Sunday, 9 August 2015

Beckindale 1983 - Behind The Scenes...

I know several actors, and, for the majority, it's a funny old life. There they are, one month serving in a wine bar or doing a Christmas temp job at Boots, the next doing a bit-part in Emmerdale, the next "resting", the next auditioning for a stage play and probably not getting the part...

Of course, for many actors a regular role in a long-running soap is a dream (and for some, given current standards of a lot of the plots, it's also a nightmare), but back in the 1980s it was a funny old life working on Emmerdale Farm or Coronation Street or whatever. Today, much soap drama depends on the out of the ordinary, the bizarre, the downright absurd, but back in the 1980s the majority of soap action centred on people nattering about, and doing, everyday things.

And that must have been exceedingly difficult to convey with a load of technical paraphernalia all around, plus being watched and directed by a load of people the actors had to pretend didn't exist.

Here's Jean Rogers (Dolly Skilbeck since 1980), Sheila Mercier (Annie Sugden since episode one), Toke Townley (Grandad Sam Pearson since episode one) and Frederick Pyne and Frazer Hines (Matt Skilbeck and Joe Sugden - both original cast members) standing around in the rain at a Beckindale event in 1983, with little Sam Skilbeck (born 1982) out of vision, apparently asleep in his pram.

Annie's plastic headscarf (14p from Woolies - a snip!) is such an important style detail in setting the tone.

Just how "everyday" and of their time the cast looks, and the fact that they are conversing in character, apparently oblivious of the onlookers and the sound boom hovering above, is something I find fascinating.

Skill, or what?

Thursday, 6 August 2015

"Nay, Nay Mr Wilks" Mystery Mug

September, 1981, and Amos Brearly (Ronald Magill) ensures there's a warm welcome at the Woolpack.

In 1980, Seth Armstrong became a full-time Emmerdale Farm regular. He deserted the Malt Shovel in favour of the Woolpack, where he discovered the endless delights of baiting Amos Brearly. In his new found respectability as NY Estates gamekeeper, Seth had plenty of time to scive off and haunt the bewhiskered landlord. And poor old Mr Wilks was often caught up in the attacks and counter-attacks, trying to bring reason to bear. "Nay, nay, Mr Wilks!" Amos would bluster (in fact, in moments of high dudgeon it was usually thrice "nay").

Poor Mr Wilks!

That man deserved a medal.

We're still catching up on our comments and Sara wrote:

I have a mug featuring a caricature of Henry Wilks, Amos Brearly and Seth Armstrong. It is stamped on the bottom 'Churchill England'. Do you know anything about it?

No, Sara, sorry. I do have one, but it was bought for me as a present a few years back, second hand, and I don't know its origins. Does anybody else?

Andy At Emmerdale Farm...

Me at Emmerdale Farm many moons ago. I'm sure Amos would have said: "That lad fancies himself a bit, and them trousers aren't decent, Mr Wilks!"

Another comment that I received some time ago and haven't yet answered (sorry - I'm guilty of many things, but being organised is not one of them!) asks:

Did you ever visit the old Emmerdale Farm set or have any contact with the cast?

No, but I visited Esholt and Lindley Farm, locations of Beckindale and Emmerdale Farm. That's me at Lindley Farm above (face blanked out to protect those who are disturbed by the grotesque), and my wife organised me a birthday card and sent it to Ronald Magill, the fabulous Amos Brearly, for signing. But that's about it.

My life was going full throttle back in my youthful days, and I didn't have much time to ponder the show or write to its performers. Needless to say, the birthday card signed by Ronald Magill (and Amos) is now a treasured item. It was a complete surprise and Mr Magill had even written on the back of the envelope: Not to be opened until 18 October.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Robert Sugden - A Character From The '80s?

Walter (Al Dixon) has a lovely night out at the Woolpack in the 1980s. Danny Miller and Ryan Hawley set out to recreate that Walter magic in 2015. Ryan wins. The resemblance is uncanny. Is Robert Sugden really Walter's secret son? Nothing is impossible in modern Emmerdale...

I've had an interesting email, so many thanks to "robron man" who wrote it...

