Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Emmerdale Farm - Always A Soap...

A scene from the soapy '70s - Sam Pearson is held at gun point.

I've just received an e-mail from Janine:

I've just read on a Crossroads Network Forum that Emmerdale Farm went downhill and became a soap in the mid-1980s. Did it? Or should I be taking notice of Crossroads fans?

In my opinion, Emmerdale Farm was always a soap (despite producer Richard Handford stating it wasn't in 1985), and I saw the series from its very early days. I recall the car crash involving Joe and Mr Wilks, the murder of Sharon Crossthwaite, the death of old Trash the tramp, the Vicar's son being charged with gun running, the death of Peggy Skilbeck - and the brutal way her children were despatched, the suicide of Jim Gimbel (he shot himself), and the gun hold-up storyline involving Amos, Mr Wilks and old Sam Pearson. There were lots of cliff hangers, lots of storylines designed to bring in viewers.

Soap was frowned upon in the 60s, 70s and 80s - and several soap producers refuted the claim that their shows were soaps, including Bill Podmore, producer of Coronation Street.

But Emmerdale Farm always adhered to a soap format - the show simply became pacier, grittier and more daring in the 1980s.

As for whether you should take notice of Crossroads viewers, I used to like it myself!

Saturday, 21 June 2008

Annie Sugden And Sheila Mercier

From the Emmerdale Farm Celebration Edition 1000 Episodes Magazine, 1985.

Annie Sugden

Ever since she was widowed thirteen years ago, Annie Sugden has felt responsible for Emmerdale Farm and the Sugden family. Life has not been easy for her, coping with financial crises, warring sons and the loss of her only daughter. But she has faced the problems courageously. She's a strong, level headed woman, loyal to her family but not blind to their weaknesses, and she speaks her mind when she feels it's called for. Annie's honesty is usually appreciated and people often turn to her for advice, but the years haven't dulled her sense of humour. She enjoys a joke as much as anyone in the family.

Sheila Mercier

"Annie Sugden has changed a great deal over the years," said Sheila Mercier. "At the beginning she was very terse. She was the head of the family and let everyone know it. She ruled with a rod of iron. She'd had a tough life. She'd had a rough ride with Jacob, who used to drink the money away and sit in the Woolpack until all hours. Jack didn't live at home then and it was Annie who kept the farm together. Until Henry Wilks came along they were poor farmers, living hand-to-mouth.

"But now things are different. Jack has made a success of Emmerdale and Henry's interest in the farm and Annie herself has made her relax. She's mellower now."

Sheila Mercier enjoys playing Annie and has learned to live with the fame it brings her.

"People often stop you in the street and say 'Oh. I'm sorry I thought I knew you.' Or they call out 'Oi! Are you Annie Sugden?' Others write to Annie asking her to solve their problems."

Ocasionally though, the attention is unwelcome.

"I do think it's rude when people interrupt your meal to ask for autographs," said Sheila. "And once a woman with a bag of fish and chips ran after me shouting 'Oi! Oi! Annie! Sign this fish and chip paper for me!' "

Sheila has been interested in acting for as long as she can remember. Her whole family was in love with the threatre. Her mother had a beautiful singing voice and spent a great deal of time organising shows to raise money for the church.

"My brother Brian Rix and I used to hide under the piano and listen to them rewhearsing," said Sheila. "My father was a ship owner and he didn't go on stage himself, but he used to make all the scenery. We had a little cottage in the grounds of our house where he kept all his stuff and he was always sawing and hammering and painting. He loved it."

When her mother wasn't putting on shows, she was throwing lively parties at which everyone did his party piece. Sheila's speciality was the dramatic poem.

"My favourite poem was called 'Ojistoh", about a Mohican woman who is captured by another tribe. It's quite exciting," said Sheila. "I learned it at elocution lessons when I was eleven, and when I recited it the mistress said 'That girl will be an actress.'

"The funny thing is, years later when I was in the airforce I was asked to do something for a concert. I couldn't think of anything to do until I remembered 'Ojistoh'. Anyway, in the audience that night were some tough Glaswegian boys from the Argyll and Sutherland Regiment and when I launched into 'Ojistoh' they started to laugh and they laughed me off stage!" It was Sheila's worst theatrical disaster.

Spotted at drama school by Sir Donald Wolfitt, she was invited to join his company and spent a great deal of time staying in seedy digs while they toured the country.

"The funny thing is when you're young you don't seem to mind," said Sheila, "and the landladies could be kind. In Norwich one of the other girls and I were staying with a Mrs Pigani who discovered that we liked Welsh Rarebit. It turned out to be her husband's speciality and we had it for supper every night!"

Since then Sheila has worked in countless productions, including comedies with her brother Brian Rix. These days, however, she's happy to swap the irregular hours of the theatre for the more settled life of television.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

1989: Denis Rigg

Businessman Mr Wilks knew Denis Rigg's type - and told him so.

1989 saw local businessman Denis Rigg causing many problems for the Sugden family. He wanted to buy Emmerdale Farm and turn the land into an open quarry, and stooped to various devious means to get his way.

