Monday, 24 May 2010

E-Mails - Edward Peel As Tom Merrick, The Missing Merrick, And Meg Armstrong

1985 Emmerdale tribute article. Intense and snarling - Edward Peel took on the revised role of Tom Merrick in 1980, to be followed by Jack Carr a few years later. The fact that David Hill had once played a lazy, twisting version of Tom Merrick years before had been forgotten.

Maria has written:

I liked your post about the Merrick family. I used to lust after Edward Peel's Tom Merrick! I remember David Hill in the role, and, not to be rude, he was neither smouldering or attractive! Mr Peel had it all - a devious bad boy we ladies could love! Characters were often rewritten in Emmerdale Farm, weren't they? Ruth Merrick became Pat, and nobody could say she was chosen to look like the previous actress in the role. The same, as I've already mentioned, with Edward's Tom. I also recall the Merricks had three children originally, but in 1980 one of them was simply written out of existence. Ursula Camm's Meg Armstrong was also very different to Ruth's Holden's Meg in 1986. Ursula's was quiet, unhappy and stay at home, Ruth's was loud, eccentric and out and about. Great blog to read. I'm a long-time fan. Keep up the good work!

Thanks, Maria!

The Merricks had originally been a brief, "passing through" story - and when they were revamped in 1980, the writers transformed them into an interesting long term story-line concept. Edward Peel, of course, did not resemble the original Tom (David Hill) and Helen Weir did not resemble the original Ruth Merrick (Lynn Dalby).

In particular, Edward Peel's Tom had a snarling intensity that had previously been completely lacking.

Interviewed about his role as Tom years later, Mr Peel played down his impact, saying that Tom was simply up to his old tricks, but comparing episodes with David Hill and Edward Peel reveals that the character had become a lot more menacing and downright angry in the Edward Peel era.

It must be remembered that the Merrick family had previously featured as a short story-line eight years before, when VCRs were unknown in the UK, so viewers were not able to check what the family was originally like - although the Emmerdale Farm novels by Lee Mackenzie faithfully recorded the original facts about them, third child and all.

I don't know why Ruth's first name was changed to Pat - although at Pat's wedding to Jack in 1982, it was revealed that her full Christian names were Patricia Ruth, it didn't quite add up.

Whilst Coronation Street employed an archivist and most past story-line facts were rigidly adhered to (there were howls of protest when the age of Ken Barlow's twin children was altered to fit in with a story-line in 1978), Emmerdale Farm took a slightly more relaxed approach to its past.

As for Meg Armstrong - I think that the downtrodden Meg character, as played by Ursula Camm, had been taken as far as it could go, and that's why the character was so drastically altered in 1986.

Emmerdale Farm was never afraid to rewrite bits and pieces of its history!

Left: Ursula Camm as Meg Armstrong in 1983: downtrodden and frankly fed up with Seth's drinking, she locked him out of their home. Right: Ruth Holden was the new Meg Armstrong in 1986: chirpy, religious, and absolutely barking, she terrified Amos Brearly when she worked at The Woolpack for a while, told Mr Wilks that one of her favourite hymns was called "The Ship Of Temperance Is Sailing To The Port", and called Seth "poppet".

Friday, 21 May 2010

The British Soap Awards: "Emmerdale Didn't Take Off Until After The Plane Crash!" Oh, Really?

Sunday Mirror, 3/7/1983: "Emmerdale Farm" is making a quiet assault on the TV ratings. It is at number 5 in the ITV top ten, rivalling "Crossroads" for the title of Britain's most popular show after "Coronation Street"..

Sonia has watched The British Soap Awards, and is surprised at something said on that show:

I watched avidly and was startled to hear from Claire King that Emmerdale didn't take off until after the plane crash! Why on earth was it kept on for all those years beforehand? I was outraged!

Lol! Sonia. In terms of ratings, I think that Emmerdale had its highest ever for the plane crash drama. I have the monthly ratings from January 1994 which show it achieved 16.8 million viewers.

In February 1994, it scored under 11.2 million viewers, falling out of the Top Twenty monthly ratings completely, which surprised me.

Comparing more typical ratings, I went to November 1994 (well after the plane crash) to find the show scoring 11.5 million viewers, as compared to 12.5 million viewers ten years earlier in November 1984.

It can, and should be stated, that mainstream satellite TV was nowhere in 1984, so that would boost ratings for the show as there were only four channels to view, but it must also be stated that Emmerdale Farm wasn't properly networked in 1984 - major ITV regions Anglia and Thames were showing it at teatime, and many people were not aware of its existence, so it was doing very well indeed.

It should also be stated that satellite TV was not as established, popular or diverse as it is today back in 1994, the BARB monthly top twenty ratings were still composed of BBC and ITV programmes, and Emmerdale was then being shown countrywide in an early evening slot, so that probably evens the score.

Its ratings always appear to have fluctuated.

Perhaps the BSA speech writer has been reading Wikipedia?

I wouldn't be "outaged", Sonia. The statement is what I call a "Wiki-ism" (many people do trust Wikipedia - although it's the source of a lot of dodgy info!) and simply to be taken with a pinch of salt.

It was certainly great to see Claire King again!

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Esholt And The Woolpack...

Roger asks:

Was the village of Esholt in Yorkshire chosen to represent Beckindale simply because it had a pub called the Woolpack?

No, Roger. Esholt didn't have a pub called The Woolpack originally. The village's Commercial Inn was transformed into The Woolpack for exterior shots by using two fake signs - as seen in the 1980 pics at the top of this post. The Commercial was renamed The Woolpack in the early 1990s - thus making life for the Emmerdale production team a little easier!