Robert Sugden, now played by Ryan Hawley, is one of the best characters ever in Emmerdale. And he dates from the 1980's, doesn't he? The son of Pat and Jack, back in the days when Amos and Wilks kept the Woolpack and Annie was in the old farmhouse?

Don't you think the complex storyline of Robert's affair with Aaron Livesy eclipses anything shown on Emmerdale in the 80's? And don't you think you could bring the blog out of the brick mobile phones and shoulder pads decade a bit? I think the stories back then lack the real life complexities of the stories now. In the 1980s, everybody in Emmerdale Farm was straight and it all hinged around Matt and Dolly wanting a baby then having a baby, Annie making the dinner, Amos having fads and Alan Turner turning out not to be such a swine as he originally seemed after all. It was OK, but in the 21st Century soaps are a lot more adventurous and don't "play safe" as much.

Can you honestly say that Alan Turner and Mrs Bates or Walter and Amos are more compelling than modern Emmerdale?

Hmm... well, I saw an episode of Emmerdale a few weeks ago, which is rare, and was surprised to see somebody there who was apparently Robert Sugden. After your email, which I apologise for taking such a long time to reply to, I did a little research on the "Robron" story-line and I think the bisexuality angle would be interesting enough in itself (and Hawley and Miller's acting is quite excellent at times) without the ruthless killer bit thrown in. And, as you say, Robert is a character from the 1980s - the son of Pat and Jack, grandson of Annie and great-grandson of Sam Pearson. Bisexuality is fine, but does he really have to be such an OTT nasty git?

As for the complexity of modern story-lines compared to the 1980s, well, I find many of the modern stories laughable. This "Robron" thing appears to have reached a climax with a burning car blowing up and a helicopter falling through the village hall roof. Too many killers. Too many disasters. Not enough of the trivia of life.

And to all those revisionists who try to make out that Emmerdale Farm was always a den of drama - dramatic events used to be much rarer. Even in the old days, we viewers enjoyed a good disaster, but I certainly find the current trend, with soaps trying to outdo each other with what seems like almost constant mega-horrors, rather daft.

That's why I gave up on the soaps, in fact.

As for Emmerdale Farm characters in the 1980s... well, there were some pretty darned interesting folk around back then, and it was far from being all Monk's Best Ale and Annie Sugden's pigeon pies. Harry Mowlam, for instance, was a disturbing yet fascinating baddie. and, of course, the decade introduced a certain Mr Pollard.

But people drank tea, did the ironing and chuntered on more. There was more of the essence of everyday life.

That's what I enjoyed when I used to come home from work and click the telly on. I'd put my mini-pizzas in the oven, start to scrub up for a night out, and listen to Amos and Mr Wilks.

"Robron" simply doesn't have the same appeal.

Neither does the helicopter falling through the roof.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

The Emmerdale '80s Bus - Part 1

This is a bus with a difference. It travels through time. The Emmerdale '80s bus will drop us at various stops to glimpse life during that decade at the farm and in the village. We begin at December 1984...

Jack is having an affair with Karen Moore, a young auctioneer at Hotten Market. The relationship began when Karen sympathised with him after Emmerdale Farm Ltd decided that his purchase of some pedigree cows had been wrong back in the summer. Even Pat had sided with the others, and Jack had felt suddenly confined by his life at the farm. Ever the free spirit, Jack had kicked back hard, and Karen's sympathy had seemed very attractive. Jack had begun seeing her. By December, he was living with the fact that he was in love with two women.

Matt Skilbeck knew what was happening. He was worried as Christmas was looming and it was to be the first without Grandad Sam Pearson, who had died shortly before. Joe, who was working in France, would be coming back to England for the festivities, but this would be a difficult Christmas for all of them - especially Annie.

Being Jack, the author, the thinker, the simple approach of deciding between his wife and Karen was not a path he could easily take. He loved Karen. He loved Pat. He didn't want to hurt either. And yet he was hurting both. Pat had been his youthful lover, the mother of his son. She now represented family and security; Karen was young and free - she represented the unfettered life Jack also wanted to live.

