Monday, 11 July 2011

The Gresh

Now, just who or what is "The Gresh"?

Ask many actors and actresses from the TV world of the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and beyond and they will not hesitate to tell you - "The Gresh" is Carl Gresham, himself an actor and radio presenter, Carl ran his own agency - Greshstyle Personal Appearances - for many years. It was Carl who brought many favourite stars of TV and radio to meet the public at various "Grand Openings", fetes, etc, organising everything himself, from fees and transport to the production of photographs of the individual stars - "Greshpics" as they were called.

And WHAT names he brought to meet us at various locations!

Remember the "Shut That Door!" man, Larry Grayson? Sparkling comedy duo, Morecambe and Wise? The lady behind Mrs Ena Sharples, Violet Carson? The lady behind Mrs Elsie Tanner, Pat Phoenix? The very lovely Alexandra Bastedo of The Champions? Radio legend Tony Blackburn? The man who brought a generation of children lots of Record Breakers, Roy Castle? Our traveller abroad, Judith Chalmers? Purveyor of the Diddymen, Ken Dodd? Grandad and Dad's Army legend, Clive Dunn? "Ooh, you are awful!", Dick Emery? TV legend of many decades, Bruce Forsyth? The very zany Goodies? "Diddy" David Hamilton? Mr Opportunity Knocks ("And I mean that most sincerely, folks!"), Hughie Green? "I'm free!" John Inman? Mr Hudson, the best butler in Mayfair, Gordon Jackson? The comically warring Mildred and George Roper, Yootha Joyce and Brian Murphy? Quick witted comedian and telly legend, Bob Monkhouse? Radio's very own Mr "Open House", Pete Murray? Dr Who and Worzel Gummidge star, Jon Pertwee? 1960s and '70s TV star and fashion icon, Peter Wyngarde? The man from the JY Prog, Jimmy Young? Well, The Gresh booked them all and many more, and his book, THE GRESH - A Lifetime in Show-Biz, contains many fascinating anecdotes about these much-loved stars.

The Gresh and Hughie Green - remember the days of the old Clappometer?

Who gave David Hamilton his "Diddy" nickname? Why was Margot Bryant (Minnie Caldwell of Coronation Street) concerned about her clothes on a public appearance? Which famous star gave a free rendition of his cabaret act on the platform at Leeds railway station when the train was delayed? It's all in the book - a lovely relaxing read, and wonderfully nostalgic.

Larking about with Emmerdale Farm and Dr Who legend Frazer Hines.

For us Beckindale fans, The Gresh brought several of our favourites to meet us, the public, over the years - including Frazer Hines - remember "our Joe", his long quest to meet Miss Right, only to keep meeting Miss Wrong, and his "upwardly mobile" career at NY Estates in the 1980s? "The Gresh" is still firm friends with Frazer. When the character of Joe was killed off in the 1990s, many of us thought the decision absolutely barking mad and the character, one of the first penned by series creator Kevin Laffan, is sadly missed to this day.

"The Gresh" also brought us our favourite soap pub landlords - Amos Brearly (Ronald Magill) and Henry Wilks (Arthur Pentelow), a fabulous pairing, friends and business partners, who were on tap at The Woolpack from 1973, right through the 1980s (which was Amos's golden era), until 1991! Have they been forgotten? "Nay, nay, nay, Mr Wilks!"

Amongst our other Emmerdale Farm favourites, "The Gresh" brought Sheila Mercier, the legendary Annie Sugden to meet us, Frederick Pyne, our much-loved gentle shepherd Matt Skilbeck, and new stars of the 1980s Clive Hornby and Jean Rogers, who stepped into the roles of Jack Sugden and Dolly Skilbeck, and made them their own.

As well as booking the stars for us to meet, Carl has also been a broadcaster, disc jockey, presenter, musicologist and actor. He appeared in episode 298 of Coronation Street in 1963, as a cycling club friend of Jerry Booth called Harrier. Reproduced in the book is a copy of Carl's contract for that appearance, which makes for fascinating reading!

Dear old Jerry Booth (Graham Haberfield) was a keen member of the local cycling club in the early 1960s. Spot "The Gresh" - he's standing on the far right of this photo.

The Gresh with Coronation Street legend Pat Phoenix.