Yorkshire Television arrives for another day's filming. And once The Commercial has been transformed into The Woolpack, Annie Sugden (Sheila Mercier) emerges after a visit to Amos (Ronald Magill) and Mr Wilks (Arthur Pentelow).

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

1980: The Merricks Arrive...

The Skipton bus conveyed some passengers of great interest to Beckindale in September 1980...

... it was Pat Merrick and her teenage offspring, Jackie and Sandie. Pat had already paid one visit to Beckindale a month or two earlier, but minus her children. Now she had returned with them and much luggage...

Of course, their arrival did not go unnoticed!

The Merricks had at least one friend in Beckindale - Nellie Ratcliffe who remembered Pat from years before and extended the hand of friendship. She and the kids were welcome to pop into her cottage for a cup of tea any time!

The family was bound for Pat's auntie's house...

Jack Sugden was surprised to see Pat back in the village so soon after her last visit. Was this another visit, he asked?

No, replied Pat - this time she had come back to Beckindale "for keeps".

Annie Sugden told Pat that if there was anything she could do to help, she had only to ask. The folk at Emmerdale Farm had faults like anybody else, but they weren't gossips.

Pat told Annie that she'd cope, but that she'd finished with her husband Tom for good.

Life with Pat's Auntie Elsie was not exactly harmonious. Elsie Harker was used to having her house to herself, and kept it spotlessly clean. Two teenagers around the place, marking her table and playing loud music was not her idea of happiness. And then there was the little matter of Pat's cigarettes - they did smell so!

Pat confided in Nellie Ratcliffe that she needed a job and other accommodation for herself and the kids. Nellie knew that neither would be easy to find, but Pat solved her first problem by landing a job as a waitress at Hotten Market Cafe.

Nellie went to see Richard Anstey at NY Estates about the stone flagged floor in her kitchen. If she had to endure another winter with it she'd catch her death of cold, she told him! Richard promised to get it looked at, then Nellie asked if NY Estates had any other affordable accommodation in the village - for Pat and her family.

As it happened, Richard knew of a caravan on the estate, intended as accommodation for the gamekeeper, but as Seth had a cottage in the village...

Pat was extremely grateful, and although the caravan was cramped and on the grotty side, it was vastly preferable to life with Auntie Elsie's constant harping.

Then, not long before Christmas, Tom Merrick came swanning (or rather sneering!) into The Woolpack, and was soon paying a visit to the caravan.

Pat told him that their marriage was over.

Tom asked her who was taking care of her needs? He'd heard a rumour about Jack Sugden... just like the old days, was it?

Pat told him to leave.

Tom teamed up with Derek Warner to steal Christmas trees from the plantation at NY Estates. The duo were nearly caught by Joe Sugden, and Derek, who was driving, bumped Joe with his van, knocking him flying. Joe was not really injured - just some aches and bruises, but Sandie had seen the occupants of the van and was pretty sure Tom was in the passenger seat...

As Beckindale headed into 1981, it seemed that more troubled times ahead - and that the Merricks' stay in the village was going to be anything but peaceful...

1987: No Nukes In Beckindale...

A public meeting at The Woolpack, chaired by the Rev Donald Hinton (Hugh Manning), Henry Wilks (Arthur Pentelow) and Alan Turner (Richard Thorp) was dominated by the brothers Sugden...

Jack (Clive Hornby) saw the prospect of the nuclear dump as something to fight. There was no question about it:

"If they can prove to us that the ground around here is as solid as they say it is, bring on the nuclear waste!" he sneered.

"We'll all be happy, reason has won the day! Well, try telling that to farmers in the Dales who've got young lambs registering on the gieger counter! Our only course is to fight so that they can't come to Beckindale to talk or to do tests or to do one damn thing! And that's what we've got to believe. Everybody that lives here."

He looked at his brother Joe (Frazer Hines), standing quietly at the bar.

"And that means EVERYBODY!"

Joe pointed out that this was 1987. Did that mean we wanted radiation? Jack fumed.

Joe did not approve of Jack's outlook. He wanted an objective debate about the proposed nuclear waste dump. The "burning haystacks" method of blind resistance Jack favoured struck no sympathetic chord in Joe.

Feelings were running high in in Beckindale, and another public meeting, this time at the village hall and attended by a representative of the nuclear dump backers, took an unexpected turn when a coffin bearing a radiactive warning symbol was carried in.

"You claim that the risks of nuclear waste are no greater than smoking one cigarette a year," said Jackie Merrick (Ian Sharrock) to the nuclear "yes" man.

And cigarette smoke began to rise from a hole in the coffin lid.

And the coffin lid was pushed aside.

And a skeleton emerged.

A skeleton which sounded amazingly like Archie Brooks (Tony Pitts):

"Well, I think I'd rather have one fag a year than your waste on my doorstep!" it said.

Of course, smoking the fag to make this point was no hardship to Archie - a devoted smoker back then.

The 1987 Emmerdale Farm nuclear waste dump story-line was based on a true story, and hailed as a major step forward in the politicisation of soap.

Monday, 3 May 2010

Did Judy Westrop Know Walter?

Jane Cussons, who played Judy Westrop, and Al Dixon as Woolpack Walter.

Carol asks:

Have you any photographs of Judy Westrop (played by Jane Cussons) in the Woolpack with Walter (Al Dixon). What a contrast, elegant Judy with wonderfully weird Walter in his cloth cap!

Sorry, Carol - the best I can do is above!

Judy's final appearance in the show was in episode 596, broadcast in July 1980. Al Dixon made his first appearance as Walter in episode 597, broadcast in September 1980, after the series' annual summer break. Sorry, but the two never met!