Crossroads (later known as Crossroads Kings Oak) is a British television soap opera that ran on ITV over two periods – the original 1964 to 1988 run, followed by a short revival from 2001 to 2003. Set in a fictional motel (hotel, in the revival) in the Midlands, Crossroads became a byword for cheap production values, particularly in the 1970s and early 1980s. Despite this, the series regularly attracted huge audiences during this time, with ratings as high as 15 million viewers.
It was created by Hazel Adair and Peter Ling and produced by ATV (until the end of 1981) and then by ATV’s successor, Central Independent Television until 1988. The series was revived by Carlton Television in 2001; however, due to low ratings it was cancelled again in 2003.
The original premise of Crossroads is based around two feuding sisters, Kitty Jarvis (Beryl Johnstone) and Meg Richardson (Noele Gordon). Meg is a wealthy woman who, with the help of her late husband Charles’ insurance money and compensation money from the council for them building a motorway through their land, turned her large Georgian house into a motel. “The Crossroads Motel” was located on the outskirts of the small village of King’s Oak, which is on the outskirts of Birmingham. With Charles, Meg had two children. The elder was a girl named Jill (born 1946) followed by Alexander (known as Sandy) in 1950. Kitty, on the other hand, is married to the unemployed Dick and is not wealthy. Dick and Kitty purchased a newsagents and tobacconists shop in the nearby town of Heathbury a few years after the show started. Kitty and Dick had a son called Brian, born in 1945. The idea of the sisters feuding was soon dropped.
The show had several characters in its early years. They included Meg and Kitty’s brother, Andy Fraser, who marries motel secretary Ruth Bailey in 1965, hotel chef Carlos Raphael and his wife Josefina who was a waitress along with Marilyn Gates and kitchen assistant Amy Turtle, later briefly arrested as a suspected Soviet spy, joined the series in 1965 as did postmistress Miss Edith Tatum. Also featured was motel handyman and groundsman Philip Winter. Long running character Diane Lawton arrived in 1966. Other additions included Meg’s close friend, former actress, Tish Hope; the suave manager and later motel director David Hunter; his first wife Rosemary and son Chris and his second wife Barbara; chefs Mr. Lovejoy, Mr. Booth and Shughie McFee; hairdresser Vera Downend; the Harvey family, consisting of father Wilf and his grown children Stan and Sheila; accountant and later motel manager Adam Chance; and cleaner Doris Luke. Perhaps the most memorable character proved to be the “village idiot” Benny Hawkins, whose trademark was a woolly hat worn all year round. His fans included British troops serving in the Falklands War in 1982, who nicknamed the Falkland Islanders “Bennies” after the character. Instructed to stop using the name, the troops came up with “Stills” for locals – because they were “still Bennies”.
Over the years the series dealt with storylines which were controversial for the times. A single parent working at the motel was hugely controversial in the mid-1960s; and Sandy Richardson was injured in a car accident in 1972 and needed to use a wheelchair, the first paraplegic regular character portrayed in British soap opera. This permanent character development was made to accommodate actor Roger Tonge, who had been developing increasing ill health. In the months running up to the character’s accident, Tonge had become increasingly immobile and was limited in scenes to sitting, lying in bed or standing rigidly still. Rather than lose the character, the accident storyline allowed the actor to use his wheelchair on screen. The series also saw black characters appearing regularly – a follow-on from the 1960s BBC soap Compact, also created by Hazel Adair and Peter Ling. Melanie Harper (played by Cleo Sylvestre) arrived at the motel in 1970 as Meg’s foster daughter (itself a taboo issue). Cleo was given the role by producer Reg Watson after press coverage of racial tensions in the Birmingham area at that time. In 1978, garage mechanic Joe MacDonald (played by Carl Andrews) arrived. The year before, an interracial summer romance took place between Cockney garage mechanic Dennis Harper (played by Merlin Ward, but credited as Guy Ward) and motel receptionist Meena Chaudri (Karan David).
1981 saw a highly controversial storyline about a false accusation of rape; a 1983 storyline saw a test tube baby born to Glenda and Kevin Banks (played by Lynette McMorrough and David Moran). The subject of Down syndrome was also raised in 1983 with an insight into the life of Nina Weill, a little girl who, as Nina Paget, was befriended by three of the regular Crossroads characters.
