Introducing Meg’s Motel

To its thousands of admiring fans there does not seem a time when Crossroads did not exist, it has been part of their lives for so long. But in fact the first episode of Crossroads took place in November 1964, several years after the idea of a daily serial had been put to Sir Lew Grade.

Lancashire already had its Coronation Street and viewers could see life in a hospital in Emergency Ward 10. Now it was felt that the time had come to give the Midlands their own show, set in the Midlands area itself. But what was the Midlands? It covered Swindon and Stoke and the famous Black Country, but it also extended south to Oxford, covered the borders of Anglia as well as parts of Yorkshire and Lancashire.

Therefore a broader storyline than just the Midlands was needed to appeal to a wider viewing audience. Hazel Adair and Peter Ling had suggested a serial called The Midland Road, centred on a widow named Meg Richardson and her two children who had turned their family home into a motel.

Although the storyline appealed everyone, the title for the serial received a lukewarm reception, and so it was decided to run a competition in a Midlands newspaper asking for alternative suggestions. But none of the titles won official approval, and the prize offered in the competition was given to charity. Reg Watson then put forward several title suggestions himself and Crossroads was finally chosen as the most popular.

Everyone was sworn to secrecy until ‘the show got on the road’ and the leading roles were cast. Noele Gordon, who had been hostessing Lunch Box, was the ideal choice for Meg; she was already overwhelmingly popular in the Midlands and any show including Noele was sure of an excellent reception.

Although Noele now had a different role to play, Meg Richardson soon became her alter ego, and she became the centre and heart around whom the rest of the cast revolved . . . indeed, in time they actually began to call her affectionately ‘The Godmother’.

But Meg needed a family, and Crossroads needed a staff, and so the hunt was on for a cast which would work happily together.

Some of the behind-the-scenes searches had a true life plot that would have seemed ‘far-fetched’ in a fictional story. Jane Rossington, who came for an audition as Meg’s daughter, arrived somewhat distrait because her train was late, but still managed to talk her way into the coveted part.

Filling the part of Sandy, Meg’s son, was much more difficult. Teenagers up and down the country were interviewed but somehow that vital something was missing. Time was running out when one day a young boy walked into a script conference saying that a cleaner had sent him up the stairs to audition for the part of Sandy! He had just happened to be passing by in his lunch break although he was at drama school. He read the part of Sandy in a voice which can only be described as ‘uniquely croaky’ and that’s how Roger Tonge, a Birmingham student, became Meg’s son.

Gradually all the parts needed for the first episodes were filled, and among the cast when Meg officially opened Crossroads motel were her sister and brother-in-law, Kitty and Dick Jarvis, played by Beryl Johnstone and Brian Kent, the Rev Guy Atkins, played by veteran actor Arthur Ridley, Peggy Aitchison as Mrs Blundell the housekeeper, and Raymond Mason as George Petersham. Later episodes featured Sue Nicholls as Marilyn Gates, the blonde waitress at Crossroads, who later married the new vicar, Peter Hope, played by Neville Hughes.

Crossroads was filling with staff and customers, whose lives were to become of interest to thousands of viewers as the episodes went on . . . Meg’s motel had opened, and its fans hope that it will never close!

The Noele Gordon Story

On one of her rare days away from the studios Noele relaxes in the garden.

Noele Gordon lives something of a dual existence. To millions of TV fans she is Meg Mortimer, owner of the Crossroads Motel; many almost refuse to believe that she is simply an actress playing a part, with a very different private life of her own away from the TV studios. To them Meg is a real person.

The role of Meg has brought Noele many accolades and awards from countries all over the world – in fact, she has made more TV appearances than any other actress.

Noele’s transition to top TV personality really began in 1959, when she was hosting what was the Midlands’ first TV chat show, Lunch Box. Outside-broadcast shows had been tried, and the huge fan following that Noele had really impressed Sir Lew Grade, who wanted to do more. The original producer Reg Watson said that technical problems would make that a difficult project, but he took the opportunity to talk to Sir Lew about another idea he was keen on. He wanted to produce a serial – a daily serial – something that had never been tried before on British television.

