Pat gives Jack some highly significant news in December 1981.
Ah, the Merricks!
Yes, the Merricks - a family that made a major impact on Emmerdale Farm from 1980-1989. They weren't there at the beginning of the decade. And, apart from Jackie Merrick's young widow, Kathy, shortly to remarry and change her surname, they weren't there at the end of the decade, either.
The Merricks began life in the early days of lunch time soap Emmerdale Farm in 1972. Ruth Merrick was the wife of yobbish Tom, and they (apparently) had three children. However, it seemed that the father of Jack/Jackie, the oldest child, was actually Jack Sugden...
After a few episodes, the Merricks left the village. Ruth returned briefly once, yobbish Tom returned once or twice, but apart from that the village was Merrick-less.
Fast forward to 1980 and the Merricks returned to Beckindale. Not that you'd have recognised them: Ruth Merrick was now called Pat (it was revealed in 1982 that her full name was Patricia Ruth Merrick, but that didn't really explain her sudden change of Christian name), she now had two children, not three, and the whole family, including Tom who only appeared intermittently, had been recast. Edward Peel, who stepped into Tom's shoes in late 1980, gave the character an intense and sneering edge previously unseen - and highly memorable!
By the end of the 1980s the new Merricks were no more. Pat and son Jackie (Ian Sharrock) were dead, and Pat's daughter Sandie (Jane Hutcheson) had moved away. Yobbish Tom (who had undergone another change of actor during the decade, morphing into Jack Carr) had no further reason to visit the village.
But the Merricks had packed an awful lot of action into the 1980s.
Helen Weir (Pat) recalled those days in a recent article in the Northern Echo:
HELEN Weir was married to on-screen husband Clive Hornby, who died last year while still playing the role of Jack Sugden. The couple divorced offscreen nine years ago and had a son, Thomas.
She took over the role of Pat Sugden for six years from 1980 and has fond memories of Toke Townley, who played Sam Pearson for 12 years.
“It’s been a long time since I was in it and I’m not saying it was better or worse, but it was definitely about the country. I was brought up in Yorkshire on Ilkley Moor and I loved working with the animals and, as Pat Sugden, I’d have my arm inside a cow bringing out a calf.
“But I did also have to be seen milking and the cows were always treading on my toes and virtually sitting on me while I was sitting on a three-legged stool.
“Clive was one of the mainstays of the programme and I think it was wonderful he was in the series for so long. His character went through so many trials and tribulations. He had so many ladies and actually had a lady friend before my character. In fact my character’s name was Ruth before I came into it and then it was changed to Pat. I think the way they held the funeral for Jack in Emmerdale was the most delicate way they could handle his death,”
Her character departed the series in 1986 after fatally swerving her car to avoid sheep on the road. “When people see me they say ‘when are you coming back?’ and I reply ‘I can’t because I went over the hill in my car’. It is quite strange filming your own demise,” Weir says.
Pat was a splendid character - and Helen Weir played her to perfection. We fondly remember her careworn days of living in the NY Estates caravan with Jackie and Sandie, her marriage to Jack, and her resolute refusal to be a domestic paragon of virtue like Annie. Dolly and Pat got on each other's nerves at times, and Pat certainly didn't see why she should always wash up the cups before the plates.
Her breakout from the kitchen to help the men with the farm work, and her strength during the Jack/Karen adultery story-line of 1984, were both loudly applauded by we Buglers of Beckindale.
Our best wishes to Helen Weir in all her future endeavours.