The character of Meg Mortimer was axed in 1981 and was thought to have died in a fire that gutted the motel, but turned up alive aboard the QE2, about to sail to a new life overseas. Newspapers reported that two endings were planned for Meg: she would either die in the fire, or disappear for a while and turn up on the QE2. Viewers were surprised to see producers had used both. Meg returns briefly in 1983 for a reunion with Jill and Adam on their honeymoon in Venice.
In 1985, new producer Phillip Bowman was planning to bring the character of Meg Mortimer back into the show as a “permanent occasional.” Plans were well advanced and scripts were written when Noele Gordon died in April of that year, aged 65. Edward Clayton was brought back as Jill’s ex-husband Stan Harvey to read the lines originally written for Gordon.
With the revival in 2001, changes were made to characters and stories. Jill Chance had married John Maddingham and been widowed, but was calling herself Jill Harvey again, the name by which she had been known prior to her marriage to Adam Chance in 1983. References were also made to the Russell family taking over a “failing motel”, despite Crossroads having become a hotel in the late 1980s. In the final episode of the original series, the name ‘King’s Oak Country Hotel’ was seen over the entrance doors.
Lack of real links to the past, and the killing of Jill a few months into the new run, turned many fans away. Popular characters in the new Crossroads included new owner Kate Russell (Jane Gurnett), supercilious receptionist Virginia Raven (Sherrie Hewson), and womanising deputy manager Jake Booth (Colin Wells). The storyline of the final episode was the revelation that the revived series and glamorous hotel had been a dream of supermarket worker and Crossroads fan Angela, with all the other characters revealed as shoppers. Angela even approaches a female customer in the supermarket and tells her she recognises her as “Tracey Booth from Crossroads”. Tracey’s mother-in-law, Kate, was also shown as one of Angela’s colleagues in the supermarket.
Original start dates
- 2 November 1964: ATV, Border Television and Ulster Television
- 4 January 1965: Anglia, Associated Rediffusion, Grampian Television, TWW, Southern Television, Westward Television and Channel Television.
- 11 January 1965: Tyne Tees, but the series was dropped and then picked up again several times until January 1972.
- 29 March 1965: Scottish Television.
- 5 November 1968: Yorkshire Television, but also dropped the series for a short period, until January 1972.
- 11 September 1972: Granada.
Crossroads began its run on Monday 2 November 1964 and was first shown five days a week. The episodes were then recorded “as live”, a very common practice at the time, with very limited opportunities for retakes. Within a few months, 10 of the ITV companies had started broadcasting the series, though Granada never screened it during the 1960s. The Independent Television Authority (ITA) decreed in 1967 that Crossroads should be reduced in frequency to four episodes per week to improve its quality. By which point the series was no longer networked and each ITV station broadcast the series on different days. The series was widely derided by critics who criticised the wobbly sets and fluffed lines, but gained many fans, most famously Prime Minister Harold Wilson‘s wife Mary who complained when the newly formed Thames Television (the franchisee for the London area), decided to stop showing the series in 1968. The decision proved unpopular with viewers and was reversed six months later, although initially it was placed in a late afternoon slot like few other ITV stations but, as a result of the gap in transmissions, viewers in the Thames region were about six months behind the rest of the country for several years.
Crossroads was not fully broadcast to all ITV companies until 1972, when Granada, took it. (Each ITV station was able to broadcast the episodes at different times on the same day). Though by the early 1970s it was second only to Coronation Street in the ratings it did, occasionally, in the mid-1970s beat Coronation Street gaining audiences of up to 15 million viewers during the decade.
In 1979, the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) – then commercial television’s regulator – decided production should be reduced further to three episodes a week from April 1980, with the chairman of the IBA Lady Plowden reportedly describing the soap opera as “distressingly popular”. ATV planned to replace the fourth episode with a spin-off series called A Family Affair, but this idea was dropped. Series star Noele Gordon, who played matriarch Meg Richardson, regularly won the TV Times Most Popular Female Personality viewers award during the 1970s.
