Saturday, 31 May 2008

The 1980s - Did Emmerdale Farm REALLY Become "Dallas With Dung" Or The "Dynasty Of The Dales"?

Thanks to Anonymous for a very interesting e-mail.

Anoymous is interested in the idea that Emmerdale Farm may have become rather "Dallas/Dynastified" in the 1980s. Surely, he/she asks, if Les Dawson was dubbing it "Dallas with dung" in 1984 and the Sunday People "The Dynasty of the Dales" in 1985, this is an indication that the show had gone '80s era American soap style glitzy/sensationalist?

Er, no, not really. You must remember that Les Dawson was a comedian - a champion of the witty remark! Story lines of 1984 included a water shortage, Mrs Bates beginning work at NY Estates and the shooting of her dog for sheep worrying, Amos being annoyed by Ernie Shuttleworth's attempts to put The Woolpack in the shade, and the death of Grandad Sam Pearson

Dallas and Dynasty did make their mark on the English soaps in the 1980s - and, indeed, the Scots soap Take The High Road: Alan Turner, Eric Pollard, Dirty Den and Davie Sneddon, amongst others, were all "bad guy" characters - clearly created on the back of the public's fascination with JR Ewing of Dallas.

But Emmerdale Farm stayed down-to-earth and was, in fact, at times very gritty in the 1980s.

That's not to say that glitzy 1980s fashions were not featured - of course they were. You didn't need to be able to afford "designer" gear as Dolly Miami Vice Skilbeck shows in the 1989 photograph above. Shoulder pads were available at C & A! And then there was Nick's mullet, Archie's clobber and many other clues to the era to be found around Beckindale.
In 1980, the country was flooded with "Who Shot JR?" mania. The soap "bad guy" character concept, featured on a permanent basis, then went wide - and was leapt on by our home grown soaps, including Emmerdale Farm. Alan Turner turned up as boss at NY Estates' Beckindale outfit in 1982, and was supposed to be a real swine. But he ended up a wally and a bit of a sweety. Whilst newspapers of the era still dubbed him the "JR of Beckindale", by about 1986 Alan was actually Beckindale's adored twit. A bit selfish, an occasional git, but basically a darling. Inadequate more than anything else.

In 1986, Eric Pollard entered the fray and proved to be a long-staying swine. Perhaps he wasn't just a swine, but he was certainly more of one than Alan had ever been and became Emmerdale Farm's enjoyable pantomime villain - deliciously camp, narrowing his eyes (one could almost imagine him twirling his moustache) and going after whatever he wanted, blackmailing, stealing and cheating along the way. Other 1980s villains included the terrifying Harry Mowlam and his sidekick (and later murderer) Derek Warner - far too gritty to be Dallas influenced, and hard hearted businessman Denis Rigg, who perhaps was a little.

So, whilst Emmerdale Farm was certainly influenced by the American soaps, it was actually simply fun to declare it "Dallas with dung" or "The Dynasty of the Dales". Tongues were firmly in cheeks. And when Hilary Kingsley described the character of Angela Channing in Falcon Crest as looking like an "upmarket Annie Sugden - but without the ironing board" I roared with laughter.

Hilary Kingsley also wrote about the "growing wealth and influence" of the Sugden family in 1988, but I'm not sure that this was actually reflected on screen at all. True, Joe worked for NY Estates for a time, but the financial situation at Emmerdale Farm never seemed that brilliant - and in 1989 Joe was talking to his mother about the difficulties of having Jack back living and working at the farm, and the fact that it must be regarded as a business if it was to continue to support the family. The place was undergoing some much needed refurbishment in 1989, after apparently "making do" since the start of the series!

So, no real glitz and gloss - just a few chain store shoulder pads, dodgy hairstyles and other 1980s fashion horrors, a certain JR influence, but no Alexis, and what about the story lines?

The American soaps tended to have outrageously silly story lines. Remember Blake Carrington and the poisoned paint? Alexis posing as a nun? Pam's dream? The Moldavian Massacre? There were murders, plane crashes, fires and explosions galore.

Emmerdale Farm wasn't like that in the 1980s.

The English farming soap became grittier, the stories a little more explicit, but adultery, a security van robbery, a car accident, an accidental shooting, a couple of burglaries, a murder and a house fire (at Crossgill) can hardly be called OTT when spread over a period of ten years. The infamous badger baiting episodes were a fascinating glimpse into the underbelly of country life.

The soap also took on the issue of nuclear waste - a controversial modern day issue, and dealt with it admirably.

If anything, Emmerdale Farm was far more influenced by the new English soaps of the 1980s - Brookside and EastEnders - than the glossy American fantasy sagas.

We tuned in to see Archie the layabout and activist; Jackie the lovable clot with the disastrous love-life; Annie at her Aga; Matt and Dolly and lots of sheep; Amos, Mr Wilks and Walter at the Woolpack; Mrs Bates and Alan Turner; Seth (and occasionally Meg) Armstrong; and, later, Beckindale's very own Dick Dastardly, Eric Pollard.

In the 1990s and 2000s, Emmerdale has become more influenced by the 1980s era American soaps. Remember the plane crash of 1993? Kim Tate testing to see if her husband Frank was dead with her compact mirror in 1997 - and then pausing to repair her make up before leaving? So camp. Alexis would have been proud! There have been so many disasters - explosions, murders, shootings, rapes, a highly dramatic storm...