THE GRESH - A Lifetime in Show-Biz - is a lovely relaxing read, bringing back memories of many favourite stars, and providing some fascinating insights. I polished it off in three sessions, and can tell you it was a real "feel good" experience, an excellent choice for anybody who remembers the TV and radio golden days of the '60s, '70s and '80s, and who has ever queued up for the pleasure of shaking hands with a favourite star and gaining a cherished autograph at public appearances.

For details of how to obtain a copy, and lots more Gresh-style fun and nostalgia, check out Carl's own web site, here -

Still bringing the stars closer to the public, Carl now has his own show on Bradford Community Broadcasting - he's seen here with much-loved comedy duo Cannon & Ball - Rock On, Tommy! For more details about The Gresh on the radio click here -

Sheila Mercier - Living With Fame

Sheila Mercier as Annie Sugden, matriarch of "Emmerdale Farm", in the 1980s.

An early signed publicity photograph.

From the Daily Mirror, May 23, 1985:

Sheila Mercier, who plays the head of the farming household, Annie Sugden, has been the female anchor of the show since the first episode.

But she has mixed feelings about the programme.

She is delighted with its success, and it has given her a secure living for the past twelve years. "But," says Sheila, "it has completely mucked up my home life. I missed out on my son Nigel's formative years."

"The worst thing is that when you're out people grab you and try to kiss you. It's dreadful. I try to be as remote as possible."

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.

1983: Wild Oats Farm - And Old Walter's Saying Nowt!

Sunday Mirror, June 26, 1983:

Look out, Coronation Street and Dallas - Emmerdale Farm is on your trail! ITV's "forgotten soap opera" is back in the TV top ten ratings, with a British audience of between nine and twelve million a week.

It has a prime evening showing in most ITV areas except Thames. The programmes cast and makers argue that if Emmerdale Farm got a proper showing in the London area it would be a serious challenge to Coronation Street and Crossroads. The tale of everyday life on a Yorkshire farm has millions of followers in places as far away as Egypt and Sweden.

We went to find out why the world is hooked on the goings-on behind the gritty grim exteriors of the village of Beckindale.

At this time, Rosie Kerslake was coming to the end of her role as vicar's daughter, Barbara Peters, who had set the village aflame with gossip by having an affair with Joe Sugden. Barbara was married, although estranged from her husband.

Said Ms Kerslake:

"I'd like to think I'm more patient and less insensitive than Barbara. At times she can be bloody-minded and tough. I'm nothing like as tough as she is."

Frazer Hines was also bowing out, although he would return later in the decade.

Ian Sharrock said of Jackie Merrick: "It was great when I was going around being objectionable, burning caravans down and smashing things. I was really horrible. Now, though, the character has calmed down a bit, and personally I'm just a little sad. It was all right Jackie Merrick being Yorkshire's answer to James Dean providing he could grow up to be a sort of JR in wellies. But if he's going to be very mature and responsible from now on, I think I'll wind up disliking him intensely!"

Meanwhile that much-loved silent Beckindale hero of the earlyto mid-80s was attracting much attention. Yep, fans had signed a "give Walter summat to say petition". But Al Dixon, the man behind the legend, said: "I'd be out of Emmerdale if I ever spoke any lines."

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!

1980: Joe Goes To NY Estates

Matt, Jack and Joe in the Emmerdale Land Rover, 1980.

When Joe Sugden (Frazer Hines) returned to England from his stay in America with Ed Hathersage in the summer of 1980, he found that Jack (Clive Hornby), who had returned in February, appeared to be settling in at the farm.

The purchase of two Friesian cows by Jack had been agreed with Joe via telephone, but he knew they were something that could not have been afforded when he was farm manager.

Jack had bought them out of own money.

Joe had enjoyed running the farm, but the presence of his brother meant that he was no longer in charge. And Jack had very different approaches to farming and the land: Jack was an emotional idealist, Joe a pragmatic, go-ahead farmer who believed that sentiment should not stand in the way of progress.

After a couple of drinking sessions with NY Estates boss Richard Anstey (Carl Rigg), Joe was amazed when Richard offered him the job of manager of the NY farms in Beckindale.

Joe was tempted: NY was go-ahead, heartlessly so, certain people said, and the job would be a challenge...

It would also be a way of breaking free of the faintly uneasy atmosphere at Emmerdale Farm. Who was in charge? And how long would it be before Joe and Jack fell out? Joe discussed things with Annie (Sheila Mercier) and Jack, and decided to take the job.