Viewers reacted negatively at the dismissal of Gordon in 1981, an action taken by head of programming Charles Denton who became a “national hate figure”. The series producer Jack Barton agreed with Denton, thinking that Gordon’s character had become too dominant, but the episode gained heavy coverage in the press for some time. Why Gordon was sacked remains a mystery to TV historians as she was the most popular character on the soap and no real reason was given other than that producers felt it was time for a change. The actress herself was terribly upset by the decision (she was the only cast member on a permanent contract and, had been led to believe that the meeting where she was told she was being dismissed was simply the annual negotiation for the next years contract).
In numerous interviews at the time she made it clear that she did not want to go. Some people have speculated that Gordon’s dominant attitude on the set and within the company had put a few executive backs up and they simply wanted shot of her. She was very passionate about the soap and would regularly defend it against the many critics. Others have believed that ITV found Crossroads an embarrassment and wanted to find a way of decreasing the viewing figures by sacking Gordon (the biggest audience draw) so that it could be used as justification to axe it. Whatever the reason the series never really recovered from her loss.
ATV, having lost its ITV franchise at the end of 1981, was ordered by the IBA to reform into Central Independent Television, which took over the franchise on 1 January 1982, and was thought to show limited enthusiasm for the programmes it inherited.
Further changes were introduced in March 1985, when new filming locations, sets and characters were introduced. Many storylines began to revolve around the new motel owner, Nicola Freeman (played by Gabrielle Drake). More long-term characters, such as David and Barbara Hunter, were axed. The theme tune was also updated, and the opening titles replaced with a longer version. Finally, the show was renamed Crossroads Motel – although this fact was never formally announced by the show’s production team and the word “Motel” was simply incorporated into the opening titles. The closing titles, which had scrolled in multiple ‘crossroad’ directions since the earliest episodes, were replaced with conventional scrolling credits.
In 1986, a new producer, William Smethurst, took over the series following the sacking of his predecessor, Philip Bowman. Smethurst, who had been brought in by Central Television’s new head of drama, Ted Childs, ordered changes, aimed at creating a wittier, more upmarket serial, and at improving the production values of the show. Smethurst shifted the narrative centre to the nearby village of King’s Oak. Yet more long-running characters, such as Diane Hunter and Benny Hawkins, were dropped; as with earlier changes, this was unpopular with viewers, who telephoned Central in protest. Smethurst gained the nickname “Butcher Bill” but was unfazed; he had, after all, reversed the declining fortunes of the BBC radio soap The Archers. Smethurst insisted he only got the flak because his was the name the public knew.
Further changes included the series being renamed Crossroads Kings Oak for a time, with the intention in the future of shortening this to merely King’s Oak. However, this final change was overtaken by the decision in June 1987 by Andy Allen, Central’s director of programmes, to axe the series. The familiar theme tune was replaced in September 1987 by a new theme composed by Max Early and Raf Ravenscroft. New titles were introduced to accompany the new theme, which featured stills of King’s Oak and the new King’s Oak Country Hotel. Michele Buck guided the show through its final few months on air as series producer, with William Smethurst still on hand as executive producer.
In January 1988, the series was reduced to only two episodes a week, with Crossroads King’s Oak finally coming to an end on 4 April 1988 (the Easter bank holiday). The last, extended episode saw the character of Jill (Jane Rossington) riding off with her lover, John Maddingham (Jeremy Nicholas). Asked what name she would give the hotel she would be running in her new life, the character remarked, a little sadly, “I always thought Crossroads was an awfully good name”.
The Crossroads theme tune was composed by Tony Hatch.
In 2004 Hatch said:
“The budget for the music was low and it would have to be recorded in a TV studio in Birmingham – not the perfect acoustic conditions in comparison with the dedicated music recording studios I was used to. … The original theme was actually two tunes. Each one represented one of the families and these tunes could be played separately or, because they shared the same chord sequence, together in counterpoint with each other. … As the budget was small I decided to use a small rhythm section plus a harp and feature the first theme on a 12-string guitar with the second theme played on the oboe. Right at the beginning I put the famous 9-note motif – the call-sign which gets the family in front of the TV set.”
