Sunday, 10 July 2011

1983-1984 - The Fall And Rise Of Alan Turner

Trouble brewing - Alan (Richard Thorp) and secretary Sue Lockwood (Debbie Bowers).

Alan Turner had breezed into Beckindale in March 1982 and had not made himself popular. The first thing he did was cancel the NY cattle hormone injection programme, the beloved brainchild of Joe Sugden (Frazer Hines).

Alan was a snob, who upset Amos Brearly (Ronald Magill) by taking him to play golf and not defending him when he was criticised by his Hotten Golf Club crony, The Major (Michael Sheard).

Joe found himself in various difficulties, some of them down to his own lack of experience, but Alan was unsupportive, silver tongued and basically lazy.

1983 saw Mr Turner coming badly unstuck. NY Estates imposed swinging cutbacks - up to 50% of the workforce may go, he was told, and the office would be computerised. A network of computers would be installed at the NY holdings, linked to Head Office, the secretary's post would be cut to three days a week, and the farm manager's post would be cut out completely. Alan would have to do the work previously undertaken by Joe, and Joe left to work for NY in France.

Alan blackmailed union shop steward John Tuplin (Malcolm Raeburn) into helping smooth the way with the redundancies. Alan had ensured that John was on the list of those who were to join the dole queue. If John made no waves with the union and the redundancies went through without any disruption to the running of the NY Beckindale holding, John would keep his job, Alan promised.

John hated the proposition. But jobs were hard to come by and he was a family man.

Alan managed to get the secretary's post reinstated to full-time, and a suitable applicant, fully trained in computers (not a widespread commodity in those days) reported for interview. She was middle aged and frumpy. Alan didn't want her. He didn't particularly want somebody who could do the work - that was not his priority. He wanted an attractive young woman.

Sue Lockwood was ideal. She was young, naive and lived at home with her parents. She was not trained in computing, had never used one before, but who cared?

Alan made her faintly uneasy. He smiled at her... He stared at her. But surely he was just being friendly?

Alan made his move after buying Sue a drink at The Woolpack. In his Land Rover outside, he tried to kiss her, and asked her to go back to Home Farm with him.

Sue fled into the pub, Alan pursued her, and there was a terrible scene. An hysterical Sue insisted on calling a taxi home, and the regulars looked on, bemused, as Alan tried to excuse himself to them. Sue was obviously confused... she obviously had problems...

Nobody was convinced.

Alan was now alone at the Home Farm office. He had undertaken a two day course at NY in computing, but it was still all alien to him.

"OPERATOR ERROR - PLEASE REPEAT LAST INSTRUCTION" was the oft-repeated text flashed up on the screen whenever Alan attempted to use the computer.

Seth Armstrong (Stan Richards) thought the computer looked like a telly, and asked if there was anything good on? Alan was not amused.

Alan hit rock bottom. The work was piling up. The computer printer was spewing out loads of printed paper - all gobbledygook to Alan. He sought solace in betting on the gee-gees and was so lonely that he even spent a boozy afternoon at Home Farm with Seth and Walter (Al Dixon).

Alan bought an answer phone for the office and hid behind it, not taking calls from his wife, NY head office, or his bookie with whom he was running up a considerable debt.

Falling into despair, Alan hit the bottle big time. One night, in early 1984, he got so drunk he fell from his bar stool in The Woolpack. Despite his protestations that the bar stools were "precarious", it was obvious that he had had far too much drink, and he was escorted from the premises by Jack Sugden (Clive Hornby) and Jackie Merrick (Ian Sharrock). Jack drove Alan back to Home Farm.

Jill Turner (Patricia Maynard).

Alan made himself unpopular with Matt Skilbeck (Frederick Pyne) and, once again, the workforce at NY Estates. Since late 1983, Matt had been taking care of NY's sheep on a part-time basis. This saved Alan from employing a full-time shepherd and looked good with Head Office. But John Tuplin felt a full-time shepherd was needed and Jock MacDonald (Drew Dawson), one of the men recently made redundant, was the ideal man for the post.

Matt was fed up with Alan, having discovered that he was a far from ideal boss, and after Jock and John spoke with him, decided to resign from his part-time post. Alan was furious, but was forced to employ Jock as shepherd.

Christopher Meadows (Conrad Phillips).

The new answer phone in the office was relaying increasingly clipped messages from Alan's NY boss, Christopher Meadows, who was wondering what on earth was going on as various reports due from the Beckindale holding failed to arrive at head office. Finally, he announced that he would be visiting Home Farm.

Alan could not hide the state of chaos at the office, although he bluffed that everything would be all right - this was just a glitch. Christopher gave him three months to sort things out.

Alan's estranged wife, Jill, herself a businesswoman, turned up, asking why Alan was not meeting his share of the bills? She had an itemised list - beginning with school fees. Alan paid no interest in the education of their children, Terence and Mary, she said, so the least he could do was pay for it!

Alan was initially defensive, self pitying and lying. When Jock MacDonald fell from some stacked hay and broke his wrist, and John Tuplin reminded Alan that the hay had needed re-stacking for some time and was one of a number of safety issues Alan had let fall by the wayside, Alan ranted to Jill that he had fought for the workforce over the redundancies and this was how they repaid him - by blaming him for something that wasn't his fault!

For a time, it seemed that legal action might be brought against NY Estates because of the accident, but Alan pulled strings and told Jock that it was basically his own clumsiness that had caused him to fall. Basically, his job would be safe if he didn't rock the boat!

Jill still had a fondness for Alan and helped him, her greatest contribution being to employ a new "temp" secretary for him.

It was with some regret over the sad state of his twenty year marriage, and a desire for reconciliation, that Alan waved her off when she left Home Farm.

Soon afterwards, the "temp" secretary arrived - Caroline Bates (Diana Davies) - "Mrs Bates" to Alan Turner (and indeed in the show's closing credits).

There were bumpy times ahead. And Alan was certainly not a reformed character. He was a true Emmerdale Farm groundbreaker - the first permanent character who actually consciously acted badly, manipulating and bullying for his own advancement and self preservation.

But with Mrs Bates, fully trained in computing, in post and soon no longer a "temp", Alan's amusing "overgrown schoolboy" side began to show more and more, together with some warmth and kindness.

And Mrs Bates thought he was funny. On the quiet.

One of Alan's first acts to impress her was to buy a proper coffee percolator for the office and banish the dreaded instant.

Demonstrating it to her, he managed to tear open the packet of coffee and spill it everywhere.

Mrs Bates averted her gaze and smiled quietly to herself.

It was the beginning of a great Emmerdale partnership.

More heavy drama lay just over the horizon, but with Seth Armstrong buzzing in and out of the office, and Alan thundering "GET OUT SETH!", and Mrs Bates hiding her amusement over his basic wally nature, the atmosphere at Home Farm lightened considerably and it soon became one of the great Emmerdale comic scenarios.

I must end this post by saying that 1984 saw the start of one of my favourite Emmerdale eras of all time - the era of Alan Turner and Mrs Bates.

Happy days!

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