Annie told Joe that she wouldn't settle anywhere else - she wanted to see out her days at the farm. Joe was opposed to Denis' plans anyway, and told him so - the farm was expanding, not being sold off to become a quarry.

Denis thought that Mr Wilks might be an ally, and called on him at The Woolpack. But Mr W was having none of it - a former businessman himself, he knew Denis' type and told him so.

Denis' next port of call on that fateful July afternoon was to Emmerdale Farm - where he found Joe tending to his prize bull in one of the outbuildings. Denis started off with promises to make Joe wealthy if he sold the farm, but ended up furious at Joe's continued refusals. The bull became distressed by the angry human, and Denis ended up crushed against the wall.

The visit to Emmerdale Farm was the last visit Denis Rigg ever made.

Monday, 16 June 2008

1989: Annie Sugden's Tranquilliser Adiction...

"These last few days I've felt like staying in bed. Not getting up, not ever...."

I frowned upon the Emmerdale Farm storyline which portrayed the serial's sensible matriarch, Annie Sugden, being hooked on tranquillisers and going through agonies to break the habit.

I didn't like soap folk behaving out of character, it didn't seem true to life. Nowadays I rarely view soaps, but I have learnt a lot more about life and have come to the conclusion that real people often behave out of character. And aren't soaps supposed to reflect reality? Well, at least that was the intention back in 1989!

Annie had endured lashings of heartache: her husband, daughter and two grandchildren had died in the 1970s, and her father and daughter-in-law in the 1980s (after the tranquilliser addiction storyline, Annie would face further heartache with the death of her grandson, Jackie).

So, perhaps the tranquilliser storyline was not that unlikely at all.

Saturday, 14 June 2008

The 1980s - Amos Brearly's Golden Decade

Amos and Alan Turner in 1983

An e-mail from Lizzie:

I've just watched some Emmerdale Farm episodes from 1975 and 1978. Is it me, or was Amos more restrained in the 1970s? He seemed pretty potty but not half as potty and oddball as he did in some episodes I have from 1983! I loved this character, but I think the 1980s was probably his heyday.

I agree, Lizzie - Amos was always great, but the character was refined and honed to perfection by the early 1980s. Like a fine wine, the character was all the better for maturing. I always hail the 1980s as the golden era of Amos and Mr Wilks!

Friday, 13 June 2008

You Love 1986

Thanks to everybody who voted in my recent poll. Your favourite '80s year of Emmerdale Farm action appears to be 1986 - the year of Meg Armstrong, Harry Mowlam, Eric Pollard, Walter's departure and Pat's death. The year Seth Armstrong cheated at the Woolpack Vs Malt Shovel Dominoes Tournament and Joe Sugden had an affair with Karen Moore. The year Sandie Merrick began her affair with Phil Pearce and Jackie Merrick lost Sita Sharma.

The results are:

1986 - 18 votes

1984 - 16 votes

1989 - 14 votes

1980 and 1987 - both had 8 votes

1988 - 6 votes

1985 - 5 votes

1982 - 4 votes

1981 and 1983 - 1 vote each!

Saturday, 7 June 2008

Was Emmerdale Farm Really Modelled On The Riordans?

An interesting e-mail from Stu:

I've just read on Wikipedia that "Emmerdale Farm" was modelled on the Irish soap "The Riordans". This is not evident from any Emmerdale material I have from the 1970s or 1980s. Although the production team may have visited "The Riordans" set and location to gain insight into filming in a farming location, isn't "modelled on" a bit strong? After all, "The Archers", the BBC radio soap based on a farming family and a village, has been running since 1951. So the basic idea can hardly be said to have come about via "The Riordans".

I really don't know, Stu. I hadn't read that information until recent years on Wikipedia. If anybody has any further insights, please drop me a line and I'll pass it on to Stu.

Incidentally, I recall The Riordans being shown briefly in my ITV area years ago. I thoroughly enjoyed what I saw of it.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Some Beckindale Cast And Characters - September 1984

Some of the cast and character details from the Hotten Courier, Yorkshire TV's publicity pamphlet for Emmerdale Farm, September 30, 1984. Did you know that Hugh Manning (the Rev Donald Hinton) also starred in the highly successful 1960s series Mrs Thursday? That Arthur Pentelow (Mr Wilks) was a keen birdwatcher, just like his character? That Al Dixon (Walter) hoped his character would never speak? Or that Sheila Mercier (Annie Sugden) is the sister of Brian Rix?

Also from The Courier, Al Dixon, who played the second Woolpack Walter, and contributed so much to the pub's atmosphere, celebrated four years at the bar in 1984, having debuted in September 1980. Mr Dixon suffered a stroke in late 1985, but continued to appear on-screen until Christmas, when he had a small role in the village play, Toad Of Toad Hall. The play sequence, plus another scene with Walter knocking on the door of the Woolpack at opening time, to be admitted by Amos, had been filmed on location in Esholt before the actor fell ill.
In early 1986, Walter departed from Beckindale to stay with his sister in Worthing. It was hoped that Al Dixon would recover from his stroke and return to the show, but he died not long afterwards.