A selection of cues were recorded, including Meg’s Theme which eventually became the standard opening theme, Kitty’s Theme which was phased out as action focussed on the motel, the closing theme which combined both Meg’s and Kitty’s themes, and a variety of background pieces.
A rerecording by The Tony Hatch Sound was issued as a single by Pye Records in 1965. A special arrangement of the theme by Paul McCartney and Wings, was also used from the late seventies, usually when an episode ended with a dramatic event. Central Independent Television‘s head of music Johnny Patrick rearranged the tune in 1985 for piano and synthesiser, upon the show’s relaunch as Crossroads Motel by producer Philip Bowman. Following William Smethurst’s arrival as producer in 1987, this recording was overdubbed with added synthesisers.
An entirely new theme aired in late 1987 when the series was relaunched as Crossroads, Kings Oak, composed by Johnny Patrick, with Raf Ravenscroft and Max Early, with the CBSO. This later formed the basis of the single released by actress Shona Linsdey, “Goodbye”, to commemorate the end of the show in 1988.
The 2001 revival brought back the original Tony Hatch theme, this time arranged and performed by Tony Flynn. Another version, in 2003, was arranged by Patrick Dineen and performed by the Liverpool Philharmonic.
The fictional Crossroads Motel was in an equally fictional village near Birmingham, Kings Oak (there are real suburbs in south-west Birmingham called Kings Heath, Kings Norton and Selly Oak). A number of real-life hotels doubled for location filming; it is stated in the 1982 Crossroads Special that the Longshoot Motel (Nuneaton) was used as a ‘blueprint’ in designing the motel and it is likely that some scenes were filmed there during the run of the series.
In 1970, the series gained an O.B unit, giving it the freedom to do location shooting. Originally, Tanworth-in-Arden was used for King’s Oak, although outside scenes were only occasionally used. Under Central, more location shooting began to be featured. Some early King’s Oak location material was also filmed in Wolverhampton. The most famous location – as seen in the programme during the 1960s and 1970s was not a motel at all, but an agricultural college in Shropshire. It has also been suggested that Crossroads was filmed at a 1960s motel on Stratford Road in Alcester Warwickshire called CherryTrees (the buildings were demolished in 2001 and a care home was built), however it was a nearby petrol station (now closed) that was used in the early 1980s for filming a couple of outdoor scenes of the Crossroads garage.
ATV, having lost its ITV franchise at the end of 1981, was ordered by the IBA to reform into Central Independent Television, which took over the
After the in-story destruction of the motel by fire, the revamped motel was filmed from 1982 at the Golden Valley Hotel in Cheltenham; from 1985 filming moved to the Penns Hall Hotel (now Ramada Jarvis Birmingham) in Sutton Coldfield, the changed appearance explained as being due to rebuilding. At the time of the move to Sutton Coldfield, new studio sets were also introduced.
Other locations included the canal (including Gas Street Basin) behind the studios in Birmingham; in-story this was the King’s Oak Canal, on which Vera had a barge. The Chateau Impney Hotel also featured numerous times, most famously when Hugh proposed to Meg in 1973, and it was used to hold their wedding party two years later. The Chateau Impney was renamed the Droitwich Hotel on-screen. St Laurence’s Church in Alvechurch was the setting for Jill and Adam Chance’s wedding in 1983. Hagley Hall was used for the wedding reception. Helios Health Club based in Brierley Hill was used as the location for the Motel Health Club, filmed on Mondays when the health club was closed.
Despite the popularity of Crossroads with the viewing public, the show was often criticised by TV reviewers and ridiculed by British comedians. Television historian Hilary Kingsley stated that Crossroads never failed “to provide its critics with ammunition. Some of the acting would have disgraced the humblest of village halls; many of the plots were so farcical they could have been written in a bad dream, and much of the dialogue was pathetic.” The Guinness Book of Classic British TV noted that “Crossroads was the series that no-one seemed to love. Yet at its peak, it was watched by more viewers than any other soap except Coronation Street.”
