Helena Bonham Carter has a ripping time as the soapie queen dethroned by producers in Russell T. Davies' nod to actress Noele Gordon.

Britain has such a devotion to soap operas that writer Russell T. Davies has a scene in his latest drama Nolly, in which 10,000 people turned out to catch a glimpse of actress Noele Gordon when shooting a wedding for Crossroads.

Crossroads was a daytime soap that run largely from 1964 to 1988.

Gordon played the series matriarch and motel manager Meg Richardson, who built the fictional accommodation from the ground up. Dubbed the ‘Queen of the Midlands’ Gordon, won the TV Times ‘Most Compulsive Female Character’ award for eight years in a row. Fittingly, as a young girl she was even the first woman in the world to appear on colour TV in an experiment in 1938 (watch for the cameo by ‘John Logie Baird’).

In the ITV studios, Gordon (played sensationally by Helena Bonham Carter) commanded the floor, dumping dialogue she didn’t approve of, dictating her own direction in rehearsals in front of crew who were too nervous to overrule her. Gordon may have referred to herself as a ‘problem solver’ but it’s clear she was pulling the strings.

Into the mix in 1981 comes a young black actress, Poppy (Bethany Antonia), who is not just a cultural switch from this mainstay of British establishment, but who has the nerve to question Gordon.

When Gordon boasts of 45 million viewers watching their every move, Poppy points out 15 million viewers every 3 days is actually the same 15 million people. Ouch.

In the privacy of her own home Gordon is portrayed as a lonelier figure, relying on younger cast mate Tony (Augustus Prew) to accompany her on late night jaunts and adulation of the queen.

However Gordon’s humiliation of producer Jack Barton (Con O’Neill) leads to ITV Head of Programming Charles Denton (Tim Wallers) deciding it was time to end Gordon’s reign. Meg was about to be killed off. Like Joan Crawford fired from MGM, it was a devastating blow to Gordon.

But Gordon had people power on her side, and she wasn’t about to go quietly….

“I have been brutaly axed and I am utterly shattered,” she would declare.

Davies’ 3 part drama is a long overdue homage to Gordon, whose larger than life character and rollercoaster career makes for a hugely enjoyable miniseries.

All the television nods, from backstage antics, to power games and improvising and upstaging, are unmasked in all their sordid glory.

Helena Bonham Carter has a ripping time with Davies’ dialogue, reminiscent of her performance in Burton & Taylor. Expect award nominations.

For those who remember Crossroads (which screened daytimes in Australia on Seven) and for those fascinated by the backstage of television, Nolly is highly recommended

Nolly is now screening via Foxtel on Demand / Binge.

13 Responses

  1. I had never heard of Nolly or known anything about Crossroads except for hearing the name before. Watched Nolly over the weekend and really enjoyed it! Being only three episodes it was not unnecessarily dragged out. Great cast, fun writing, and an interesting story, good show for people with an interest in TV history.

  2. I became ‘TV aware’ at the end of Crossroads’ run and do remember Noelle and was struck by her commanding of every scene. She was the Margaret Thatcher of soap, a real iron woman. Thanks for reviewing this, it looks delicious.

  3. This is such a beautifully made show, I’ve had to watch it twice. I knew that Crossroads was maligned for being cheap, but had no idea that it was so popular and its audience didn’t seem to mind. Says a lot about the arrogance of male executives when TV was king that they would mess with a show by getting rid of its most popular character and make jokes about dropping a Concorde onto a 62 year old woman. Wow.

  4. As its screening on demand/Binge will it be played on one of Foxtels Channels?

    Not knowing where I’d watch this I had to research the subject last night. I’d heard of Crossroads in relation to its producers creating The Young Doctors here, and both shows were famous for shaky sets. Never saw it on air here or heard of Nolly. I was fascinated to read her story, so I probably know the whole plot now, but I still will enjoy watching this. There was a dramatisation a few years back on the beginning of Coronation Street, which was wonderful viewing, I suspect this will be similar.

    1. If you have Foxtel IQ3 it’s on demand. Foxtel might only have streaming rights due to it not been broadcast in UK yet til October. It’s only been available for streaming in UK too.

  5. I watched this in one night. Thoroughly enjoyed it. The performances were so captivating. I remember the sorry saga of Nolly’s sacking when I was young. So sad she died just before she was due to return for a guest stint.
    Fun fact, Crossroads was created by Reg Watson and the theme composed by Tony Hatch.

  6. This was supposedly made to rival Coronation Street back in the UK. Binged it and thoroughly enjoyed it. Love the actors especially Helen who in my opinion is the only who could have made it believable but Flossy’s voice I admit grated on me. This is to me is what good TV is all about when you get invested in the characters, the costumes of the era and the set designs but one of my favourite scenes was the woman on the bus saying she would “take her teeth out” for Tony Adams. Genius whoever came up with that line.

  7. I had no concept of who Nolly was, nor had I heard about the show Crossroads. But I thoroughly enjoyed this that I binged the whole series in one night. Excellent writing, amazing acting, plus a plot to rival that of most soap opera’s themselves. It was so good.

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