Sir Lew didn’t say much about Reg’s idea at the time, but five years later Noele was shocked to hear that the still-very-successful Lunch Box was to be taken off, quite a shock after being with the programme for eight years. But the blow was softened somewhat by the news that Lunch Box was to be replaced with a daily serial – with Noele as its star. And that’s how Noele Gordon, chat show hostess, became Noele Gordon, starring actress, in a show that was to become one of the most popular in the history of television.

Noele has done many, many things in her eventful life. She can fly a plane, drive racing car and can skin-dive. She’s been down a coal mine, ridden camels and elephants, dressed up as a circus clown and gone inside a lion’s cage. . . .

But let’s go back to the start. We’ve heard how Meg started, but what of Noele herself?

As you may have guessed, Noele was born on Christmas Day. Her father was a Scottish ship’s engineer who was away from home most of the time, and she was brought up by her mother in a strict Scots Presbyterian manner.

Jockey, as Noele calls her mother, had wanted a showbusiness career for herself, but had lacked the self-confidence. When Noele decided that she wanted to be an actress, her mother was always ready with help and encouragement.

As a child Noele lived in East Ham, London, and made her first stage appearance at the local music hall when she was just two and a half. She had her face covered in jam and sang Dear Little Jammy Face!

But that was just the start, and over the years young Noele tackled many stage jobs, eventually enrolling at RADA when she was fifteen. While she was still studying she landed her first professional part – as an understudy in the comedy Aren’t Men Beasts at the Strand Theatre. Noele had to understudy all four female leads, and as all four actresses fell ill in turn, she went on stage in all four roles. Quite a debut!

Rep followed, and Noele’s performance as Sadie Thompson in Rain was watched by TV pioneer John Logie Baird. Baird was impressed by Noele, and asked her to take part in some experiments into colour TV. She was collected by a Rolls-Royce, and sat in front of a camera for hours whilst technicians tried out various techniques. “You’re the first actress to appear on colour TV,” Baird told her.

The part that really established Noele as a West End star was that of Meg Brockie in the musical Brigadoon, in 1947. She went on to give almost 1,000 performances in that role. . . .

Noele and her mother, Jockey, in the audience of New Faces.
Noele signs an autograph for a young fan.

When Noele and her mother gave up their house at Ross-on-Wye to take neighbouring apartments, Noele knew exactly what she wanted to do with her spare cash. She had had a personal number plate for years – NG10 – and knew which car she wanted to transfer it to next – a Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow. But the Rolls caused a few headaches in the programme. Noele had always been filmed driving her own cars – and how could Meg’s sudden acquisition of a Rolls be explained? A legacy written into the script solved that problem.

Noele and Larry Grayson remain firm friends on and off the screen.

By the early fifties, Noele realised that TV was about to have a great impact, superseding the theatres and music halls. She didn’t want to slip into obscurity, so took the positive step of going to New York, to learn all she could about television production and presentation. Her efforts paid off, for on her return to England she was offered a job as trainee director and advisor on women’s programmes with ATV.

But she didn’t stay behind the cameras for long. First came a theatre chat show, Tea With Noele Gordon, then Lunch Box, then Crossroads, as the new daily serial was to be called.

The part posed problems for Noele. Up to now she had appeared on the screen as herself – would viewers accept her in the role of Meg Richardson?

The answer was a resounding yes, and the show’s popularity mushroomed as viewers from as far away as Australia and Hong Kong voted Crossroads a monster hit. For Noele Gordon the series has also been a resounding personal success, and a very satisfying one.

When Noele was to be featured on the This Is Your Life programme all the other members of the cast were in on the secret. Reg Watson called Noele and asked her to take part in a promotion trailer. She was to walk through into the motel reception area say something about the motel and then add “And this is my manager, played by Ronnie Allen.” Rehearsals went well, and the take was ready to be made.

And this is where Noele nearly ruined the whole thing. She came through the door said the wrong lines, and stopped. Not until later did she learn that Eamonn Andrews had changed places with Ronnie, and had to dash off again and hide when the scene had to be scrapped. On the second take all went well, and Eamonn managed to take Noele by surprise, as planned.

It was on that show that rumours of a romance between Noele and Larry Grayson started. Larry laughingly asked Noele to marry him on the air, and she jokingly accepted. But some viewers didn’t see the joke, and telegrams and flowers started to arrive. It took quite a time to scotch the rumours, but Larry and Noele remain the greatest of friends.