The revived series also received mixed reviews from critics.
|Character||Played by||Start||End||Original cast member||Cast member at end of series|
|Jill Richardson/Harvey/Chance||Jane Rossington||1964||1988||*||*|
|Meg Richardson/Ryder/Mortimer||Noele Gordon||1964||1983||*|
|Sandy Richardson||Roger Tonge||1964||1981||*|
|Kitty Jarvis||Beryl Johnstone||1964||1969||*|
|Dick Jarvis||Brian Kent||1964||1972||*|
|Brian Jarvis||David Fennell||1964||1975||*|
|Philip Winter||Malcolm Young||1964||1965||*|
|Rev. Guy Atkins||Arnold Ridley||1964||1972||*|
|Vi Blundell||Peggy Aitchison||1964||1970||*|
|Jonathan Mortimer||John Wreford||1965||1965|
|Sgt. Tidmarsh||Norman Mitchell||1965||1974|
|Dr. Derek Maynard||Brian Hankins||1965||1974|
|Sarah Maynard||Diane Holland||1965||1970|
|Andy Fraser||Ian Patterson||1965||1975|
|Ruth Bailey/Fraser||Pamela Greenhall||1965||1975|
|Marilyn Gates/Hope||Sue Nicholls/Nadine Hanwell||1965||1972|
|Carlos Raphael||Anthony Morton||1965||1968|
|Josefina Raphael||Gillian Betts||1965||1970|
|Hugh Mortimer||John Bentley||1965||1978|
|Miss Tatum||Elisabeth Croft||1965||1983|
|Amy Turtle||Ann George||1965||1987|
|Diane Lawton/Parker/Hunter||Susan Hanson||1966||1987|
|Archie Gibbs||Jack Haig||1967||1982|
|Tish Hope||Joy Andrews||1967||1980|
|Ted Hope||Charles Stapley||1968||1979|
|Rev. Peter Hope||Neville Hughes||1968||1972|
|Vince Parker||Peter Brookes||1968||1975|
|Gerald Lovejoy||William Avenell||1968||1974|
|Rita Witton||Jo Richardson||1968||1976|
|Sandra Gould/Stevens||Diane Keen||1968||1971|
|Bernard Booth||David Lawton||1969||1979|
|David Hunter||Ronald Allen||1969||1985|
|Terry Lawton||Denis Gilmore||1969||1978|
|Vera Downend||Zeph Gladstone||1970||1977|
|Kevin McArthur||Vincent Ball||1970||1974|
|Stan Harvey||Edward Clayton/Terry Molloy||1970||1987|
|Sheila Harvey/Mollison||Sonia Fox||1970||1976|
|Wilf Harvey||Morris Parsons||1970||1976|
|Paul Stevens||Paul Greenwood||1970||1971|
|Anne Taylor/Powell||Caroline Dowdeswell||1970||1976|
|Melanie Harper||Cleo Sylvestre||1970||1972|
|Rosemary Hunter||Janet Hargreaves||1971||1980|
|Chris Hunter||Freddy Foote/Stephen Hoye||1971||1981|
|Timothy Hunter||Derek Farr||1971||1978|
|Don Rogers||Albert Shepherd||1971||1973|
|Roy Mollison||Richard Frost||1971||1974|
|Jane Smith||Sally Adcock||1971||1979|
|Mrs Cunningham||Jean Bayliss||1972||1973|
|Constance Dory||Judith Barker||1972||1974|
|Kathie Lamb||Lindsey Armstrong||1972||1973|
|Bill Warren||David Valla||1973||1976|
|Cliff Leyton||Johnny Briggs||1973||1975|
|Shughie McFee||Angus Lennie||1974||1981|
|Faye Mansfield||Fiona Curzon||1974||1977|
|Avis Tennyson/Warren||Helen Dorward||1974||1976|
|Doug Randall||Richard Thorp||1974||1976|
|Holly Brown||Stephanie de Sykes||1974||1975|
|Benny Hawkins||Paul Henry||1975||1987|
|Jim Baines||John Forgeham||1975||1978|
|Angela Kelly||Justine Lord||1975||1976|