Annie would never have dreamt of influencing her son's decision either way, but she found his absence from Emmerdale difficult. As did Sam Pearson (Toke Townley), who was also hurt that Joe had not consulted him. But Joe had not wanted to worry his grandfather about something that may not happen. As it was, he handled things quite badly and Sam was upset.

The house was quiet without Joe, but after a few visits from him, Sam and Annie began to perk up.

Trouble at NY - Sergeant MacArthur (Martin Dale) made his first appearance in December 1980, investigating the theft of Christmas trees from the NY Estates plantation.

Meanwhile, at NY Estates, Joe found the closing months of 1980 were certainly interesting: Jack disagreed with NY's decision to tear out an old hedgerow - which led to heated words with Joe, the Estate workers joined the union and gained a 5% pay rise, and Joe put forward the idea of hormone injection trials for the cattle: twelve steers would be tested, six injected with the hormones and six not, then compared after a six month period. Cowman Daniel Hawkins (Alan Starkey), who had been at Home Farm since the days of the Verney family, disagreed with this "unnatural" idea, but the trials began. Only 1981 would tell whether hormone injections for the NY Estates Beckindale cattle were to be impemented on a permanent basis.

Christmas trees were stolen from the NY plantation, and Joe was nearly run over by the thieves' van - Tom Merrick (Edward Peel) and Derek Warner (Freddie Fletcher) were the bad lads behind the theft.

As 1980 ended, Joe seemed to be settling in at NY - fraught though his first few months had been. He had a finger in two pies, still being on the board of Emmerdale Farm Ltd, and the future promised many more challenges.

In 1989, Joe told his mother that Jack had thrown him off the farm in 1980. This wasn't the absolute truth, but there was no doubt that Jack's return to the farm had seriously put Joe's nose out of joint. It is highly unlikely that Joe's move to NY would have happened had Jack stayed away from Emmerdale.

But for Beckindale the move led to lots of fascinating gossip, and for Emmerdale Farm viewers some highly enjoyable storylines.

Beckindale Meets The Real World - 1980s Pop Culture In Emmerdale Farm...

Beckindale was not immune to 1980s pop culture. The show took some of the fads from that fast-moving decade and provided us with some on-screen fun. In 1981, a Space Invaders machine was delivered to The Woolpack. Of course, it was all a mistake. Amos Brearly looked down his nose at such new fangled abominations - far more up Ernie Shuttleworth's street. The Invaders had been invented in Japan in 1978, previewed at a UK trade show in 1979 and then invaded the early 1980s, becoming one of the decade's first major fads.

Mr Wilks and Amos waited for the game machine company to pick up the Space Invaders machine and deliver it to the rightful address. Before this could happen, Mr Wilks was disturbed in the early hours of one morning by high tech noises emanating from the living room. He went downstairs...

To find Amos, he who (apparently) looked down on modern technological fads, absolutely glued to the machine...

... valiantly fighting a losing battle.

This article is from the Cambridge Evening News, 1981, and proves just how topical Emmerdale Farm was being by including Space Invaders in its story lines.

More about Space Invaders here.

In 1982, Sam Pearson became seriously ill with pneumonia. Recovering in hospital, he met a young fellow patient called David, who introduced Sam to the Rubik's Cube. Sam had a go and then dismissed it as too "new fangled" for him.

The Magic Cube had been invented by Hungarian Erno Rubik in 1974 and the first test batches released to Budapest toy shops in late 1977. In 1980, the Cube was re-manufactured, renamed Rubik's Cube and released in the Western World. The first Rubik's Cubes reached England just before Christmas 1980, although the country was not fully stocked until the spring of 1981 as there was a worldwide shortage.

The pictured article from The Sun, May 1982, shows that people were doing the Cube everywhere, and that Emmerdale Farm was once more absolutely on the button when it came to pop culture!

More about the Cube here.

Annie, Joe, Matt and Dolly - Reunited!

A YouTube clip showing original Emmerdale Farm cast members, Sheila Mercier (Annie Sugden), Frazer Hines (Joe Sugden), Frederick Pyne (Matt Skilbeck) and 1980 arriver Jean Rogers (Dolly Skilbeck) reuniting for a tribute to the serial. The script being acted during the clip is from 1981.

Hat tip to Will for spotting this.