Monday, 11 July 2011

1989: The End Of The Matt And Dolly Years

When Matt Skilbeck married Dolly Acaster in 1978, it seemed that a happier era in his life was about to begin. Matt was no stranger to unhappiness and tragedy. His first marriage was to Peggy Sugden, only daughter of Annie and Jacob. It was a successful union, although Peggy was anxious for Matt to get on in the world and frustrated by his placid nature and tendency, as she saw it, to be taken advantage of.

Peggy died suddenly in 1973, shortly after the birth of twins, Sam and Sally. The twins themselves were killed, along with Matt's Auntie Beattie, when Beattie's car stalled on a level crossing and was hit by a train in 1976.

Dolly too had known unhappiness - the birth and subsequent adoption of a son, Graham, born of an unhappy relationship.

Perhaps the quintessential "Matt and Dolly Years", once jokingly referred to by comedienne Victoria Wood, began in 1980 - when Jean Rogers, the actress most associated with the role of Dolly, took over from Katharine Barker.

In the storyline, the couple knew some happiness - the birth of a son, Sam, and a move into a two bedroomed extension cottage at Emmerdale Farm - both events making 1982 something of a golden year for the couple. But there was also more turmoil and tragedy: Dolly lost two babies - the first at an advanced stage of her pregnancy in early 1980, the second in an early miscarriage in 1986 - the same year that Matt stood accused of murder.

As if that wasn't enough, Dolly's long-lost son turned up searching for her after deserting from the Army, a farmhouse called Crossgill, unexpectedly left to the couple, suffered a disastrous fire in 1988 and then, in the same year, Dolly had an affair with timber consultant Stephen Fuller (Gregory Floy).

And the Skilbecks' marriage fell apart.

Matt left Beckindale for Norfolk. Actor Frederick Pyne filmed his final scenes in November 1989 and the character last appeared on-screen in December. Dolly and young Sam (Benjamin Whitehead) remained in Beckindale until 1991.

It was a sad ending for what had seemed a happy and enduring screen marriage, and for some of the viewers' favourite characters.

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