|Ed Lawton||Thomas Heathcote||1975||1979|
|Tina Webb||Rosie Collins||1975||1976|
|Trevor Woods||Barry Evans||1975||1976|
|Simon Whitaker||Mark Colleano||1975||1976|
|Winnie Plumtree||Hilda Braid||1976||1978|
|Gus Harmon||John Ronane||1976||1977|
|Maureen Flynn||Nell Curran||1976||1977|
|Glenda Brownlow/Banks||Lynette McMorrough||1976||1986|
|Kath Brownlow/Fellowes||Hilary Martin/Pamela Vezey||1976||1987|
|Arthur Brownlow||Brian Haines/Peter Hill||1976||1982|
|Clive Merrow||Spencer Banks||1976||1977|
|Josie Welch||Theresa Watson||1976||1977|
|Sharon Metcalfe||Carolyn Jones||1977||1984|
|Kate Hamilton||Frances White||1977||1983|
|Lucy Hamilton||Jan Todd||1977||1983|
|Richard Lord||Jeremy Mason||1977||1983|
|Doris Luke||Kathy Staff||1978||1984|
|Linda Welch||Lesley Daine||1978||1979|
|Dr. Lloyd Munro||Alan Gifford||1978||1980|
|Adam Chance||Tony Adams||1978||1988||*|
|Marian Owen||Margaret John||1978||1985|
|Joe MacDonald||Carl Andrews||1978||1986|
|Trina MacDonald||Merdelle Jordine||1978||1980|
|Barbara Brady/Hunter||Sue Lloyd||1979||1985|
|Reg Cotterill||Ivor Salter||1979||1980|
|Alison Cotterill||Carina Wyeth||1979||1983|
|Becky Foster||Maxine Gordon||1979||1981|
|Iris Scott||Angela Webb||1980||1985|
|Kevin Banks||David Moran||1980||1985|
|Miranda Pollard||Claire Faulconbridge||1980||1986|
|J. Henry Pollard||Michael Turner||1980||1985|
|Ron Brownlow||Ian Liston||1981||1985|
|Mavis Hooper||Charmain Eyre||1981||1986|
|Reg Lamont||Reginald Marsh||1981||1984|
|Jennifer Lamont||Jean Kent||1981||1983|
|Valerie Pollard||Heather Chasen||1982||1986|
|Sid Hooper||Stan Stennett||1982||1987|
|Paul Ross||Sandor Elès||1982||1986|
|Rashida Malik||Sneh Gupta||1982||1983|
|Oliver Banks||Kenneth Gilbert||1982||1982|
|Lisa Walters||Francesca Gonshaw||1984||1985|
|Anne Marie Wade||Dee Hepburn||1984||1988||*|
|Nicola Freeman||Gabrielle Drake||1985||1987|
|Daniel Freeman||Philip Goodhew||1985||1988||*|
|Joanna Freeman||Mary Lincoln||1985||1986|
|Ivy Meacher/Hooper||Stella Moray||1985||1987|
|Barry Hart||Harry Nurmi||1985||1987|
|Charlie Mycroft||Graham Seed||1985||1988||*|
|Mr Darby||Patrick Jordan||1985||1988||*|
|Roy Lambert||Steven Pinder||1985||1987|
|Mickey Doyle||Martin Smith||1985||1986|
|Sam Benson||Norman Bowler||1986||1987|
|Mrs. Tardebigge||Elsie Kelly||1986||1988||*|
|Fiona Harding||Caroline Evans||1986||1988||*|
|Tommy Lancaster||Terence Rigby||1986||1988||*|
|Debbie Lancaster||Kathryn Hurlbutt||1987||1988||*|
|Lisa Lancaster||Alison Dowling||1987||1988||*|
|Margaret Grice||Meryl Hampton||1987||1988||*|
|Ray Grice||Al Hunter Ashton||1987||1988||*|
|Beverley Grice||Karen Murden||1987||1988||*|
|Jason Grice||Simon Lowe||1987||1988||*|
|John Maddingham||Jeremy Nicholas||1987||1988||*|
|Tara James||Tara Shaw||1987||1988||*|
|Mrs. Babbitt||Margaret Stallard||1987||1988||*|
|Paul, Assistant Chef||Glyn Pritchard||1987||1988||*|