"Eighteen going on eight," was how my mother once described Jackie Merrick (Ian Sharrock).
It was late 1982 when Jackie Merrick torched the NY Estates caravan where he had lived since 1980.
Jackie was a troubled teen. Fashion-wise he was a disaster in those early years - several comments here have claimed that in real life he would have been ragged unmercifully by his mates for wearing out-dated clothes, and I think they may have a point. Some people have also pointed out that it was easy to see that actor Ian Sharrock was years older than Jackie as no self-respecting teen would have been seen dead looking like that - particularly by millions of people on television!
But in some ways it was fitting. Jackie was not the brightest lad in Beckindale, and since his mother had walked out on his "father", Tom, in 1980, his world had been turned upside-down. Bedding down into a job as Seth Armstrong's assistant at NY Estates was one of the best things to happen when he left school in 1981, but that was threatened when Jack (Clive Hornby) blurted out that he was Jackie's real father later in the year.
The resulting tumult, with Tom Merrick (Edward Peel) also having to come to terms with the fact, spilled over into 1982 and led Jackie to consider running away.
Things settled down, and Sandie (Jane Hutcheson) persuaded Jackie to make the run-up to Pat's wedding to Jack as happy as possible, and to attend the wedding with a smile on his face. Jackie did well, but after the briefest of stays at Emmerdale Farm whilst Pat and Jack enjoyed a couple of days away on their honeymoon, he moved back into the NY caravan that he'd occupied with his mother and half-sister since late 1980. The reason was a falling-out with Jack.
When Jackie turned eighteen in late 1982, Jack bought him a new gadget - a personal stereo. Pat (Helen Weir) thought the gift was a little OTT - they did seem posh and new-fangled in those days. Jackie was actually quite pleased with the gift, but kept a sullen upper lip.
The return of Jackie's old mate, Graham Jelks (Richard Tolan), on leave from the Army, and Graham's attempts to persuade Jackie to enlist, led the lad to the recruiting office.
There had been changes at NY Estates. The arrival of Alan Turner (Richard Thorp) as Beckindale manager in March 1982 had caused various headaches for Jackie. Despite protestations from Jackie's immediate boss, Seth Armstrong (Stan Richards), Alan would insist on Jackie being taken away from his primary tasks to do general labouring whenever the occasion demanded.
Joe Sugden (Frazer Hines), as farm manager, tried to smooth things out, but he was fighting a losing battle with Alan.
The crunch came when a shooting party on NY land, set up to impress a business contact of the company, turned out disappointingly. There were hardly any birds to shoot at. Jackie was in charge of the shoot and, due to his being frequently re-assigned to labouring tasks, plus a tendency to skive off and stand around yakking, had not prepared things properly.
Alan was furious and gave Jackie the sack.
Shortly before this, Jackie had heard he'd been accepted for the Army. Pat was convinced he didn't really want to go, and he certainly didn't seem happy at the prospect.
But then he rarely seemed happy at anything.
Having been sacked by Mr Turner, Jackie bought some beer and got drunk. He ranted to Sandie about the family's changing fortunes since 1980, declared the caravan a dump, and then torched it.
Sandie had been experiencing problems of her own. A couple of dates with the local vet (a man in his mid-20s!) had earned the 17-year-old girl the nickname "randy Sandie" at school. And now Andy Longthorn (Mark Botham) was once again looming large in her life. As the caravan blazed, she could only stare, horrified and scared out of her wits...
And Jackie certainly wasn't going into the Army now. He was in trouble.