Pat knew what was going on and was devastated. She reflected on what a difference a bit of tinsel made to the parlour at Emmerdale, and, slightly bitter, commented that she had kept a piece for herself. She had relocated to the boxroom as far as sleeping arrangements were concerned.

Over at Home Farm, Alan Turner showed off his policeman's costume for the Beckindale Amateur Players forthcoming production of The Pirates of Penzance. He'd asked Mrs Bates to get some Christmas shopping for him, including a gift for Jill, his wife. Mrs Bates had chosen a pretty nightie for her. She was unaware that Jill and Alan were estranged, but got a glimpse of the sad state of Alan's personal life when he awkwardly confessed that he didn't give his wife such "intimate" presents.

Later, Alan surprised Mrs Bates by presenting the nightie to her as a present. He was sad and awkward; spoke more about the state of his marriage, and said that he wanted to thank Mrs Bates for her nine months of help at NY. Mrs Bates protested, the gift was too expensive, but Alan insisted and quietly retreated, leaving Mrs Bates feeling as sad and as awkward as him.

Young Sam Skilbeck was celebrating his second birthday, and his parents took him out to feed the geese at the farm. Dolly reflected sadly on the harsh realities of farming life - the fate of the geese now Christmas was upon them, and said she thought it would upset Sam if he knew. Matt pointed out that it also upset her - every year the same!

Annie had preparations for Christmas well in hand in the kitchen at Emmerdale Farm, with Sandie as her assistant. Sandie asked if they could make up a parcel for her father, Tom, who was in prison. Annie happily agreed - pies, sausage rolls, etc.

Annie was delighted when Joe phoned. He would soon be with them. She passed on Matt's jovial comment that he owed them eighteen months' worth of milking!

In the parlour, Annie commented to Pat that there had always been laughter in the house when Joe was there. Pat, aware that she hadn't been very jolly recently, apologised for any signs of misery, but Annie hurried to reassure her: she hadn't been getting at anybody.

Over at the Woolpack, Amos Brearly had been treating the villagers to some truly terrible sounds as he practised for his role in The Pirates of Penzance. There was no Mr Wilks on hand to try and keep Mr B under control. Henry was in Italy, attending his daughter Marian's wedding.

Amos commented that the audience at the rehearsal for Pirates had all been very moved by his singing. Mike Conrad retorted that the audience had certainly MOVED when Amos began singing. Amos rejected that - humph! - but was frightened that he was losing his voice. Would everything be all right on the night?

Seth Armstrong was in The Pirates too, of course.

 As a pirate.

Of course!

Mike Conrad was in love with Sandie Merrick. But the feeling wasn't mutual. Mike confided in Walter, telling him he was sure he knew how he felt. Walter silently assured him that he did.

Up in the attic bedroom at Emmerdale Farm, Jack reflected on the tangled state of his love life. He loved Karen. He loved Pat. To Thine Own Self Be True... Pat had been upset when he'd arrived home in the early hours of the morning, having slept with Karen. He'd had to get back because of the milking. On another occasion, when he'd moved to comfort her, she had been furious - he stank of Karen's perfume!

Jack was hurting Pat.

Jack was hurting Karen.

Jack was hurting Annie, and Matt, and everybody who knew at Emmerdale. Sandie Merrick was having to work with Karen at Hotten Market, knowing that she was sleeping with her mother's husband. Jackie didn't know. Jack couldn't bear to contemplate what the knowledge would do to the fragile relationship he had built with his son.

Pat came in to ask if Jack had bought the bracelet they'd decided on for Sandie's Christmas present? He had. They talked. Pat cried, said she missed him so much, couldn't imagine life without him. Did he want her to leave Emmerdale Farm? Jack was shocked - of course not! It was her home. Pat replied that in some ways she'd never felt she really belonged there. It was HIS home. Jack held her close... they kissed... and... the boxroom had no occupant that night.

Anarchistic goof Archie Brooks didn't really want to be a policeman in The Pirates. He insisted on wearing his CND badge on his uniform.

Joe arrived back in Beckindale and took a stroll around the farm, remembering Grandad Pearson.

It was not going to be an easy festive period.

But, of course, he had no idea of just how difficult it was going to be...