This week saw the announcement of the death of one of the pioneering women of British television. Hazel Adair, who passed away on November 22nd aged 95 began her script writing career working on the BBC Radio serial “Mrs Dale’s Diary”, moved into commercial television and devised the first five days a week British soap opera on the recently launched ITV- “Sixpenny Corner” (1956-7). She also scripted the 1964 episode of Hospital Drama “Emergency Ward 10” which featured an inter-racial kiss (some years before Captain Kirk and Uhura on “Star Trek”). This lip-locking occurred between Jamaican born actress Joan Hooley and John White. The episode was screened without a single viewer complaint, but the press got hold of the story and blew it out of proportion. On a recent Channel 4 documentary “It Was Alright In The 60’s” Hooley said as a result of the press-induced fuss, her character, who was prominent up to that point, was quietly written out.
After scripting a number of films Adair moved back to the BBC where teamed with Peter Ling, they devised Compact (1962-5) a serial based around a magazine.
In 1964 Adair and Ling pitched to ATV an idea they had about a continuing drama based upon a motel set just outside of Birmingham, run by a recently widowed woman. That idea became “Crossroads” and it is for this that Adair is best known. This four (sometimes five) times a week soap ran in a teatime/early evening slot for thirty four years. (For now, I’m ignoring the two years of the “revived” Crossroads, which did its best, during its run, to destroy every viewer’s happy memories of the original). Although I am a big “Coronation Street” fan (coming up to its 55th anniversary ), when I was growing up, and this is a real guilty secret being revealed- but hey ho, I’ve been writing this blog for nearly a year now and can trust you with such revelations I was, for quite some years, totally obsessed with Crossroads. This meant rushing home from school (in the London region it was shown for a number of years at around 4.30 – in later times, probably scheduling in with my move to secondary school it moved to 6.30 where it was an after-tea treat), often “acting it out” afterwards with my same-age next door neighbour and other friends, buying any Crossroads related merchandise (Okay – I still own a few magazines, novels and autobiographies, a set of knitting patterns(!), a jigsaw and a Cook Book), learning the names of any new characters and who played them from the TV Times cast lists and generally believing Meg Richardson was a distant aunt and Miss Diane would be the woman that I would want to marry!
My Crossroads jigsaw!
With Crossroads I could also see into the future! The London region at one time stopped showing the programme and a campaign to see it reinstated was launched with Prime Minister Harold Wilson’s wife Mary as one of the spearheads. It was shown again after six months, at the point where it left off. This meant that until probably the mid to late 70’s London viewers were six months behind the rest of the country. The lady across the road who used to babysit me from time to time had a television which could pick up, with poor reception, in fuzzy-vision Southern television, who used to schedule it after the London transmission. We used to watch it through squinted eyes on her TV, and it was just like seeing into the future, the ghostliness of the whole experience adding to it greatly. And what do I do for a living now? I have a guest-house of my own on the Isle Of Wight. Thanks Meg, Jill, Sandy and the rest for that………….You sowed the seeds. It may not have a cafeteria (which was never seen), we may not have characters going out to get a spanner and not returning for months (Benny), we may not replace popular characters with others that did not in the slightest resemble the original and who personality-wise were chalk and cheese (Coronation Street’s Sue Nicholls played Marilyn in the early years , a blowsy, blonde Brummie waitress who the nation took to her hearts who married, against type the local vicar and when she returned from her honeymoon was played by Nadine Hanwell, a mousey, quiet brunette who was the stereotypical vicar’s wife which was bizarre even to this pre-teen) and our walls might not wobble but I like to think that in some way Hazel Adair shaped my future career.
The uniqueness of this soap, was that as it was set in a motel, the guests had to be featured (at least occasionally) this meant coming up with short stories as well as continuing plots for the staff and village members, all this for a gruelling 4-5 night a week schedule and a very low budget and hardly any re-takes, which so many of us adored.
To celebrate the life and achievement of Hazel Adair I have this week dug out some old episodes of “Crossroads” to see if the magic was still there. (There’s quite a few part-episodes on “You Tube” and Network/Granada have issued a number of DVD compilations over the years). The experience was variable, I watched one from Xmas 1975 which was largely a church-set Carol Service, showing the back of cast members’ heads (not brilliant television) and I watched Rosemary Hunter shoot ex-husband David in a scene so protracted that it features some of the greatest on-screen lip pouting this side of Victoria Beckham (great television), I watched the wonder that was Amy Turtle thinking she’d been poisoned by rat poison, I watched someone coming into the motel kitchen and claiming to plant a bomb without it being mentioned for the rest of the episode and best of all I watched the anarchic Christmas show of 1979 when that fourth wall came tumbling down and Meg and the cast sang direct to camera (and Noele Gordon was perhaps the most showbizzy person ever to appear on television) accompanied by a pianist who just happened to be in Meg’s sitting room. It’s a scene that manages to be embarrassing, radical and entertaining in equal measures so perhaps best sums up “Crossroads” appeal.
I have selected for your viewing pleasure, a scene from New Year’s Eve 1974, featuring chefs Mr Booth and Shughie McFee , Amy Turtle and Sandy Richardson and Mr Lucas from “Are You Being Served” I apologise to any vegetarians for the opening scene, which wouldn’t be out of place in a Zombie movie. The scenes following include Noele Gordon, and the other woman who rivalled Miss Diane in my affections, Zeph Gladstone who played barge-living hairdresser Vera.
Hazel Adair – many thanks for creating the original “Crossroads”. There will never be television like it again.
for the memories