense, constantly proclaiming his strong (Old Labour) Socialist principles, was a Beckindale character I recognised from real-life people around me. Archie was very cutting edge for a soap.

So, as far as Emmerdale Farm's representation of youth was concerned, all in all, things were certainly looking up in the '80s.

It beat the teens-written-by-forty-somethings inhabiting Coronation Street during that era hollow.

But if only Sandie hadn't gone from eighteen to thirty in about a year.

When she became involved with Phil Pearce I felt that the character lost all credibility, any commonsense she had possessed had completely gone to the wall, and she was now just a vehicle for a cheap storyline. Onscreen, it seemed that Sandie was simply courting trouble for the sake of it, the storyline felt manufactured (rather like the relationship between Joe and Karen Moore earlier in the year) simply to plug gaps in the air time.

With Sandie we now had the worst of both worlds. Her character was flat and too mature for her age, yet she had a childish lack of sense when it came to romance.

It was a shame that Sandie was used in this way. If the production team had thought things through just a little more, I'm convinced that the character could have become one of the strongest in the show.

And I would have loved to have seen her bopping to Opportunities - Let's Make Lots Of Money in deelyboppers and shoulder pads at Blimps Nite Spot in Hotten.

Just once.

Down with Thatcher! Down with capitalism! No Nukes! Archie Brooks (Tony Pitts)- '80s activist and layabout, was an inspired creation. He's seen here with the enjoyably stroppy and clumsy Jackie Merrick and smoothy boy Terence Turner in 1985.


  1. Sandie was fabulous in the beginning, I was so impressed with her and with Jackie... real teens...but yes, you've got a point, and I wasn't convinced by her later years - she was far too much of a frump for her age.

    When it comes to soap youth there's being immature, being average and being mature for your age. And then there's being plain unconvincing.

    Which latter day Sandie certainly was.

  2. Anonymous26.4.08

    It was hard to believe that Sandy wasn't older than she was in the late 80's. And there was no on-screen chemistry between her and Phil. It wasn't convincing.
    It was a shame because Jane Hutcheson was a bloody good actress.

  3. Anonymous17.10.10

    I liked Sandie a lot, and found nothing wanting in her performances.

    A Canadian viewer.

  4. Anonymous15.11.10

    Nobody's saying that. We're simply saying that the character acted far too old for her age as time went on. Jane Hutcheson was born in 1956, Sandie in the mid to late 1960s. Speaking as an English teenage girl of roughly Sandie's age in the '80's, I found her maturity very odd. The character was written and played by people too old to have any insight.