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.