And a very bizarre (and ugly) story line about a coffin and a garbage crusher.

Was Emmerdale Farm in the 1980s the "Dynasty of the Dales"? I think this was said in response to some of the increasingly gritty story lines (although it was hardly appropriate to compare Dallas and Dynasty with grittier goings-on in Beckindale!) and mainly in fun. It was very amusing to compare Amos and co to Alexis and co! Certainly, Les Dawson made his "Dallas with dung" statement to make his audience laugh. Creating laughter was his trade.

Was/is Emmerdale in the 1990s and 21st Century the "Dynasty of the Dales"? I would say Definitely - and a whole more! And these days there isn't much dung, either!


  1. Anonymous4.6.08

    1993 – Plane Crash
    1994 – Post Office Raid
    1998 – The Woolpack Blown Up by Fireworks
    2004 - The Storm
    2006 – House Collapse
    2007 – Annie’s Cottage Fire

    6 disasters in 15 years – hardly OTT

    Yes it does have murders, car crashes, relationship problems and doom and gloom, but I would have to say the first episode from 1972 says a lot about the show in general.

    It began with a funeral of all things, so people must have had some indication of what it would be like.

    Emmerdale has always been about different characters and their day to day lives and people these days seem to criticise it purely for what it is and always has been – a soap opera. But yes the 80s was the decade when the show became faster and more political, but the only real different back then was the less episodes per week so the scriptwriters and producers had to make the programme more dialogue-based and as stated there was a lack of special effects.

  2. Thanks for that.

    But I'm not just talking about "disasters" requiring special effects. I'm talking about Kim Tate's "Alexis" style evilness. I'm talking about the death rate spiralling - according to the not terribly accurate Wikipedia there have been nearly 50 deaths since 1990.

    I'm talking about the escalation in bizarre and/or violent storylines - Dave Glover's death in a fire after his affair with Kim; Linda Fowler being left to die after a car crash; the van and mini bus collision in the village; the burning of the church by Zoe Tate; the later destruction of Home Farm - in which Zoe was also involved; Max King's dramatic death; Tom King's awful end - ditto Luke McAllister's and Sarah Sugden's.

    The tone of the programme has altered, the bizarre is now far more the every day (remember the coffin and the garbage crusher?) and generally I believe that Emmerdale, since the early 1990s, is far more comparable to Dynasty or Dallas than it was in the 1980s.

  3. Brian4.6.08

    I find it offensive that you say "Emmerdale" now is "The Dynasty Of The Dales". Dynasty was great, naff escapist entertainment. Emmerdale is a load of cobblers. It has been since the plane crash in the 1980s.

  4. Er, the plane crash was just after Christmas 1993, Brian - almost four years into the 1990s.

  5. Brian4.6.08

    Sorry - I typed an "8" when I should of typed a "9".As for disasters in the 90s, they were always having them. I thought it couldn't possibly compete with the tragic Sugdens - they were always popping off in the 70s and 80s! But it beat them hollow.

  6. Anonymous5.6.08

    I think the first comment in this thread is funny. 6 disasters in 15 years? What soap has that guy or guyess been watching?

  7. Anonymous5.6.08

    I actually meant major disasters, not including things like car crashes, robbery, suicide, etc. Things like that do happen occasionally and people seem to think that just because Emmerdale is set in the Yorkshire Dales it can't cover the same storylines as say Eastenders or Coronation Street. Soaps have always had disasters, but technology changes and therefore all soaps look vastly different now to when they started due to the spectacular SFX and the fact that new characters are introduced along the way, but that doesn't make them a new show. I mean look at Coronation Street, where's Bet, where's Stan & Hilda Ogden? Does that mean it's not the same show now as it was earlier in it's run. The same can be said for Eastenders - in 1985 it was all about Den, Pauline, Arthur, Michelle, etc. - none of these characters are still around now, but it's still Eastenders.

  8. The point of my article was to look at the impact that American soaps of the 1980s era have had on Emmerdale, in answer to an e-mail I received on the subject.

    I think that by 1980s EF standards, car crashes, robbery and suicide would be reflected as major disasters, particularly in a close knit village like Emmerdale.

    I've just watched the repurcussions of Pat's death in 1986. The storyline continued for several episodes, and became quite a deep and disturbing depiction of what our modern day head shrinks call "the grief process".

    The fact that the whole tone of the show has altered in many ways is what interests me - we now have JR and Alexis types stalking the Dales as a matter of course, and (by 80s Emmerdale standards) sometimes bizarre storylines.

    You really needn't leap to the defence of modern day Emmerdale.

    I'm not criticising it.

  9. Well, apart from the garbage crusher meets coffin storyline!

  10. Anonymous6.6.08

    I agree that was far-fetched even today, but it's not something that couldn't happen in real life. The problem was it was badly written and what could have been a good revenge storyline was made to look more like a horrific pantomime.

    I personally would like to see more of what they've done recently - the cot death/baby swap, E-coli outbreak and domestic violence storylines have been exceptionally well portrayed and that's what I'd like to see Emmerdale do more of in the future - more human events.

  11. Brian6.6.08

    A "violent pantomime" just about describes Emmerdale now. It's nothing like the 80s. Dynasty was supposed to be daft. ITV have taken a great soap and made it pathetic - it just appeals to sensation seeking twits. And that coffin story was in no way true to life.